The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare


When I had the offer of reading a Mills and Boon novel I was flooded with so many emotions. I honestly didn’t know what to expect other than my own ideas I’d built up. I saw them as the romantic, adult version of Point Horror that I was reading as my nan raced through novel after novel. She borrowed from her local library and had a little symbol she would put on the inside back cover so she would never take the same book twice. It wasn’t only her; the books where covered in a variety of tag marks from literary borrowers.
I also knew my mum to partake from time to time; choosing to own hers outright. I’m gutted to say that I didn’t give them a second thought before passing them to a charity shop when she died a decade ago. The remorse has come from reading this novel, The Duchess Deal. A well written, passionate story with some wonderful characters.

Emma is an independent character who is living below her social class through mysterious circumstances. She is able to hold her own and is perfect agreement, on the most part, with her playmate, Ash. While I struggle to empathise with such a character and am jealous of her being swept off her feet, I did enjoy her spirit and fire when it came to dealing with her husband of convenience.
Ash, on the other hand, I fell in love with him right away. Self-loathing nobleman, a bit of gruff with a dash of elegance. I could see why Emma only needed a little nudging to agree to the match. It’s hard not to like this sort of character who seems to have everything, but is humbled through circumstance. Move over Mr Darcy and Mr Grey, there’s a new swoon worthy man on the shelf.

A plot such as this; a marriage of convenience may come across as farfetched in less abled writer’s hands, this plot is wonderfully fun and light-hearted. The time in which it has been set helps to establish the motives behind the convenience and the isolated insights into the couple’s thinking gives the romance its spring.
Obviously, there are obstacles the characters have to overcome as well as ensuring we see that there is chemistry between the two. It’s all done with precision and epic timing. I did find the ending a little rushed, but that is only my own sadness that the story had to end.

Tessa has a charm that brings this tale to life. She is able to pass between the Duke and Duchess’ view point with a delicate ease. The intimate sections of the story never feel forced or gratuitous; instead they flow organically into the plot and allow for comfortable, enjoyable reading.

The Truth about Alice by @jenmathieu


About the book: Rumour has it that Alice Franklin is a slut. It’s written all over the ‘slut stall’ in the girls’ bathroom at Healy High for everyone to see. And after star quarterback Brandon Fitzsimmons dies in a car accident, the rumours start to spiral out of control.
In this remarkable novel, four Healy High students – the party girl, the car accident survivor, the ex best friend and the boy next door – tell all they know.
But exactly what is the truth about Alice? In the end there’s only one person to ask: Alice herself.
The story is told from the point of view of four students at the High School. They are separate enough to not contaminate the narrative and question any of the storytellers.
There is, however one overlap. Alice herself. Each narrator is almost a point on a compass, take one on it’s own and you’re a little lost as to how you feel about the focus. Put them together, and you have a full picture.
The picture I’m given of Alice is one that I like. She is my favourite character. I don’t know if that’s because I don’t get her narration of the events that occur, but she certainly is the person I want to get to know more.
The plot and tone of this book fits well with novels like Asking For It, One of Us is Lying and Thirteen Reasons Why. Rumours have been spread around the small town and the book picks up weeks after the party in which the incident is to have happened. What would have ordinarily been a burn book-esque rumour has escalated at the death of one of the people involved.
The novel uses four bystander’s perspectives to unpack everything that happens; from the incident itself to the aftermath. Along the way, the characters reveal more about themselves than Alice, including their motives for any part they may have to play in her banishment from almost every social circle.
It’s a tense mystery that keeps Alice at arm’s length, which only adds to the chilling lesson to be learnt. From an outsider, it’s easy to say we’d help Alice and we’d see through the social politics. I for one know, I wouldn’t be that brave.

Jennifer Mathieu’s writing is on point. She has an ability to keep a mystery while keeping her characters open and vulnerable. The ability to tell the story of Alice, without her being the storyteller is simply genius.
It was Mathieu’s UK debut, Moxie that gave me back my love of reading. She has a way of telling a bold and impassioned story that helps you question the treatment of others. The Truth about Alice, if I can be so bold, is even better than Moxie. It’s a story that builds upon the necessity of books like Thirteen Reasons Why and Asking For It, but allows the reader to look at the after effects from another perspective.

The Shape of Water


The Good

What a wonderful gothic fairytale. It’s really hard to not feel for these characters. At a time when people were separated because of the colour of their skin, it’s not hard to see how their love would be forbidden.

Weaving in the space race and an unknown creature that the villain would rather subdue than understand and you have a perfect cinematic treat.

The colours, tone and acting all scream sincerity and pull the audience into a world of awe and wonder.

David Hewitt, Michael Stuhlbarg and Michael Sheen are welcome additions to this beautiful homage to the Creature of the Black Lagoon.

It is, however, Doug Jones as the Asset who steals the show, and the lovely Sally Hawkins’ heart. The frequent Del Torro collaborator has such a distinctive form and elegance that he can emote so much without saying a word.

The Bad

There’s a gruesome edge to the film that I just couldn’t quite get on board with. It left me queasy and pulled me out of the softness the romance was conveying.

The Ugly

I found some parts unnecessarily crude. Perhaps I’m a prude, but it just took away a little bit of its charm.

Black Panther


The Good

What. A. Cast. Not only do Marvel have a phenomenal cast of colour, led by Creed director Ryan Coogler, they have pulled together amazing women and British talent. It’s release couldn’t be timed better. It’s award season and people of colour and women are thrown the PC bone. It can be argued that there is a lack of a body of work to gain the nominations.

Well, here’s a film showing what can be done if money allows for it and mainstream Hollywood takes the archaic rod out of its arse and fucks off the Weinstein’s of the world.

The plot doesn’t take itself too seriously, but also wraps itself in wonderful African culture and tradition. It stands out from all other Marvel films, and that’s its charm.

From veteran actors Angela Bassett and Forest Whitaker to up and coming Michael B Jordan and Lupita Nyong’o you cannot fault the acting. It is Letitia Wright, playing the Panther’s sister who steals the show. Part Q, part royal pain, she is the lightness any action film needs and I look forward to seeing her reprise her role.

The Bad

As with many Marvel movies, it’s the villain that often has the film faulted. The problem this time is not the motive, but the execution of the primary villain. He’s revealed a little too late and at the expense of another. It’s a shame as it came across a little convoluted.

The Ugly

I’ve never been a fan of origin stories, the feel full of baggage. It’s not that I don’t need to know it, it’s that they either cram too much in or set the sights on the sequel.

Now, Black Panther tries to avoid both of these, but just can’t quite remove itself from the origin territory simply because it’s not only setting up a character, but a new world in which he lives.

Providence at The Vault Festival




The biography/bibliography of H P Lovecraft, the one hour, two-man play charts the highlights and pitfalls of the master of Sci-do; H P Lovecraft.

From his strange relationship with his mother, to his racist tendencies, Providence holds nothing back as Edgar Allen Poe joins Lovecraft for a look through his life after first act suicide attempt.

Between historical references are fictional reenactments of some of H P’s famous works that culminate in Lovecraft’s demise.


Simon Maeder is as wonderful as ever. He is able to bring about an infectious humour, that is largely due to his ability to disarm, charm and frighten and the switch of a single facial muscle.

Normally seen as part of Superbolt productions, Simon is able to hold his own on a small stage with only one other person to bounce off. It’s fascinating to see Simon take on yet another persona that is vastly different from those seen in Edinburgh Fringe favourite’s Jurassic Parks and Mars Actually.

Dominic Allen is a wonderful comedian who is able to change characters with ease. As his personality changes mount up to interact with Simon’s Lovecraft, it’s easy to see the attempt at differentiation is almost unnecessary; which adds entirely to the humour. He was able to rattle through accents with delightful ease, but it was when playing Poe that Allen seemed at home.

Production (lighting, music, staging)

The staging was minimal, but effective. It allowed emphasis to be placed upon other aspects.

The lighting was tone perfect and played upon the gothic nature of the plot. My favourite sequence used the bare brick of the Vault’s archway and red lighting to draw upon the fear of the audience.

However, it was the music that truly drew this piece together. I know very little about Lovecraft considering I’m a Sci-fi fanatic and it was only through my love of Rick and Morty that I even discovered ‘Lovecraft’ was an author and not a sub genre of sci-of itself. This said, the music used would, to me, be the very definition of Lovecraft.

I would love to insist you all go see this hauntingly brilliant production. Alas, tonight was it’s last performance. However, the Vault festival is still running and there are plenty of things to see. Also follow Superbolt Theatre for new about up coming Productions.