The Big Read

No.48 – Far From the Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy Read 24/6/15

Affiliate Link: Far from the Madding Crowd – Wordsworth Classics

Not Far From the Maddening Crowd as I have been calling it for a long time whoops.

Anyway. Now I know Hardy has this miserable reputation so I wasn’t exactly skipping at the prospect of reading this novel but the ebook was free so I started it on a train journey. Let me tell you something it wasn’t so bad. Does it make you feel warm and fuzzy inside? No. Better than Dickens? Most definitely.

So Bathsheba (pronounce Bahth-she-bah I know what a name) Everdene (no relation to Katniss) is this independent, strong willed, very beautiful women and everybody falls in love with her. But proud Bathsheba won’t settle for just anybody and holds out for true love. Although, when she finds it, things don’t quite work out as planned.

The book is set in Victorian Wessex and focuses on the farming community of Weatherby a fictional village. Now I am from Wessex and I consider myself to be quite knowledgeable in areas of pastoral country scenes but I wouldn’t have had a clue what was happening a lot of the time if it wasn’t for the footnotes in my edition. Quite a lot of dialect is used and there are a lot of farming terms used which I had never heard before. Hardy uses these elements to create a really atmospheric story. He beautiful captures the simple nature of life in the countryside from the hedge rows to the farm houses.

His characters are…. frustrating. The only one I like is Gabriel Oak, the laid back farmer. Every one else is difficult to get on with. They all have there flaws. Bathsebha’s pride, Boldwood’s possessiveness, Sargent Troy’s arrogance, they make for exasperating reading. But Hardy shows us just enough of their good qualities to stop them being unbearable. As I was reading it part of me hoped they would get what they deserved. Sometimes I thought that was happiness, sometimes I thought is was punishment for their sins and in a way that’s what happens in the end.

The novel is quite slow in pace. This isn’t unpleasant, it feels like a gentle stroll along country roads. But then the ending was a huge shock. I really couldn’t believe it. Scandal! Drama! In this tiny fictional town! I read the last few chapters or so in a complete rush because I had to know what happened. Who would have expected that from a provincial story from the 1870s?

I think this is probably one of Hardy’s more accessible works. I know a little about a few others and think I shall struggle with those more. Still I really enjoyed it. It took me back to my part of the world in a way that was very different from Jane Austen. The people were so much more real for their struggles and as a result more alive. This was one of those classics where I am sure the literary worth was great but I didn’t noticed because I could only think about the story.

Rating: 4/5

Would recommend to: ease you into slightly heavier classics.

Other Books 2015

Other Books – The Tales of Beedle the Bard, J.K. Rowling Read 12/6/15

Affiliate Link:The Tales of Beedle the Bard

Any Harry Potter fan will tell you that the Harry Potter universe is so much more than 7 books and 8 films. I know for me growing up it felt like a whole parallel universe happening around me that was just beyond my reach but it was incredibly comforting to know it was there. This feeling comes from in the most, the incredible detail that J.K. Rowling went to in creating this world. If you have ever been on Pottermore you know what I am on about. Every character no matter how small has a back story that would make method actors jealous and every detail of everyday life has been considered and perfectly crafted.

You may think I have let my fan girl out a little too much, but I’m am not putting this point forward without any evidence. No. I present to you exhibit A The Tales of Beedle the Bard. This collection of children’s fairy tales from the wizarding world are ingenious. They are incredibly well written fantasy stories in their own right because they perfectly strike the balance of familiar and unfamiliar. They are excellent children’s stories with the kind of morals that society has been brought up on for centuries. If you were just to read the stories in this book you would find pleasure enough.

But then, we are treated the the critical voice of Albus Dumbledore. Through his notes and analysis of the text the reader sees how these stories fall into the context of the wizarding world. We are given an extra glimpse of the universe that so many people around the world fell in love with. I know that I lap up every detail and The Tales of Beedle the Bard keeps the magic real without even a mention of a certain Boy Who Lived. This book is like a mug of hot cocoa on a winter’s night. It wraps you up and takes you back to the comfort and safety of a place so many people found solace in.

This book reminded me why I love Harry Potter. It makes me happy.

Rating: 5/5

Would recommend to: HP loving adults who want to share the joy with there slightly too young children.

Requested Reviews

Requested Review – Echo, Lorena Glass Read 6/6/15

Rather exciting this is the first review I have done on my blog where the author sent me a copy of their book and asked me to review it. I feel very professional.25424100

Anyway, Echo by Lorena Glass is the first book in a trilogy that follows a pair of lovers cursed throughout history to never be together. But they are determined to defy fate with the help of time travel. Whenever one of them dies the other time travels to be with them again in the form of their next or previous incarnation. The story is about soul mates and the idea that people are meant to be together. I would definitely call it a romance possibly YA but with a wonderful twist.

I must be honest, I very nearly didn’t get past the first page. I found it a bit too angsty teenage heartbreak and I thought “oh no what have I agreed to?”. However, that being said I am so glad I powered through the rain on the empty beach because it turns out the first setting is 5th Century Gaul. Yep that’s right. Gaul. How cool is that? I find when people choose historical settings for novels they tend to be a bit same-old-same-old. Picking Dark Ages Europe I found really refreshing and totally engaging.

The story starts from the point of view of Karissa, who is from the near future and I got the impression she was the first of the lovers to time traveller. She has recently lost Ian her (much older) lover hence the opening heartbreak sequence. I’m not sure if I like Karissa or not. She grew on me as her story progressed but at the beginning I felt a little “oh stop your whining”. Then again I often feel that way when reading romances; I liked her much more when she was happy.

What I really loved about this book and found so original was the way the narrative shifts and the characters get reinvented with each reincarnation. It plays with the establish ideas of soul mates and says well if you’re soul mates surely if your soul is reincarnated you will still love them? I found it so clever and refreshing. For me ‘will they won’t they?’ isn’t enough in a love story. In Echo the interest doesn’t come from will they get together or will they cheat/fight/break up, we know they are meant to be so their relationship will work, they just can’t get the chance to prove it.

The only thing that let me down ever so slightly with this book was the writing. Every now and again it would tell rather than show and it was so frustrating because I really like this story. The settings, the time travel all of it was new and exciting there is so much potential. At the end of this book we are only up to 737. I want to know about this couple on board a ship to the new world, or in pre-revolution France. The ending was perfect. Moving and intriguing with just enough conclusion to satisfy me at the end of this book and just enough cliffhanger to make me excited for the next.

Rating: 3/5 (I wish it were 4 it’s just the writing)

Would recommend to: YA lovers or any one a bit bored with standard romances


‘Brass’ – A New Musical

I know this isn’t book related in anyway but I am hoping you will bear with me and let me talk about something I am really proud of.

Copyright Matt Hargraves

Photo Credit Matt Hargraves

Last summer I worked on a new musical by composer Benjamin Till with a British theatre company called National Youth Music Theatre or NYMT. The musical tells the story of a Leeds brass band that all sign up to fight in the First World War together. This story is unique as it also follows the women that the men leave behind as they go to work in the Barnbow munitions factory. IMG_20150603_124104[1]

The experience of working on this show is one of the greatest of my entire life. I love this show. I love the people who worked on it, I love the design and I love the songs. I know I am biased but the music is just breath taking and beautiful. But the show was only on for a week in a music hall in Leeds. The very music hall where a lot of the Leeds pals battalion actually signed up. It is deeply moving and poignant but only a few people managed to see the show. Luckily that included some very important critics because the show went on to win the UK Theatre Award for Best Musical Production.

BUT ALL THAT CHANGES TODAY. Because now, today, the original cast recording is available to buy! I can’t believe it this is such an incredible achievement for everyone involved and I am so proud to be a tiny part of it. I even get a mention on the inside sleeve! IMG_20150603_123931[1]

So I understand that it is highly unlikely any of you will actually be interest in buying a copy of the album. Don’t worry all I ask is that you check out the music videos we made to accompany the release. Like the show I was able to help with costumes so look out for my name in the credits. The first song, ‘Billy Whistle’ the pals sing as a bit of light relief whilst in the trenches. But the second song is a more emotional number. I hope you enjoy them even if musical theatre makes your skin crawl. ‘Brass’ is a tribute to all the men and women of Leeds for the sacrifices they made during World War One and it has been my privilege to help share their story.

Just in case the album grabs your fancy 😉 :