The Girl Who Smiled Beads – Clemantine Wamariya & Elizabeth Weil

Rating: 5/5

Genocide – The deliberate killing of a large group of people, especially those of a particular nation or ethnic group.

“The word genocide cannot tell you, cannot make you feel, the way I felt in Rwanda.

“The word genocide cannot articulate the one-person experience – the real experience of each of the millions it purports to describe.

“The word genocide cannot explain the never-ending pain, even if you live.

“The word genocide cannot help the civilians.

“The word genocide is clinical, overly general, bloodless, and dehumanising.”

What is described as the Rwandan genocide began on April 7th 1994 and lasted for 100 days after Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana and President Cyprien Ntaryamira of Burundi were killed when their plane was shot down over the country’s capital Kigali on April 6th. An estimated 500,000 to 1,000,000 Rwandans were killed during this short period as extremist Hutus slaughtered about 70% of the minority Tutsi population, as well as thousands of Hutu moderates opposed to the killings.

The ethnic tensions between the Hutus and Tutsis can be traced back to the arrival of Belgian colonists in 1916, who issued identity cards to classify people according to their ethnicity, with the Belgians considering the Tutsis to be superior to the Hutus. Although the Belgians would eventually concede power and grant Rwanda independence in 1962, the ethnic divide would remain, with the majority Hutus taking the place of the Belgians.

“Colonisation is built on the idea that we are not the same, that we don’t possess equal humanity.”

The mass killings in Rwanda finally ended when the Tutsi-controlled Rwandan Patriotic Front led by Paul Kagame seized control of the country. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda has sentenced more than 60 people for their involvement and nearly 2,000,000 people have stood before Rwandan community court. A humanitarian crisis occurred as a result of the war, with an estimated 2,000,000 displaced Rwandans becoming refugees.

“The war had no logic, no direction, no discernible objective, no face. It was everything, everywhere, all at once, and it stood for nothing at all.”

The Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clemantine Wamariya and Elizabeth Weil is Wamariya’s memoir about surviving the Rwandan genocide and describes how she and her older sister spent six years travelling through seven African countries to find safety, before being granted refugee status in the US. The book captures the horrific effects of war, as well as its traumatic aftermath. Wamariya describes the barbaric behaviour of the extremists and the appalling conditions that people were forced to endure. As starvation and desperation became a way of life, the book highlights how easy it became for children and adults to be manipulated and depraved.

“You had to try to hang on to your name, though nobody cared about your name. You had to try to stay a person. You had to try not to become invisible. If you let go and fell back into the chaos you were gone, just a number in a unit, which also was a number. If you died, no one knew. If you got lost, no one knew. If you gave up and disintegrated inside, no one knew.”

As well as being a painful account of being a refugee, Wamariya is frankly honest about her feelings towards her family, particularly her sister and mother. The book opens with Clemantine and her sister being reunited with their family on The Oprah Winfrey Show and depicts the reality when the fairy tale moment on television is over. She and her family don’t have a happy-ever-after ending and instead her family are flown back to Rwanda just days later. A slow process then begins to get their family back to the US to live as immigrants before the family try to adapt and find a way to integrate into each other’s lives again.

The Girl Who Smiled Beads is a terrifying and horrific account of one of the greatest war crimes against humanity. It is a book about identity, survival and hope. It is a powerful read with an important message about equality and it is one that I will never forget.

“Survival, true survival of the body and soul, requires creativity, freedom of thought, collaboration…We need each other. We need to say: I honour the things that you respect and I value the things you cherish. I am not better than you. You are not better than me. Nobody is better than anybody else. Nobody is who you think they are at first glance. We need to see beyond the projections we cast onto each other. Each of us is so much grander, more nuanced, and more extraordinary than anybody thinks, including ourselves.”

After being granted asylum in the US, Clemantine went on to receive a BA in Comparative Literature from Yale University and became the youngest ever person to serve on the United States Holocaust Museum’s Memorial Council, appointed by President Barack Obama. Now thirty, she is a member of the Board of Directors at Women for Women International and is an experienced speaker, storyteller and human rights advocate.

How Saints Die – Carmen Marcus

“If you take life from the sea you offer your own life in exchange. She can take you. Any time she wants. She’ll call you to her and you’ll go like it’s home and not struggle.”

How Saints Die tells the story of ten year old Ellie, who lives with her fisherman father on the wild North Yorkshire coast. It is the 1980s, a time that means her mother’s breakdown is only discussed in whispers. As Ellie is guided by her father’s sea-myths, her mother’s memories of home across the water and her own fierce spirit, Ellie begins to learn who she is and what she can become. Soon her innocence has been shed, but at a great cost…

“Books had rescued me long before this moment but this was the first time I’d ever been prescribed one. So it was inevitable really that the way to finally understand that moment – that break where my childhood ended so abruptly – would involve a book.” – Carmen Marcus

Longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize, How Saints Die is a book about mental illness, childhood friendship and the bonds between family. It is a book that resonated deeply with me for personal reasons. While the circumstances were completely different, the parallel of being that age during that time with a single father household was uncanny. I found myself empathising and identifying with Ellie, who was viewed as odd and an outsider, and becomes thrust into a world of adult responsibilities. Feeling so connected with the story and the central character completely elevated the book for me, particularly after reading the personal note from author Carmen Marcus at the end of the book.

“In reality, a child is powerless to change anything; decisions are made without consent, questions are met with silence and yet none of this insulates the child from the trauma. As with my own childhood, and now as a writer, it’s imagination that saves and compensates for Ellie’s inability to understand or control the adult world. In the real world, Ellie is suffocated by diagnostic labels like ‘damaged’ or ‘at risk’ and trapped by the official story recommending ‘intervention’. Imagination is Ellie’s only form of resistance and so I’ve made a world out-of-bounds where she can run with her own story.” – Carmen Marcus

I was recently part of a book tour for How Saints Die and I’m so grateful to Vintage Books for including me in the tour, as it’s a book that I may never have gotten to read otherwise. It’s a book that has lingered on my mind and will continue to stay with me. Carmen Marcus has a beautiful style of writing and really captures the character of Ellie in such a way that is both heart wrenching and immersive. The book has an ethereal magical element within the story and is evocative of classic fairy tales. It is a fantastic debut from Carmen Marcus and a unique book that tackles difficult topics, as well as being a compelling and haunting story.

Have you ever connected with a book, character or film in such a personal way?

The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2 – Episode 1: June


The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2 Trailer

Rating: 5/5

“Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum”

In a world where fertility is rapidly declining, Offred is offered only one option by the new Republic of Gilead: to breed. If she refuses, the consequences are death or a sentencing to the radioactive Colonies. Serving as a handmaid for her Commander and his wife, her main function is to provide the childless couple with a baby. Soon, Offred is complicit in illicit meetings engineered by the Commander, while harbouring a mutual desire for one of his Guardians, who may be an Eye or a source of salvation. With such a precarious position, the value of her life is always a distant threat…

Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel was published in 1985 and is a terrifying concept that is not all that unbelievable. Having studied the novel as part of a Margaret Atwood module at university, I have to admit that originally I couldn’t quite grasp the concepts of her books and so my enjoyment and understanding of her stories were limited. However, after rereading The Handmaid’s Tale, I am happy to say that I completely loved it! Perhaps as we grow older, we also grow as readers. Do you agree?

My reread of The Handmaid’s Tale was in anticipation of seeing Margaret Atwood at the Hay Festival at the end of the month and also the return of the second series of the book’s tv adaptation on Channel 4 on Sunday night. What a return it was! Season 2 opened with a harrowing sequence, played out with added poignancy to Kate Bush’s This Woman’s Work and moved me to tears before the opening credits had even aired. The sheer brutality continued throughout the episode and, for me, makes quite a statement on the horrifying attacks that continue to occur against women all over the world. Sometimes extreme scenes are necessary as a wake up call to make people sit up and take notice or shock people into taking positive action. The violence and degradation depicted towards the handmaids  made me think about so many events going on in the world, such as the barbaric act of female genital mutilation, which has previously been depicted in Season 1.

In this dystopian world where women are merely seen as vessels and need their husband’s signature to acquire contraception, the timing of the show’s return feels eerie with the referendum in Ireland taking place this week. Other scenes in the show highlighted the difficulties and judgements that working mothers face, a challenge that men are never expected to experience.

Season 2 is now working from new source material, with Atwood acting as a consultant on the show. This new and unknown direction will allow for even more scope and development of secondary characters and has the ability to highlight even more topical issues. With women’s rights remaining at the forefront of so many causes and campaigns, Season 2 is proving to be as compelling and relevant as ever.

Did you watch the return of The Handmaid’s Tale on Sunday night? If so, what did you think?

Native Son & Black Boy – Richard Wright

Native Son: 4/5

Black Boy: 5/5

Richard Wright’s Native Son was published on March 1st, 1940 and was the first novel by a black author to be chosen for the Book-of-the-Month Club. It sold an incredible quarter of a million copies in its first three weeks and within five months it had sold half a million copies. The novel tells the story of Bigger Thomas, who lives in one rat-infested room with his family on the south side of Chicago. What unfolds is a series of horrifying events after a desperate act.

“He shut their voices out of his mind. He hated his family because he knew they were suffering and that he was powerless to help them. He knew that the moment he allowed himself to feel to its fullness how they lived, the shame and misery of their lives, he would be swept out of himself with fear and despair. So he held towards them an attitude of iron reserve; he lived with them, but behind a wall, a curtain. And toward himself he was even more exacting. He knew that the moment he allowed what his life meant to enter fully into his consciousness, he would either kill himself or someone else. So he denied himself and acted tough.”

Black Boy was published in 1945 and is Richard Wright’s own account of growing up in the Deep South of America. Born near Natchez, Mississippi, in 1908, Wright lived in Memphis, Tennessee as a child before living in an orphanage and then lived with various relatives. In Black Boy, Wright details a life of moving from home to home and, by the age of twelve, he had received only one year of formal education. Hunger and poverty dominated his life, as well as white subjugation and fear. His dream of justice and opportunity in the north became his focus as he learned to survive in his hostile environment.

“But what strange world was this? I concluded the book with the terrible conviction that I had somehow overlooked something terribly important in life. I had once tried to write, had once revelled in feeling, had let my crude imagination roam, but the impulse to dream had been slowly beaten out of me by experience. Now it surged up again and I hungered for books, new ways of looking and seeing. It was not a matter of believing or disbelieving what I read, but of feeling something new, of being affected by something that made the look of the world different.”

I was lent these books by a work friend and it really is essential that they are read together. In hindsight, I wish I had read Black Boy first as it provides more of an insight into the character of Bigger Thomas. For me, Bigger was a character lacking empathy and demonstrated sociopathic traits. However, reading Black Boy offers an in-depth glimpse into Bigger’s psyche and Wright’s painfully honest account of his own life is quite an indictment of society in America during that period. I loved the energy and flow of Wright’s writing, which made for compelling and immersive reading.

Wright’s turbulent home life influences and shapes much of his writing and after leaving home at fifteen, he worked in Memphis for two years before moving on to Chicago. In 1935, he began to work on the Federal Writers’ Project and in 1938, he published Uncle Tom’s Cabin. He was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in the following year. Other titles include The Outsider, The Long Dream and American Hunger. After the publication of Black Boy, Wright left the United States with his wife and visited France as official guests of the French government. They returned to France in 1947 and lived there with their three daughters, with Wright remaining there until his death in 1960.

I was alarmed recently to hear a comment from someone who dismissed autobiographies, implying that they are egotistical and self-indulgent. While I believe everyone is entitled to their opinion, I couldn’t disagree more. Real life accounts can teach us so much about the world, human nature and important moments in history. These books were shocking, provocative and uncomfortable to read, but they were completely gripping and absorbing. I am so glad that I received the opportunity to read these books and they are certainly two that I will never forget.

Have you read these books and did you enjoy them? What is your opinion on autobiographies? Do you think they are important or do you believe they are self-serving? I would love to know your thoughts!

The Greatest Showman



The Greatest Showman is the first musical of the year and is inspired by the incredible true story of showman Phineas ‘P.T.’ Barnum, who created the Barnum & Bailey Circus in the 19th century. Barnum became infamous for his hoaxes and human curiosities, while also known for being ahead of his time. Hugh Jackman plays the titular character and the supporting cast includes Michelle Williams as his devoted wife and Zac Efron as his business partner.

The story explores Barnum’s inception of his museum of attractions to a backdrop of musical numbers. With Jackman already proving his musical credentials with an Oscar nominated performance in the most recent adaptation of Les Miserables, here he demonstrates his dance capabilities in a variety of musical sequences. Jackman’s infectious enthusiasm radiates from the screen and he is perfectly cast in the role of the visionary Barnum.

Zac Efron is another musical veteran after turns in the High School Musical franchise and Hairspray. Efron has delved mainly into comedic roles in recent years and his return to the musical genre has been a rewarding choice. Michelle Williams proves to be adept at the musical numbers, as well as providing an ethereal presence on the screen. Having achieved stardom in Dawson’s Creek, Williams has gone on to be a versatile and credible actress, with four Academy Award nominations at the mere age of 37. Zendaya is another seasoned dance performer who provides a supporting role in the film and a love interest for Efron’s character.

“No one ever made a difference by being like everyone else.”

Within the film’s frothy musical exterior lies a story of injustice regarding the mistreatment of others. The issues of class and race are explored in the film, with Barnum’s group of misfits being viewed with suspicion by many of the untrusting public. The love story between Efron and Zendaya’s characters is used to highlight the issue of race and mixed raced relationships as the pair try to hide their feelings for each other as well as from the world around them. Despite the periodic setting, the topic remains as relevant and current as ever in today’s world of political and racial turmoil.

The film’s central theme is a message of inclusion and embracing and celebrating uniqueness, which is demonstrated in the superb musical number This is Me. The feel good factor and the positive message of the film is capturing the hearts of moviegoers, with the film continuing to defy expectations since its release in December last year by growing in success week after week. Much of the film’s appeal can be attributed to its ability to relate to anyone who has ever felt like an outsider.

“The noblest art is that of making others happy.”

The film itself was years in the making, with Jackman fearing at one point that it would never reach the big screen. The story had been his dream project since 2009, yet film studios were reluctant to take a financial risk on an original musical. Jackson’s fears looked set to be amplified as the film was poorly received by critics on its debut release. However, The Greatest Showman has proved to be one of the biggest hits of 2018 already and is currently the number one film in the UK, despite being released on Boxing Day last year. Its soundtrack has been just as successful and has been the number one album in the UK for the last five weeks and the aforementioned This is Me is sitting at number six in the singles charts.

Much of the film’s box office success is certainly due to the fantastic musical sequences in the film, which are impossible not to toe-tap along to, with the urge to get up and dance along proving difficult to resist! Other notable numbers include The Greatest Show, Rewrite the Stars and The Other Side, the latter being viewed by many as a secret metaphor for coming out. Much of the film’s soundtrack has a contemporary R&B/pop/hip hop style, contrasting with its 19th century setting. This was a deliberate move by the filmmakers to emphasise Barnum’s innovative and revolutionary ideas. A sing-along version of the film is due for release on February 23rd, which will no doubt see a resurgence for the film, particularly with the Academy Awards around the corner on March 4th. High hopes for Oscar winning success will be pinned on This is Me, which is nominated for Best Original Song, and is the film’s only Oscar nomination.

“When the sharpest words wanna cut me down

Gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out

This is brave, this is bruised, this is who I’m meant to be

This is me.”

Overall, The Greatest Showman is a visually dazzling film that deserves repeated viewing. If in need of a cheerful and charming film, then a cinema trip to see The Greatest Showman is sure to brighten up anyone’s day!


mother! Trailer

 ***Minor Spoilers***

 Rating: 4/5

mother! is the latest film from Darren Aronofsky, whose previous work includes the Oscar winning Black Swan and Requiem for a Dream. It stars Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem as a couple whose home is described as “paradise”. Lawrence plays the role of the dutiful young bride eager to please her significantly older husband and spends her days renovating their house, while Bardem’s character looks for inspiration for his next piece of poetry. The film opens with a foreboding tone that fails to be dispelled, particularly when their apparent idyllic lifestyle is interrupted by some unwanted visitors.

Michelle Pfeiffer makes a welcome return to the screen in her role as the wife of the first visitor, played by Ed Harris. Pfeiffer appears to be having a career renaissance this year with a part in the adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express still ahead in a few months time. In mother!, she plays her character with menacing relish, particularly when she quizzes her hosts on their family plans. When the sons of the invading couple arrive, events take a sinister twist and all is not what it seems…

To say any more about the plot of the film would be a disservice to the unassuming viewer, as the less known about mother! the better. The revelations that unfold during the course of the movie are what makes the film so compelling and divisive. With Lawrence herself describing the film as a “love/hate” type of movie, it’s not difficult to understand what she means after viewing the film. Despite the premise of the movie appearing to be a psychological thriller or horror, the final act takes an unexpected turn before a truly shocking climax that will render many viewers speechless.

The subtext in the film may be lost on some viewers, yet is a clever Biblical allegory that will be analysed for many years to come. Aronofsky delivers a visually stunning piece of cinema that serves as a metaphor for events that shape our world today and poses many questions about society and humanity. His bold vision will have many viewers questioning everything that they have just watched, yet for others the pieces all fall into place during the final reel. The director provides hints and clues throughout the film, with its subtle layers gradually being revealed through the eyes of Lawrence’s character. As the story is portrayed from Lawrence’s perspective, the viewer is often given the sense of the possibility of an unreliable narrator. It is only by paying close attention and observing every detail that the viewer will be able to unlock the true mystery within the movie. Every line is delivered with meaning, which is only fully realised upon watching the complete film. The significance of each nuance demands repeated viewings of this film for further study.

In a time of reboots, sequels and series, it is refreshing to see such a unique piece of cinema. mother! is not be a film that everyone will enjoy, yet will make for so many topical discussions and debates for the unforeseeable future. Aronofsky succeeds in creating a story that makes the viewer think and consider their own actions, demonstrating the immense power of cinema.

Have you seen mother!? Did you love it or hate it? I’d love to discuss the film further, so please do get in touch!

Amber Green Takes Manhattan

Rating: 3/5

Amber Green Takes Manhattan by Rosie Nixon is a fun tale featuring stylist Amber Green, who moves to New York with her tv producer boyfriend Rob after he is offered a job filming with the infamous Angel Wear lingerie models. The sudden relocation gives Amber the opportunity to reinvigorate her styling career, although her best intentions don’t go quite to plan. With unruly toddler photo shoots, fake designer handbag scams and an attention seeking Hollywood star adding to her list of woes, Amber’s dreams of becoming a successful celebrity stylist are failing to come to fruition any time soon. However, a former fashion designer might the answer to her problems. If only he wasn’t a complete disgrace in the fashion world…

Amber Green Takes Manhattan is a light romp and an ideal beach read this summer. While the story may literally be a case of style over substance, sometimes an easy read is a welcome escape from the hard hitting events that can dominate the news on a frequent basis. Much like tuning into a comedy show rather than a documentary or drama, light relief in the form of a novel like Amber Green Takes Manhattan can be a welcome break from reality at the end of the working day.

While I enjoyed the premise of the story, I did find it difficult to connect with the central character. At times, Amber seemed weak, particularly in the way that she defined herself by her relationship status and allowed herself to be plagued by ridiculous insecurities. However, she redeemed herself with an event that celebrated women and the transgender community and I would have been interested to see how the author could have developed this further. Although the book doesn’t explore any deep issues, it embraces empowerment and the female form. The timing of the book’s release on June 29th couldn’t be more perfect, as a key plot point in the story referring to Wonder Woman makes the book extremely current.

“They all stood there, a row of six women, joined together in a show of unity, sending the message that women, however they look, whatever their size or shape, their colour or their history, make an unstoppable force when standing shoulder to shoulder together.”

I must extend a huge thanks to Story HQ and Harper Collins UK for sending me an advanced copy of Amber Green Takes Manhattan. I was delighted when Phoebe from Midas PR contacted me through my blog asking if I would like to receive a copy. I love stories set in New York, so I couldn’t resist the opportunity to read this book. Although this book is a sequel to The Stylist, it does serve as a stand alone book. There are many references to events that appear to have unfolded in the previous novel, but they do not add to any confusion within the current story. Instead, it makes me curious to read the first novel!

Have you read Amber Green Takes Manhattan yet? Have you read its predecessor? Are you a fan of contemporary women’s fiction? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Hay Festival 2017

This year marks 30 years of the Hay Festival, a literary event that takes place in the picturesque town of Hay-on-wye in Wales. The festival has drawn a range of big names in the past, including Nobel Prize winners, scientists and politicians, as well as musicians and authors. The Hay Festival promotes diversity, cultural change and progressive thinking, which has led to its success as one of the UK’s top literary events.

This year’s event took place from May 25th-June 4th and I attended a variety of talks, which were equally enlightening and entertaining. I was lucky enough to receive VIP tickets from Anne of @addymanbooks to see Tom Daly, who was discussing his new recipe book Tom’s Daily Plan. My companion for the day was  @bee_andmy_barefoot_tribe and off we went on our exciting road trip. Once we arrived, we popped in to see Anne at the Addyman Annexe to pick up our tickets before heading off down to the main site. We indulged in a coffee and a quick look around before it was time for Tom’s talk. We had arranged to meet Anne in the artists’ area, where we spotted Stephen Fry casually sitting on a couch chatting with his companions! Once we met Anne and her friends, we received some delicious Prosecco before Graham Norton sat down at the table next to us with a jacket potato! It was quite an exciting start to the evening!

Soon we were escorted to our front row seats and became engrossed in Tom Daly, who proved to be an excellent and eloquent speaker. He discussed his love of food and how he took a cookery course during his teenage years. As an Olympian athlete, Tom clearly has the correct criteria to promote healthy eating and his recipe book is full of easy and fuss free recipes. He acknowledged his sweet tooth and is realistic about food habits, admitting to his love of cheesecake and cookies. He includes a range of desserts in his book and creates a healthy twist on some old favourites. He also addressed the issue of affordability and availability during his talk and stated that all of the ingredients for his recipes can be bought at any local shop rather than an expensive health food store. While I enjoy the latest craze for clean eating, I will admit that price can be a factor when it comes to some of the recipes in the healthy living recipe books that I currently own, so it was refreshing to hear that Tom recognised the need for recipes that don’t alienate a large proportion of the public.

As well as discussing food and fitness, Tom spoke at length about mindfulness and meditation. He highlighted the need for quality time for rest and relaxation and the importance of time management and achieving goals. He also gave an honest account about his struggles and disappointments during the 2012 Olympics and his ambitions for the next Olympic Games. He spoke openly about the death of his father and the contentment of being a newly wed was obvious on his face whenever he mentioned his husband Lance. He also took questions from the crowd, which consisted mainly of children who were looking for advice on juggling school and sport, as well as questioning him about the Olympics and his future plans. It was wonderful to hear so many intelligent questions from children of such a young age and Tom answered them all with careful and considerable thought. I enjoyed the talk so much more than I expected to and he came across as such a mature man considering he is only twenty-three years old. I went to get my book signed afterwards and Tom was so friendly and enthusiastic with everyone in the queue and it was a pleasure to meet him.

Afterwards, we strolled back to town and looked for somewhere to eat. We ended up at a pop up version of Herefordshire’s A Rule Of Tum and shared a juicy beef burger, falafel burger and a portion of chips for a very reasonable price. We were ravenous by that point and devoured our meal, which was delicious and a lovely way to end the evening.

I returned to Hay-on-wye the following weekend and had a reunion with @dannii.elle.reads who I met at the @bookstagramhay Meet Up a few months ago. Hay-on-wye is the kind of town where you don’t even need to arrange a place or time to meet up because you know you will just bump into each other, which is precisely what we did at the @haycastletrust. It was great to catch up again with Dannii as well as getting to meet her lovely family. Naturally, much of our conversation was book related and we also discussed our upcoming Mystery Meet weekend in London, which looks set to be another great Bookstagram Meet Up.

Afterwards, I went to see director Roger Michell, who was discussing his version of Daphne DuMaurier’s My Cousin Rachel. He was quite humble regarding film adaptations and admitted that the best adaptation will always be the one in the reader’s own imagination. He referred to the aspect of the unreliable narrator in the novel and how he emphasised this in the film. He also spoke about DuMaurier’s influence and inspiration while making the film and praised her body of work, describing her as ahead of her time regarding feminism and sexuality. He suggested that much of this was to do with DuMaurier’s own struggles with her sexuality and highlighted that perhaps the character of Rachel appears as a threat to the men in the novel simply because of her independence. I was lucky enough to meet the director after his talk as he was signing copies of DuMaurier’s book. I recently read the novel, which had me guessing until the very last page. I have since seen the film and I must admit that I much prefer the book.

In between events, I became drawn to a crowd gathered in one of the coffee shops on the site. It emerged that the live screening of the Bernie Sanders talk was taking place and so I stood with a coffee and became just as enthralled as the people around me. The talk was hosted by Welsh actor Michael Sheen and the topics of discussion had many people voicing and cheering their agreement. I could have stood there for hours listening to such an absorbing debate, but I managed to tear myself away for the next event.

World renowned violinist and child prodigy Min Kym was the next speaker on my itinerary and she did not disappoint. I received a copy of Min Kym’s memoir Gone at the @bookstagramhay Meet Up and I had happened to be reading it when I discovered that Min Kym was going to be speaking at the Hay Festival, so I just had to get a ticket. Gone is a fantastic book that tells of the theft of Kym’s violin at a train station café in London and how her life crumbles as a result. It is a story of loss and betrayal, but also hope and self-discovery.

Kym spoke in-depth about how much her life was affected by the theft of her beloved violin, a rare 1696 Stradivarius. The loss of her instrument left her feeling bereft and she described it as being akin to a death. While this may sound extreme, such strong emotions become clear upon reading Kym’s book. Kym’s violin becomes alive through her style of writing and feels like another character in the story. I enjoy classical music, but I would not claim to have an extensive range of knowledge in this genre. However, I learned so much about music from this book, which is informative without just reeling off facts and figures.

Kym read an extract from her book as well as treating us to some live performances, which were truly incredible. One performance moved me to tears, which I honestly did not expect. Kym became a completely different person when she performed, becoming immersed in the music as she played. Before her talk, I had expected a meek and mild character because of certain events in the book, but instead I discovered a bright and bubbly personality. I was lucky enough to meet Kym afterwards and get my book signed.

The evening ended with another catch up back at Addyman Books with Anne and I must extend a huge thanks to Anne for the Tom Daly tickets. It was the perfect start to a brilliant couple of weekends at the festival and I’m already looking forward to next year!

Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman Trailer

Rating: 4/5

Wonder Woman has been one of my favourite characters ever since I’ve been a little girl. I used to watch the series on a Saturday morning and I recall spinning around just like my heroine in the hope that I too would turn into Wonder Woman. If only! The film adaptation has been many decades in fruition, with Sandra Bullock a possible casting contender in one concept. While I am still intrigued by the idea of one of my favourite actresses in this role, I’m pleased to say that the long wait for this movie has been worth it.

The film opens with a sly nod to the DC universe before moving to the hidden island of Themyscira, home of the Amazon warriors. Here, we are introduced to Diana as the sole child on the island, where she dreams of becoming a warrior just like the rest of the female only tribe. While her mother (Connie Nielson) and Queen of the island is reluctant for Diana to follow in her footsteps, her aunt Antiope (Robin Wright) goes ahead and gives her private training on fighting tactics. Eventually, Queen Hippolyta relents once she discovers the secret lessons and hints at the mysterious origins behind Diana’s birth.

The catalyst for the movie’s events occur when spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) penetrates the shield protecting the island from the outside world by crashing in his plane. In a refreshing gender role reversal twist, he is rescued by Diana, who is no damsel in distress. Once Diana learns of World War I in the outside world, she is certain that it is the work of Ares, the god of war. She vows to defeat Ares by joining Steve on his mission and once she enters her unknown surroundings, her alter ego Diana Prince is born.

The casting of relative unknown Israeli Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman is a more accurate incarnation of an Amazonian goddess and stays true to its comic book origins. Gadot excels in the role and is the epitome of what I hoped to find in this new version. The actress has a remarkable essence that displays all the traits of nobility, truth and morality required in a superhero, often seen in just her expressions and mannerisms. The moment that Wonder Woman finally springs into action and reveals her costume is the defining scene of the movie and sure to bring a thrill of excitement to every true fan.

Despite DC’s dark reputation, Wonder Woman is full of comedic touches, which enhances the enjoyment of the movie. Gadot and Pine provide much light relief with their banter, although the romance element of the story feels rather contrived. However, it is only a minor part of the plot and does prove to be an essential story device. Supporting actors include David Thewlis, Ewan Bremner and Lucy Davis, who is almost unrecognisable in her role as Steve’s secretary.

The historical setting is an interesting choice, yet remains relevant in this current climate, as well as highlighting many of the movie’s themes regarding humanity. The movie questions the darkness within man and the cruel nature of the human race and emphasises the injustices and atrocities committed throughout history, alluding to issues of race and immigration. Ultimately, the film spreads the positive message that only hope and love can truly save the world.

“I will fight, for those who can not fight for themselves.”

After her appearance in the poorly received Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the initial set up to Wonder Woman’s back story is complete in this film, paving the way for an exciting sequel. Director Patty Jenkins has confirmed that the next instalment will take place in the US. The movie has smashed box office records in its opening weekend and has been widely praised by critics and fans. To see a female heroine dominate the charts demonstrates the public’s demand for strong female characters. Wonder Woman’s kind traits show that she is a positive role model who deserves to rule the film world for many years to come.

Big Little Lies

Big Little Lies Trailer

***Minor spoilers ahead!***

Rating: 5/5

Big Little Lies opens with a mystery death before flashing back and forth between police interviews in the present day to how events unfold in the past. The catalyst of the story begins when the lives of Madeline Mackenzie (played by Reese Witherspoon) and newcomer Jane Chapman (Shailene Woodley) collide on their morning school run. After their initial meeting, Madeline takes Jane under her wing and introduces the young mother to her friend Celeste Wright (Nicole Kidman). With Laura Dern and Zoe Kravitz completing the female ensemble, this show delivers a stellar leading cast.

As the story slowly reveals what has led to the mysterious events on the fateful night, we soon realise that all is not as it seems in these women’s lives. Initially, Madeline appears to have it all, including devoted husband Ed (Adam Scott) and father to their six-year-old daughter Chloe, and her teenage daughter Abigail from a previous partner. We soon learn that Madeline struggles with having her ex-husband Nathan Carlson (James Tupper) in her life, particularly as he is now married to the much younger Bonnie (Zoe Kravitz). To make family life even more complicated, Nathan and Bonnie’s daughter Skye is Chloe’s classmate, so their lives are intrinsically linked and running into each other every day is almost inevitable.

Jane’s son Ziggy becomes another classmate of the children and the topic of Ziggy’s father is one that Jane is reluctant to discuss. As her friendship between Madeline and Celeste grows, the disturbing details regarding Ziggy’s paternity are divulged by a distressed Jane. When Ziggy is accused of bullying Renata Klein’s (Laura Dern) daughter Annabella, Jane is forced to confront her past as lines are drawn between all the parents in the drama that is school politics.

Celeste is another character who appears to have the perfect life. A stay at home mom to twins Max and Josh, she is the envy of the community with her much younger husband Perry, played by the statuesque Alexander Skarsgard. Their idyllic lifestyle is soon revealed to be a mere illusion upon the discovery that Perry physically and emotionally abuses Celeste. Skarsgard plays Perry with such charm and charisma that completely contradict his true colours, which are revealed with such devastating and destructive force. I found myself flinching every time Celeste made an off the cuff remark that I knew would lead to another brutal beating. Perry’s transformation to such a menacing and sinister character was portrayed with such realism by Skarsgard through some horrific and harrowing scenes and the issue of domestic abuse appears to be depicted with overwhelming accuracy. Despite her former career as a corporate lawyer, Celeste continues to cover up her husband’s behaviour by telling herself that they simply have a passionate and fiery relationship.

“That’s the essence of the perfect marriage, isn’t it? The ability to lie.”

The story is set to the beautiful backdrop of Monterey, California with the ocean acting as a symbol for rebirth and redemption throughout the series. A fantastic soundtrack adds to the atmosphere and tension, often playing an intricate part of the storyline. Themes of loyalty, trust and fidelity are explored during the series and issues of domestic abuse, ageism, class and feminism are addressed throughout the show. Initially, I had presumed this was going to be a show about female rivalry, but the central core of the story actually celebrates female friendships and examines the challenges that women endure every day. Gender equality still remains a source of contention in and out of the workplace and women’s role in society is one that continues to be considered in this modern world. Big Little Lies highlights the difficulties that women face with juggling having a career and a family and questions whether women can really have it all.

The rights to Liane Moriarty’s successful novel were bought by book lover Reese Witherspoon and while initially considered as a movie adaptation, it was instead optioned for a television mini series spanning seven episodes. Big Little Lies is a fantastic drama and it’s not difficult to see why Witherspoon snapped it up for production. Witherspoon herself stated that she wanted to develop interesting characters, due to a lack of diverse roles for women in Hollywood. It was a clever move to adapt the book for television rather than the big screen, as it allows for more development of such complex characters. Television certainly seems to be undergoing a renaissance recently with A-list stars fluidly dabbling in dual roles on television and film. While television has experienced a golden age for the last decade or so for drawing big names back to the small screen, often it was the case of an actor returning to television because their movie career had stalled.

It is evident that is not the case here, with Witherspoon receiving another Academy Award nomination in recent years for her role in Wild, another book that she acquired the film rights to adapt. Nicole Kidman received yet another Oscar nomination this year for her role in Lion, while Shailene Woodley is at the pinnacle of her career. After playing the lead in the Divergent franchise, her role as the troubled Jane couldn’t be more of a different departure from her previous clean-cut role. Her latest character marks a significant career move as it has allowed her to transform from teen star into a serious dramatic actress. Woodley herself is an intriguing figure that refuses to conform to Hollywood standards. She has previously backpacked through Europe and appears to live quite a nomadic off the grid existence. She is a passionate advocate and speaker for environmental issues and displays a remarkable maturity and intelligence beyond her years.

Television is often a medium that is frowned upon, yet it is merely another form of storytelling in a more accessible way as well as having the ability to reach a much bigger audience. It stands rightly beside film, theatre, music, art  and books and connects and unites people often in a way that’s quite incredible. While the rise of Netflix and catch up has altered the dynamics of television somewhat, social media has enhanced the viewing experience with running commentaries and debates taking place online during live viewings of shows. Nowadays, television can become a collective experience and the world becomes a smaller place as a result.

I am now eagerly anticipating reading the Big Little Lies novel after binge watching the series. I admit that I did guess one part of the twist early on, yet somehow I put it to the back of my mind and forgot about it. So when the final reveal took place, I still gasped in shock. Witherspoon has recently announced that discussions are taking place about the possibility of a second series. As the novel is a stand alone story, it will be interesting to see what the creators have in mind for the these characters. Often it can be difficult to replicate the success of a show’s preceding first season. Let’s hope I am proved wrong! Have you seen or read Big Little Lies? Let me know what you thought of it!