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First Term at Malory Towers review

11 Oct

I decided to write this review to hopefully help you to see the magic that can be seen in children’s books. Not only that, but to see how an author who has been accused of being sexist can write such strong, clearly defined characters who do not need the help of men to solve their problems.

First Term at Malory Towers is the first of six books by Enid Blyton. It is the third school series written by Blyton, starting the year after she finished the St Clare’s series and was inspired by Blyton’s oldest daughter Gillian going to boarding school.

In the books we follow the heroine, Darrell Rivers, through her school life, which include her ups and downs, friends and enemies. It has to be my favourite school series and has always made me want to attend Malory Towers.

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We meet an excited Darrell ready to set off to school in her brand new uniform. It’s nice to have a book start with someone being excited to go off to school and even though the idea of a brown and orange uniform sounds quite unappealing, I do think it could look very nice if matched properly.

We follow Darrell from her home to the station to catch the train for Cornwall, where Malory Towers is located. Naturally she is nervous about her new school, wondering what it will be like and if she’ll make friends. Blyton makes it very easy for the reader to relate to Darrell from the beginning, and these nerves that she experiences make her more human. The fun really begins when she is plunged into the world of Malory Towers at the station. First she is introduced to the sensible Miss Potts who is to be her form mistress and head of North Tower where Darrell is to sleep.

From the formidable Miss Potts we are then introduced to Alicia Johns, a girl in Darrell’s form who has been at Malory Towers for some time (though we are not told how long). Darrell takes an instant liking to Alicia, hoping that this older girl will be her special friend.

Alicia comes across as a hard character from the start and I’ve always wondered why Darrell so wants her as a friend when it’s easy for the reader identify her as a class clown and a bit of a bully. Alicia does get a little better, but I’ve never really warmed to Alicia or understood why you would want her as friend. She reminds me of the popular girls at school who would bully you without a thought to your feelings if you got on their wrong side.

Gwendoline Lacey is another a new girl, however she has none of the characteristics Darrell has which make her so instantly likeable. She is painted as a cry baby, spoilt and worst of all in the sporty world of Malory Towers: overweight. The girls don’t make Gwendoline’s life easy, and Alicia especially says some quite spiteful things to her over the course of the book.

The only other new girl to join them is quiet Sally Hope who seems the complete opposite to everyone else in the train carriage because she does not seem excited about going away to boarding school. She is quiet and withdrawn, which allows her to slide into the background for a short while in this book.

So on to Malory Towers, with its four towers North, South, East and West, which hold the girls’ dormitories and common rooms. Darrell, Sally and Gwendoline are all in North Tower together, with a stern matron and Miss Potts to keep an eye on them.

The term begins quite calmly with lots of fun but hard work as well. Alicia turns out to be the trickster of the form which adds a whole lot of enjoyment to lessons and Darrell wishes Alicia would be her special friend. However she soon learns that mucking around has its price as her marks for school work start to slip.

Sally’s brief illness acts as a catalyst for a complete change of character. After being a very closed off character who often fades into the background, her persona changes and she becomes a very lovely person very quickly and she becomes like an open flower instead of a closed one. The new Sally is instantly likeable. I think you see more of her personality in those last few chapters than you ever do in the rest of the books, except in the third form where Sally’s jealousy gets the better of her, but at the same time she does fade into the background a lot of the time.

I hope I haven’t given too much away from First Form at Malory Towers, but I don’t want to ruin the book for you. Personally I love this book. The ups and the downs of the term make it such a thrilling read, for instance when Darrell is nicer to Mary-Lou and the spiteful tricks Gwendoline plays.

I hope I have managed to show you what a good read this is, and how characters of their time, can break the stereotype. Enjoy this light read, and let me know what you think!

About the writer: Stef is a 22 year old graduate who has a lifelong obsession with books and reading who also loves music and live theatre. You’re most likely to find her in a book shop or out in London standing at a theatre stage door. She can be found on twitter and running The World of Blyton.

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Miranda Hart: Is It Just Me?

25 Sep
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image from here

Many of you probably know Miranda Hart better for her award winning TV series than her writing, but her ‘biography’ caused a great stir in the literary world. Whenever a big, of the moment, star brings out their autobiography it means big things; they’re going places and plan to be around a while, as Ms Hart has done.

However, I’m not entirely sure that this book is a conventional biography, which seems to fit in with what I know about Miranda Hart. I do not watch her TV series’, but find her amusing whenever I have seen her elsewhere- and certainly in Call the Midwife she is quite brilliant as the posh nurse.

However, instead of describing areas of her life in chronological order, and in detail, like so many biographies do; hart decides to dedicate this so-called biography into a How to deal with Everyday life, manual or Miran-ual (she actually creates and uses this word frequently in the book).

Hart’s book describes situations that have arisen in her life and how she had handled them, while advising her readers (or My Dear Reader Chums) how to avoid her mistakes at all costs. Hart talks the readers through how not to make mistakes at office parties with making uncomfortable small talk, embarrassing yourself at dates, and awkward family Christmases.

All the time this advice is going on, I did wonder why we were not being treated to a more conventional biography of her life, as far back as she could remember to the present day; but then I remembered this is Miranda Hart. Conventional just is not in the rule book.

The book itself is (at best) semi-autobiographical as Hart draws on her life experience without filling in the time with blow by blow account of her life. It makes it stand out certainly, but I believe it’s classification is wrong. More a humorous self-help manual than anything, “Is it Just Me?” has a bewitching quality that comes across in Hart’s on screen personality, and there is something very engaging and comforting about this book. It does not take itself seriously, which adds to the character; everything is always ready to have the innuendo or micky taken out of it. Something a good biography should be able to do!

An easy read for sure, full of “Gosh that is so me!” moments and not as difficult to follow as a tricky personal timeline, this book is one that has to be read from start to finish, even if you only dip in and out of it over time.

Obviously if you are a Miranda fan, it is a must read, but even for those who do not like the tall gangly Miranda Hart it should be on your reading list as the nights draw in and we all cuddle up under our blankets with hot chocolate, tea or coffee (not to mention a cheeky biscuit… or three).

My only peeve about this otherwise comical text is that when Hart talks about boarding schools, and she compares hers to Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers, she spells it with two L’s i.e. Mallory Towers. Major pet peeve, and one that any proof writer and editor should have checked. However, do not worry Ms Hart, you are not alone in spelling one of my favourite author’s most popular series wrong; even some diehard fans are guilty of this. Just for next time, please do try and remember!

So there you have it, Miranda Hart’s “Is it just me?” is a good autumn read, light, playful and easy to come back to. A must have book for a short chapter here and there on those long winters nights. Easily a four out of five.

About the Writer: Stef is a 22 year old graduate who has a lifelong obsession with books and reading who also loves music and live theatre. You’re most likely to find her in a book shop or out in London standing at a theatre stage door. She can be found on twitter and running The World of Blyton.

Edinburgh Fringe Pt 2

18 Sep

Here we are, part 2 of our Edinburgh journey! (If you haven’t seen part 1, click here.)

Saturday started off with Tony Law and his aptly namely Nonsense Overdrive show. How can you not love a man who enters the room with light up rings and a head torch strapped to his top hat? A great show, with lots of surreal stories and a trip into outer space.

After that we headed over to Pleasance Courtyard for I Need A Doctor, which was hilarious! The premise was that the writers (who were also the actors, the whole 2 of them) had trouble with the copyright and as a result, had to change certain phrases and lyrics in their musical, which lead to non-rhyming songs and bizarre nemeses. A very funny hour it was, you know when your cheeks hurt from laughing that you’re in the right place.

Half an hour after the Whosical musical and about half an hour’s walk away, was Stella Graham; a fine comic who told us the troubles of working at summer camps in America (parents will sue you), a story involving curley chips and the c word, and who used to have a mullet (she provided us with photographic evidence).

The evening’s show was 4.48 Psychosis. Now I don’t know if you know about 4.48 Psychosis (is it still part of GCSE drama?) but it’s a piece of writing by Sarah Kane in 24 sections with no stage directions, characters or settings. Seen by some as the writer’s suicide note, it’s been the subject of much debate and interpretation when performed. The production we saw – DEM Productions – intermixed normal everyday conversation, settings and characters with Kane’s abstract prose. It worked well but there wasn’t really any closure (though I didn’t think there would be) as it just ended.

Sunday was a later start to the day, watching an impressive piece of physical comedy in The Sword & I. The tale of an invisible sword that has terrible and magical properties were interspersed with accents clouds, punctuation and pretending to be a small South American mammal.

The evening began with Caroline Rhea (Aunt Hilda!) who was on top form and possibly the best event at the Fringe. Matchmaker extraordinaire and lover of star signs, she was hysterically funny and I was genuinely gutted when the hour was up.

Mr B The Gentleman Rhymer finished off our day with a superb set of covers and originals, including his Six Ages of Love. There was dancing, naps and fabulous banjolele solos.

The next morning was spent wondering round the city, stopping off at our favourite new café the Elephant House before heading over to the Assembly Rooms for Avenue Q featuring a Scottish Trekkie Monster. Harry Styles* made for a wonderful Nicky and the show was fun as it usually is.

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image by Daisy

The rest of the day was spent exploring the castle and taking pretentious pictures which is what happens when you run out of colour film and have to revert to black and white.

All in all it was a brilliant week and I would definitely go back!

*No, not really. It was off putting how much he looked like him though.

About the writer: Daisy is an irregular photographer, wannabe writer and full time female. In between tea and toast breaks she spends far too much time on the internet blogging, tumbling and tweeting. She is unapologetic in her love of the Spice Girls.

Edinburgh Fringe Pt I

13 Sep

The idea to go to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival came about at the beginning of the year and was jumped on with enthusiasm and delight by Sarah and me. There was endless flicking through the gigantic programme that was sent out and scrolling through their website for shows and events to see. I do love planning things!

Luckily, having a similar taste in humour, it wasn’t hard to find things we both found interesting. Tickets were ordered for cabaret acts, music and even a few theatre pieces. Most of the shows last for an hour and there are also plenty of free things available to see, from the obvious street performers to an excellent murder mystery and a very interesting one-woman play about Bette Davis.

We arrived on a Tuesday and after booking into our B&B, headed straight back out for our first performance. The Creative Martyrs’ After The Apocalypse was delightful and I fully recommended going to see something the day you arrive if you can. The basis of the show is that the inevitable apocalypse arrives halfway through one of the duo’s performances and survivors make their way over to the musical hall; hilarity ensues.

It was an hour of songs, comedy and political campaigns that I would have happily paid for (the show was free) and would leap at the chance of seeing again.

The next day was an early one; our first show was at 10 on the top deck of a bus at the Free Sisters. Miss Clara Bell was a funny, piano playing girl who stored chocolate down her top. Interesting observations about moustaches were made and correct Twitter etiquette was discussed – do we ‘tweet’ or ‘twot’?

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image by Daisy

After the squishy chocolate we headed over to Biddy Mulligans Bar for For The Love of Folk aka an Irish chap called Raymond playing his guitar in a tiny, tiny pub. The songs were accompanied by short intros or stories about them; recurring themes were drinking, love, prison and fighting. Funny, charming and educational, it was a wonderful way to spend 90 minutes. (Props to the guys in the corner for singing along.)

In the evening we had a troupe of Aussies called Instant Order doing a Harry Potter themed trial by audience. Someone had been murdered and audience members got to decide the witnesses’ houses, patronus and favourite spells. I mean come on, how many duck patronuses have you heard of? Another hour that went by far too quickly, with laughs coming thick and fast.

Next up was EastEnd Cabaret who were filthy and oh so hilarious! Manbeasts, gin and creepy photoshopped images of Meatloaf filled the hour and it felt like it was over in a flash. I wasn’t so fond of the Rohypnol song though; it just all more creepy than funny.

Day number 3 started off with Bette Davis Ain’t For Sisses, an interesting look at the actress on the night before the 1939 Oscars. I can’t help but feel that it would have been more enjoyable if I knew more about Bette Davis. Nonetheless, I liked the show very much and was another free one I would have paid for.

The evening show was The Bloody Ballad, which was amazing! A rock n’ roll fuelled musical about murder, manslaughter and true love. It starts with a girl called Mary recounting her story along with her band, The Missin’ Fingers of how she met a boy and the chaos that ensued. It was a hell of a lot of fun!

The next morning we were up bright and early for The Hawke Papers at The Blind Poet. Now this was good: an interactive murder mystery set in the 19th century, someone has died (obviously) and another is incorrectly identified as the murderer. The audience’s role as detective is to question and frisk (!) other witnesses and gather evidence.

Immediately after was Blues and Burlesque and, lucky for us, it was at the same venue! It was OK. There two girls, one stripped while the other sang amusing songs including a jazz cover of Boom Boom Boom by The Outhere Brothers.

Our show for the evening was Emilie Autumn, which was a bit disappointing. Don’t get me wrong, I love Emilie Autumn but she didn’t play many songs and the crowd didn’t seem very lively. There was an amusing re-enactment of some fan fiction (the things people write…) and it was visually stunning but it never really came to anything.

In between shows we wondered around the city, watching street performers, finding fantastic places to eat and traipsing around the museum. Edinburgh is such a fantastic city and there was no end of things to do. True story: we unintentionally raced Stephen Moffat up some steps and won!

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image by Daisy

Next week, part two of our Edinburgh Adventure featuring Avenue Q, Aunt Hilda and a castle!

About the writer: Daisy is an irregular photographer, wannabe writer and full time female. In between tea and toast breaks she spends far too much time on the internet blogging, tumbling and tweeting. She is unapologetic in her love of the Spice Girls.

The Hunger Games review

28 Aug

After the Twilight phenomenon started to die down teenage girls around the world were on the lookout for the next big thing. That thing was Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games. Intrigued by all I had heard about it, and unable to borrow it from the library because the waiting list was THAT long, I found a cheap copy online and took a chance on it.

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The story is of a 16 year old, Katniss Everdeen, who is from an area called District 12 in the post-apocalyptic country of Panem (once the United States of America). As punishment for an uprising 74 years ago the Capitol “reaps” a young man and young woman from each district to compete in the annual Hunger Games. During these games the young men and women, known as tributes, must fight to the death for the honour of being crowned the King or Queen of the Hunger Games. Katniss’ younger sister gets chosen as the tribute for District 12 originally, but Katniss volunteers to take her place.

Peeta Mellark, an old school peer of hers, is chosen as the male tribute from District 12 after Katniss volunteers, and together they set off to the Capitol to train and be paraded in front of the public before the start of the games. Katniss is unimpressed by the Capitol and Effie Trinket, the District 12 escort, gives up on trying to teach Katniss manners because of her straight-forward personality and her habit of speaking before the thinks.

District 12’s only former champion, the perpetually drunk Haymitch Abernathy, is Peeta and Katniss’ mentor for The Hunger Games, helping them to win sponsors and make it through the games. To start off with, Haymitch doesn’t like Katniss and Peeta’s attitudes, Katniss being too serious and Peeta being persistent. In the end however, Haymitch relents and promises to do his best for the tributes, even though he has no hope of them winning. Haymitch makes Katniss see that if she is to stand a chance in the arena, there is a game she has to play. Katniss realises that this is the only way she can keep the promise that she made to Primrose to win the games and make it home safely.

During the training in the Capitol, Katniss manages to impress the game makers earning her the highest score out of the 24 tributes. This means the other tributes will be looking to kill her quickly as she is a threat to them winning.

It takes a while to get to the actual Hunger Games but Collins’ first person narrative is very engaging. You read the book as if you are Katniss, in the middle of everything, with no way out. The action begins there, and Collins doesn’t shy away from some of the more gruesome deaths. Katniss proves to be a very able young woman, if rather impetuous: she would rather act than think at times.

Katniss is resourceful in the games, and still manages to defy the Capitol and its wishes. The first person narrative helps you understand what she does and why she does it. Unlike the Twilight series, which shares a similar love triangle situation, The Hunger Games has a female character who cannot be accused of being a Mary Sue.

Personally, I could have done with reading these books when I was a bit younger. The style, as I have pointed out, is engaging, you get carried through the story no problem, but I think I’m too old for the book to have struck a proper chord with me. If I was younger, around the age I was when I discovered Twilight, I would adore this series. As it was, I got caught up in the first book, surrounded by the hysteria that the movie brought with it; but even though I purchased the second two books I have still not read them! I just cannot connect with Katniss, her relationship issues with Peeta, or her sacrifice for her sister. The book is compelling, the story is well executed but for me – I’m sorry Hunger Games fans! – I’m just too old now.

It is easy to see why the character of Katniss Everdeen resonates with teenagers and young adults. Even though she is a character in the future there is a lot about her that taps into the feeling of not wanting to be ruled by an external source and quietly fighting to make your own changes. Katniss is a role model for teenage girls (and women) everywhere who want to quietly fight the system and just get on with their lives (we’re ignoring the fact that she’s in a TV show where she has to kill people to survive). The power of Katniss comes from her desire to just get things done without being changed. From the moment she saves her sister from the reaping, Katniss is convinced that she will die.

So if you are looking for a book with a strong female protagonist, fighting in her own quiet way against a repressive system, then look no further than The Hunger Games. Katniss Everdeen, the girl on fire! And the girl who can show you how to just be yourself. For that, award yourself 4 out of 5 arrows.

May the Odds Ever Be in Your Favour!

The Tales of Beedle the Bard review

14 Aug

The Tales of Beedle the Bard is part of J K Rowling’s Harry Potter collection. It’s a small book that quite happily sits alongside other books in the Harry Potter Franchise such as Quidditch Through the Ages and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find them.

If you’re a Harry Potter fan, I guess you have pretty much read this already, but let’s go through it again shall we? It is a very short book, 105 pages to be exact, containing a foreword by Rowling herself, five short wizarding fables, and notes from Albus Dumbledore himself. The nice thing about this book is that it fits well with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and makes such a good addition to the series.

The stories are short, written in a style unlike Rowling’s own as she’s pretending to write as a different person, in this instance Beedle the Bard. The stories have a simplistic writing structure as if you were to read them to a child as bedtime stories, yet are not uninteresting.

Like muggle (note: a muggle is a non-magical human in the Harry Potter world) fairy stories there are morals about being good, brave and clever triumphing over selfishness, foolishness and evil. Of course one of the stories is already well known as it forms the backbone of the seventh Harry Potter book. The Tale of the Three Brothers is about three wizards who wish to cheat death and fail through their own boastfulness and desires. You get to see the difference between the brothers and understand the choice of their gifts and the outcomes because of their choices.

For anyone who knows the seventh book very well, the Tale of the Three Brothers should come as no surprise to you. The notes from Dumbledore that succeed the tale are by far some of the most extensive in the book; which is a surprise as the legend itself is quite short but once again we come back to the fact that this account  is the one that links back so strongly to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Dumbledore’s notes make for interesting reading, almost a look into the folklore of the Harry Potter universe. You get a real feeling for the richness of the world that J K Rowling sorted and this little book adds wonderfully to the collection.

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My favourite of the five is second one where three ailing witches and a luckless knight set out to bath in a fountain of “Fair Fortune”. This fountain is supposed to allow a person to change their life in one way.

The three witches and a knight (who is never named as more than “the Luckless Knight”) have to complete challenges to reach the fountain and then at the end, their goodness and unselfishness means that everyone receives their wishes from the Fair Fountain.

It’s a nice little story that helpfully reminds people that you get more from being hardworking, good and generous. It would be interesting to see what young children thought if you read them these stories; because that is who the books are aimed at. It just happens that a lot of people who first grabbed this book and read it so eagerly would have been from the Harry Potter generation.

These stories, even though they have a magical element, should be considered worthy of a children’s bedtime story any day.

I know that last time I reviewed J K Rowling for you, I was less than impressed and The Tales of Beedle the Bard pretty much cements my belief that Rowling is certainly better suited to her fantastical writings. Of course I have not yet had a chance to sit down and read Rowling’s book A Cuckoos Calling under the name Robert Galbraith. I look forward to seeing if her second foray into adult fiction was better than her first.

The only thing I do take issue with is that the stories are not longer, and that there are not more of them. When I read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I imagined the book that Hermione got given to be a lot heftier and thicker than on the one produced. It would be nice, if Ms Rowling gets inspiration and time for it, to have a bigger book full of Wizarding folklore to dip in and out of. Just a thought! (Copyright Stephanie Woods 2013 😉 )

Ms Rowling is an incredible woman as we all know, and The Tales of Beedle the Bard demonstrates her considerable talent as well as Harry Potter did. So if you haven’t read it, pick up a copy and give it a go because it gets a magical four wands out of five!

About the writer: Stef is a 22 year old graduate who has a lifelong obsession with books and reading who also loves music and live theatre. You’re most likely to find her in a book shop or out in London standing at a theatre stage door. She can be found on twitter and running The World of Blyton.

Life Lessons From The X Files

8 Jul

I love the X Files [but I still don’t know how I feel about this]. It’s funny, weird and intelligent with strong characters and some truly absurd storylines; in all honesty that’s what I want from a TV show. What could be better than a sceptic and a believer, roaming the country investigating the unexplained and bizarre against a backdrop of shoulder pads, court shoes and government conspiracy? It’s a thing of beauty and has taught me many things, some useful, some not and some of which I’m going to share with you today.

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image from here

  • Fuck authority. Think about it: Mulder ignores pretty much every order he’s ever given and there are times when he makes up his own assignments. He also peer pressures Scully into doing the same and- OH MY GOD Mulder’s a bully.
  • Science is cool. ‘Nuff said.
  • The truth is out there. Somewhere in the deepest darkest depths of the US government is the answer to everything you’ve ever wondered about ever.
  • What’s that saying – a good friend will bail you out of jail but your best friend will be in there with you. Let it never be said that Mulder and Scully never do things by halves: a good friend will help you move but your best friend/soul mate/the one everyone wants you to end up sleeping with will help you move a body.
  • Cabin fever sucks. Be rational while everyone else is hysterical, stick by your partner and don’t let strangers and their lies come between you.
  • Don’t continue to change the story about how your sister got abducted by aliens. Then even less people will believe you.
  • Always have something witty to say about the situation, you never know when people will need a dry one liner to break the tension.
  • If something seems too good to by true, it probably is. A brand new partner who believes you and respects your work? Seems legit!
  • Suspect everyone. EVERYONE. You never know who could be an alien bounty hunter.
  • Study all evidence before drawing any conclusions. Form a solid argument; admit when it doesn’t account for something and then go tear your opponent a new one. Failing that, think of the most ludicrous theory you can come up with, back it up with ‘studies’ and act surprised when people think you’re spooky.

Bonus lesson:

  • Keep a torch on you all at times. Preferably one powered by a car battery.

About the Writer: Daisy is an irregular photographer, wannabe writer and full time female. In between tea and toast breaks she spends far too much time on the internetbloggingtumbling and tweeting. She is unapologetic in her love of the Spice Girls.