REVIEW: Hamilton

Rating: ★★★★★
Quick summary: Y E S!!!

Hamilton: An American Musical is a hip-hop musical that first graced my Spotify playlist about two and a half years ago, and I saw it for the first time ever in London last week. I went with my dad and sister, who I have belting along to ‘Satisfied’ in the car with for those two and a half years, and my mum who, when hearing said ‘Satisfied’ sessions told me I would never have a rap career. My mum didn’t know all that much about the musical, so I was especially looking forward to seeing her reaction to it.

The first thing that can be said about the Hamilton live experience is that the Victoria Palace Theatre, where it is currently running in London, creates a fantastic atmosphere the minute you walk in. The ambiance was perfect, from the Georgian décor including upholstered chair and chandeliers, to the smiling faces of the stewards, this theatre felt like a truly happy place to be. Everyone was clearly ecstatic to be there, and I think it summarised exactly what live theatre is supposed to be.

The actual show also does not fail the expectations. I saw a Saturday matinee performance; Alexander Hamilton was played by alternate Ash Hunter, and Aaron Burr was played by stand-by Sifiso Mazibuko. Outstanding performances included Rachel John (Angelica Schuyler), Cleve September (John Laurens/Philip Hamilton), Obioma Ugoala (George Washington) and Tarinn Callender (Hercules Mulligan/James Madison).

Rachel John (Angelica Schuyler) was my mum’s favourite – she had a confidence and wit that shone through her impeccable voice. Her sort-of-love-interest (is that a thing?) Ash Hunter’s performance was equally stunning, and every so often we’d get a glimpse of a fantastic, warm and rich voice from him. The Salieri/Mozart-like tensions between Hamilton and Burr is accentuated in the live performance, and Mazibuko effectively portrayed Burr’s slippery slope of jealousy.
The chemistry between Cleve September (Laurens), Tarinn Callender (Mulligan) and Jason Pennycooke (Lafayette) was also flawless. They brought an authentic laddish friendship to the stage that had the whole audience laughing at several points. Obioma Ugoala (Washington) seemed to induce a sort of hushed reverence over the audience whenever he sang, and the girl in front of me was sobbing during ‘One Last Time’ (I think that says enough about his skill.) Another tear-inducing moment was when Philip (Cleve September) dies in the second half (spoiler…!) With my mum’s hands over her mouth in shock and my sister wiping a tear, I think it’s safe to say Cleve’s dying skills were second to none (!) This skill is indicative in September’s performance as a whole, both as Laurens and as Philip.

For a long time, I couldn’t quite put my finger on what makes Hamilton stand out in the way it does. Evidently, it is ground-breaking in its genre (revolutionary, if you will), and the choreography from Andy Blankenbuehler is equally innovative. However, as my mum rightly said, the choreography in many other shows, such as Wicked and Strictly Ballroom is awe-inspiring. The vocal performances are brilliant, but that is to be expected in a West End performance. The storyline is different to anything else on stage, but many shows have inventive story lines.

After seeing the show, I think I have a slightly better idea of what it is that gives Hamilton the hype it has (and deserves.) It is not the fact that it has great choreography, or lyrics, or music, although unrefutably all these things are amazing in the show. It is the charisma the show has; there is something young and fearless about it. It has nothing to lose, and this shines through the performances from the actors. They throw themselves completely into their characters, and somehow manage to bring America’s Founding Fathers into the modern day in such a charismatic and authentic way. The Hamilton hype comes because of the elegance, character and vivacity of the people who are involved in it, which only serves to heighten and bring to life the arguable genius of the music, choreography and direction.

I mean, the fact that my Dad looked this happy to see King George (Michael Jibson) at stage door after the show says it all. And my mum also loved it, but re-iterated I will never be a rapper. Thanks Mum!

Rosie x

REVIEW: Anna, Lola and Isla

Quick summary: Romantic, relaxing and bloody cute!

Rating: ★★★★★

Full synopsis of
Anna and the French Kiss
Lola and the Boy Next Door
Isla and the Happily Ever After

Also, Stephanie Perkins’ website is the prettiest thing ever, and I would recommend reading her books based solely on her aesthetic, no shame.



This is a series of three standalone books – it doesn’t really matter which order you read them in. I read them in the order listed above, and I think this makes the most sense because Anna and Etienne are mentioned in Lola’s book and Lola is mentioned in Isla’s etc.

These books were really refreshing to me because it came after I had a bit of a reading slump and struggled through a couple of series (yep, after reading ACOTAR which left me with a month and a half long book hangover…) I felt a little disheartened about my reading and needed a nice relaxing series to ease me back in – this was the perfect book for that. It was contemporary, fun, fresh and I wanted to be a part of their world so badly! As I’ve said before, I’m part hopeless romantic, part skeptic. This series threw me RIGHT off the deep end into romance land.

I loved the speed of development of the story between Anna and Etienne, and the subtle touches of knowledge about France and Europe in general, as a European, was so lovely. It fuelled my wanderlust to an unbelievable level and I found myself underlining places in France that I wanted to visit and books they mentioned I wanted to read.

It doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not; it’s a simple plot line, but fun and romantic, which is sometimes exactly what you need to read. The interaction between characters was cleverly thought through and the web of circumstances never faltered – you could really understand why the characters were interacting in the way they were and you could understand everyone’s thought processes. You fell in love as Anna fell in love, and hated as she hated.

The plot was really nicely constructed because it had just the right balance of tension and pace – we had to wait for at least 2/3 of the book for Etienne and Anna to get together, but this didn’t mean you got bored waiting for it to happen. In reality, it was quite the opposite. The anticipation of when they were going to finally fall hopelessly in love was what made it a page turner. The same can be said for the other two books in the series, Lola and the Boy Next Door and Isla and the Happily Ever After. Both of these books had the perfect amount of slow burn, and enough circumstances and situations that it didn’t become a boring, sappy love story with no plot.

One of the best aspects of these books for me was the characters and how they developed; how real they felt. They are love stories you felt could happen to you. None of the characters were perfect, and this was so refreshing because it made them more authentic. The slight discrepancies from the ideal vision of teenagers falling in love (eg Etienne being shorter than Anna, Lola and her costumes, Isla picking fights with Josh) made it so much more enjoyable because it was so much more relatable. Every teenager I know has moments where they think they are just a distraction to someone, or not good enough, and everyone has times where they say things they don’t mean and shouldn’t say. The presence of these universal truths in this series highlighted its enjoyable nature for me, and made me want all of the characters as my friends!

Ultimately, this is definitely going to be a series I reread (over and over again) It was the perfect summer series full of love, fun and travel, and there are now loads of places I want to visit. It was a hopeful collection of characters who inspire you to open your eyes a little bit and see the world differently. I recommend this book from every piece of romantic bibliophile in me.

REVIEW: Dunkirk

 

Quick summary: Detailed, intriguing, edge of the seat
Rating: ★★★★

This contains spoilers… sorry!



 

The pre-conceived ideas I had of this film were that it was likely to be good and I was likely to enjoy it because 1) it was directed by Christopher Nolan, and 2) it is historical which is always a genre I enjoy. I expected it to be full of action, fast-paced, excellently shot, and I also thought that maybe the plot line might be a bit stagnant. Usually I find in war films that although I love the basis of the film and the history behind it, I find I can’t get invested in the plot line or the characters. Other things I knew about the film was that there was quite a young cast, perhaps to emulate the age of soldiers who actually were in Dunkirk; also, Christopher Nolan both wrote and directed the film, and so the cohesion between the writing and execution of the film was probably going to be excellent.

My initial reactions were that I loved it, and that the casting was great. It was thought-provoking and emotional, I was often on the edge of my seat, and the emotions invoked were very authentic to the horrors of the war. The music was a major highlight for me – there was a continuous ticking noise, much like a clock, throughout most of the major scenes, and this made me think of the feeling of time running out; the sound emphasised and intensified the panic and hysteria present in such dramatic situations as those in Dunkirk. The plot was nowhere near as stagnant as I thought it would be, and in reality was complex and fast-paced. The characters were well developed and you were invested in whether they survived or not; it was this interaction between the audience and the story which, for me, elevates it above other war films I have watched.

Other key aspects that impacted me as I watched the film and as I came away were mostly to do with subtleties that had been implanted which actually contributed massively to the overall effect of the film:

  • The youth of the actors added to the authenticity of the experience because you could really imagine people that age in situations that were being portrayed on the screen. This almost made it more harrowing because the fact that some soldiers were barely adults makes their deaths seem even sadder.
  • The aesthetic of the actors was also interesting – the majority of the soldiers on Dunkirk beach had dark hair. This mass of dark haired young men made them all look like carbon copies of each other; this emphasised that lack of individuality that war creates. We did not know who all of the characters were, just as we do not know who all of the men that died in WW1 and WW2 were.
  • Having said this, there was something profoundly human within all of the characters. We see two examples of this – one where Peter (played by Tom Glynn-Carney) lies to Cillian Murphy’s character about the death of George (Barry Keoghan), and the second where Alex (Harry Styles) gestures a helping hand to the man he had just called a German spy in the previous scene. These two examples of a glimmer of humanity shows those watching the film the saddening truth that this was young boys fighting against the loss of humanity.

Overall, I loved this film because it was complex and interesting, and emotional; it was sad because it highlighted that everyone was impacted, and no-one could escape the horror of war (George is an example of this.) In fact, George as a character was a microcosm of a generation of boys eager to join the war effort and who paid with their lives. Ultimately, it was the juxtaposition of hope for an end and survival with the hopelessness of fighting against a seemingly relentless enemy in a quintessentially human struggle for survival that made this film so touching, poignant and so damn good!

REVIEW: Delirium (series)

Full synopsis of
Delirium (1), Pandemonium (2), and Requiem (3)

Quick summary: The world the book is set in is interesting, but didn’t fully capture me.

Rating: ★★★

This has spoilers – sorry!



To be fair to this series, I did read it after I had just finished the ACOTAR series, which probably means I didn’t give it enough love and attention as it deserved because I was hung up on everything Sarah J Maas. MAJOR BOOK HANGOVER! The writing itself was good and Lauren Oliver created a believable and interesting world, but it just didn’t grab me and make me fall in love with the characters, plot or writing and for this reason I can’t rate it as highly as other books.

The plot of the series was quite well developed and it did become more interesting as the series progressed. I thought the strengthening of Lena’s character and resolve as she fought back against her repressive society was good because Lauren Oliver could easily have left her as a wet, drippy character but she didn’t. The introduction of new characters (such as Julian) in the sequels was also welcome because it moved the plot along and made Lena a more three dimensional character, as we see how she responds to new characters. However, I think there was definitely room for more psychologically complex insight in a lot of this series and following novels such as Shatter Me and ACOTAR in my reading list, I particularly noticed this. Things such as the development of the relationship between Lena and Julian, the grief she feels when Alex reappears and the panic of needing to find her family could, in my opinion, have been further explored. I found it anticlimactic (spoiler!) that at the end of the series she just easily slipped back into a relationship with Alex even though when he came back at the beginning of the second book he told her he didn’t love her and basically started a relationship with someone else. This was perfectly satisfactory, but it left me feeling a bit disappointed at the end of the series.

Character-wise, these books did have interesting characters with different motives and backstories that ultimately added to the depth and enjoyment of the novels. All of the protagonists had something that had happened to them which ultimately made it more compelling to read about them – this is definitely one of Oliver’s strong points. She is good at fabricating the world and personalities within the novels which does incite you to keep reading because you are genuinely interested in what happens to the characters. This is supported by the writing style, particularly in the 3rd book, where Oliver switches between character’s points of view, or points in time (from the past to the present and vice versa.) I didn’t think I would like this writing style, but I ended up finding it a good way to get insight into all of the characters and their thoughts and emotions, which is something you can’t do from a singular 1st person narration.

Overall, these books are generally good, and someone else might enjoy them way more than I did, but I just found them to be a disappointment following other series I read recently. I think the highlight of the series was probably the writing style which had lovely imagery and structure, but there were some aspects of complexity that were missing for me, which dampened my enjoyment.

Rosie x

REVIEW: A Court of Thorns and Roses (series)

Full synopsis of
A Court of Thorns and Roses(1), A Court of Mist and Fury (2), and A Court of Wings and Ruin (3)

Quick summary: Romantic, unpredictable, unbelievably addictive, and so well constructed!
Rating:
A Court of Thorns and Roses – ★★★★
A Court of Mist and Fury – ★★★★★
A Court of Wings and Ruin – ★★★★★

(This does not include A Court of Frost and Starlight… Future me will do a review for the spinoffs when they’re all out)

As spoiler free as I could!



Prepare for major gushing because I absolutely LOVED this series!

This series is an absolute must-read for anybody who has any remote interest in YA because it has everything YA novels should have. The world of Prythian has been constructed so intricately and believably that it is impossible not to get lost and caught up in it. The relationships that emerge and are developed are heart-wrenching and beautiful. The writing itself is so detailed and full of imagery that you vividly believe the world is real.
This series made me want to linger on every page because I didn’t want it to come to an end, and yet the unpredictability makes you turn the pages as quickly as you can.

The plotline is so well constructed, and so clever; everyone just needs to bow down to Sarah J Maas.  Every character you encounter makes you wonder what their story is, and what part they are going to play. The love story between Tamlin and Feyre in ACOTAR is intriguing and has spark and romance, and the undertones of the Beauty and the Beast retelling is magical.
However, for me the series just improved and improved with every novel. The plot line of the first book becomes merely a seed that Sarah J Maas has sown to set us up for the twists and turns of the rest of the series. A Court of Mist and Fury unravels so many intricacies and personal stories that I would bet the vast majority of EXISTENCE would not have guessed. Everything we thought we knew about the characters in the first novel is flipped on its head, leaving the poor YA reader quaking and reeling (in a totally good way though, I promise). This authorial ability to warp and change our views of characters is so clever and I really loved this development of the plot.

The relationship between Feyre and pretty much any of the other characters is just so captivating because every time a new relationship pops up, it teaches us something new about her depth of personality. The constant reminders throughout the books of the differences between these relationships was key because it jarred the trust and knowledge we thought we had in the characters (side note: this is really hard to explain without giving away spoilers, so just read the books!)  

Basically, the web of characters Sarah J Maas creates is intricately designed and fascinating. Each character is three dimensional and real. They are not all good or all bad; in fact there are only one or two out-and-out evil antagonists. All of the characters reflect human nature, and this absolutely adds to the power of the books because you start to believe the world exists and the characters exist. Maas’s ability to create layers of audience and contradictory impressions of characters is perhaps what makes these books so addictive because I for one wanted to find out the next piece of information, or the next revelation from characters.

These books are like little masterpieces; the language, the plots, the characters all contribute to this. I, however, think the real genius lies in the gentle unraveling of the novels. We find out conversations that have happened without us knowing, and morsels of the character’s stories are revealed at intermittent points. We learn more and more about the history of the world, and we are not sure that good will conquer evil right until the end. This series summarises everything I love about YA fantasy and books in general; they should take you on the journey and keep you hooked, as well as wholly invest you in the lives and emotions of the characters. This is something this series did for me and I would 100% recommend!

Rosie x

REVIEW: Shatter Me (series)

Full synopsis of Shatter Me, Unravel Me and Ignite Me

Quick summary: Slow starter, but once I got into it I did enjoy it.
Rating: Shatter me – 5/10
Unravel me – 7/10
Ignite me – 8.5/10

THIS CONTAINS SPOILERS, SORRY!

Full synopsis of
Shatter Me (1), Unravel Me (2), and Ignite Me (3)

Quick summary: Slow starter, but once I got into it I did enjoy it.
Rating: Shatter me – ★★
Unravel me – ★★★★
Ignite me – ★★★★



THIS CONTAINS SPOILERS, SORRY!

Just before I start, this series review is only for Book 1, 2 and 3 of the series (i.e Shatter Me, Unravel Me, Ignite Me.) All of the other spinoffs and the new Restore Me might come up in a later review, or I might re-edit this one, but for the moment it’s just going to be the original series.

This is a series I was majorly conflicted about when I first started reading it. I really wasn’t sure about the writing style, which was modern, and seemed to ramble slightly. However, I had bought all three books as a set and so wanted to persevere so as to feel like I hadn’t wasted my money, like the tight stingy person I am. I am glad I did this because the books did keep improving and I was hooked by the third book.

I found character development to be the strongest part of Mafi’s writing in these novels. Part of the reason I didn’t like the first book was that the characters were not three dimensional enough for me. Although Juliette and Adam each had interesting back stories, I found their immediate love story cliche and honestly quite boring. However, as the second and third books unfolded, I started to become really invested in the characters, particularly as Juliette began to understand herself more, and her relationships with Warner and Kenji began to develop. I loved the relationship between Juliette and Warner; I really like how Mafi gives us insight into the ‘evil’ character. This development of Warner from a psychopath to a genuine man who had a really difficult childhood was so refreshing and interesting. I think it was the psychology behind Warner’s character that kept me hooked on the books – I’m really glad Mafi took this plot path for the trilogy, or I would not have enjoyed it anywhere near as much.

In terms of the plot, I think that there were fascinating twists and turns which made these books different from other YA novels. The relationship between Warner and Juliette was a particularly strong plot point, as it allowed for character development of Juliette, Warner and Adam. Although I would not describe these novels as having been a page turner for me, I do think that they were interesting and the world in which they were set was well constructed.

The third book, Ignite Me, was, for me, the strongest book of the trilogy. By the time I got to the third book I was invested in the world because it had grown on me as the series progressed. It was somewhat repetitive, as certain phrases (such as “I swallow, hard”) were used lots throughout, and this started to annoy me towards the end. Having said this, I did get used to the writing style and there were captivating aspects. I liked that as Juliette became disenfranchised with Adam, the reader began seeing his flaws and failings, inviting us to make a more weighted judgement on him; equally, as she became more infatuated with Warner, he became kinder and sweeter in our eyes as well.

Ultimately, although I did like these books by the end of the series, I feel like had I not bought them as a trilogy then I might not have gone further than the first book. I do think they are worth reading if you want to read a series, because they are psychologically interesting and there is good character development, but for me they were a slow starter and did not immediately captivate me. It was definitely the character of Warner that made these books.

Also, side note, I really like the covers and the books are that satisfying floppy kind, which is really nice.

Rosie x

REVIEW: Slated (series)

Full synopsis of

Slated , Fractured , and Shattered

Quick summary: Enthralling, psychological and unpredictable.
Rating: ★★★★★



I read Slated for the first time when I was about 14, and I don’t think I fully appreciated it. When I came back to this book, and finished the whole trilogy this year, it held a stronger poignancy and solemnity that I completely missed last time. With the dystopian undertones that hit close to home, this series was disturbing, intense and highly enjoyable!

As a Brit, the idea of a book being written about a society based on a new Republic that capitalised from a struggling civilisation after they left the European Union is something undeniably intriguing (yep, @brexit…)

Slated is set in England, and so for anyone who knows the areas around London, it’s great fun to follow Kyla around familiar territory. This series geographically stretches across the country and certainly made me want to add a couple of places onto my To-Visit list. The strong grounding in the English countryside makes the world wholly real and believable to me, and worked right into that quasi-escapism, quasi-oh-wow-this-could-really-happen that I LOVE about Dystopian novels.

Not only was the setting well developed, but so were the plot and characters. There were twists at almost every page, which means you can’t put it down… (literally, I finished the second and third books in a day each!) Characters you thought you could trust took you on a whirlwind of loving them one minute and then feeling betrayed by them the next. The character development of key characters such as Ben was clever and so well written… love a good character arc! The enjoyment of the novels increase tenfold as a result of deceptive and complex characters; the reader gets to really journey with Kyla  because we don’t know who to trust or who is the enemy, just as she doesn’t. I think this really keeps the reader on their toes, and ultimately is what makes the novel a page-turner.

(slight spoiler ahead!) The relationship between Ben and Kyla was something I had mixed feelings about until the second or third book. I know that they, having been Slated, were more susceptible to innocent and arguably naive relationships. I’m part hopeless romantic, part skeptic and so I spent pretty much the whole of the first book feeling conflicted about whether I believed and rooted for their relationship or not. However, as I read the sequels, I became hooked on this relationship; Kyla began to question her own emotions and Ben’s motives was intriguing and led to thrilling twists and turns throughout.

The first time I read Slated, I treated it as a standalone. However, in my opinion, the trilogy only got better as it progressed, and I think you get so much more out of it when it is read as a whole. This was only confirmed by the fluidity of the story – you did not feel you were reading separate books, but more a story as whole, making it a really functional and enjoyable series.

Ultimately, I think the reason I so loved this series was because of how psychologically plausible it was; the relationship between Kyla and her mum, sister, Ben, Dr. Lysander and others created a web of connections that made the novel deliciously complex. It was thrilling and slightly creepy – not usually my style, but I turned out loving it (as you can probably tell by this point!)

Rosie x