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Lucy Worsley speaks about Murder at Octagon Theatre, Sheffield

I don’t know how Lucy Worsley does it, she has managed to produce several successful books and TV programs while also having one of the coolest day jobs going, as Chief Curator of Historic Royal Palaces. I am a big fan of Lucy Worsley. I love history, and Lucy makes history fun and inviting to a wide audience. For a while now I have been an avid watcher of her TV programs, and when I saw that she was going to be giving a talk in Sheffield I knew that I couldn’t miss it. Luckily my friend Laura is a big fan too. So on Saturday evening we set off for Sheffield.

When we arrived, my eyes widened when I saw how many people were there – 600 fans filled the theatre. I knew she was popular but I definitely expected it to be a smaller audience! When she appeared on stage, a wave of excitement spread. Lucy is currently sporting a new ‘do, so her first words were ‘hello, you may have noticed that I have new hair.’ Apparently, it was either a fringe or a tattoo – so she went for the fringe.

Lucy spent about an hour discussing the British fascination with murder throughout a few different time periods. She is a skilled communicator and delivered her speech with ease and eloquence, peppered with some rather amusing slide show images. She spoke about famous murder cases, such as the gruesome ‘red barn’ murder, and how scenes inspired by this had been made into pottery figures and used as conversation starters to ‘really get the party started’.

After her talk was over, I dashed to the book stall to buy a copy of ‘If Walls Could Talk’ so I could get it signed. Laura had brought along ‘Courtiers: The Secret History of the Georgian Court’. We ran to the join the signing queue, which quickly became rather long. Despite having a long queue to get through, Lucy was happy to take pictures and have a little chat with everyone. Lucy was so nice when Laura and I got to the front, I think we were both a bit star struck and we definitely let out a few squeals once we had left (we were cool enough to leave before doing that!).

I left being even more of a Lucy Worsley fan than I was when I entered. I can’t wait to read my new book!

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Helen Fielding at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester Literature Festival

Last weekend I was lucky enough to get to go to the Helen Fielding event at the Royal Exchange to do a review for the Manchester Literature Festival website. This was pretty much for the first ‘real’ review I have ever written, and I was definitely a bit daunted about it beforehand! I enjoyed writing it though and the slight thrill of having to get it written quickly. I would like to do something similar again in the future. The Helen Fielding event was really fabulous, and very entertaining. You can read my review by clicking here.

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Instructions for a Heatwave, by Maggie O’Farrell

I received ‘Instructions for a Heatwave’ as a birthday present, however, had I not, I probably would have bought it anyway as I had picked it up a few times in bookshops. It seems everywhere at the moment. The blurb on the back drew me in. The premise is that husband, Robert, went out for the morning paper and then did not return. A day which started so ordinarily was then turned on its head.

However, this book was not particularly a mystery focused upon where Robert had gone. That was of course an importance feature, but his disappearance was mainly a plot device to bring together a rifted family which had been dispersed across different places.

Instructions for a Heatwave is a book about relationships, about families. Robert’s wife, Gretta and their grown up children. Their eldest, Michael Francis, is also experiencing a crisis with his own family. While Monica, is unhappy with a new husband and step children who hate her, living in a house which doesn’t feel like her own. Aoife is the youngest, labelled a problem child, who fled to New York after a disagreement with Monica. None of the characters were perfect, they all made mistakes and at sometimes each of them was a bit annoying, but they seemed real. The family was slightly dysfunctional, but above all they seemed rather normal, which made them easy to relate them.

The setting is quite interesting, the heat wave accounts for the peculiar behaviour of some of the characters. It allowed the very ordinary Robert to disappear without letting anyone know. It lead to family truths being revealed and forced the siblings to address their problems.

It was a good read, and I would recommend it for anyone who enjoys books about psychology and relationships.

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Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn

‘We will have a happy marriage if it kills him.’

Amy Dunne goes missing the night before a wedding anniversary to husband Nick. What has happened to Amy? All the evidence points to Nick, could he really have killed his perfect wife? Or is there more than meets the eye?

The novel has an interesting structure, and switches between the perspectives of Nick and Amy. Both are very unreliable narrators – and for good reason, they both have dark secrets. This structure keeps the story fast paced, but leaves the reader knowing only what Nick and Amy want you to believe. It takes a long time for everything to be revealed, and for the true characters to emerge. I found this the most intriguing part of Gone Girl, and enjoyed the twists and turns in the story. I enjoyed that the characters were complex, and flawed, but each in different ways.

Gone Girl is a novel about a toxic relationship, deception and murder. It isn’t a scary kind of thriller, it’s more about the relationships and the puzzles that are left behind by Amy’s disappearance. It was described on the cover as addictive, and I definitely found it to be a page turner. I already want to read more books by Gillian Flynn, and I’m hoping the library I work at as her other two books in stock – ‘Sharp Objects’ and ‘Dark Places’. I was pleased to read at the end of the novel that Flynn is currently turning Gone Girl into a screen play, I can see that it will translate well onto the big screen.

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Penelope by Rebecca Harrington

On a rainy day recently, I took shelter in Waterstones. Something about ‘Penelope’ caught my attention. Penelope is one of those ‘coming of age’ novels. It follows the awkward, but mostly likeable, Penelope throughout her first year at Harvard University.  Penelope is a quirky character who taught herself Morse code, plays Tetris on her phone during uncomfortable situations and once attempted to read a book at a party. She is a bit clueless about her classes, homework and exams (so much so that you do wonder how she got to Harvard in the first place!). Penelope often seems out of place among her intensely ambitious peers, as it seems that most of the time she is unsure what is happening around her.  She is highly agreeable and ends up saying yes to things she doesn’t really want to do, such as acting the part of a silent guard in a school play to please her not-so-friendly room-mate.

Penelope made for an excellent main character, and I enjoyed reading about her interactions with fellow students. I also enjoyed the setting of the book. There were so many little details throughout that I could relate to my own university experience, and that made me reminisce and smile. I like this quote which is definitely relatable!

-‘Each class sounded sort of interesting until you went to it. Then you realize that you would rather be watching a light show’

Penelope was a lovely novel, but if I had any criticisms or slight irritations, it would be that some of the characters were a tad one-dimensional and annoying, such as Lan and Gustav. It was often hard to understand their appeal to Penelope. Gustav, for instance, was supposed to be the ‘love interest’ for much of the book, but it was almost impossible to understand why. To me, his character and the dialogue he was given seemed really forced.

Despite issues with some of the characters, I found ‘Penelope’ an enjoyable book and devoured it in two sittings.

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