Edinburgh Fringe Festival!


On Thursday this week, I went to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for the very first time. Despite having lived in Kirkcaldy (which is only a couple of train stops away from Edinburgh) for the guts of four years, I’d never made it to the festival… Until now!

I was part of a team of people from Northumberland scouting some of the shows to possibly bring to our area (if not them, then shows like them), and so we all hopped on a mini bus at silly-o-clock in the morning and headed to Scotland for the day.

We saw four shows in total – all completely different from what we’d expected and totally different from each other, and each of them was wonderful in their own way.

The first show was Anatomy of the Piano (for beginners) by Will Pickvance at the Scottish Storytelling Centre. This show was aimed at a younger audience, but there was plenty to entertain folks of all ages. The music was fabulous, and the story behind his love of the piano, accompanied by quirky animation that was perfectly timed, was absolutely adorable. This is a children’s version of a show he’s done for adult audiences, but it was well worth seeing.

After that, we went for lunch at Circus Bistro, which was just around the corner from the Scottish Storytelling Centre. It was crammed full of people who were in Edinburgh for the festival, but the atmosphere and the food were great. and then we were off again.

Next we saw Pss Pss by Baccala Compagnia at Assembly Roxy. When I saw the write up mention mime, by heart sank, because I don’t like mime and never have (I subscribe to Lord Vetinari’s idea of hanging mimes upside down in a dungeon opposite a sign that reads “Learn the words!”), but this couldn’t have been more different from my preconceptions if it had tried for a hundred years. There is no accurate way to describe this act – it’s like traditional clowning-come-acrobatic act with a storytelling element that is utterly delightful – we understood every single word they didn’t say (the only sound they uttered was a whispered “pss pss”). There was so much going on between the two characters on stage, and within the audience participation sections, that to write it all out here would take forever – what they conveyed with the slightest movement or facial expression was immense. They thoroughly deserved the standing ovation they received at the end.

After the highs of Pss Pss, I feared that the next act would be a little depressing, based on the two-sentence summary I’d read. I have never been happier to be proven wrong!

One Hundred Homes by Yinka Kuitenbrouwer was presented in a large wooden hut at Summerhall, with the seating crammed together, There were blankets on some of the chairs, in case it got chilly, and we were all given cups of hot tea and homemade biscuits shaped like little houses (they were delicious, by the way!). Yinka visited over one hundred people, and talked to them about the idea of home. The resulting show, where she relates their stories and links the together in the most unusual manner, was most uplifting, filled with warmth and hope and the friendship she had developed with the people she interviewed. We were very pleased to be there when it was announced that she was the winner of an award – I think we all got a little emotional along with her, as it was very well deserved!

After being left almost completely speechless by Yinka, we headed to a giant  up-turned purple cow at George Square, where we watched Closer by Circa. This was another acrobatic show with elements of dance involved – it was a very lyrical performance showcasing strength and agility, with moves that had the audiences collectively holding their breath as they performed high above us. It was quite indescribable!

Everywhere we went throughout the day, the air was crackling with excitement – the atmosphere was electric! I don’t think any of us wanted to come home at the end of it, despite being completely exhausted. The entire experience was out of this world and I know that although this was my first time at the festival, it most certainly won’t be my last! I look forward to returning for future festivals, and also to taking Tadpole and Choochie along when they’re a little older, because this is something that everyone should experience, at least once, and it will never be forgotten!

Lad Lit Blog Tour – Book Review – The Flood by Steven Scaffardi


IMG_6511Title: The Flood (Sex, Love and Dating Disasters #2)
Author: Steven Scaffardi
ASIN: B01D1U7Z0I
Publisher: Lad Lit Press
First Published: 30 April 2016 (Kindle)
No .of pages: 359

Rating: 4/5

Synopsis (from Amazon):
One bet, four girls, eight weeks, multiple dates. What could possibly go wrong?

Following his traumatic eight month dry spell, Dan Hilles is back in the driving seat and ready to put his dating disasters behind him.

But if only it were that simple.

After a drunken afternoon in the pub, fueled by the confidence of alcohol, Dan makes a bet with his three best pals that will complicate his love-life more than ever when he brazenly declares that he could juggle multiple women all at the same time.

With just eight weeks to prove his point, Dan is about to find out how hard it is to date a flood of women without them all finding out about each other, especially when they come in the shape of an ex-girlfriend, a stalker, the office ice queen and the one that got away.

The Flood is the hilarious follow-up to The Drought by lad lit author Steven Scaffardi, chronicling the adventures of unlucky-in-love Dan Hilles.

Review:
I was fortunate enough to review the first book in this series, (The Drought) a few years back (you can see my review HERE) and found it pants-wettingly hilarious, so when I was offered the chance of reviewing the sequel, I grabbed it with both hands, expecting to once again bust a gut laughing.

I was not disappointed!

The Flood picks up where we left Dan and his pals. A spanner has been thrown in the works of Dan’s love life, and his friends, Rob, Jack and Ollie, are there to lend him a shoulder to cry on. Oh, wait, hang on, this is LAD LIT, not chick lit – the guys would laugh Dan out of the pub if he cried like a big girl! Instead they’re there to poke fun at his total lack of prowess with the ladies, and get him into situations he’d do far better staying well out of. But if Dan didn’t get into trouble, we wouldn’t have this gem of a comedy to amuse us, and that would be a crying shame!

The lads are fleshed out more roundly, and we see a little more of what makes them all tick. Jack was still incredibly annoying (I don’t know – maybe it’s a girl thing, but I wouldn’t touch him with a barge pole!), but I found Rob strangely attractive – is he showing a slightly more sensitive side? I’ll leave you to be the judge of that. And Ollie, well, even the thickest of mates can occasionally be the wisest and most astute, and his seemingly naive words, more often than not, provide the advice that helps Dan the most.

Then there’s the introduction of a new Welsh workmate who isn’t black enough, and an absolutely insane flatmate with a dog obsession that had me almost falling out of my chair. More than once, I snorted coffee out of my nose whilst reading this book, and on one occasion I almost dropped my Kindle in the bathtub while reading in there, because I was laughing so hard – I couldn’t put it down!

Seriously, whether or not you are a fan of lad lit, if you like a good laugh, this is the book for you. Just make sure you read The Drought first to really get the most out of this sequel, (you can get it FREE from Amazon until the end of Monday 2nd May – just click HERE) then continue Dan’s hapless adventures in dating with The Flood. Never has a reversal of fortunes been so funny!

Free Book and Blog Tour Alert!


eBook Giveaway

Calling all fans of humorous fiction – grab a free copy of The Drought by Steven Scaffardi, which I reviewed when it first came out (you can read my review HERE). It’s well worth a giggle, trust me!

Incidentally, I’ll be taking part in the blog tour for the sequel, The Flood, on 2nd May, with a review and author guest post, so check back to see those!

In the meantime, enjoy The Drought, which will surely keep you amused till then.

Get your free Kindle copy of
The Drought
direct from Amazon
HERE.

Book review: Drawn by Chris Ledbetter


drawn by chris ledbetterTitle: Drawn
Author: Chris Ledbetter
ASIN: B00UGRG8SK
ISBN: 978-1772333763
Publisher: Evernight Teen
First Published: 5 June 2015 (Kindle) / 3 June 2015 (paperback)
No .of pages: 282

Rating: 4/5

Synopsis (from Amazon):
Caught between the sweltering fall landscape of Wilmington, NC beaches and southern illusions and expectations, all sixteen year-old Cameron Shade thinks about is art. That, and for Farrah Spangled to view him as more than just a friend. Cameron hopes he can win her heart through art. After several warm interactions with Farrah, including painting together at the beach, Cameron discovers just how complex Farrah’s life is. Following a tense run-in with Farrah’s father, she forbids Cameron to speak to her again, but Cameron’s convinced there’s more behind the request. To impress Farrah, Cameron sketches her portrait into a mysterious sketchbook. He nearly jumps from his skin when the sketch moves and communicates with him. Farrah is now in grave danger because the sketch he drew of her sucked her real-life’s soul into the sketchbook. Cameron now has twenty days to extract Farrah. To save her, he must draw himself into the book. If he fails… they both die.

Review:
I don’t read an awful lot of teen fiction, but when I do, I only enjoy it if the premise is original and daring and grabs me from the get-go.

Let’s just say, I enjoyed this book!

Chris Ledbetter has done something few have done, and that is to write a teenaged boy with whom I, as a woman (and once, a teenaged girl) can relate. I felt for Cameron, I felt for him deeply, and was able to sink into his emotions and passion for art quite effortlessly. Farrah wasn’t quite so well, ahem, drawn as Cameron, but as she was not the main character, only the focus for Cameron’s growing affections, this was understandable – she was attractive, but as a reader I knew little about her, which was pitched very well, as Cameron didn’t really know all that much about her beyond the basics and his attraction for her.

The premise for the story was cleverly thought out and written with a light touch that lifted it above the ordinary – a heavier hand would have thrown everything out of balance and crushed the plot entirely. Its an unusual take on a Pygmalian-type of fantasy, where an artist brings his work of art to life, and falls in love with her, only Cameron is already falling for Farrah before he creates her Echo.

There was a tinge of sadness about the tale too – Ledbetter doesn’t shy away from the darker and more upsetting trials of teen and family life, and the complications inherent in relationships, whether familial, platonic, or romantic – and that’s refreshing. Yet, it never becomes maudlin – that lightness of touch and tone keeps things buoyant and ensures the reader doesn’t sink into depression while turning the pages. It’s a fine line, but Ledbetter walks it well.

Even if you don’t read young adult/teen fiction, don’t discount this book – it’s worth the effort and may just change your mind!

BLOG TOUR: The Monster That Ate My Socks by A.J. Cosmo


the monster that ate my socksTitle: The Monster That Ate My Socks
Author: A J Cosmo
ASIN: B0072VFJ8I
Publisher: Thought Bubble Publishing
First Published: 27 January 2012 (Kindle)
No .of pages: 30

Synopsis (from Amazon):
What happens to all those socks that go missing? Monsters eat them of course!

Review:
I read this with my six-year old son, Tadpole, and he absolutely loved it. The pictures were great, featuring the funny little sock-eating monster, but not the little boys in the story, meaning my son could better picture himself as part of the action.

The story is short, but engaging and fun, and it has a good, strong message not to judge a book by its cover; not everyone is how you expect them to be from their looks. It also imparts an example of being good, kind and helpful to others, which is always nice in a story aimed at children.

We enjoyed reading it together and will certainly look out for other titles in this series.

(2015) 52 things in 52 weeks update


52 things in 52 weeksI won’t promise to do a monthly update, as life often gets in the way of such things, but here we are at the end of January and I find myself with a few minutes to spare, so I’ll do a quick round-up of how my challenges are going so far.

Surprisingly, I have now completed TEN of the 52 challenges:

2. Watch 5 films nominated for awards in the 87th Academy Awards
I’ve actually now watched seven films this year that have been nominated for various Oscars, and several of the films I watched last year have also been nominated for Academy Awards. You can check out all the films I’ve seen HERE (and there are sometimes links to reviews I’ve written if you click on them!)

4. Post predictions of Oscar winners
Click the link above to be taken to my predictions post.

8. Apply to be a giver for World Book Night (fourth year running!)
I actually applied at the tail end of last year as I didn’t want to risk being late, so I started the year with one challenge completed. A teensy bit of a cheat, perhaps, but for a good reason. I really hope to get chosen again as I love taking part in this!

9. Drink no alcohol for 4 weeks (28 / 28)
Not one drop of alcohol has passed my lips during the whole month of January. It wasn’t particularly difficult, as I’m not really a big drinker, but I do tend to have a few drinks over the course of the festive period, and I have occasionally been tempted to crack open one of the bottles left over from the end of last year!

32. Make a summer holidays bucket list
You can see my list for this summer HERE. It’ll be a work in progress, as I’m sure I’ll hear of various events being held locally nearer to the summer holidays.

35. Make a family photo book/album of last year’s (2014) pictures
My photo book arrived a couple of weeks ago and I love it! It’s sitting with the previous two on the shelf in the living room. If you’d like to make one, I highly recommend Vistaprint – it’s a very easy to use system and a very professional finish.

39. Not shout at my kids for 4 weeks straight (28 / 28)
This was perhaps the most challenging of my challenges. I’m not a partiularly angry person, but I do have a six year old son who likes to push the boundaries! Nevertheless, I have managed not to shout at my kids all month, and I intend to continue as long as possible, I have raised my voice to call out to them from another room or over some distance, but I have not raised my voice in anger. I may have lowered my voice and spoken slightly forcibly through gritted teeth once or twice, but I have not shouted, and of that I am incredibly proud. I have once or twice gone into another room (or even a cupboard) and given out a short, sharp scream to vent some frustrations, but never in the same room as my children. And it hasn’t gone un-noticed. Tadpole has commented on it several times and seems quite pleased. We’re also trying to work on how he vents and expresses himself, so hopefully we will soon have a harmonious and peaceful home where nobody shouts. Wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing?

43. Continue breastfeeding Choochie to the age of 15 months (10 January)
We made it past this milestone and he’s still going strong. Honestly, Choochie is a total boob-monster! He no longer nurses at night, but wakes around 4.30am for a feed and a cuddle, then a couple of times through the day he climbs up on my knee for his Milkies, but mostly when he’s feeling tired and wants to nap. He does, however, usually stop before he falls asleep and will now go to bed while still awake and settle himself down. He’s also started sleeping a little bit longer (most of the time, anyway), which is making a huge difference to me and my quality of sleep!

48. Make / contribute three items for charity (3 / 3)
I’ve actually made about 40 items now! I’m taking part in the Be Aware, Make a Square charity drive to raise awareness and money for a meningitis charity. The squares will be made into various items which will be auctioned off.

52. Make a new list of 52 things in 52 weeks for 2016
I’ve already made my list! It won’t be posted until the end of the year, so I may well tweak it a little bit, but it’s got 52 challenges on it ready to go!

I also have quite a few challenges ongoing and partially completed:

1. Watch 52 films in 52 weeks (17 / 52)
5. Read 2 books each month (2 / 24)
18. Lose 14lbs (9 / 14)
27. Split all my coppers between Tadpole’s and Choochie’s piggy banks each month (1/12)
28. Save all £2 coins into the Xmas fund each month (1/12)
29. Save all silver up to the value of 20p into the Xmas fund each month (1/12)
30. Put aside £2 for each challenge completed into Xmas fund (£20/£104)
31. Save £10 per week (£50 / £520)
34. Visit family in Scotland
36. Take the kids to the library once a month (1 / 12)
41. Share a photo of my kids and me each month (1 / 12) (see the photos HERE)
44. Continue breastfeeding Choochie to the age of 18 months (10 April)
45. Write 12 letters (total, between them) to my various pen pals (3 / 12)
49. Make six gifts /Xmas decorations (3 / 6)
50. Release twelve new cross stitch charts (1 / 12)

And these ones will be started in February:

10. Eat no chocolate for 4 weeks (0 / 28)
11. Drink a green smoothie every day for 4 weeks (0 / 28)
16. Try out 6 recipes I’ve never tried before (0/6)
17. Try 6 foods I’ve never tried before (0 / 6)

So, quite a lot of progress made, and I’m well on my way towards fulfilling my list of challenges!

Film Review: Into the Woods (2014)


into_the_woods_ver12Film: Into the Woods
Released: 2014
Director: Rob Marshall
Stars: Anna Kendrick, Meryl Streep, Chris Pine, Emily Blunt, Johnny Depp, Tracey Ullman, Christine Baranski

Synopsis:
Big screen version of the Stephen Sondheim musical of the same name. A witch tasks a childless baker and his wife with procuring magical items from classic fairy tales to reverse the curse put on their family tree.

What I thought of it:
I remember once seeing a televised version of the musical where the witch was played by the phenomenal Bernadette Peters and being blown away. I’ve never yet seen the live stage version, but I was super excited when I heard of this production being green-lighted and waited with bated breath to see who would be cast.

I wasn’t disappointed.

The music and story remain the same, and the performances from the stellar cast are of the highest class. Honestly, you couldn’t ask for a better cast. In particular, stand out performances from Depp as the Big Bad Wolf (a brief, but important part), and Streep as the Wicked Witch, who isn’t perhaps as wicked as people might have originally thought (one can understand her 19th Oscar nomination for this film). A surprisingly strong vocal performance from Pine as one of the handsome princes was a pleasure to see and hear (who would have thought he had such a princely singing voice?) and a neat turn from Ullman as Jack’s mother were nice touches, but I was particularly pleased with the onscreen chemistry between Cordon and Blunt, as the baker and his wife, who carry the majority of the story and handled their parts with admirable aplomb.

And my eldest son, who is six years old, thought this film was fantastic, giving it full marks. It kept him entertained from start to finish. It’s definitely worth watching with the kids, as the unusual take on the traditional fairytales is sure to spark conversations and get their imaginations working.

Rating: Like a Star @ heavenLike a Star @ heavenLike a Star @ heavenLike a Star @ heaven
Nominated for Oscars in three categories (Best Supporting Actress for Streep, Best Achievement in Production Design, and Best Costume Design), I feel this one might nab the costume statue, along with Steep possibly bagging another win. As the actress most often nominated for Oscars in performance categories, she may well convert this into another win, and I would be very happy for her to take this one home.