Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Theatre 2016: Review Twenty-Six

Doctor Faustus, The Barbican, London. September 2016.

I'm easily swayed into going to the theatre and this time it was my friend the Upstart Wren who was keen on seeing this.  I have a love/hate relationship with the RSC but Doctor Faustus is a play I like a lot and so I was quite happy to accompany her.  It all started well, trains were on time, we found the Barbican with no problems and our seats were excellent...

The opening was promising too - the roles of Faustus and Mephistopheles are shared between two actors and at each performance the decision as to who plays which role is decided by striking matches, however as the characters were dressed identically at this point I can't remember whether the owner of the match that went out first played Faustus or Mephistopheles - already not a good sign for the play!

I got more hopeful as the start did show Faustus surrounded by books, but my reading of him is that he feels he has learnt all he can from the books he has but wants more which is why he makes his pact but in this version he starts by throwing books away in disgust and I had the feeling that he was bored by them not that he was a renowned scholar.

It just went downhill from here on. The text had been drastically cut but the time filled with lots of modern dance and whitewashing of the stage. I never felt that the good and bad angels were actually fighting for Faustus, they merely seemed bored and one of them could barely speak the line.
A moment of levity came with the appearance of the deadly sins although even this became smug and self referential as covetousness appeared to look like Antony Sher's Richard III - a role he played for the RSC...
image from Findingshakespeare.com
My biggest discomfort from the play came ultimately from the feel of the piece. I found it to be incredibly anti-Semitic in tone.  At times, to stress the evil events, a black and white film is played at the back of the stage - this reminded me utterly of the propaganda films created by Goebbels during the late 1930s and early 1940s, also the words Faustus speaks to conjure throughout the play were certainly not the Latin of the original and had, to my ear, the harshness and cadences of Hebrew. 
I'm not the only one who has been made uncomfortable with this - other have commented that the students/devils have the look of Jewish scholars.

I'm pleased I saw this version of the play for it reminds me how good the Globe's version from 2011 was. I think that cutting out all of the humour from the play (like Shakespeare Marlowe's plays are a good balance of comedy/tragedy) was a mistake, the play felt unbalanced. I've also read the play since seeing it and I don't think I like the additions either. 

Ultimately I never believed in either of the leads - possibly because Mephistopheles looked just like Richard O'Brien when he played RiffRaff in The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Book review - Secret Diary of Henrick Groen 83 1/4

Growing Old Disgracefully.

I can't stop talking about this book it is The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole meeting the 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared set in Amsterdam.

Hendrik is in a retirement home and not happy to be growing old and weaker, but at the same time he is also reveling in his age and complaints.  The book made me laugh, gulp and cry but at no point was it ever predictable which is what makes it such a great book for me.

The diary format could be jaded and old hat but the characters and setting make it a step above and the chance to read a Dutch diary other than The Diary of Anne Frank was a real treat.  I'm recommending this book to everyone and anyone!

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Geek counting

Number crunching the books.

A near disaster with a glass of water and 11 years of  reading diaries saw me decide to type up all the books I've listed in various diaries and journals over the past decade.

It has (unsurprisingly) taken me quite a while to get through the various notebooks and diaries, and while I don't have the stereotypical doctor handwriting sometimes deciphering my notes was interesting.  I'm also pretty sure that I've lost a couple of months from 2009 - I can't believe that I only read 8 books in three months even with a trip to Canada and a new job.

The stats from January 2005 to December 2015 are now crunched and even I was quite surprised to discover that in ten years I'd noted 2973 books.

It is very clear that when I still worked in book retail I read a lot more, however I was a children's specialist and for several years part of the team responsible for selecting the 5-8 book of the month meaning that every month I read an awful lot of shorter reads. At some point in my record keeping I decided not to note down what are commonly known as 'picture books' - everything has 48 pages or more.

Since starting work in the library I can see that I read a lot more non fiction and that I take a lot more gambles on my reading, there is no pattern at all to what I read - I really will try anything.

One thing that also came through from my notes is just how often I re-read a few authors, a couple of these are typical mid-twentieth century school/family story authors and the third is a contemporary, feminist, fantasy author.  On average I read many of the books by these authors once a year.
I was a little surprised that books I consider favourites, such as Little Women, don't feature highly on my rereads list but other books by Alcott, such as Eight Cousins, reoccur much more often.

Some books that I felt sure would appear on this list aren't there and I wonder if it is because I read them before 2005 or if I just didn't note them which is possible, until I found the right journal:

This lets me list the author, title, date read and gives me a line for notes about the book and the layout lets me note my reading for two years in each volume.*

What I found interesting reading back through all of the lists was just how many of these books I could actually remember in some detail. A few I hadn't listed the author but as soon as I popped the books in to a search engine it all came flooding back, looking at the dates I read some books also stirred memories, some good and some less good. Looking at some titles I am instantly transported back to where I read them - Greek beaches, slow trains, plane journeys the lot.

Right all of this typing has eaten into my reading time and as today has been designated #readabookday I'd better get on with it.

*On looking for a picture of my preferred reading diary I've discovered it is now out of print so I am off to bulk order the ones left in stock.

Friday, 2 September 2016

Theatre 2016: Review Twenty-Five

The Deep Blue Sea, Lyttleton Theatre, National Theatre, London. August 2016.

This was a play we were lucky to get seats at, and typically the day after I grabbed three together it was announced that there would be a National Theatre Live performance - the very next day to our visit.  However live theatre is preferable and it was nice for Rebecca and I to meet up with the Upstart Wren.

I have a soft spot for Rattigan - I loved Flare Path when Mr Norfolkbookworm and I saw it back in 2011 and I've also enjoyed films penned by Rattigan or adapted from his plays - and so I was happy to go to see this.  I'm not sure what drew my companions to this one - reviews and the cast I think.

In not booking until late we did have seats right at the back of the Lyttleton theatre and for the first half I felt very distant from the action, however by the end this distance worked and it was as if we were watching the play through the deep blue sea.

Like Flare Path this is a play with very little plot as such but is all about emotion - on the surface and repressed and it grew on me very cleverly. At the interval I thought that the recent film was better viewing but I was drawn deeper and deeper in and by the end I was cheering for Hester.

In many ways this is a very modern play, Hester, ultimately, takes a very brave line and goes her own way. She takes neither of the 'easy' ways out that are on offer to her. The men in the play are less stereotypical than you might expect for the late 1940s and early 1950s and there is just a prescient hint of the relaxation of society that started just a few years later.

On reading around the subject, and the wonderfully detailed programme, it becomes clear that this in someways is an incredibly autobiographical play and this might explain why the characters took so long to grow on me - like real people they are more flawed than you'd like and not people you want to identify with. The callous act with the shilling really drove this home.

The set was fantastic, Hester's flat took the main part of the stage but the other other apartments in the building became visible as needed through clever lighting and it made the play both claustrophobic and a great reminder that one couple's drama is very small fry in the scale of the world.

Rebecca and I enjoyed the play more than the Wren but we've spent the past 24 hours discussing the whole thing a great deal which implies that there was more to this play than first thought.  While Rebecca and I became more and more involved as the story went on out third found it becoming more trite... it would be a dull world if we all had the same views and in being challenged in our opinions has meant that we've had to think more about our views which is always good.

All of us however, and the people sitting next to us, were bothered by the slightly anachronistic feel to the props and sound  - the most important piece of music came from at least 5 years after the play was written let alone set...

I'm pleased I saw this live, and with friends so we could discuss it - but I do wonder if we'd have seen a different play if our seats had been closer to the stage...

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Mojo retained

All too often you find me on here bemoaning the fact that once I am back from holiday I find it hard to get back into reading again. I'm never sure if this is because I've read too much in a short period of time or if it is just hard to re-adjust to fitting in real life and books!

This year I don't seem to have been quite so bothered by this real first world problem and this is possibly due to the great books I have been sent by publishers in either physical form or via NetGalley.

Sing to Silent Stones: Violet's Story - David Snell.  (book out now)

This book was sent to me in physical form after I responded to a tweet offering reading copies. It arrived just before we went on holiday and it was just that bit too big and heavy for my luggage.  It was the first book I turned to on return but I wasn't gripped that night, a couple of week's later I picked it up again and promptly lost two days as I fell into the story straight away.

It is the first part of a sweeping family saga covering both World Wars and so was always likely to appeal to me, I loved the detail of the war scenes and the mixed view points. At times I felt like I was reading a biography not fiction but certain scenes do certainly ground the book in fiction, however inspired by family history.

My one criticism was that it seemed rushed through the 1930s but by the end I realised that this was necessary to get the book to a suitable end point ready for part two - which I can't wait to read when it is published.

Clover Moon - Jacqueline Wilson (to be published October 2016)

When I started out as a book seller Ms Wilson was the most popular author around, and while she has remained prolific and reasonably popular I started to find her formulaic and stopped following her publication schedule.  I wonder if this  response is not unique as a couple of weeks ago an advance copy of her next book, Clover Moon, dropped through the letterbox - I don't recall her being 'proofed' for well over a decade, and probably longer.

I was intrigued enough to read the book and I was pleasantly surprised by it. It is a historical book, and the content is pretty hard hitting - although not covering the same period in history (or themes) I found it to create images in my mind very similar to those shown in the recent film Suffragette.

I'm not sure that the overt links to another Wilson title, Hetty Feather, were needed and also the ending seemed so open that I wish it had been stated for certain that a sequel is in the works because it didn't word as a standalone for me as an adult reader.

French Rhapsody - Antoine Laurain (to be published October 2016)

I'm a huge fan of the translations of Laurain's work and I was so excited that Gallic Books made this new one available on NetGalley so early.  It is the typical mix of profundity and whimsy this time with more than a dash of politics.
This one took me a little longer to get into than the previous two books but I did fall in love with the characters I was supposed to and had sympathy for the others - what I'd have liked is for the book to have been twice or three times as long so I could spend more time with them all!

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Theatre 2014: Review Twenty-Four

Half a Sixpence, Chichester Festival Theatre, Chichester. August 2016.

This was our annual outing with Mr Norfolkbookworm's aunt to her choice of show and as has happened over the past few years this wasn't a show we'd have picked ourselves but a day out in Chichester is always a treat.

I approached this one with more trepidation than usual after the unusual decision I made after seeing Mary Poppins last month.  Tommy Steele might have been a great singer/dancer/actor in his day but the film version of Half A Sixpence was awful and I only watched about 20 minutes before giving up.  Mr Norfolkbookworm got to the end and said I'd made a good decision.

I am pleased to report that I loved the entire thing on stage, from the clever set even before the actors appeared, to the costumes, singing, dancing and story the whole thing was an utter delight.

The story had been simplified somewhat from the film and the characters were all clearly defined and I found the show to be beautifully balanced between male and female leads, of course Kipps was the main role but the show wasn't a one-man vehicle like the film appeared to be.  I couldn't tell which were new songs and which were originals as it all seemed to just 'fit' for me.  I loved the relationship between Ann and Flo and I had a lump in my throat when their stories all worked out.

I think that the setting of this show was always going to make it resonate with me, as it is all set in Folkestone which is where my family come from and I could 'see' the real places as well as the beautiful and innovative staging. I also thought that the accents sounded like Kent ones and not bad cockney ones.

I love shows that I am nervous about and then they turn out to be terrific, right now this is likely to end up as one of my top shows of the year and I really didn't expect that as we walked in to the auditorium.

As ever lots of appreciation to all the staff at Chichester (theatre, restaurant and bar) who make going to the theatre with a companion who is elderly and registered disabled so easy - and even let us know that there were reduced tickets for disabled people rather than just selling the best seats in the house.

Friday, 12 August 2016

Theatre 2016: Review Twenty-three

Boys Will Be Boys, Bush Theatre at the Bush Hall, London. July 2016.

This was my final event of a busy few days (three plays/shows, one film and an exhibition in 50 hours!) and neither Rebecca nor I can remember why we picked to see this - a review somewhere must have enticed us.

We landed on our feet with this show - at just 1hr 45 minutes it packed a lot of punch.  The all female cast told a shocking story of sexism in the world of finance but the show was a mix of straight drama, cabaret style anecdote telling and big musical numbers.

The cast of 5 were incredibly talented and throughout the show I was never quite sure where the specifics of  story were going but the feel, that women don't compete on a level playing field with men currently was eloquently told without becoming didactic.

I found the show to be moving, socially aware, funny, shocking, and sensual.  I found Kirsty Bushell, playing Astrid to be the stand out of the show. With no costume changes at all she managed to convey all aspects of Astrid's character with just body posture and facial expressions and towards the end, despite her behaviour, my heart broke just a little for her as she looked so broken.  The rest of the cast were also terrific and as an ensemble this was stunning - it was just a little sad to see how empty the venue was.

If this tours or transfers I'd urge you to go - I know I'd try and get tickets again.

Monday, 8 August 2016

Shakespeare in Ten Acts

Shakespeare in Ten Acts, The British Library, London. July 2016.

In the year that I finished my MA and 400th anniversary of the Bard's death there have been lots of Shakespeare events and exhibition. Perversely I've not seen that many plays etc. this year - possibly because I was concentrating so hard on my dissertation but I  knew that I really wanted to see this exhibition.

I'm pleased that we got there, the concept was really good because it wasn't just about Shakespeare's time but his legacy and this is what a lot of my studying has been about.

Each zone took a different play as a theme and then used printed material, costumes, interviews and videos to put it all in context.

Highlights for me were the copies of the early books, folios and quartos - comparing the three versions of Hamlet was a delight and reading the details about the booksellers and exactly where you'd find their stalls shops really brought the era to life.
Other parts that I liked were the rooms on Othello and non white actors - possibly influenced by seeing Red Velvet and reading about theatre in the eighteenth century.  I also liked seeing the recreation of Peter Brook's iconic white box A Midsummer Night's Dream as I'd read so much about this production.

A great deal of my pleasure from this exhibition came from seeing the actual items that I'd learned about over the past few years - the actual pages of the play Sir Thomas More thought to have been written by Shakespeare for instance but also the layout was really good and as it wasn't too busy at all when we visited there was plenty of time to read everything and walk backwards and forwards to look at things more than once.

After the past few years of study I didn't expect to learn many new things from the exhibition, but there were some quirky details that I did discover and if the exhibition had been a little warmer and I didn't have another play to get to I think I'd have spent even longer poring over the exhibits.

Friday, 5 August 2016

Theatre 2016: Review Twenty-two

Richard III, Almeida Theatre, London. July 2016.

This was the third version of Shakespeare's Richard III that Rebecca and I have seen. The first was the stunning Mark Rylance/all male cast version at the Globe back in 2012 and it is always going to be hard for any other production to come close to this.

The star casting of Ralph Fiennes and Vanessa Redgrave made getting tickets to this difficult but Rebecca managed it, although the seats were possibly a little more restricted view than we thought from the size/shape of the theatre - not that we were complaining for the price!

The play starts in the modern day with the dig in the Leicester car park where the remains of Richard III were found and this open pit remains on stage throughout, sometimes used for bodies to fall into, and at other times covered but always visible as a reminder of how the play was going to end.

It was a hot night in a dark theatre and I was tired yet I was kept engaged throughout this production which is a real positive but yet again I failed to quite connect with what was on stage.

Fiennes started evil in his portrayal of Richard and it had nowhere to go from this, people were laughing at his lines and actions but for me I didn't find him at all likable at any point and so he never had my sympathy. I also found his very graphic sexual actions, especially the rape, just too much to watch. Scenes like that could never have been performed until recently and the power in these scenes has always, for me, come from the words and again these scenes just felt a way to up the evil even further.  However as I'd never had any sympathy for this Richard I didn't need to see him be nastier still.

The mix of modern costumes and mobile phones along with swords and the famous "a horse" line also didn't work for me, although the main proponent  of this, Hastings played by Globe stalwart James Garnon, did manage to make the language seem natural and to fit with the staging - even when he was using a mobile phone.

My main issue with this production was with the staging, the Almeida is a small theatre and so to have the entire play performed to only 4 rows of the stalls was unforgivable. The attempts at including the audience could never work as so much of the play just didn't reach out.  I think the only time the gaze of those on stage included the circle was the curtain call.  I've also read reviews since seeing the play which talk about clever staging ideas that were totally invisible from our seats, and much of the circle from what I can tell from peeking around in the interval.

This was certainly better than the version of Richard III we saw at the Trafalgar Studios a couple of years back, and  I am a little tempted to go and see this in the cinema at a National Theatre Live broadcast just to see if a 'perfect' view does make a difference.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Theatre 2016: Review Twenty-One

Disney's Aladdin, Prince Edward Theatre,  London. July 2016.

After our fabulous trip to the Lion King back in March my sister and I were very excited to see that Disney were bringing Aladdin to the West End, tickets were duly purchased for my nephew's birthday treat.

I have to confess that Aladdin was a film that passed me by when Disney released it and I have only seen it once or twice since, apart from the wonderfully voiced Robin William's Genie not much about the film remains in my mind.  I wasn't worried about this however, as I'd just been wowed by another Disney stage production of another film I'm not a fan of!

On the surface absolutely everything was in place to make this another stunning hit - good acting, costumes, choreography, singing and staging plus some true magic in the flying carpet, I really don't know how they managed to make it fly (and I don't want to spoil the illusion by looking it up either)!

However for just some reason I didn't connect with the show completely, there was absolutely nothing wrong with the show at all but as a whole it just didn't wow me.  The sum of the parts just didn't quite make the spectacle I was expecting. At times it felt a little bit like a pantomime but there was no actual audience interaction  and the humour was over the heads of the young audience the show attracts.

I enjoyed my afternoon, my nephew, sister and brother-in-law were perfect theatre companions but even if I won tickets to this show I think I'd pass them on to someone else rather than watch it again. Happily my faith in Disney was completely restored the next day when we went to see Finding Dory at the cinema - Pixar/Disney do still make magic - just not in the magical tale of Aladdin.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Theatre 2016: Review Twenty

Brian, the Switch and the Wardrobe, Blakeney Player, Blakeney. July 2016.

as ever this cannot be an impartial review - the whole cast now feel like family that we just don't see too often!

It doesn't seem possibly that the year is already more than half over and that it is time for the Blakeney Player's summer show.  The weather always seems to be nice on these summer outings and it was a lovely drive up to the coast and we even had time for a nice Cromer Crab salad supper...but I digress.

Brian, the Switch and the Wardrobe was great fun, the audience is taken back to the Norfolk coast in 1958 at a time where the end of the pier theatre is falling down and the cast behind the times - a bigwig from London is invited to come along and save the day...

However this is all with the unique Player's take which takes the strengths of the players and then works the rest out around them. The new writers did this brilliantly and managed to give a new feel to the show whilst keeping the unique style we've come to love, the plot was very strong in this show. As ever the choreography is incredible but it has to be said the narrator stole the show for me.

No more details - tickets are still on sale go see it yourself!

I always love looking for the influences the group have used and in this one I certainly got aspects of The Play that Went Wrong as well as the obvious ones that are shown, the use of Spamalot also had me in stitches.

As ever I left Blakeney Village hall with a huge grin on my face and looking forward to the winter show!

Monday, 18 July 2016

True Magic

Book review: The Apprentice Witch by James Nicol

Huge disclaimer as James is a friend, but he hasn't asked me to review this book.

As a child I loved the Worst Witch books by Jill Murphy and as I wrote about recently I still enjoy the Harry Potter books now.  This book seemed to take bits from all the fantasy titles I love and make them better.

Arianwyn is an appealing character from the start, and as soon as I started reading I felt I knew her and that I wanted to be her friend. For the hero of a book she is neither too good, too perfect nor too hard done by.  Her nemesis and her friends are also well defined and her witches familiar is adorable. Possibly the resolution comes about a little too quickly but that might be due to the intended audience.

The book is aimed at a younger market than Potter, and slightly older than Mildred Hubble, but I think it has the potential to become a huge hit and a modern classic.  The book is complete in itself which is great but books 2 and 3 have already been commissioned which is brilliant news, I already can't wait.

I do have a few questions about Arianwyn's world that I want to ask James when I next see him but I will be buying a physical copy* ASAP and getting it signed for my nephew (he's a bit young yet but my sister or brother-in-law can read it to him) as I want him to be part of this world from the very start!

*I was in Greece for publication day of the book and so had to make sure I was on a wifi network to download the book as soon as possible!

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Theatre 2016: Review Nineteen

Mary Poppins, Theatre Royal Norwich. July 2016.

Back from Greece for less than 24 hours and straight away I'm at the theatre - nice to see nothing changes!

Mary Poppins was a show that I'd dithered over for a while before biting the bullet and buying the (for Norwich) quite expensive tickets.  As a child I'd never watched the film and when Mr Norfolkbookworm and I sat down to watch it a couple of years ago I remember not being that impressed and only half watching it. However I am intrigued by P L Travers herself, especially in the light of her book about child evacuees to America during WW2 and the Saving Mr Banks film.

Reading the programme before going in raised my hopes more as we saw that the choreographer for the show was none other than Matthew Bourne.  I'm pleased to say that after watching this I no longer have the aversion to Poppins that I had before.

Although not being that familiar with the source film I could see that there were major differences but I liked this re-imagining. It wasn't as saccharine sweet as the film and it certainly wasn't as politically insensitive, Mrs Banks is no longer an absent parent figure but rather a woman struggling with the realities of life - she was an actress and is now trying to be a good/respectable upper-middle class wife.

Mary Poppins herself was also portrayed better for me, she is more human, less perfect and more "practically perfect!" The children were delightfully naughty, not just neglected and Bert nailed the role.  I'm not sure the addition of the 'bad character' was needed as she just became a little pantomime rather than real.

The fantasy scenes had been changed hugely - no dancing penguins, merry-go-rounds or tea parties on the ceiling. What replaced them were beautifully choreographed dance scenes lit to be totally Technicolor and visually stunning, with incredibly strong vocals.

The show wasn't perfect, I thought it was a little long and that it finished in the wrong place - there was a much  more obvious stop point for me...but on the whole it was a great night out.

Interestingly the creative team behind the reworking of this classic have just finished a new version of Half a Sixpence at Chichester which we are off to see next month - I think I will break my rules and watch the film version of this before going so I can compare it again to the new staging.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Holiday Reading

Mr Norfolkbookworm and I have just returned from Greece where we've spent two weeks absolutely falling in love with the island of Kefaloni/Cephallonia.  It has been an island we've wanted to visit for a while but we thought we'd let the 'Captain Corelli' effect die down.

While we had lots of time for reading and relaxing the beauty of the island sent us our exploring more than usual and so (for me) I did read less than usual during a two week break.  However this is all relative as I did still read 17 books!

In no particular order:

  • A Different Class - Joanne Harris: This was really dark and about how events from the past echo into the future. It is set in a school and felt horribly topical. Not a pleasant read in some ways but very good.
  • The House by the Lake - Thomas Harding: A non fiction book about one house built on the edge of a Berlin lake, a lake which saw the Berlin Wall run down the middle of it...This book covered the social history of Germany from 1900 to 2014 and was compelling from page one.
  • The After Party - Anton DiSclafani: I loved this author's first book but felt that this one really suffered from second book syndrome as it was decidedly 'meh' and one that is quickly forgotten.
  • The Improbability of Love - Hannah Rothschild: This was a recommend from a friend on Facebook and while I liked both strands of the story I wasn't convinced they actually came together and I really hated the narrator.
  • The Shepherd's Life - James Rebank: Another recommendation from a friend and this one I loved. An autobiography and philosophical musing on life as a shepherd.  Sounds dull but it was beautiful.
  • Leave Me - Gayle Forman: I've really enjoyed her teen books and found this adult novel to be a good holiday read but not one that I'll revisit or remember much about in a few weeks.
  • Vinegar Girl - Anne Tyler: A reworking of Taming of the Shrew and a book that managed to keep the spirit of the original play while removing some of the nastiest mysoginistic threads with a believable strong female lead.
  • Foxlowe - Eleanor Wasserburg:Another recommendation from a friend and another book that I liked the main idea but not the final product.
  • Super Sushi Ramen Express - Michael Booth: A book about traveling around Japan in search of the food, a brilliant book but one that made me crave the food which wasn't so good as sushi in Greece isn't often found (or wanted the Greek food was delicious).
  • Dust that Falls from Dreams - Louis de Bernieres: I know I should have read Captain Corelli but the new book won, it was beautifully written with some lovely use of language but it didn't have the depth of his earlier novels and I missed this.
  • Five Rivers Meeting - Barney Norris: An unexpected gem! Five seemingly unrelated people find their lives meeting just as tributaries of a river do...
  • The Museum of You - Carys Bray: Another book with second novel-itis. A good story but I didn't love the characters or ever quite beleive in them.
  • The Apprentice Witch - James Nichol: A friend's novel which I approached with trepidation as usual for the pressure to like this book was immense.  I'm pleased to say I loved it, and will try to review it in depth soon.
  • This Must be the Place - Maggie O'Farrell: A really good 'chick-lit' read for a holiday, again nothing special but an enjoyable read.
  • Chasing Stars - Malorie Blackman: This was another reworking of Shakespeare, this time Othello but with a space setting.  This is published as a young adult novel but it is certainly good enough to be considered an adult book too.  It has some nice twists on the original plot and a Star Trek feel.
  • Birds, Beasts and Relatives - Gerald Durrell: Corfu is in the same island chain as Kefalonia and as the resort we were staying in felt so old-world Greece this book was just right for a holiday read - I just wish we'd seen some of the creatures Durrell found!
  • The Garden of the Gods - Gerald Durrell: After Birds, Beasts I just had to keep in the Greek moment and so instantly read the final part of the trilogy.

Kefalonia was a beautiful island, we're planning a return visit in a few years - more of my photos can be found here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/norfolkbookworm/albums/72157670924505955

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Revisiting Potter

Harry Potter series by J K Rowling

There has been a lot of hype about Harry Potter (again) recently, this time because JK Rowling has written a new story, although it is a play rather than as a novel.  As yet I haven't managed to get tickets to the two part play but I do have a copy of the script on order and I thought I'd reread the 7 novels in advance of this.

The books were a huge part of my bookselling life. The second book had just come out when I started working in a bookshop and as I gravitated to the children's section from the start I read the two books very soon after starting (product knowledge!) and I know I shared them with Mr Norfolkbookworm. We both loved them and both bought into the hype of reading on publication day from book 3 -which incidentally embargoed until 3.45 so that no one would skive school to get the book.  I'm not even sure that there were that many fans at that point!

Since then I was involved in every launch with midnight parties getting every more elaborate and the need to avoid spoilers ever more important - especially when you are at work selling the book and not at home reading it!

However after racing through the books at publication I hadn't really returned to them at all so was looking forward to my mega-reread.

I wasn't disappointed in the main.  Reading them all together I could see how cleverly they were plotted right from the start and just how complete the world Rowling created was.  I raced through books 1-4 (this surprised me as I (mis)remembered no.4 as being very weak) but then really got stuck on no. 5.  After this blip I read the final two really quickly and was once more impressed by the scope of the books, even if I don't like the epilogue to the final book - however this may be important with the new play I gather...

I did wonder if I'd been swept up in the hype of the time, and then nostalgia, with my rosy view of the series but I wasn't. They are, in the main, damn fine books and however much it pains my sister as soon as my nephew is old enough I will be introducing him to this magical world.

Ps - should anyone have a spare ticket the the two plays please do think of me!

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Nothing new

Dystopian / post-apocalyptic fiction for teenagers

Looking around the shelves in libraries and bookshops the shelves in the teen areas are full of dystopian fantasy novels - many published (or republished) on the back of the successful Hunger Games series.

I've heard a few people say that this is a depressing trend for books but I don't think it is anything new.  I remember in the late 1980s and 1990s that many of the teen novels I picked up all had an end of the world/ rebuilding after a disaster theme.  Brother in the Land, Children of the Dust and also Z for Zachariah which was talked about in the Guardian recently - although for a different reason.

I've been tidying and cataloguing all of our books recently and I discovered one of these books so decided to re-read it.  I loved this book as a younger reader (although I do think that I originally chose it because I thought it was going to be about aquatic seals!) and as I was reading it last week pages were falling out on me to reinforce this point.

I was surprised how much I remembered from 20 or so years ago, and even now I found it had a slightly scary edge. I was also struck by how plausible the actions were even nearly 50 years after first publication - after a disaster there won't be working computers and mobile phones and so the lack of them in the book didn't jar!

What did surprise me was the lack of explanation in the book, for a children's book there are lots of loose ends and they did frustrate me slightly but I think that this because I am now an adult and want more depth.  The book is well written and as I was reading it I could visualise everything.

I do remember that as a teenager I looked for more books by this author and I did get a bit of a shock as the next Mary Wesley book I read was the Chamomile Lawn - quite a different book!

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Theatre 2016: Review Eighteen

Threepenny Opera, Oliver Theatre, National Theatre, London. June 2016.

This was a show that has been on my horizon for a while as surprisingly it was Mr Norfolkbookworm who suggested that it would be a good thing to see. (Rebecca and I were easily persuaded!) I knew nothing at all about it - not even the one catchy tune!

This not knowing anything about the play? musical? opera? paid off again as I just fell into the spell wonderfully. This is a Brecht show and so you are never going to feel comfortable but the famous alienation was spot on for me.  Every time I just got settled and thought I knew what was happening there was a twist, a moment of discomfort from either the visuals or words, or even the cast addressing the audience directly but this kept me on my toes and keen to know what happened next. I particularly liked the way that the violence was handled in such a stylish way, and also spotting all of the other cultural references that fitted in seamlessly.

Afterwards the three of us sat over dinner and discussed what we'd seen for ages. Each of us had taken something different from what we'd seen or noticed something different on the stage. Mr Norfolkbookworm was probably the least enthusiastic about the show - he'd recently watched the 1930s film version and found the live version to be just so different - but Rebecca and I were in agreement that if time and funds allowed we'd be seeing this at least once more to spot more of those little details that we'd been talking about.

My one request from this outing - that my two companions could at least keep to the same time & key as they "sing" Mack the Knife.

Monday, 13 June 2016

Under the weather

Spring of 2016 has not been great for me in some ways as I've not been too well a couple of time, and this has meant that I've actually had to miss going to the theatre a few times.  Prior to this I've actually only missed one performance out of all I've had booked due to being poorly (and that transfered to Norwich so I got to see it anyhow).

Friends who saw one of plays I missed said I'd dodged a bullet but I am sad that I've missed a double-bill in Chichester. Now I've got to cross my fingers that these two do have 'legs' and transfer to other venues.  I can see that I will be ordering the scripts from these two plays and at least reading them.

Friday, 10 June 2016

Too advanced?

One advantage of working in the book world, libraries or retail, is the chance to read books in advance of publication. Through the generosity of publishers and also Net Galley I've discovered some great books and generally around the time of publication so that there is buzz and discussion about the titles at the same time I'm reading them, which is great - I love talking about books.

Some of the other projects I read advance copies for are less timely and that has come home to me twice in recent weeks.

I had the chance to read Phillipe Sands' East West Street many months ago and it blew me away then.

A book of coincidences, history, family history, law and so much more.  It draws various strands of life together and it is wonderfully personal and technical at the same time.  I've read a lot of books about the division of Europe pre- and post- World War Two and the Holocaust and this is up there among the best. There is even a Norwich link!

I can't say that I'd forgotten this book because it did have such an impact on me but as I read/heard nothing about it I thought I was in the minority in loving it.  However it was just that I read it so early no one was talking about it! Now it is published it is getting great reviews and I am so pleased - this is a readable book that manages to bring home the personal way the Holocaust touched people while never losing sight of the whole.

If you are in Norwich in July Philippe Sands will be talking at Waterstones Norwich - details here

The second book I read months ago and is just now being talked about is Elena Lappin's What Language Do I Dream In?
When I was studying languages we were always told that you'd 'cracked it' when you dreamt in the language you were studying and so I was drawn to this book just by the title alone but again it turned out to be a memoir/family history book that took post war Europe as a backdrop.

Another book that I raced through and then assumed that no one else liked, but again it was just I read it months and months before publication!

I think that the lesson I've learned from this is that when I read a proof copy of a book I need to also note in my reading journal what the actual publication date of a book is!

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Shakespeare reduced

Shakespeare 400 celebrations at the library.

Along with much of the country the library where I work has been marking the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death.  We curated a collection of books and films that were based on Shakespeare's plays, encouraged people to let us know their favourite plays and quotes and then also we've had some theatre in the library.

On April 23rd we hosted Simon Floyd as he performed Macbeth solo.  This was an incredible evening, watching one man transform himself into all of the roles with no costumes or props was incredible. Simon inhabited the play completely and I don't think that I've ever seen the Scottish play performed with such clarity and enthusiasm before.

That Simon had time to perform in the library to help us commemorate Shakespeare 400 was incredible as he also is part of the Common Lot theatre group who were actually in rehearsals to perform in the RSC Midsummer Night's Dream:  A Play for the Nation which opened here in the city just two days after our event.

On 20th May it was a reworking of  Hamlet performed by the Librarian Theatre company that filled the space.  This was again a cut down version this time with a handful of actors and a beautiful set. This group really reminded me of the travelling players from Shakespeare's time, all of their props and costumes fitted in the boot of one car, and the plot was stripped back to allow the small cast to double/triple parts without losing the story clarity.

These are not full reviews of either performance as I was at work during them and not able to give 100% of my attention to the productions as I was also keeping the library a suitable space for theatre but I heard/saw over 75% of both plays.

Neither of the originals are in my top 10 (or even top 20!) Shakespeare plays I thought these were excellent and a great way to get a feel for two of the Bard's classic plays - they used a lot of the original text but without the words sounding like a foreign language - and the cuts didn't detract from the main plots.

Theatre in the library has worked really well and I'm hoping that we can do more of this - members of the Librarian Theatre company are working on an adaptation of A Christmas Carol and hopefully we can host this in December!

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Theatre 2016: Review Seventeen

Symphonic Queen, Royal Albert Hall, London. May 2016.

The music of Queen has been important in our family for as long as I can recall.  As a child all of us liked listening to their music and both my sister and I remember clearly the band's performance at Live Aid in the mid 1980s.  I think that the Innuendo album was one of the very first CDs that my dad bought for the new CD player.  We never managed to see the original line up in concert - forget world peace etc. I am pretty sure that the first thing my sister and I would do with a time machine is get ourselves to a Queen concert!

On a very warm May evening my mum, sister and I went out to the Royal Albert Hall for this event, and again at least two of us when in with the wrong idea as to what was going to happen.  I know that I expected a staid classical music performance of Queen's music.  What we got was close to a full on rock concert!

Yes the music was played by the full Royal Philharmonic Orchestra but they were joined by 3 rock musicians and eight incredible singers.  The music translated wonderfully into this hybrid mix and soon the full venue was rocking along to the sound.

Many of my favourite tracks were played and in between the music a very amusing Ken Bruce gave information about the band, songs and where they were used. It sounds corny but on the night it was great and we all came out buzzing and how well the music translated into this new sound is just testament to how good the original tracks were.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Theatre 2016: Review Sixteen

X The Play, Royal Court, London. April 2016.

I really don't know where to start with this play, and I think that the fault is with me.  From reviews I'd heard on the radio (possibly only half listened to as I was cooking) made me think I was going to see something that was going to be akin to The Martian or Red Dwarf - a comedy set in a space outpost.

It started out like that, a group of people are in a ship or base on Pluto and all of a sudden they fall out of communication with Earth. So far what I was expecting.

Then things got weird and it became more like a horror film, and then it got even more strange and while it will stay with me for a long time I am not sure at all what the play was about.  Dementia? Madness? Nightmare? Drug hallucination?

I'm not sure it matters in some way as Rebecca and I are still talking about it, looking for other theories on the meaning and generally being haunted by it.  It won't make my top 10 but I don't think it will be in the bottom three either, thought provoking is good.

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Theatre 2016: Review Fifteen

Lawrence After Arabia, Hampstead Theatre, London. April 2016.

On a lovely sunny, if not warm, evening Rebecca and I went out to Hampstead to see only the second performance ever of this play. Apart from the (in)famous film Lawrence of Arabia I didn't know an awful lot about the eponymous Lawrence and so I was hoping for a play that would add more to my knowledge while being enjoyable.

I got just what I wanted, and more.

The play is set in the early 1920s as Lawrence is hiding from the press after joining the RAF incognito. His hiding place is with George Bernard Shaw and his wife who are also helping him to edit his memoirs.

We are also treated to some flashbacks to Lawrence's time in Arabia during the war and how he worked with both the Arabs and the Allies during World War One.  The story telling was clear, the actors brilliant and although there were some modern political messages within the play they weren't added with a crowbar, they felt like things the characters at the time would have said.

The last play by Howard Brenton that we saw, Doctor Scroggy's War, had a good premise but was muddled and felt like three plays mixed into one, but this was clean and informative.  I don't think that it is going to set anyone on fire but I now want to know more about Lawrence and the Shaws and have a stack of new books next to my bed ready to read.  I think that this play might end up in my 2016 Top Ten.

Jack Laksey as Lawrence (photo from Hampstead website)

Monday, 2 May 2016

Reader's Block

I’m struggling with reading again at the moment.  I’ve just submitted my MA Dissertation* and I have free time to read without worrying I should be studying/writing.  I’ve also been poorly and have nothing to do with my time except relax – which for me usually means losing myself in a good book.

I’ve got heaps of books ready to go as well, lots of fiction of all sorts, advance copies of novels courtesy of Netgalley and also stacks of novels that friends have recommended over the last six months while I haven’t had time to enjoy them.

However I seem to have got out of the habit of reading fiction.  I can settle down with biographies, autobiographies, histories and the like but I can’t get into fiction however hard I try.

I’m hoping that this will pass soon; I often find this happens after I’ve had a real reading binge on holiday – I just didn’t expect it to happen in reverse so to speak.  Oh well, at least I’ve nearly caught up on all my non-fiction piles, I just can’t wait to lose myself in a novel again. I’m longing for the book hangover feeling!

*14,973 words and called “Sex, Slavery and drugs: Is A Midsummer Night’s Dream suitable for children aged under ten?

Thursday, 28 April 2016


My friend the Upstartwren has got me thinking again as she blogged recently about books and mental health. I found myself nodding along to a lot of the points that she made, especially about self-help books being big business. From my former life in retail I can say that it isn’t just mental health that is big business however – it is all forms of health and diet.  All you have to do is look in a book shop each and every January with the plethora of “New Year, New You” displays.

Mindfulness is the buzz word at the moment, along with colouring for grownups.  I can’t really comment on either of these as I’ve not tried them therapeutically, I will confess to being quite happy siting down and stealing borrowing my nephew’s colouring pens!

I very much like the idea of the teen “Shelf-Help” promotion that I think the Upstartwren was referring to.  My first port of call for information about anything is generally a book, and I like the mix of fiction and non-fiction books that are recommended for all manner of issues that might be bothering a person – and I don’t think that this list should be limited to just young people, the titles are relevant for all ages. 

I do hope that the books are discretely marked rather than in-your-face-front-and-centre. If you are feeling delicate in anyway then announcing this as you browse the books might not be ideal.
(The library where I work has had the adult books on prescription scheme running for a while and with these people can come in and ask for the book or just come across them on the shelf, they also have a longer loan period than other books.)

Think about these promotions then lead me, like the Upstartwren, to think about how I use books as a form of personal self-help…

When I feel poorly I tend to turn to books I know well, old friends, they are often books from the Girls Own genre published before 1960, they are very much of their time, and pure escapism but I find them comforting.

When I am on holiday, and relaxed, I am far more experimental with my reading. I’ll try lots of new things, and from all sorts of genres.

However there are books that I know however many times I read them they will make me cry and there are always times when this is cathartic. There are other books that will cheer me up regardless of how many times I read them. Unlike the Upstartwren I haven’t yet found a poetry book that has spoken to me on the same level as prose.

However the main way that I use books as self-help is by always having one to hand.

The times I am most miserable are when I am trapped with nothing to read. The worst punishment as a child was not being sent to my room but having to sit in a quiet room with all my books taken away from me. Without a book to read I become quite twitchy:  when we travel I always have an eBook, a physical book, and eBook apps on my phone/iPod to hand. Anyone who travels with me trembles when I announce I’ve finished my book.

Hmm reading this, and looking at self-help books, I think I diagnose myself as an addict – I’ll just go and find a book to help me!

I didn’t mean to end this on a flippant note, I know I am very lucky that I haven’t needed any of the books prescribed for anything more than curiosity but knowing that should I need them there are titles out there is very comforting to me.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Failure really wasn't an option

Space Lectures' Spring 2016 Event: General Tom Stafford.

Months and months ago the brilliant Space Lectures team in Pontefract announced that their guest in April 2016 would be a moon walker. In the autumn it was revealed that the guest was in fact Gene Cernan - the last man to have walked on the moon.  Mr Norfolkbookworm and I had booked seats long before the name was announced and were looking forward to our next trip up north.

On the Wednesday before the event I checked twitter on my lunch break to read that Captain Cernan was unwell and unable to travel.  One tweet later I saw that the team had managed the incredible...

With just 2 days before the first event they had secured another Gemini/Apollo era astronaut to travel from the USA to talk to us - General Tom Stafford.  These gentlemen are all in their eighties at least so this was incredible reading.

If I am brutally honest I was more excited to meet/hear General Stafford that I was Captain Cernan. There is a new film out all about the latter and after previous visits to the Kennedy Space Center where he was prominently featured on lots of the films I felt I knew more about him but General Stafford was more of an unknown.

When we got to Pontefract we heard that the woes with this event had continued as Stafford's plane had been delayed due to bad weather and he's made the Friday event with only an hour or so to spare. shades of Apollo 13 or what?

The compere (one day I will catch his name!) explained this, read a message from Capt. Cernan and then explained the format of the event.  We were going to see a film about Gen. Stafford's career, he'd talk for a little while, there would be a break, a raffle, an auction and then a q&a before the signing session.

Again it didn't quite go that way but this time very much in our favour. We watched the film and then Gen. Stafford talked about his four missions and subsequent career for an hour and forty spellbinding minutes!

Much to Mr Norfolkbookworm's delight much of the talk covered the often over looked Gemini program with much emphasis on how important these flights were. Having read a lot about the manned space program from this era I have come to appreciate this but it was nice to hear Gen. Stafford admit that without these flights (and all that was learnt on them) there is no way that the Apollo missions would have succeeded, especially within the time frame laid down by President Kennedy.

After the insights into Gemini 6A and 9A we then heard about Apollo 10 - the flight that did everything Apollo 11 did *except* land on the moon. Interestingly he didn't seem at all bothered that he wasn't a moon-walker, I wonder if the thrill of flying and testing new things was enough?

Gen. Stafford also flew on the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, this was another overlooked mission that saw the Soviets and the Americans meet, dock and visit each others spaceships while on orbit.  Again this is a mission that fascinates me, not least because I have had the chance to meet Stafford's opposite Alexei Leonov.

Unlike many of the early astronauts Gen. Stafford continued his military and NASA career after leaving the astronaut corps and his subsequent postings remind you that the early space pioneers really were military men. I did find it interesting to hear about this side of Stafford and it reminded me that the space program only came about because of the Cold War.

It wasn't all serious stuff however, Stafford has a wicked sense of humour, and wasn't afraid to show it even when well behind the Iron Curtain in the 1970s.  I'm not sure I'd have the courage even now to set off fireworks anywhere near the UK police let alone the Soviet ones, 4th of July or not!

You got the feeling that given half a chance General Stafford would have talked quite happily for another hour or two and to be honest I'd have sat there rapt. I think the thing I will remember the most from this talk is Stafford's humour, self-deprecation and his obvious deep friendship with Alexei Leonov - all delivered in Oklahomski!

After the talk over ran it was decided to skip the q&a in favour of starting the signing, I was a little disappointed as I had two questions I would have liked to ask but I'd not have cut his talk short just to ask them!

There was still a raffle and I won a new book - oral histories from all sorts of people involved in the space program - and General Stafford kindly signed both a copy of his autobiography for us and my rocket.

I say this every time we go to a Space Lectures event but this really was the best yet and I feel really lucky that the team managed the impossible and got a true legend to come at such short notice but as this event finished with this clip from the International Space Station
 https://twitter.com/Space_Lectures/status/719170286076211206 all I can do is look forward to the autumn with growing excitement!

Friday, 8 April 2016

Graphically speaking

Graphic Novels / Travel Writing from Guy Delisle

While I am renowned for reading anything and everything (cereal packets if there are no books) I don't often read graphic novels.  Superheroes leave me cold and have done since I was a child and never moved on from Super Ted and Banana Man so I have tended to avoid this area in bookshops and libraries as I perceive them to be full of this sort of story.

There have been exceptions, I enjoyed the historical and allegorical Maus books and was fascinated by Peresopolis for instance and so when Guy Delisle's books came up as suggestions on Goodreads I thought they might appeal to me.

So far I've raced though Burma Chronicles, Jerusalem, Pyongyang and I have just started Shenzen. They are a mix of autobiography, travelogue and cultural guide to some of the most interesting or restrictive places on the planet.

In some of the books Guy is alone and travelling as part of his job as a animator and in others he accompanies his wife, who works for Medicins Sans Frontieres, on her postings. All of the books give you some insight into the counties visited but personally I prefer the ones where Guy is with his family and trying to adjust to both a non traditional role (he is a house husband) and life in strange surroundings.

The illustrations are deceptively simple but convey so much, Guy manages to tell all sides of the story where he can and it does seem that he tries to get behind the public facade of the places he lives - perhaps it is being a Canadian (who is married to a French woman) that allows him to be both an objective observer as well as expressing his own opinions in a non-confrontational way.

The books I've read so far have all been translated from the original French but whether it is the style of the books or the quality of the translation I'd never have known. (I would credit the translator of them all as being Helge Dascher but I have returned some of the books to the library already and as is so often the case the translator is not credited on Wikipedia or Amazon for quick reference.)

I'm still not sure that I'm ever going to love graphic novels as genre as a whole but I will keep trying them as just occasionally I am going to hit gold like I did with these! If anyone can suggest more books like these I'd be grateful.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Theatre 2016: Review Fourteen

Cymbeline, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Shakespeare's Globe, London. March 2013.

This was my final trip to this season at the Sam Wanamaker Theatre and Rebecca and I were introducing the venue to the Upstart Wren, after such a great season I was nervous that my luck couldn't hold and I hate to say I was right, but...

To be honest many of the problems I (and the others) had with this play could be put down to the script.  Although classed as a 'Late Play' it is so mad and contains so many aspects of other great plays that I wonder if it was in fact a very early play before Mr Shakespeare learned that less is more... There are girls dressed as boys, mistaken tokens, drugs that mimic death and that is before we even get to lines that are certainly recycled.
I knew it was a crazy play - let's face it, any play that needs Jupiter to descend from the ceiling to sort out the mess gets you wondering what the author was smoking - and I hoped that the Globe venue would really play on this.

Sadly what we got was a really anodyne production, it all seemed to be stuck in one gear and never took off.

The truly creepy scene was played so flat that people were laughing - and we're not talking "I feel really uncomfortable so I giggled." The scene could have been played for laughs but it wasn't here and so I found it very odd indeed.
The truly bizarre unraveling of the plot at the end was greeted by gales of laughter too - it was funny but by this time we were all looking for *any* emotional release that it got far more laughs than it deserved (and often ahead of the text).

Unlike the rest of the season the theatre also felt very close and uncomfortable - I hope that the Upstart Wren will try the venue again as this season I have seen 3 outstanding plays, and one very good one in the Playhouse and this was a disappointment.  I'm pleased that I had the chance to see this play but I wish that The Tempest  had been my final show of the Dominic Dromgoole era.

Thursday, 31 March 2016

Theatre 2016: Review Thirteen

The Tempest, Sam Wanamaker Theatre, Shakespeare's Globe, London. March 2016.

After seeing such a good production of this in the main Globe a couple of years ago I wasn't certain that I wanted to see this but a friend asked me to go with him and who am I to turn down a trip to the theatre?  Sadly on the day he was poorly and I persuaded Mr Norfolkbookworm to join me.

The play was brilliant, the comedic characters stole the show but at the same time were reined in so that they never overstayed their welcome. For me the highlight was Ariel, she managed to be present on stage and act her role perfectly - she was a mix of petulant, put upon, rebellious and dutiful - the cast interacting with her also deserve praise as they managed to act as if she really was invisible even when she was touching them. Her relationship with Prospero was interesting too as again you weren't sure if she loved or loathed him.

Since studying Shakespeare, and this play in particular, I've learnt so much about the 'behind-the-scenes' stories of the play. The Tempest is apparently all about colonisation and this wasn't something that I had noticed in previous productions, but here it certainly came through for me. Caliban was just a native of the island and certainly was not a monster and he was certainly a victim of a European colonisation.

This production was also interesting as Ferdinand was certainly a stronger character than usual where as Miranda was weaker than others I've seen.  She was however very much the 15/16 year old the play describes but possibly just a touch too modern.

I'm heartbroken that my friend missed this as it is the best Tempest I've seen.  Mr Norfolkbookworm enjoyed the show too but is absolutely convinced that the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse is just a form of torture and however tempting the production he'll just cross his fingers that it is released on DVD!

Monday, 28 March 2016

Holiday reading

Spring Break!

Mr Norfolkbookworm and I are just back from a week away in the sun. We both needed a break and the intention was to sit around doing very little whilst soaking up some vitamin D. I was doubly able to relax as the first draft of my dissertation was completed just before we went and so I could indulge in reading for pleasure guilt free!

I certainly made the most of the huge balcony and comfy sunbeds as I read 13 books in the week we were away! All that was distracting me was this view from my lounger:

The books I read (in no particular order)

Persuasion - Jane Austen.  I'm not sure why I've not read this before but my friend the Upstart Wren challenged me to read this on our break.  I wasn't sure at first but pretty soon found myself sucked in and I loved this by the end.
Down and Out in Paris and London - George Orwell.  This book came up as a suggestion on Goodreads and while I am pleased that I read it, I can't say that I enjoyed it. Orwell himself made me cross, especially once he got back to England but his insights into the underclass were interesting.
A Country Road, A Tree - Jo Baker.  I loved Longbourn by this author a couple of years ago and was excited to see this title on Netgalley.  I think my mistake with this one was leaping on the author and not reading more about the book as I found it stilted and the characters unlikable however once I got to the end and read the afterword it all made more sense and in retrospect I like it more. A warning to myself with this one! 
The Summer Before the War - Helen Simonson.  This was a pure delight to read, set in the summer of 1913.  War looms, and comes to pass, as the book unfolds but the book is not about the trenches - it is about how the war affected everyone.  This book isn't literary but is a delight and I was transported to the era perfectly.  This is a book I am going to champion for a long time. 
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society - Mary Ann Schaffer.  After The Summer Before the War this book was the only thing I wanted to re-read as I wanted another book which balanced serious issues and whimsy. GLPPS is one of my 'desert island books' and I loved meeting my book friends again. 
Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabther Bisland's History-Making Race Around the World - Matthew Goodson. I love the original novel by Verne (and the cartoon from my childhood) so I was intrigued by this book.  Bly was an investagative (and undercover) journalist in 1899 who decided that it would be possible to go around the world faster than Verne's Fogg.  She sets out eastwards... Bisland was also a journalist and when her editor heard of Bly's journey sent Bisland off in the opposite direction to both beat Fogg and her rival.  The book is part travelogue, part history and part biography and was all compelling! 
The Trouble with Goats and Sheep - Joanna Canon. This is a much talked about novel set in the long hot summer of 1979, all the action takes place in just one street as two girls investigate a mysterious disappearance.  I'm not certain that I loved this as much as others but it was a good holiday read. 
Consumed - Abbie Rushton.  Abbie is a friend and I've been looking forward to reading her second novel since it was announced.  I really enjoyed this, it had a Norfolk setting and covered 'issues' in an interesting and new way.  It was a little more predictable than Unspeakable and possibly the issues were overcome a little too simply but this is a book for young adults and hopeful endings are always good. 
The Infinite Air - Fiona Kidman.  The early pioneers of flight lived in exciting times and I've long been fascinated with the female pilots such as Amy Johnson and Amelia Earhart.  This follows the story of New Zealand's pioneering aviator - Jean Batten.  I'd not heard of her but found this fictionalised biography utterly compelling and a brilliant read. 
Eliza Rose - Lucy Worsley.  This is a young adult read set in Tudor times and Worsley creates a fictional foil to the ill-fated Katherine Howard. This book annoyed me intensely, it was simultaneously too adult and too childish and at no point did I warm to the Eliza or feel that the Tudor court was real. 
German Rocketeers in the Heart of Dixie - Monique Laney.  After WW2 many German scientist and rocket engineers were brought to the US.  With the start of the space race many of these scientists were relocated to Huntsville in Alabama right in the heart of the segregated Deep South.  This book is comprised of oral histories from all of the Huntsville community and attempts to be rounded but personally I'd have liked more of the histories and less focus on the Rudolph case.  More probing of the idea of possible Nazis (or Nazi sympathisers) being relocated to a deeply racist area would have been nice too as ultimately I am left with more questions at the end than I had at the start! 
Somewhere Inside of Happy - Anna McPartlin.  This was another book I requested through Netgalley because I'd loved the author's previous book.  At first I thought I was going to be disappointed, it seemed like a typical Irish-set, chick-lit read but the twist towards the end blew me away and while not quite such a tear-jerker as The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes this was still brilliant. 
Freya - Anthony Quinn.  A bit of a cheat here as I didn't quite finish this one on the plane home, but I was more than half way through before we landed.  Another real surprise of a book which follows one woman, her friends and family from VE Day through to the mid-sixties. It is full of unappealing characters but their voices and the plot is so good that I found it hard to put the book down, and I didn't want it to end - always a good sign.
Phew - what a lot of books in a short time!  Now it is back to the grindstone as I have to finish and submit my dissertation in the next three weeks, I bet I wish I was back here very quickly