Saturday, 27 April 2013

The Sea Sisters

Sisters Katie and Mia have been through a lot together including their Dad walking out on them and their Mum recently passing away. Complete opposites, older sister Katie is responsible and sensible, starting a new life in London with a good job, plus trying to look out for younger sister, free spirit Mia. One day Mia suddenly decides to go travelling around the world with her childhood friend Finn and she books her ticket straight away. Katie is left along for six months worrying and preparing for her wedding, but one evening she gets the news she has always dreaded - Mia has been found dead at the bottom of a cliff in Bali. And the official report is that it was suicide.

Katie can't help but blame herself, as they had a huge argument over the phone the previous day, but she also can't believe that Mia would throw her life away. When she receives Mia's travel journal, she does the first impulsive thing of her life and books a ticket to follow in Mia's footsteps, while reading her journal to try to understand what happened in the last few month's of her sister's life.

The Sea Sisters is full of mystery, intrigue and revelations. Lucy Clarke captures the exotic locations perfectly and I was surprised to read in the Q and A at the end of the novel that she does not actually have a sister, as the relationship between Mia and Katie feels very authentic as each character feels a complex mixture of love, hate, jealousy and resentment towards each other.

I was gripped throughout and sped through this in about three days. Mia and Katie each have their unique voice and both of them were likable 'real' characters. I think this is one of those rare books which will please fans of mystery / suspense novels and 'chick-lit'. This is a perfect holiday read and I am looking forward to discovering more of Lucy Clarke's work.

Watch the trailer for The Sea Sisters below:

Iron Man 3

So Tony Stark has returned, but he is not the Stark we all know. Since his time spent with the Avengers in New York, he can't sleep and is suffering from anxiety attacks. With two feuding demi-God brothers from another planet, a big green angry thing smashing things up and hordes of aliens emerging from the sky, who can blame him? Although experimenting with new suits while being awake for over 72 hours, is probably not his best idea...

Iron Man 3 opens with Tony re-living New Year's Eve 1999 in Switzerland, a time when he unknowingly makes a deadly enemy with a light-hearted snub. Fast-forward 13 years later and the Mandarin is causing terror across America with a series of explosions, but no evidence of any bombs being left on the scene. When Tony's trusted chauffeur  Happy (now head of security at Stark Enterprises) is left in a coma as a result of an attack, he stupidly gives the Mandarin his home address in front of the world's press. Again not a good idea.

Not surprisingly, Stark's Malibu home is soon under attack and Iron Man is last seen falling into the ocean. His trusted computer system Jarvis has other ideas and has drafted a flight plan to Tennessee, a scene of one of the Mandarin's attacks. There he works off radar with the help of a plucky young boy called Harley, fixing his suit and working out his plan of attack on the Mandarin. First he needs to find out where to find him...

Iron Man 3 is completely different from the first two films and is genuinely full of surprises. This is not a straight forward superhero film of hero against villain. This is more of a film about Tony Stark than Iron Man. Here, we see him in combat without the armour of his suits and Robert Downey Jnr is at his best, full of wisecracks and one-liners, but also showing the vulnerability of the character, trying to work out who he is without the guise of Iron Man.

The technology has ramped up a few gears, with Stark's love / hate relationship with his MK 42 suit, which can be controlled remotely, taking centre stage. Jarvis, has also taken on a role of his own and has to be the most sarcastic computer ever seen on screen! I also enjoyed Marvel's on going love affair with British culture, with references to Downton Abbey, Croydon and Premier League football (I can't wait to see Thor running around London in The Dark World too!)

There is a great supporting cast (although I still can't take to Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts) with Guy Pearce and Rebecca Hall putting in great performances and Don Cheadle getting his own plot line with 'Iron Patriot'. But a special mention must go to Ben Kingsley who is brilliant as the Mandarin. I have a feeling he is going to be a controversial character for Marvel fans, but I really enjoyed his performance.

There are some plot holes and a couple of moments I would have rather seen go in a different direction, but overall Iron Man 3 is full of laugh out loud moments, some tense scenes and brilliant action-packed set-pieces. Be prepared to go on a gritty, dark, unpredictable rollercoaster ride. I just hope we get to see Iron Man on the big screen again.

Watch the trailer for Iron Man 3 here:

As it is this film's opening weekend, I have tried to review this as best I can without any spoilers! I may add some more thoughts here in a couple of weeks time as anyone who has seen the film will know that there is plenty to talk about! I would love to know what everyone thinks so post away below (I can't guarantee the comments will not include spoilers!)

Monday, 22 April 2013


Perfect is the eagerly awaited second novel from Rachel Joyce, author of the hugely successful The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. I have been very lucky to receive a limited edition proof as not only have I been able to read the book in advance of its July release, my copy has also been signed and included a very cute 'Perfect' pin!

Like Harold Fry, this book is full of moving and poignant moments and like Harold, Byron the young boy this novel focuses on, is on a life-changing journey, although this time it is in the form of growing up and making radical decisions rather than physically moving through locations.

Byron and James are two middle-class boys growing up in the 1970s. Byron becomes obsessed with the fact that two seconds are going to be added to the year and has a sense of foreboding about day that this will happen on. He looks up to his best friend James and relies on his sense and intelligence about several matters. One morning, while Bryon's mother Diana is driving him and sister Lucy to school, a series of events results in an accident, which Byron blames on the extra two seconds and becomes completely fixated with.

Byron and James come up with 'Operation Perfect' to investigate the accident and the resulting events in depth. But things escalate and what happens will effect both of them for the rest of their lives...

I really enjoyed Rachel Joyce's writing throughout the novel and loved the characters of Byron and Diana. Their relationship is beautiful as Byron is growing up and trying to protect and look after his Mum, taking on the role of his father who is always absent through working at the city or on shooting holidays with his friends in Scotland. Diana is stuck in her new middle-class world of competing with the other mums with her house, garden and brand new BMW, which is so different from her previous life as a performer. She has given up everything for this lifestyle and I really felt for her as she struggles to keep it all together and occasionally stand up for her beliefs in front of the other snobby mothers. Diana's tentative friendship with working-class Beverley is at times fraught and tense with the characters' backgrounds and circumstances being expertly explored by the author.

The novel also tells the story of a 50+ year old man called Jim set in the present day. His struggles with mental health including acute OCD are written about sensitively and the help he receives from teenage work colleague Paula and her boyfriend Darren are lovely moments which show kindness and friendship can come from the most unlikely of places.

I thoroughly enjoyed Perfect and read it within three days. It is, dare I say it, even better than Harold Fry. Full of some really well-drawn characters, heart-breaking moments and beautiful observation, I can't wait for this book to be released and receive the success and acclaim it deserves. Plus, it HAS to be a future choice for my book group! Roll on Rachel Joyce's third novel...  

Perfect is released on 4th July. Pre-order a copy from Waterstones here

Thursday, 4 April 2013

War Horse

I finally got to see War Horse in the West End a couple of weeks ago after five years of waiting! Up until recently, the only tickets I have been able to find have been ridiculously expensive and we were able to find a bargain for tickets in the circle right at the very side of the stage. This meant that we did miss out on most of the clever projection and some of the great use of staging, but no matter where you sit, you can't help but get caught up in the emotion of the performance.

I love the Michael Morpurgo book, it is such a beautiful, but terrifying and incredibly sad story. It tells the story of a teenage boy called Albert, who is given the task of looking after a young horse he calls Joey, after his drunk father buys him at a fair for all the wrong reasons. Albert and Joey form an unbreakable bond, until the day that Albert's father sells the horse to go off to war. Joey begins a frightening journey to France and ends up on the front line for both Britain and Germany. Wherever he goes, he forms friendships and in some situations peace. Meanwhile, an underage Albert signs up and goes to France himself in the attempt to track down Joey.

The stage play stays very true to the book and there are some truly heartbreaking moments. It begins with a beautiful scene of a young Joey galloping around. The puppeteers are amazing, there are times when you do believe the horses to be real, with flicking of the ears and kicks of the hind legs bringing these characters to life. There are some terrible scenes during the conflict, with both horses and men being killed viciously. For a play that is aimed at a young audience and schools, there is some traumatic imagery, with young men hobbling around with limbs missing, faces disfigured and horses being put out of their pain. I would warn that this may be distressing, but then it is part of our history and a something that everyone should know and think about.

There is some light relief with a cheeky goose living on the farm who bangs in to doors and hisses at and attacks various characters, getting a huge cheer at the bows at the end. There are also some humorous one-liners - when Albert is getting a lot of stick for talking non-stop about his horse on the front line, he retorts while looking at a picture of his friend's girlfriend 'Well at least Joey is supposed to look like a horse...'

I was surprised at how large the cast was and there are also several songs to help tell the story. This is a stunning and poignant piece of theatre and while I would not necessarily say that I enjoyed it or would want to see it again as I did find it very upsetting, I would recommend that everyone go to see this amazing play.

You can buy tickets for War Horse here or from ticket outlets throughout Covent Garden / Leicester Square. We managed to get ours for £12.00.

My review for the book is here


Citadel is part of Kate Mosse's trilogy following on from Labyrinth and Sepulchre. I had
really enjoyed these previous two books and Citadel is once again set in the town of Carcassonne in France, with the rumours of a hidden codex hidden in the mountains. But unlike the first two novels, Citadel is mostly focusing on the story of two young sisters living in a town under Nazi occupation during World War II and eventually head up a cell of resistance fighters in the most dangerous way imaginable.

The story begins with Sandrine going into town early one morning and coming across a body in the river wearing a strange ring. She tries to help but is mysteriously attacked. When she comes round, she is helped by a young man called Raoul, who disappears quickly when other people come to help. She is warned not to go to the police, but she defiantly goes anyway and is soon caught up in a story of intrigue and betrayal. Sandrine's fate depends on three very different men - resistance fighter Raoul who she quickly falls in love with, an elderly man called Audric Balliard who is an old friend of her family's housekeeper and Leo Authie, a ruthless and vicious man who is trying to track down the hidden codex.

The story is interspersed with the journey of a monk called Arinius in AD 342, who is travelling across France with the codex. I have read many stories with the same theme and they are usually told alongside crusades or wars long ago, so it was refreshing to read a hunt to find the hidden artifact set during a more modern conflict. However, I enjoyed the story of resistance far more than the story of the codex, although at times I found it very unbelievable.

The character of Sandrine seems very young and naive and the dialogue between the group of young women comes across as very immature and a little grating, but they manage to outwit some very powerful and dangerous men. I did find a lot of the dialogue quite annoying in the first half of the book and at odds with the dangerous time it is set in. But then the last 100 or so pages get extremely violent and genuinely shocking. This is not the best Kate Mosse book and at almost 700 pages long, takes quite a while to get into, but stick with it and it will have you gasping in shock.