Monday, 18 September 2017

Another Blog Tour: Salt Creek by Lucy Treloar

Salt Creek by Lucy Treloar

After never having taken part in a blog tour before I now find myself taking part in two in a month!  This book however is very different to Whitstable Hightide Swimming Club in every aspect but I loved Salt Creek by Lucy Treloar just as much.

Salt Creek is a more or less uninhabited tract of land outside of Adelaide in South Australia and the Finch family have been forced to relocate their after some bad decisions made by Hester Finch’s father.

Hester is our narrator and the book slips in time from the family’s exile in Salt Creek to her later life back in Chichester, England.  At first the move to Salt Creek seems like the end of the world – the area is not easy to work or love but slowly the family adjust until slowly their world unravels again.

Set against their struggles are stories of Aborigines and their poor treatment by Australian settlers, the tales of the first settlers and the way that the isolation, heat and cold slowly drive people mad. 
The story seemed slow at first and I wasn’t too keen on the time jumps however before I realised it the book had totally wormed its way into my life and I was turning the pages like it was the latest thriller.

For me the addictiveness of this book for me came through the way Treloar made me think that I was one of the Finch family, I wasn't just reading about them - I was in their house, sitting at their table, sharing their triumphs and their pains. On putting the book down it did take me tome to remember that it was 2017 and I was in Norfolk not  1860s Australia.

Reading about the treatment of the indigenous people, and the troubles Tully faced after being adopted in the family didn't make easy reading but then it certainly shouldn't have done - this is a shameful piece of history that carried on for far too long. The point was driven home effectively by the characters being unable to see the irony of being abolitionists at the same time. 

This book deserves to do well, I felt it covered new ideas in a very compelling manner. It is long and it is slow but these things are important, and like the landscape of Salt Creek, it grows on you.

Many thanks to the team at Gallic Press for the chance to read this book and take part in the blog tour.



Friday, 15 September 2017

Theatre 2017: Review Twenty-eight - Against

Against, Almeida Theatre, London. September 2017.

Well a week on and I still don't know what to make of this play. And reading online reviews I don't think that I am alone in this.

I liked a lot about this play. The characters & the individual stories all had me captivated. The basic idea is that Luke* (Ben Wishaw), a rich entrepreneur with an interest in space travel, has received a message from God to "go where the violence is." He uses his fortune to move into communities where violence has happened (a town after a school shooting, a university with a sex assault scandal). He stays long after the mainstream media have gone to try and get to the heart of the community and encourages people from all sides of the story to talk with him and publish their tales on his website.

All well and good, but then people who don't think their stories are being told start to question and criticise and things unfold and not for the good.

This strand of the play was great but then there were the odder parts - Luke's relationships with women, the story of his father, and his business rival (definitely not Jeff Bezos & Amazon) sat oddly in the play for me and I think that the scenes with the two workers in the non-Amazon were worthy of their own play (perhaps with Luke's story as the secondary line).

I'm also not at all sure what the message of the play was - there were so many ways to read it that it left me confused.  I know that some audience thought is good but not knowing at all if it is a nihilistic play or an optimistic one is a leap too far.  I can also see other's criticism that calls it highly misogynistic on reflection many of the female characters only existed as ciphers, however I did like that the stage (almost) nudity was completely equal!

We saw a lot of Ben Wishaw in this and I do think that he held the play together, with a weaker actor I think I'd have lost patience with this play totally, where as now I am at least still spending a lot of time thinking about it even if I can't work out if I liked it!

*I am guessing that Luke is supposed to be a version of Elon Musk, especially once we meet Jon later on.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

My First Blog Tour: The Whitstable High Tide Swimming Club

The Whitstable High Tide Swimming Club by Katie May.

I’m really rather excited to be talking about the Whitstable Bay Swimming Club: Diving In by Katie May, especially as this is the first blog tour I’ve participated in.

The Whitstable Bay Swimming Club will be a full novel in the end but currently is being published in novella sized chunks and this first part is a real treat, I was looking for something fun and light to read to fill a break between two heavier nonfiction works and this fitted the bill perfectly.

It is a story of unlikely friendships all forged on Whitstable beach by a group of sea swimmers.  Due to the geography of the beach swimming is only really possible at high tide and so slowly people get to know each other and when their swim is threatened they are ready to fight. The friendship and tensions all seem very real, and as I was reading the book I could see them meet, sum each other up and then learn more about each other

Katie May herself says:
Meet Deb, Maisie and The Whitstable High Tide Swimming Club  When I was planning The Whitstable High Tide Swimming Club, I had a strong vision of Deb and Maisie, my two central characters, but little else. I knew that I wanted to write a novel about the power of female friendship, but I also knew that there needed to be a community of swimmers around them, all with different lives and problems. I wondered how I’d manage to pull this off.
 I needn’t have worried: gradually, as I wrote my book, a whole cast of characters introduced themselves and joined in with the action. Here are my favourites.
 DebI first imagined Deb when I was sitting on Whitstable beach one afternoon, and suddenly, from nowhere, a dog jumped over the wave-break and onto my picnic. He was closely followed by a woman who was at once panicked and chaotic, but warm and instantly likeable. I knew immediately that I wanted to write about her. In the book, Deb’s waited until her fifties to finally leave her bullying, feckless husband, but she’s making the most of her freedom. She has an incredible ability to get on with anybody, and can’t help trying to solve their problems, too. And yet she’s hopeless at taking care of herself, and is constantly at risk of being dragged back into her awful old life.
 MaisieIn many ways, Maisie is the opposite of Deb – poised, wise and authoritative, she always seems utterly in control. But just like Deb, Maisie is starting her life again too, running away from a high-flying career and a loveless marriage to start a new life by the sea. She and Deb meet because they find themselves swimming on the same beach each day, but they bond because they each have something that the other one needs: for Maisie, it’s Deb’s easy-going nature; for Deb, it’s Maisie’s confidence. What’s more, it turns out that Maisie is running away from more than her past life – she’s terrified of her future, too.
 Ann and EdithAnn doesn’t exactly endear herself to Deb at first. Instead, she invites herself in to the swimming club and tries to take charge. But, as time passes, it’s clear that this irritable, awkward woman is doing her best to be make friends, even if it’s sometimes rather thwarted. What’s more, she has been caring for her mother, Edith, for so long that she’s forgotten how to live her own life any more. Perhaps the High Tide Swimming Club can save both of them.
 DerekDeb’s ex-husband, Derek, at first appears to be a lovelorn fool, desperate to win back the wife he’s so mystified to have lost. But, as time goes on, we learn the reason that Deb appears to be so heartless towards him. And she’d rather let her children believe that she’s just being cruel than tell them the truth.
 BillWhen painfully-shy Bill first turns up on the beach, Deb mistakes him for a Peeping Tom, and nearly scares him off for good. But Bill has hidden depths beneath his quiet exterior. Let’s just say he becomes very important in Parts 2 and 3!
 I’d love to introduce Chloe, Cherie, Rick and Brian too, but I’ve run out of space. You can find them all, and more in The Whitstable High Tide Swimming Club. I hope you’ll enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!
 Katherine May
August 2017

As this is both the first part of a story but also a complete work there are moments when you feel that perhaps things are rushing along a bit fast and simultaneously that there are too many cliffhangers or unexplained bits but just like a soap opera that it the book’s charm – you are left both satisfied but wanting more!

I’m from Kent and I do know the area the swimmers meet and the settings feel just right, and in a book where location is so important this is a real plus.  I’m not one for swimming in British seas, especially on grey damp days, but Katie May does make the water seem appealing even here and as I was reading this on a bright summer day all I wanted was to join the group, have a swim and then go to the pub with them for a cold white wine and chat afterwards!

I’m really looking forward to further parts of this book and also loving that this style of publishing is taking off, sometimes a perfect 100 page story is just what you want and knowing that there’ll be more really soon is perfect.

I hope that the other people like this as much as me and many thanks to Trapeze Books for sending me such a delight to read!

Sunday, 3 September 2017

August Reading Round Up

August saw me reading fewer books that in recent months but this was a for a great reason - Mr Norfolkbookworm and I have been on an American road trip.

We've visited Seattle, taken an overnight Amtrak train and then spent nearly 2 weeks in National Parks (Glacier, Yellowstone and Grand Tetons) with the culmination of the trip being the 2017 Solar Eclipse.

The whole trip was amazing - we did visit bookstores and I did find a theatre! The highlights however have to be the scenery, the wildlife and of course the eclipse. I can't pick a 'top' thing from our experiences and you can find my photos (edited - we took 5000+ between us!) on my Flickr pages.

Thanks to the long flights and also to the unhurried itinerary I did still read 19 books in August. It wasn't a stellar month for books but there were a few standouts...

Salt Creek by Lucy Treloar - this was sent to me for review and I loved it so much I'm part of the blog tour later in September.

Logical Family by Armistead Maupin - I've loved Maupin's books for years and the chance to read his autobiography in proof form was a great way to get over the holiday blues.  It is very frank and won't be for all but I enjoyed it a lot and was moved and amused by it.

Whitstable Hightide Swimming Club by Katie May - this was another book provided by the publisher for review and again it just hit the spot. My review will be out as part of a blog tour in September.

There were no duds in the month, and a couple of re-reads but most of the books have faded into the background because of our trip!

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Talking Books: Things a Bright Girl Can Do

Things a Bright Girl Can Do by Sally Nicholls

I first read a book by Sally Nicholls back in 2008 when her Ways to Live Forever was given to me on a visit to Waterstones head office and then made me cry in public (it is a great book - search it out!) but for some reason since then she has slipped off my reading radar.

I was given a proof of Things a Bright Girl Can Do when I was in Cambridge at a publisher roadshow organised by the Reading Agency and as soon as the representative from Andersen Press started talking about it I knew it was going to be my sort of book.

The book follows the lives of three teenagers/young women from the middle of 1914 through until women received the limited vote in 1918.  All three women have strong feminist ideals and are connected in some way to the Suffragette movement and all come from very different backgrounds.

The plot covers a lot of ground but I was immersed in all the plot strands and felt I was living with the women as they came of age.  This book mixed the best bits of Vera Brittain's Testament of Youth, Pat Barker's books, Robert Graves Goodbye to All That and the film Suffragette.

For me this is historical writing at its best and it has shot into the top ten of my 'favourite books of the year' list.

Monday, 28 August 2017

Talking Books: Ban this Book

Ban This Book by Alan Gratz

Book censorship is a topic I feel quite strongly about - people should have the freedom to read if a book does not contain dangerous, illegal or inciting material and I am lucky enough to work in for a library service that echoes that ethos.

That's not to say that I disapprove of readers being given advice or guidance on content or suitability but I do think that the books should be available for people to try and form their own opinions from.

This book for children nailed all of these points as well as being a fabulous family story too.  One parent objects to a book that her child brings home from the school library and thus starts a crusade to have all the books she disapproves of removed from the library.  Events spiral and more and more books are removed from the library...

This imposed censorship leads to some interesting outcomes - not least making reading cool!

The book is a little simple in message but on the whole it was as brilliant introduction to the ideas of censorship and how people power can overcome many problems.  The book is very American but that doesn't matter - it is just a great story that needs sharing as a warning about maintaining freedom, and the freedom to read.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Theatre 2017: Review Twenty-Seven - Fiddler on the Roof

Fiddler on the Roof, Chichester Festival Theatre, Chichester. August 2017

This was what has become our annual treat with Mr Norfolkbookworm's aunt, but I think that in this case I was the only one in the audience who didn't know the entire plot of the show.

For some reason I've never seen this before, either on stage or the film version which is strange as I know that it is one of my dad's favourites.  I know the famous song of course (If I Were a Rich Man) and I think I'd heard Matchmaker, Matchmaker and Sun Rise, Sun Set before but that was it.

During the first act I wasn't convinced, Tevye and Golde spoke with Russian/Yiddish accents but their equally rural children all spoke with almost RP accents and for a while this stopped me being drawn in to the story.  I also found it a little over long in the first part - I don't know what could have been shaved but at the interval I was definitely pleased that act two was going to be a lot shorter.

And here's the lesson why you should never leave at the interval because all of the build up in that long first act paid off and I was utterly immersed in the story by the end and truly sad that it came to and end.  I want to know what happened to all of the characters after they were forced out of their village - such an open and potentially sad ending was a real surprise.

Another real surprise was just how good Omid Djalili was - I'd seen him on stage in What the Butler Saw a few years ago and I really disliked his acting, but here he was Tevye and the lynch pin of the production.

I am not sure if this really counts as a musical - I feel that a play with some songs is a more accurate description for the songs don't really move the plot on at any point, they just emphasise what is said/shown but I am glad that we saw it.  I might not have been keen at the interval but by the end I was won over and now I can't stop thinking about is which means that it was obviously a good outing!

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Making an exhibition of myself

Although I don't blog about them as much as I do other things I do go to museum exhibitions reasonably regularly but in the past few weeks I've been to two exhibition launches here in Norwich and can't wait to go back and explore them again.

Cecil Aldin: The Art of Black Beauty at the Museum of Norwich.

It is 140 years since Black Beauty was published and to celebrate this Jarrolds have loaned the museum their original watercolours which were used as the plates for the 1912 illustrated edition.
The art work was amazing and as I love the novel so much I just had to glance at them to know exactly which scene was being illustrated - for once the pictures on the wall matched the pictures in my mind.
Black Beauty has long been a favourite book of mine, I have my dad's childhood copy on my shelves and it is a book I've read time and time again so to see the original pictures, and many different editions of the book, was a treat and in this setting it was a perfect exhibition.

Nelson and Norfolk at Norwich Castle

Norfolk's most famous son and I have a history - my paternal grandfather was in the navy and as a child he told me that he was actually Nelson's cabin boy and I believed him. In my defence I was under 10 at the time and didn't have the best grasp on history!
However his gentle teasing has given me a lifelong interest in Nelson so a chance to see a lot of new items about his life and career was wonderful.
This exhibition starts with a huuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuge flag - a tricolour that flew on a French ship at the Battle of the Nile. When I say huge I mean it - this flag is as big as a tennis court.  After this there is a labyrinth of other Nelson items to pore over - including his uniform from the said battle and also the shot that killed him.
There are also lots of handwritten documents to study, and items showcasing the Nelson-mania that swept the county during and after his lifetime. At first you think this is a small exhibition but there is so much in the space that you can easily spend hours in there.

I was lucky to get an invite to both of these launches and to get a sneak peak at them but I will be going back to both of them and exploring them and the museums more before they end.

The Cecil Alden exhibition runs until November 25th and Nelson until 1st October - full details here

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Theatre 2017: Review Twenty-Six: Ink

Ink, The Almeida Theatre, London. July 2017.

Wow - what a play. I am so glad that after a dip in June that the plays I've seen in July have meant that summer 2017 hasn't been a washout after all.

This is a play about the newspaper industry in 1969/1970. Rupert Murdoch has just bought a failing newspaper, The Sun, and challenges the new editor to make it outsell The Mirror within a year. He doesn't really care how this happens...

The first act is quite light, the explanation of how Larry Lamb sets his paper up is actually done through a song and dance routine - don't wince it was amazing! There is lots of humour as a bunch of misfits come together and turn a broadsheet paper into a million copy selling tabloid.

Act two is much, much darker as Lamb's ruthlessness to meet the target knows no bounds.  At times the actions taken are heart stopping and also very prophetic as to where the press, and in particular The Sun, have gone since.

This was an incredibly strong play and my two complaints  about it are personal to me. I am a printer's daughter and knowing what Murdoch did to the print trade in the 1980s it was very disconcerting to feel any sympathy for him while watching the play. Secondly I am also very much pro-union and seeing them in a less than favourable light was again not a comfortable watch!

As I said criticisms very personal to me and this was a brilliant play. It left me wanting to know more and I was very pleased to see a list of references in the programme so I can find out more!

Thursday, 3 August 2017

July Reading Round Up

July was another great month of reading for me, and one where I had lots of time to catch up on requests from Net Galley.  2017 is shaping up again to be a great year for books.

Two of the books that have made my top reads of the month I reviewed earlier The Children of Jocasta and These Dividing Walls but other standouts this month were:

Circe - Madeline Miller.
This was a very early proof (the book isn't actually out until sometime in 2018!) but I loved every word. It is very different from her first book The Song of Achilles whilst still firmly being rooted in Ancient Greece. The scope is huge but told very intimately - I hope it does really well.

The January Man - Christopher Somerville
Another walking book come memoir makes my list this month and this one is also shortlisted for the Wainright Prize. Somerville (and his wife or friend on occasion) takes a different walk around the UK each month. He talks about the history of the area he is walking and the legends but is quite open about how unobservant he is about his surroundings!
The story also tells of Somerville's relationship with his father and is wonderfully moving without being sentimental.

Artemis - Andy Weir
I loved The Martian when I read it on holiday a few years ago (I've not seen the film) I love this type of sci-fi - set in the not too distant future with a premise that could be true. Artemis is just this sort of fiction and added to this is a bit of a crime caper. The icing on the cake? The person "science-ing the shit out of the moon" is female!
The book is out later this year and I hope that it does even better than The Martian because there was no hint of the 'difficult second novel' here.

Travels with my Sketchbook - Chris Riddell
Chris Riddell has just completed his two year stint as the Children's Laureate and he has been a huge supporter of libraries and school libraries throughout his tenure. This is a collection of his sketches, cartoons, drafts for his final work and a diary in image form and a pure delight.  Riddell manages to capture the whimsy of life along with the terrible and I wanted to race through this book and savour every image simultaneously. Who says picture books are just for for children?

One Summer in Tuscany - Domenica de Rosa
This is a real guilty pleasure book - I won it in a Twitter competition with Quercus books and it was a pure delight to read some unashamed chick lit. Okay I guessed the main plot points early on but I enjoyed the ride as we got there and the writing definitely made me think I was in Tuscany in summer with the heat and the food. This was a fun escapist read.

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Theatre 2017: Review Twenty-Five: Don't Call Me Shirley

Don't Call Me Shirley, The Blakeney Players, Blakeney Village Hall, Norfolk. July 2017

It was a  lovely sunny evening as we left the city for the drive to the coast for this summer treat, but the unpredictable weather did thwart our plans for a walk on the marsh before hand!

However by the time the rain started we were in the village hall waiting for the curtains to part and as ever from the very start we were giggling (by the end we were practically rolling in the aisles).

As ever you had to be there to understand why this was so funny but making the inability to remember lines a plot point was inspired and a Monty Python style hand of God delivering the lines to the cast utter genius.

The scenes with Sherlock Holmes making fun of Benedict Cumberbatch's name were very funny as was his dream of being knighted by Queen Victoria - who was channelling  Miranda Richardson's Queenie from Blackadder and using a whoopee cushion!

As I said you really had to be there.

The plot wasn't the point but the cast having fun and infecting the audience with the same happiness was as ever a joy. I'm not wishing the year away but I'm hoping that the dates for the Christmas show are announced soon!

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Talking Books: These Dividing Walls

These Dividing Walls by Fran Cooper

This is a book about one recent summer in Paris, told from the view point of the inhabitants of one traditional building which has been split into several apartments. There are all walks of life living in the building and much of the story was told from the viewpoint of the young British visitor to the city.

Each of the building's inhabitants has their own story but they all become interconnected as wider political events within France rise to the surface and boil over with the weather.

This book felt very familiar in some ways, the trope of using one building to tell a story for instance, and also the tourist in a strange city but it was so much more than this and it became a real page turner - was the young mother going mad? Why was the homeless man watching the building? It was the main plot of how racism takes root and grows which really grabbed me by the throat and turned the book into a real page turner.

While the events in this book are fictional they are all too real and I think that, coupled with the well written descriptions of Paris during a heatwave make this book a really vivid read, in fact I was surprised to find that it wasn't a French book translated into English!

(This book was provided as a proof by Net Galley but it is now published)

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Theatre 2017: Review Twenty-three and Twenty-Four - Angels in America

Angels in America, The Lyttleton Theatre, The National Theatre, London. July 2017.

(Millennium Approaches/Perestroika)

I'll confess that I was little nervous as the lights went down for this - Rebecca and I were seeing both plays in one day which added up to just shy of 8 hours theatre, what if it wasn't very good?

Millennium Approaches was split into three parts, each about an hour long and as the first interval started I was starting to be drawn in but I wasn't 100% convinced. This is a complex play with multiple story lines and at this point I just wanted to spend a little more time with each set so I could get to know them. By the second interval I was hooked and had fallen under the play's spell completely and I loved the switching between view points.

It is hard to explain this play, in simplistic terms it is the story of a group of people, living in New York at the height of the AIDS epidemic but at the same time it is so much more - and I think that everyone brings (and takes) something different from each scene as various lines speak to them.

After a break of a couple of hours we were back in our seats for the second play, Perestroika and this was a little longer but again I quickly sank into the story telling and was desperate to find out how the lives of the characters were going to intersect and then play out. Right up until the very last moments of the play could we work out how the story was going to end and that is praise not criticism!

This was a total ensemble piece, with not a weak link in the cast. It took you through every emotion going but throughout the tension was cut through with so much humour - and not just the gallows humour of the dying. At times it was hard to work out what was real, what was dream and what was hallucination but that didn't matter at all because it was the overall effect that was important.

Perhaps my only criticism is that there were no real highs/lows in the storytelling - you remained keyed up throughout with no release, but, when you think about it life is actually like that.

I think we made the right choice in seeing the two plays in one long session. A gap between might have been kinder on our backs and bottoms but I think the full immersion made me fall in love with this play and the characters.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Talking Books: The Children of Jocasta

The Children of Jocasta by Natalie Haynes.

I think my love of Greece and all things Greek shines through on this blog, from reworkings of the myths and legends through to seeing plays from millennia ago in the original language! I've been looking forward to this book since last November when Natalie Haynes spoke about it at the Heffer's Classics Forum.

This is Haynes' reworking of the stories behind the plays Oedipus Tyrannos and Antigone but focuses her dual time line on two female characters who feature almost as throwaway lines.

At the very start I was a little unsure about the book, I couldn't place where the prologue fitted in to the tale at all and this confused me but once the story proper started with chapters alternating between generations I was hooked completely and stayed up far too late reading the book because I just couldn't put it down.

The characters were hugely realistic and vivid while the prose and descriptions really brought to life how the Hellenes lived. I've visited the ruins in Greece and know how the palaces work in theory but this book really made the stones I've visited into a living place

I knew the rough outlines of the stories behind the novel but Haynes used her knowledge of all versions of the stories to weave a brilliant tale that made me think about all the ideas I held about the characters and to think about the tales from a female point of view.

I think that this book would be just as enjoyable if you don't know much about the original stories/plays and that Haynes adds to them rather than anything else, I now want to search out Sophocles' other Oedipus play and also the mentions of him in Homer's Odyssey - oh and Anouilh's version of Antigone...

Monday, 3 July 2017

June Reading Round Up

I seem to have read an incredible number of books this month - 29 now I've counted them up - and I guess that this means I've had a lot of time on trains.

Many of these books have been great but a lot were advanced reading copies and are under embargo for another few weeks/months - reviews will be forthcoming closer to publication date however!

From Source to Sea - Tom Chesshyre
A non-fiction book charting Chesshyre's walk from the source of the River Thames to where it flows into the sea.  Inevitably the chapters dealing with following the Thames through London were my favourite and I hope to trace some of his steps on future visits to the city.

A Glint in the Sky - Martin Easedown
This is a very readable history of the first daylight Gotha raids on Folkestone during WW1. It charts previous raids on Kent and then the true horror of what happened on 25th May 1917. This has been dramatised really well on the Radio 4 serial Home Front too.

Ban this Book - Alan Gratz
An advance copy of a book all about what happens when a parent tries to ban books in a school library - full review coming in August.

Things a Bright Girl Can Do - Sally Nicholls
Another advance copy which I can't review fully yet. It is a Suffragette/WW1 tale for young adults and it has shot to the top of my favourite books of the year!

Friday, 30 June 2017

Theatre 2017 - Review Twenty-one & Twenty-two: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Palace Theatre, London. June 2017.

This won't be a review - even after a year (and with the script published) there is great pressure to not spoil the experience for others and although I have read the script I was very very pleased I didn't know how it was going to come to life.

Sadly after all these months (we booked the seats 9 months ago) Rebecca couldn't make the date in the end but her stand in really had a good time - especially as she knew nothing about the plot at all.

All I can say is that the spectacle really is something else and this is a real feast for the eyes, there are flaws and I thought it was far too long but I am pleased I saw it and I think that it is something all Potter fans should try to see - for me it managed to blend my head canon images with the recognisable film Potter very well and there were certainly bits that left me gasping.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Armchair Astronaut event with Michael Foale

An Afternoon with retired astronaut Michael Foale.

While Tim Peake might be the first British astronaut but the first British-born male astronaut was Michael Foale and I was very excited to get the chance to meet him - this time a little closer to home in Milton Keynes rather than Pontefract.

It was a great afternoon with the event was split into three main parts. In the first hour Mike Foale spoke about his missions on the space shuttle and then on ISS - he talked us through his early life and how he became an astronaut and then aspects of each mission. There were lots of little anecdotes and film clips to bring everything together and it was fascinating listening. To be honest if the event had stopped there it would have been brilliant but it continued...

Part two was all about Foale's eventful time on the MIR space station exactly twenty years ago. This was at the start of American/Russian cooperation in space, at a time when the MIR space station was ageing and when the differences in approach from the two nations were at their most divergent.  A resupply ship, which was being docked to the space station manually, crashed into part of the MIR puncturing it and causing a slow depressurisation, loss of power and loss of control.

Even though I knew the outcome of this accident (spoiler alert - eventually all was fine) Foale's presentation was tense and dramatic - I don't remember seeing the actual footage of the moment the accident happened - and then his account of the slow saving of the the MIR showed just how much of the 'Right Stuff' astronauts still have.

After another short break there was a lovely long question and answer session which covered all areas of Foale's career, his thoughts on the future of space travel and also great advice for anyone looking to get into their dream career.

After all of this some of us had premium tickets which meant we got to stay a little longer, get an autograph and then chat more with Foale.

It was a lovely afternoon and so well organised by the Armchair Astronaut and very nice to catch up with other space friends.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Theatre 2017 - Review Twenty-one - Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night, Shakespeare's Globe, London. June 2017.

After last month's trip to the Globe to see Romeo and Juliet it probably will come as no surprise to read how nervous I was about returning to the Globe for another Shakespeare.

Sadly I think I should have listened to my inner turmoil. This was another updated pop Shakespeare and it just wasn't for me. I winced when the musicians appeared on stage with electric guitars and it got worse as the opening number (and that's not something Shakespeare wrote at all) was We are family by Sister Sledge.  It was fun but what did it have to with Twelfth Night?

There were definitely elements I liked to this. The comic characters were very well done. They were funny and they didn't out stay their welcome. I also liked the twins - their story popped for me.

The rest was awful however, Orsino made my flesh creep, Olivia wasa non entity and I really really disliked Malvolio - to the extent that I don't think his mistreatment went far enough.  In a play that is all about gender swapping so if you are going to have a girl play Malvolio then do something extra with this rather than just 1970s gags about a girl acting like a man.  As for Feste, he had a nice sounding voice but I couldn't actually hear what he was singing - not a fault that was limited to him I hasten to add. How can adding so many speakers and microphones make the sound worse?

After talking this over with Rebecca we are in disagreement as to which play is the most terrible. Rebecca says this one and I say Romeo and Juliet - at least this one actually kept to the plot.

We had planned a double bill at the Globe on this day and had tickets to see Tristan and Yseult the same evening. It was from the same director and reviews all talk about the same wacky viewpoint and so we decided that enough was enough and sold our tickets back to the box office and caught an early train home.

We have tickets for one more play at the Globe this season but it has to be said I for one can't wait for a new AD to be in post and an end to this style of performance in what was my favourite venue.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Theatre 2017: Review Twenty - The Play that Goes Wrong

The Play that Goes Wrong, Theatre Royal Norwich, June 2017.

I never really thought that farce was for me, slapstick films don't really hold my attention after the first few gags but yet this is my fourth play in the genre...

I watched, and was reasonably entertained by, Peter Pan Goes Wrong when it was shown on the TV at Christmas so cheap tickets to the original Goes Wrong play seemed too good to miss.

For some reason it just didn't quite hit the spot, it was reasonably funny and the actors had a great sense of timing. The set was incredible too - you really did never know what was going to fail next or how the cast would deal with the malfunctions was the real highlight.

The downsides were the plot and the delivery of the lines. The plot did just peter out and I do think that if you've seen one Play that... you've seen them all. In addition to this all too often the lines were lost in the mayhem - especially in the final scene, I hadn't even realised that the play was over it was so muddled.

On the whole it was a fun night and I did laugh a little but being a fan of the Blakeney Players and the Maddermarket theatre with the shows they put on I was a bit uncomfortable at the mocking of these great local theatre groups - this just wasn't quite affectionate enough.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Final, final thoughts about the Baileys Prize

Women's Prize for Fiction ceremony and final thoughts.

Last night I was lucky enough to be invited to the prize ceremony for the 2017 Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction and to be honest by the time it came to go into the event I was about ready to run away - it has been a long time since I've been to a swanky book event and an even longer time since I've been to one where I know nobody else in the room.

To be honest as I entered the fabulously decorated ballroom at the Southbank Centre I was even more overwhelmed - I was met with smartly dressed waiters with a selection of drinks, more wandering around with canapes and lots of very smartly dressed people.

My discomfort vanished really quickly as Karen and Kimberley from the Reading Agency spotted me really quickly and we soon found another library ambassador - book chat quickly followed.

The actual prize ceremony was really smoothly run, the speeches were all interesting and fun - championing books, reading, fiction and authors especially in the world we are currently living in.

On the trip down to London, and after talking with colleagues at work, I'd decided that my overall favourite was Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo - her links to Norfolk just swung it for me. I think I can also explain it and handsell it to customers slightly more easily than my other top read Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien. I was lucky enough to meet both authors at the event and they were lovely.

While the bookies were saying Naomi Alderman's The Power I was pleased to see so much love for Do Not Say on line in the days leading up to the announcement - however on the night the bookies were proved right at the dystopian, feminist Animal Farm won the overall prize.

I've been thinking about this book a lot since I finished it and while it wasn't my top read the fact that it is preying on my mind means that it must have *something* to it and I can see why it won - I'm now looking forward to talking about this, and the other 5 books, with friends and customers in the library.

After an amazing experience as a library ambassador I now have to do my thanks - to the Reading Agency for the opportunity, to the publishers for providing me with a copy of each book, to Baileys for the invite to the party last night, and also to my colleagues for letting me talk books for so long and rearranging shifts at the library so I could go to the prize!

Enough gushing - I'm off to find more great books to read and talk about!

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Bailey's Prize final thoughts

It is no good - even after a week I still can't pick which book is my favourite.

I am torn between Do Not Say We Have Nothing and Stay With Me.  These two have gripped me firmly since I read them and I can't stop talking about either of them.  They are very different in many ways - but the way they both use the personal to make wider events come to life draw them together.

I know that the bookies are saying The Power is the favourite to win but I really hope either of my top books confound the odds and do win.

I am excitedly nervous about the prize ceremony tomorrow night - it has been quite a while since I've been to a book event in London, especially one with a dress code but it will be great to meet a lot of the people I've been tweeting with over the past 6 weeks.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

May Reading Round Up

May seems like it has been full of Bailey's Prize books, I may have only had five left to read but I've been writing about them here and on the Norfolk Library book review blog as well as talking about them with others on Twitter and Instagram. However as these books have all been great reads this hasn't been a chore!

In between these books I also finished another 13 books in May and in addition to Stay With Me which I reviewed here there are three more books I want to talk about:

London Under - Peter Ackroyd
This is a simple non fiction book which looks at the history of London under your feet. It covers hidden rivers, sewers and of course the Tube. It was an easy read but one that made London come to life for me, especially after our recent trip to the London Guildhall and the Roman ruins buried under there.

Who Let the Gods Out
- Maz Evans
This was a fun book for children taking a currently popular idea of the Greek Gods returning to modern day Earth. This one had a different feel from some of the others although I am hard pressed to explain  how exactly, in many ways the closest comparison to other books Marie Phillips God Behaving Badly - although with content suitable for children! For once I was also really pleased to realise half way through that this was going to be a series. 

The Boy Behind the Curtain - Tim Winton
This is a quirky book, part autobiography, part environmental treatise and part whimsical musing about the state of the world.  I loved every section of it and I really liked the Western Australian setting and the reminder of just how remote this state is to the rest of Australia. I can't remember what made me reserve this book from the library but I am pleased that I did as this was a wonderful read.

I'm now looking forward to seeing what books June bring, the Wainright Prize longlist has just been announced and so I think I might start reading those...

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Theatre 2017: Review Nineteen - Spamalot

Monty Python's Spamalot, Norwich Playhouse, Norwich. May 2017.

Although slightly too young to remember Monty Python from the original broadcasts I have been a fan for many years now and most Easter weekends I like to watch Life of Brian in a double bill with Jesus Christ Superstar. I do also like The Holy Grail as a film but it has to be said I think that Spamalot is better.

I was lucky enough to see Spamalot in London soon after it opened and then again on tour in Norwich a few years later but when a friend and I saw it was on in Norwich again I was certainly keen to see it once more.

This production was put on by the Threshold Theatre Company, part of the Norfolk and Norwich Operatic Society. They have a great idea behind them:
The Threshold Theatre Company was set up by NNOS to provide a training ground for less experienced actors and singers, preparing them for stepping up into the main company when they felt confident enough to do so. One of Threshold’s objectives is “to train young or inexperienced people to gain a good knowledge of all aspects of operatic and dramatic arts“.
With this in mind I wasn't sure what to expect on the night - would it be a low budget am dram show? The answer was an emphatic no - this was as professional and as polished as any touring London show and being in a small theatre was wonderfully intimate as you got to see every eyebrow quirk and facial twitch!

The singing, dancing and acting were all superb with a relatively small cast doubling and tripling to great effect, I had a grin on my face before the end of the first line and by the end a huge stitch from laughing so much.

The Threshold Co. are now high on my watch list and I can't wait to see more of what they put on. Norwich is so lucky to have great local talent as well as a theatre which books great London theatre tours - I'm now off to look at the schedules for the Playhouse and Maddermarket...

Friday, 26 May 2017

Bailey's Book Prize book six

The Dark Circle by Linda Grant.

My reading order of the six Bailey's Prize books has been totally random - it really was just the way they came out of the box - but this book was possibly the one I'd have either read first or saved until last through choice.

I've read and enjoyed other books by Grant and the blurb of this book really made me think it would be up my street - a post war historical fiction set in a TB sanatorium in Kent. I've been a long time fan of the Chalet School books by Elinor Brent Dyer and the plots of many of these books (at least in the early days) focus around TB and cures.  I also love Betty Macdonald's The Plague and I which is her autobiographical account of her time as a TB patient. There was much to look forward to in this book...

It lived up to all my hopes, I raced through it and quickly became invested in the lives of Miriam and her twin Lenny both in London and on their transfer to Kent. It was a real page turner and from chapter to chapter I never knew which way the plot was going to go - it was as unpredictable as the disease itself.

The depiction of post war antisemitism was a shock to me and as a modern reader hard to read as it was just accepted and not commented on.  I've read books about racism post war following the arrival of the Windrush but I was taken aback at the anti Jewish sentiment - in my naivety I'd have thought that news of the concentration camps, and the cinema newsreels, would have stopped this.

However now I've finished the book I feel a little empty - like after you've had a Chinese meal, you are full at the time but then hungry again just a little while later.  There were lots of plot strands and I'm not entirely sure that they all worked out - I can see that they were all necessary to build the tale but after the half way point they all felt rushed and unexplored. I didn't lose track of anyone or any story which is a positive thing with so many strands but I am left wanting to know more about all of them.

I really enjoyed the story here but I am greedy I wanted much more from it.  Another great read but one that is far more disposable than many of the others.

Now to spend some time thinking over the six shortlisted titles and pick my own favourites...

Monday, 22 May 2017

Bailey's Book Prize book five

Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo

I started this book with the assumption that I wasn't going to find it a top read.  It is set in Nigeria and one of my favourite books of all times, Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, has this setting and I just thought that such a slender volume couldn't match that favourite.

I was so happy to be proved wrong by this one.  It grew on my with every page turn and at times I felt I was actually in the room with the family as events unfolded.

I've read lots of reviews with spoilers and I am glad I didn't see them before I started as this book really played with my own thoughts, prejudices and assumptions.  Something would happen and I'd draw a conclusion and then a few pages later some more information was given and my thinking changed by 180 degrees.

By the end my heart was breaking for all of the characters, so much about them couldn't be changed but just talking could have saved so much.

If I have any criticisms with the book it is that at times I found it a little hard to keep track of who was narrating each chapter - although after a few lines I always worked it out. I also wanted to know a little more about the politics in the background. Here they were important only in how they touched the story but the tidbits of information were interesting and I'd have liked a digression, this would have changed the style of book however and it is just perfect as it is.

I thought that I'd found my best Bailey's Book with Do Not Say We Have Nothing but this is running it close, and I can certainly see me convincing more people to read this than the epic Do Not Say. An added plus for this book is that Adebayo has links to Norfolk!

With only one book left to read on the short list I am so pleased to be involved in this project - I've been challenged with all the books and discovered some new favourites.