Blog tour · book review · literature · reading · review

The Runaway Daughter by Joanna Rees | book tour

When I read the blurb of The Runaway Daughter, I was aware this isn’t the sort of fiction I usually pick up. But, as the lovely people from Macmillan sent it to be to review, I set aside my preconceptions and started reading.

I was very pleasantly surprised by how quickly I was hooked. I would categorise The Runaway Daughter as an easy summer read – it’s part romance, part coming of age story and part self-discovery for the protagonist. It feels fast-paced, mainly due to the short chapters that switch between scenes. But for a new girl caught up in the hectic world of London, this seems entirely appropriate.

The characters are likeable, if at times a little predictable. Yet, as Anna grows into her new persona, Vita, she becomes a girl with guts, after all, working your way through 1920’s London society is no easy feat. After a somewhat bumpy start, Vita soon has a job, a bed to sleep in and a selection of friends.

There are, of course, hiccups along the way. Anna leaves her Lancashire roots behind her, and with them her brother. But unbeknown to Anna, Lancashire’s grip over her never truly disappears, leaving a shadow over her otherwise glamourous lifestyle. Vita is also naïve to a lot of the world; she gets taken advantage of, she also presumes too much from others. She even seems scared of herself at times.

At least there are plenty of strong female characters to learn from. Nancy shows Vita how a woman can be independent and self-sufficient in a society that still expects a woman’s place to be that of a wife and mother. The other show girls, put their own enjoyment and happiness above society’s expectations. And Vita, too, manages to make it – she’s eventually confident in London, happy to explore life through her flapper-girl persona. For a novel set in the 20’s, when women didn’t even have the vote – I think that’s pretty impressive.

Published by Macmillan, The Runaway Daughter is the first novel of A Stitch in Time trilogy. Follow the book tour by visiting these wonderful blogs:

The details:

Published: 22 August 2019

RRP: £7.99

book review · literature · review · war

The tattooist of Auschwitz – Heather Morris

It’s hard to read a holocaust story and somehow enjoy it. Enjoy is never the right word, but a book can certainly be a good read no matter how hard or harrowing the subject may be. It’s even harder to read a holocaust story knowing it is based on real events, the true story of Lale Sokolov – the tattooist of Auschwitz.

Lale enters Auschwitz in 1942 having volunteered to report to the Slovakian government as a Jew. He quickly realised that to survive is everything, and although survival comes with its own risks, it’s the overwhelming theme of the book and comes with its own consequences. When Lale meets Gita, his desire to live is strengthened – it’s one thing to live for yourself, it’s all together harder to live for someone else.

We follow Lale through his journey, from his arrival at the camp to his quick promotion as Auschwitz’s tattooist. He retells the conversations he has with his SS supervisor, the friendship he forms with the day workers on camp – throughout he continues to show his kindness, his desire to be more than a prisoner. We also view his first meeting with Gita, when he tattoos her number onto her bare forearm. The power she holds over him is instant.

When the worse crimes are happening around you, do your own morals get tarnished by the system?

At times, Lale appears cunning, using his unique position of power to aid those around him. Bread is the currency of Auschwitz, and Lale shares his extra rations with those most in need. He uses his connections around camp to exchange jewels and money for rations. Keeping and storing diamonds for his own protection.

There’s no denying the sights he sees are harrowing; the bodies of the dead, the tortured, those who have lost all hope. One morning Lale enters a gas chamber, not to be gassed, but to examine two prisoners with the same tattoo. His SS officer jokes he’s the only jew to walk in, and then out of a gas chamber. It’s a chilling thought.

As powerful as Lale’s story is, it’s hard to read this book without thinking of the millions of untold stories. The people who did survive. The prisoners who did not. There’s no one to pass on their horrors, they simply remain a number, a statistic.

autobiography · books · non-fiction · review

Becoming – Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama’s autobiography was at the top of my list for books to read in 2019; and as my first book of the year, it certainly didn’t disappoint. I rarely step away from the fiction sphere, but I do enjoy the familiar timeline an autobiography follows.

Elegantly written and at times raw and honest, Becoming showcases Michelle Obama’s remarkable life. From her upbringing in Chicago’s South Side to life in the White House, Michelle’s perseverance rings throughout. She stays true to both her ideals and values, never allowing the political surroundings to overcome herself.

Her life is extraordinary, there’s no denying that. But in the extraordinary lies the ordinary. The struggles of a working mother made harder by a husband away from home. The hardship of juggling what is expected from your career as opposed to feeling fulfilled with your work.

There are moments when being the First Lady seems too far removed from private life. During the first year of Barak Obama’s presidency, they go out for an evening in New York to see a show. A simple trip that should be easy to achieve. The secret service, of course, must sweep the restaurant and theatre before they can enter. Anyone who enters after them must also be security checked. The theatre show starts an agreed 45 minutes late to accommodate the extra security checks every visitor must go through. It’s a lot of extra resources for a simple night out.

Michelle doesn’t shy away from her political opinions either. She takes us through the transition phase of the Obama and Trump presidencies and her own realisation that she does not need to be openly welcoming or approving of Trump. And she isn’t. He was the one who spread lies that Barak was born in Kenya. Trump has openly declared a lot of Obama’s laws and legislations as stupid, repelling or replacing them with his own agenda.

Becoming explores Michelle Obama’s life, her personal gains and struggles. It shows the continuous oppression of an African-American in America, even one at the very top. As a women who didn’t aim for the spotlight, Michelle Obama has something to teach everyone.

exhibitions · London · review

Designs of the year 2018 | The Design Museum

The Design Museum’s Designs of the Year exhibition is one I’ve been looking forward to all year. Having missed the 2017 event, I was keen to head down to Kensington as soon as I knew the doors were open.

It’s very easy in this day and age to forget how design is everywhere. Every item we use has been researched, discussed, built, tested and then evolved to reach a product that works seamlessly. There’s a lot of thought in there.

The exhibition was designed into different sections, from medical technology including an operation table that fits into a backpack to fashion and Burberry’s incorporation of the rainbow in their iconic print. Rihanna’s make up line showcasing her broad foundation range, and a smart furniture system to make the most of living in a small space also made an appearance.

With 87 different innovative projects to see, this is an exhibition to check out.

Beazley Designs of the Year 2018 is on at The Design Museum until 6 January 2019.

book review · books · literature · review

Elenor Oliphant is Completely Fine

Of course, Elenor Oliphant is not completely fine.

Honeyman’s debut novel demonstrates the behaviour of just-about coping. An existence of life certainly, but Elenor isn’t living. Instead, she simply goes through the motions. Flat, check. Work in an office 9-5, check. Down 2 litres of vodka every weekend, check.

One thing we cannot escape is just how lonely Elenor is, she leaves work on Friday and doesn’t speak to a single soul until Monday morning. She’s not just living alone, she expects to stay alone. She doesn’t understand the social interactions, she finds small talk pointless and she most certainly doesn’t get involved in office politics; but that doesn’t mean she can’t be sociable.

All it takes is for an unexpected friendly encounter, a twist in Elenor’s otherwise predictable routine to change not only her perception of life but her way of living. We follow Elenor along this path and her journey towards friendship. She may be a character with troubles and torments, but she’s also warm and surprisingly funny.

With a few twists along the way, this book gripped me from start to finish. I flew through it in under a week, and pondered over the characters for even longer.

book review · books · diary · non-fiction · review

Morning

Whenever I’m in doubt of what to read next, when the bookshop is overflowing with inspiration; I turn to the nearest bookseller and ask for their recommendation. Not only are booksellers a very friendly bunch, but they’re also big readers and often have a book in mind you’d never find nestled on the shelves.

I recently popped into Salts Mill (my all time favourite bookshop) and did just that. I was recommended a non-fiction book that would be hard to categorise; it’s a diary, a book of advice and wellbeing, and a little nod to nature too. With that description, I never would have picked it off the shelf. But it’s a small book, that’s beautifully simple.

Allan Jenkins uses Morning as a confirmation of what he already knows. A secret he shares with his readers. It’s effective and calming. It’s also very simple – to wake up earlier. Listen to the birds, watch the sunrise and enjoy the quiet calm before the day really begins.

It’s elegantly put together, a diary of Allen’s pre-dawn thoughts interwoven with interviews of others who wake before the sun. It’s very effective too. Although I’m yet to wake early enough to welcome a July sunrise, I am getting out of bed earlier. And more than that – I’m using that time wisely. For now this might be a little change in my routine, but I really hope it’s one that lasts.

art · exhibitions · gallery · London · review · Royal Academy

Summer Exhibition

Considering I used to spend every weekend in an art gallery (in fairness I did work there) it’s been far too long since I last visited an exhibition.

On a sunny Saturday, in search of an afternoon of culture, I headed to the Royal Academy for their 2018 Summer Exhibition. Curated alongside Greyson Perry, this year’s exhibition was always going to be a splash of colour and design.

I love the way the Summer Exhibition is created, art is suddenly everywhere, a mix-match of style: landscapes and portraits, still life and photography. Even politics and brexit got a mention. It was full of expression, of discussion starters as it evaluated life in the here and now.

Everywhere you looked there was something to catch your attention. Larger works of art sitting loud and bright, smaller pieces that needed to be spotted, sculptures, textiles, models and videos.

There was even a bar.

This may be my first Summer Exhibition, but I’ll be back for 2019.

film · film review · Musical · review

The Greatest Showman

I’ve tackled book reviews, theatre shows, trips to museums and galleries — but now it’s time to try a different genre.

I always advocate that the book is better than the film — but what about those films not based on books? The stories that use this platform as a unique story telling experience, and one that can only do it justice.

The Greatest Showman is a cinematic experience from start to finish, visually exciting, the music embodies the tale; enhancing the feeling the story conveys. The music is a triumph that stays with you long after the final credits. There are dreams of a better future, fantasies that can come true and a mindset that the world is yours to take . A message that seems very poignant today.

Yet there are a few downsides to this dream-state world — each issue in the storyline is quickly resolved — making life appear perfect. The gambles of every decision seem insignificant as the reward is instant. A theme that certainly wasn’t true in the real life of P.T. Barnum, but this can maybe be forgiven in the showmanship of Barnum, he’s a storyteller after all.

For any fan of musical theatre this is a film for you, a chance to see a man live a life of showmanship, regardless of the consequences.

After all, we have P.T.Barnum to thank for the entertainment industry of today — entertainment for everyone, and I think that is something worth seeing.

The Greatest Showman was released in the UK on 26th December.

autobiography · book review · books · non-fiction · review

This is Going to Hurt

I don’t often find myself straying from my bookshelf full of fiction, However, as soon as I’d heard of Adam Kay’s diary as a junior doctor, I was intrigued. Kay introduces an honest, raw, retelling of life on the inside the NHS: the long shifts, the lack of staff and funding but mostly the emotional toll this all takes. Despite the dedication of NHS staff across the country — the NHS is failing them.

Told with a side of dry humour Kay’s diaries are simultaneously heartwarming and devastating. It’s a glimpse into a world we rarely see. It’s not just the lack of social life, but the overtired doctors on the ward; what should be an exception is becoming the norm.

This is the shake up the NHS desperately needs, a chance for the outside world to see just how much the NHS is trying, and yet the services it provides continue to be overstretched. There are times when Kay points out more efficient methods of care, ways the NHS should be spending its money, but these decisions aren’t made by doctors, they’re made by people who rarely step foot into a hospital ward — no wonder they’re out of touch.

This book is a chance to appreciate the NHS and the hardworking staff, a chance to laugh out loud and on the next page have tears in your eyes. A chance to try and chance things for the future.

legend · London · myth · National Theatre · performance · play · review

Saint George and the Dragon

I thought I knew the tale of England’s patron saint, yet this National Theatre production alternated my preconceptions of the famous story.

While we may begin with dragons and armour, knights and fair maidens. The story soon shifts to convey a much deeper message; questioning the world that is to come. Saint George (John Heffernan) interjects comedy at just the right moment bringing light relief to this otherwise quite dark play. Rory Mullarkey’s writing is tactically clever, intertwining this historic story with many modern twists and relatable experiences. Perhaps, we too, live in the constant shadow of the dragon.

Yet, it was the set that craftily brought each element together, bringing with it the world we know and the world we think we know. Gradually turning the simple village into a busy town and a thriving city — each time with a new challenge to face. The backdrop enhances the tale and with it the perception of development, of a new and improved life, while hinting at the sacrifice this entails.

This may have been my first visit to the National Theatre — but it certainly won’t be my last.