Wednesday, 26 February 2020

Beating the block

A book for every season...

I sound a little bit like a broken record as I keep complaining of reader's block - I do remind myself just how lucky I am that I can still read and that not finding something to sink into is a minor problem.

Deep down I know all of this but it is still frustrating to find yourself stuck at home due to bad weather and not knowing what to read.

I've decided to try proper bibliotherapy to get over this - I think of a topic that I think will take my fancy and then look it up in The Novel Cure! The most useful part so far has been the top 10s at the back of the book and if I am totally honest I've actually spent more time reading this than anything from it but hey - it all counts as reading right?

I am asked by friends if I can think of books about different topics for children of various ages. I've now been out of the frontline of children's books for a decade and while I try to stay current I am sometimes stumped but no longer...there is a Story Cure - an A-Z of books to keep kids happy. healthy and wise and thus my reading for this weekend (yet another windy one) is sorted!

Look out Kentishbookboy - lists of new books will be coming your way very soon!




Monday, 17 February 2020

Reprints and discoveries

Random thoughts about books.


My reading tastes (as well as being eclectic) seem to swerve from books read well in advance of publication to books that are well over 60 years old and both of these can be a problematic.

The books I read in advance often can't be talked about at the time I read them, and by the time they are published I've often forgotten many of the discussion points and no one wants to read a blog full of 'I love this book' with no more depth than that.

The older books are also problematic in that they aren't always easy to find, reasonably priced or read by enough people to discuss them!

The last point I am getting around by loaning some of the books I have to a colleague - it has been a bit hit or miss but it is so much fun to talk about these books with someone else that I'll forgive her for not liking one of my favourites.

The growth in smaller publishers who specialise in bringing former classics back in to print is also helping with the availability issues too.

Back in 2016 I read the wonderful Mrs Tim of the Regiment by D E Stevenson. At this point I knew that there were more books in the series and that I really wanted to read them. However they all came with an exorbitant price tag. Time passed and I'd stopped looking for cheaper copies of these books when I came across the wonderful Furrowed Middle Brow blog which is dedicated to lesser known (female) authors from the first half of the 20th Century.

This site has been very dangerous for my 'to-be-read pile' as there are so many books talked about, and handily categorised in to lists so I can really pick from my favourite genres. The bigger news however is that along with researching and reviewing books they are also reprinting books - including the wonderful Mrs Tim series!

I'm even luckier in that my colleagues in the library service also saw these books and ordered them and so I've spent the last two stormy weekends happily rediscovering the world of Mrs Tim and her friends. I can't explain what draws me to these books, they are predictable (and at times almost cringeworthy) but I do love the time I spend in this world. I have just one left to read now and I am trying to decide whether to save this last book for a special occasion or whether just to dive straight in.


Saturday, 25 January 2020

Kentishbookboy Goes It Alone

A Series Of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket


As I said in my last post I've been reading for various projects recently and so I haven't had time to keep up with the Kentishbookboy, however this year as well as having our book group we also taking part in a family Book Bingo challenge.



This lets chart lets me, KBB, his mum, his nanny and his great aunt all count other reads towards our game - although we are all planning on sharing lots of books too! 


(just one review this time - all from Kentishbookboy)

A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning

Synopsis:
Violet, Klaus and Sunny Baudelaire are intelligent children. Even though they are charming and clever, the Baudelaire siblings lead lives filled with misery and woe. From the very first page of this book when the children are at the beach and receive terrible news, through to itchy clothing, a plot to steal the family fortune and cold porridge for breakfast, the children have much to overcome,

Dilemma:
The Baudelaire orphans are sent to live with their distant relative, Count Olaf. From their first day, they experience nothing but non-stop torture. They need to work together and stop Count Olaf from getting hold of the Baudelaire fortune.

Morals/Themes:
There are a few themes for this book. I think cunning, greed, courage, love and family are the main ones. I think courage is one because in chapter 10 the eldest Baudelaire, Violet, tries to save her sister, Sunny, by making a grappling hook to climb up the forbidden tower. She shows courage when she climbed up, she hoped it didn't fall down to the ground.

Recommendation:
This book is an interesting story and it contains from weird bits too. I think Lemony Snicket is a great author and has a talent for writing stories. I would like to read the next book: The Reptile Room and give it four stars.

I'm really glad that Kentishbookboy enjoyed this book - I remember reading both this one and The Reptile Room when they were first published in the UK and quite enjoying them but I don't think I read on past these two. I definitely haven't seen the film or TV series, although I did get to meet Lemony Snicket's alter ego Daniel Handler once...



Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Championing books

Quick Reads Return


Back in 2018 when I was at my poorliest I was kindly gifted some of the wonderful Quick Reads titles (I wrote about them here). After a break of a year, and some funding woes, the scheme is back and this time I get to tell everyone just how special these books are thanks to the Reading Agency featuring my story as part of their promotion of the scheme.

It was pure serendipity that on the day my story was published four of this year's titles came in to the library for me and carried them home with great excitement. I have just spent an intense month dipping into piles of books (fiction and non fiction) for various projects and the chance to relax with some shorter books by fabulous authors was a real treat.

So far I've finished A Fresh Start - which was a wonderful collection of 10 brand new short stories from well known authors, all with the loose theme of 'a fresh start'. Some of the stories were incredibly funny, some poignant but unlike many short story collections I enjoyed them all. They were the perfect length for reading at bedtime - just a few pages each - and all were thoroughly satisfying.

Next up was Notting Hill Carnival by Candice Carty-Williams. This was subtitled A Westside Story and was a contemporary love story using the plot of Romeo & Juliet / Westside Story as a starting point. Again I loved the writing style and I've instantly put a request on Carty-William's full length novel Queenie.

I've now moved on to Milly Johnson's The Little Dreams of Lara Cliffe - and as the characters are taking a trip to Amsterdam, a city that I love visiting, it all bodes well. After this will come Clare Mackintosh's The Donor which looks like a gripping thriller. As After the End by this author made my top reads of 2019 list I'm hoping I like this one as much.

As I say in my piece for the Reading Agency these books really are for everyone - the plots are great and the authors incredibly talented. These aren't just simplified books for new readers they are just gripping shorter reads - and at only £1 (or free from your local library) you really should give them ago.
Another bonus - they are ever so light and compact in size so they'll fit in your bag/pocket easily meaning you're never without a book!

Thursday, 16 January 2020

Kentishbookboy & Norfolkbookworm Read - Book 1, 2020

Clockwork or All Wound Up by Philip Pullman


I'm really pleased that Kentishbookboy wants to continue with our book group in to a new year, reading can be a solitary hobby but the joy of sharing books does turn it in to a social activity.

We've started the year with a new 'book bingo' sheet as well as new reading journals and as well as this our group has attracted a new member with Kentishbookboy's great aunt joining in too.

In a way I've got off to a slow start with sharing books with the family as I have been taking part in two book projects that had stricter reading deadlines that KBB imposes on me. Mind you as you read his review for this book you might think that I should give up the reviewing and turn the blog over to him alone!

Like last year Kentishbookboy's thoughts are in purple and mine in brown.

Clockwork or All Wound Up by Philip Pullman

Synopsis:

Karl's final task as a clockmaker's apprentice is to make a new figure for the great clock of Glokenheim (Germany). He has not made the figure, or got an idea of what it could be - and the unveiling is tomorrow. Fritz is also in the tavern; there to read aloud his new spooky story. Like Karl, he hasn't finished. Well he knows how it starts and he knows it's called Clockwork - so, with the snow swirling down, inside he sets his story going and just hopes that an ending will come to him as he tells it. Suddenly Fritz's story and real life merge in a completely sinister way - and just like clockwork it cannot be stopped...

In this modern fairy tale we join the villagers of Glokenheim in their inn on a cold and snowy night. The next day is one of the biggest in their calendar as it is the unveiling of the new figure on the impressive clock. However the man responsible for this, Karl, has not managed to create his work of art and he is worried that he'll fail his apprenticeship as well as become the laughing stock of the village. Star storyteller Fritz is also in the tavern on this evening and encouraged to tell a new tale. Like Karl he hasn't finished this either, then at a crucial part of the story appears to come true...

Dilemma:

Karl has not made a figure for the great clock yet, nor has Fritz finished his story, and they both have to finish by morning.

Karl and Fritz are very different, but yet still seem to face the same problem, in that they haven't finished their important work and people are dependent on them doing so. There is also the plot thread of how far people will go to get what they want - in this case an heir for a local prince.

Morals/Themes:

The moral and theme of this book is about the importance of hard work and doing things yourself, not just trying to find an easy way out.

Like all good fairy stories there are morals to be found in this tale, and as Kentishbookboy says a prominent one is all about not taking the easy way out. There is also the message that love will won out over ambition and finally I'd also add in that you should be careful what you wish for, and to always read the small print! 

Recommendation:

Personally, I quite enjoyed Clockwork. There were lots of strange parts as well, but I thought the end was a good way to finish the book. I rate it four and a half stars. I would recommend it to people who like mystery.

I've not read any of Pullman's younger fiction before and quite enjoyed this one, although I feel it has more in common with early, moralistic tales than more recent middle grade fiction. For some reason it made me think of Katherine Arden's The Bear and the Nightingale set in Russia - I think that this is because of the merging of narrative fiction and fantasy. The boxes of information that sprinkle the text were fun to read - far more noticeable than footnotes.
It may be very shallow but I particularly liked the clockwork image in the corner of the page which was flickbook!






No image of Kentishbookboy with the book this time, Nanny snaffled it so she could read along too - I'm not sure she enjoyed it as much as us - her first thoughts were that it was a little too moralistic.
Kentishbookboy has moved on to Lemony Snickett's Series of Unfortunate Events, now I read the first few of these when they first came out but I don't remember much about them so I'm looking forward to hearing what he thought of them.



Wednesday, 1 January 2020

Books of the Year 2019

My top rated books of 2019.


After the shocking discovery yesterday of just how many books I've read in the past decade it is time to look more closely at the list from 2019 and pick my top reads from this smaller set.

It was an interesting book year, I am by no means back to where I was for reading stamina and plot retention and so to be honest looking over the past 12 months worth of books I was very thankful for the one line synopsis I do write for each one as an aide memoir.

The books on these two lists (fiction and non-fiction) needed no prompts for me to remember how much I enjoyed them!

Fiction (in no particular order)


  • If I Could Tell You by Hannah Beckerman
  • A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes
  • Those Who are Loved by Victoria Hislop
  • Vintage 1954 by Antoine Laurain(trans. Jane Aitkin)
  • Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts
  • Umbrella Mouse by Anna Fargher
  • A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier
  • The Flat Share by Beth O'Leary
  • Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi (trans. Geoffrey Trousselot)
  • After the End by Clare Mackintosh

Nonfiction (in no particular order)

  • The Eastern Most House by Juliet Blaxland
  • Chasing the Sun by Linda Geddes
  • Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez
  • The Cut Out Girl by Bart van Es
  • Between the Stops by Sandi Toksvig

Somewhat unusually for me I think that the majority of the these books were published (in English at least) during 2019. I know that I read a lot of them through Net Galley or thanks to projects with the Reading Agency or of not that they came from the library.

I read a lot of nature writing books/memoirs in 2019 but it was the Easternmost House that has remained lodged the strongest in my memory - not least for the sad, newsworthy end it had in real life. 

A friend challenged me last night to whittle this list down to just my top books but even though I gave her three titles (kidlit/fiction/non fiction) under 24 hours ago this has already changed and in all honesty I don't think that I can get it any lower than these 15 titles.

Here's to another year/decade of reading pleasure!

Tuesday, 31 December 2019

End of a decade

What a decade!


In shamelessly using a popular music CD series I am cunningly going to talk about the past decade in books. This is of course in no way a distraction so I don't have to decide which were the best books of the past year you understand!

On looking back through my reading journals I have discovered that I have been keeping a pretty thorough record of my reading since 2009, however as this is an end of decade summing up I will only take the books I've read since January 2010. It is my blog after all and no matter the arguments put forward by Mr Norfolkbookworm as to when the decade actually runs I am going with Jan 1st 2010-December 31st 2019.

In that time I have recorded I've read 3103 books 😲 Or 310 books a year 😲😲


When you take into account that I don't think I've included all of the picture books I've read to my nephew in this list, or the day I spent at the Booktrust helping select books for the packs given to pre-school aged children this is staggering, even for me.
It also covers the 3 years I spent studying for an MA and the time since my brain haemorrhage which severely cut back on what I was able to read.

I do include all of my re-reads/comfort reads in my lists so this isn't actually 3103 unique books but regardless this is a vast number that has left me feeling a bit flabbergasted...

I will spend some more time looking at the lists and definitely produce my 'best of 2019' list in the next day or so, but I will also look through the entire list and try and pick my highlights of the decade too.

I think that my reading highlight of this year has been sharing books as a family, especially with Kentishbookboy. In early 2010, before he was even born, I took my sister on a book buying trip to start his library and now it has paid off as we get to share books properly now.




For this year his favourite book we've shared was Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (mine and his mum's was The Umbrella Mouse and Mr Norfolkbookworm can't decide between these two!)

As a book memory from the decade it has to be one that Kentishbookboy and I share and that is the wonderful Thud by Nick Butterworth as we've had years of fun acting that out between us.


Wishing all of my readers a very Happy (and book filled) New Year and here's to another decade of good books!
 

Tuesday, 3 December 2019

Review Six: book group at a distance

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J. K. Rowling


These books have been a huge part of my adult life, I started book selling just after the second book in the series came out, but at that time there wasn't a lot of fuss around the books, I don't recall anyone coming in to the shop asking for them particularly. In a bid to become a specialist Children's Bookseller I was reading as much as possible that was coming out and both Mr Norfolkbookworm and I really enjoyed the first two and I know that I was recommending them long before they were the huge hit they later became.

I was involved in the launch parties for all of the remaining books of the initial series, and I know that I missed my sister's hen night because I was working on the midnight launch of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. It has to be said that she was never a fan of the books but I do wonder if this has anything to do with her antipathy...

However this year Kentishbookboy expressed an interest in trying at least the first book in the series and so my poor sister had to grit her teeth and give the book a go.  I'd reread the whole series as a reward for finishing my MA a few years back and Mr Norfolkbookworm also decided that it was a good time for a reread...


As before Kentishbookboy's thoughts are in purple and mine are in brown.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

Synopsis
Harry Potter has never event heard of Hogwarts when the letters start dropping on the doormat at number four, Privet Drive. Addressed in green ink on yellowish parchment with a purple seal, they are swiftly confiscated by his grisly aunt and uncle. Then, on Harry's eleventh birthday, a great beetle-eyed giant of a man called Rubeus Hagrid bursts in with some astonishing news: Harry Potter is a wizard, and he has a place at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. He has to make new friends, as well as learning about his past.

Harry Potter lives with his aunt, uncle and cousin and believes that his parents died in a car crash (that was their fault) and has left him with a distinctive scar - which his family insist remains hidden.  Strange things have often happened around Harry but until his eleventh birthday he had no idea just how magical these things really were.
Once Harry gets to Hogwarts he has to learn about his history whilst making his own way in a new world.

Dilemma
Harry Potter lived a tough life living with his Aunt Petunia, Uncle Vernon and their son, Dudley. From having to sleep in a cupboard under the stairs, to trying to stay out of the way, life was just too hard. Learning about his past brings lots of danger to him and his friends during their adventures that they must overcome together whilst at Hogwarts.

Harry's main dilemma in this book is learning who he is, who is friends are and what is right and wrong. He also has to learn that even magic can't always give him what he wants the most.

Morals/Themes
Courage, loyalty and friendship are great themes for the book. It symbolises to always have trust in your friends, no matter what.

As this is the first part of a series the morals and themes that feature in this book are all laying the foundation stones for future adventures (which I can see as I have had the pleasure of reading the books before) but learning who to trust, and who your friends are is an important part of this book, as is learning when to follow rules and when to trust your instincts.

Recommendation
This book is a really good adventure story and is really interesting book to read. I think J.K. Rowling is a talented author and turns ideas in to an action packed story! I would highly recommend it and give it five stars.

I agree with the Kentishbookboy, this is a great story and if as an adult I can see where her influences come from it doesn't spoil the story at all - it is a real page turner. I think that I'd give it four stars now but I know that on my first read I thought it was a great new voice/addition to the Kidlt area. I also enjoy a lot of the wordplay and puns.



I know that Mr Norfolkbookworm really enjoyed his reread of the book, and like he said the writing might not have been the greatest but the plot and story are and they are what count.  I think that the biggest surprise is knowing that Kentishbookboy's mum is also intrigued enough to want to know what happens to the characters in book two...

We're hoping to fit in one more non-festive shared book before we pick a Christmas book to enjoy.

Thursday, 28 November 2019

World Reading

Challenging my world views


I love reading books that are set in locations that I've never visited (and probably will never visit) whether the books are fiction or non fiction and regardless as to if they are in translation or not. Just lately two books have really challenged what I thought I knew about two countries.


The first was a non fiction book, called Two Trees Make a Forest.


This is a book that ticked many of my personal interests: travel, nature writing and family history. It was also about Taiwan, a country that I had always thought was a relatively liberal place and a definite alternative to China. I was very surprised to discover that it was subject to martial law for so long, and as repressive as mainland China in its way, just not a communist country.

I think that some of my preconceptions come about because in the time that I've been news/politically aware it has moved away from a one party, repressive system and become more liberal  - unconsciously I had thought that this was always the case.  Always good to learn more and this was a fascinating book about reconnecting with your roots.

The second book that really opened my eyes recently also comes from the far east, as it is set in South Korea, Kim Jeyung, Born 1982 (by Chi Nam-Joo, trans. Jamie Chang)


This is a book that is all about the pressures that South Koreans around my age/my sister's age face in society today, and especially how women are treated. It was truly horrifying and eye-opening, despite nothing truly horrific actually taking place.  The publisher blurb gives a hint of the subject matter:
Kim Jiyoung is a girl born to a mother whose in-laws wanted a boy.
Kim Jiyoung is a sister made to share a room while her brother gets one of his own.
Kim Jiyoung is a female preyed upon by male teachers at school. Kim Jiyoung is a daughter whose father blames her when she is harassed late at night.  
Kim Jiyoung is a good student who doesn’t get put forward for internships. Kim Jiyoung is a model employee but gets overlooked for promotion. Kim Jiyoung is a wife who gives up her career and independence for a life of domesticity.
This doesn't quite warn you just what a punch this book packs, especially at the end. Although fiction all of the statistical claims, figures and news stories are given footnotes that allow you to see that this is real and not exaggerated for a novel.

Again I had the idea that South Korea was a 'good guy' - that it was progressive and to be held up as a beacon for showing how a country can heal from a traumatic recent past.

A film has been made of the book, and it is a best seller in Korea. This translation will be published in February 2020 and I hope that it is as well received in English as it has been in Korean - it is an important read, and always good to remember that there is a lot of work to do world wide on equality.

With thanks to Norfolk Libraries & Net Galley for these two books.

Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Travelogue or memoir? Or Both?

Between the Stops: The View of My Life from the Top of the Number 12 Bus by Sandi Toksvig


As a fan of both Toksvig's earlier books and her work on the TV I've been very excited about this book since I heard it was coming and my cup nearly ran over when I was granted an early review copy by Net Galley.

While Toksvig has had an interesting and varied life which would have made a straight autobiography an enjoyable read this book moved away from that and we follow Sandi as she takes the Number 12 bus from her home to the BBC building in central London.

Like the bus this lets the book unfold in a slower, more meandering way as Toksvig talks about her life and the sights she sees from the bus, intertwining these with thoughts on modern life and politics.

The talent in the book is to know how much information to give from each area and how to stop it becoming a travelogue or a 'show off' tome. Toksivg is clearly incredibly knowledgeable and curious (which is why she makes such a great host of QI) but she also knows how to stop the book becoming a book of facts with her use of comedy and self deprecation while she never apologises for her intelligence or her views.

There are a lot of celebrity biographies to read but this one is a cut above the rest, the personal is mixed so well with the rest that I really do feel that I got to sit next to Sandi on the bus and hear all about her life and the history of the areas we were passing.

I do also want to take the Number 12 bus now and see these sites for myself - I'm obviously a real sucker for books that are entertaining and can be used as a travel guide, after all my last review was for the same style of book!

(Reviews from Kentishbookboy will resume soon - he, Mr Norfolkbookworm and I are all enjoying Harry Potter although I'm not so sure his mum is!)

Sunday, 3 November 2019

Norfolk settings

Redshank's Warning by Malcolm Saville


I used to be an avid collector of children's books from the 1920s/30s/40s but in recent years this has changed from an indiscriminate 'try everything' hobby to my only collecting books by a specific few authors. The exception to this rule is books set in locations I am familiar with.

It was with great excitement this week that a new to me kidlit book was waiting on the doorstep when I got in from work. I knew the name Malcolm Saville but I'd not read anything by him however as Redshank's Warning has a Norfolk setting I just knew I had to give it a go.

Not only is the book a Norfolk story, it is also set in Blakeney up on the North Norfolk Coast - an area I know pretty well. As it would seem the author did, for unlike so many books that have a Norfolk setting Saville barely plays around with geography and you could still walk around the village using the novel as a travel guide.

The sea has changed a little of the geography when the protagonists leave the village and go out to the Point and the marshes but it is still all incredibly recognisable - and the main hotel talked about is still reasonably posh even 70 years on! Knowing two people who work in the modern day Post Office added another (unintentional) layer of amusement for me as I read the parts of the book set there. I also now want to explore the church more, taking care not to get locked into the tower!

To be honest the thriller-esque plot left me a little cold but I really wasn't reading the book for this at all, just the wonderful descriptions of Blakeney, the marshes and the wildlife.
I'm not sure I'll seek out the following books in this series (unless they too have a Norfolk setting) but this has joined two of my other favourite Norfolk-set kidlit books -When Marnie Was There and The Great Gale.
Blakeney village from the marsh

looking towards the point from near the Quay


Friday, 25 October 2019

Review Five: bookgroup at a distance

I Believe in Unicorns - Michael Morpurgo

I love many of Michael Morpurgo's books - if you read too many in a row then they can become a little samey but the writing always make them a satisfying read. He also manages to cover some very serious topics in a way that isn't sensationalist in anyway.

Anyhow our third joint read was something completely different, being a hugely popular contemporary read. Kentishbookboy's thoughts are purple and mine are in brown.



I Believe in Unicorns

Synopsis:
Eight-year-old Tomas hates school, hates books and hates stories. Forced to visit the library by his mother, he stops to listen to the magical tales that the Unicorn Lady spins - tales that draw him in, making themselves part of him. But things are changing in the world, as the distant rumble of war is suddenly brought close to home both events change the course of his life forever.

Tomas lives in an unidentified rural location and would far rather be spending time out in the fresh air, learning about country life, with his dad rather than in school or sharing hobbies with his mum. However a visit to the library and the story lady and her unicorn changes this and when war comes to the area the power of words to bring a community together really shine through. 

Dilemma:
Tomas is forced to go to the public library (during the rain) while his mother goes shopping and he doesn't want to. The war is also exploding around him, changing his life completely.

Tomas is taken to the library unwillingly but slowly falls in love with the power of words, when war and violence come to the village will the community stay together and cope with events?

Morals/Themes
Moral: Believe in the impossible.
Themes: Books have the power to transform lives, as Tomas becomes more confident at each library visit.

This is all about the importance of words and in a way is a book form of the rhyme 'sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me' and indeed it is words that can heal.

Recommendation: 
I would recommend the book because it is lovely to read and it teaches people that you can find happiness in a book. 4 stars

I really enjoyed this short read, by not mentioning any countries or time frames then the book is simultaneously modern and a fable that could be from any point in the past 100 years - in fact only the illustrations give it anything like a fixed historical point.
The story could very easily have been twee and saccharine but for me it was just right and I am sad that it has taken me so long to read this one!



The telling of hard to cope with ideas through fiction is a fine line to tread - books have to be realistic but not overwhelming but also not so opaque that any serious points are trivialised and I think that this books manages it perfectly. I love the way that Kentishbookboy picks out the similar themes to me although as yet he doesn't have the world experiences to pick on quite the same allegories as me. I found it interesting that both my sister and I were trying to pin the book down to a specific time / geographical setting but that we couldn't didn't ruin the book.

The next book review may be a little longer in appearing as our next read is Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone and it is approaching half term.  Potter will be an interesting book to review as Kentishbookboy's mum has steadfastly refused to read these books or see these films!

Thursday, 10 October 2019

Review Four - book group at a distance

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland


Longer chapters made keeping apace on reading this book a little more challenging than our recent books but we did all manage to finish the book this weekend.

Mixing up our book genres is a great way to keep reading a fun activity and although I know I've read Alice more than once in the past it was like coming to a completely new story.

Kentishbookboy's thoughts are purple and mine (with interjections from Mr Norfolkbookworm this time) are in brown.



Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Synopsis:
Alice is spending time with her sister, and gets very bored listening to her read, so she begins to daydream. Alice's adventures lead her down a rabbit hole into Wonderland, where she meets an array of curious and strange characters - including the Mad Hatter, the Mock Turtle and the grinning Cheshire Cat.

Alice is sitting with her sister, who is reading quietly, and is bored - the book doesn't seem to have pictures or illustrations and so Alice isn't interested. All of a sudden Alice notices a white rabbit wearing a waistcoat and looking at a pocket watch, run by. Alice follows the rabbit down a rabbit hole and falls into a weird and wonderful world.

Dilemma:
Alice lands in a world where everything is utter nonsense. From always being tea time, to talking animals, and playing card soldiers, Wonderland is completely unique and confusing!

Alice is in a world where nothing makes sense, however familiar it looks. Cats grin, babies turn into pigs and Alice can't stay the same size. How is she going to survive her adventures, keep her head and return to her own world?

Morals/Themes
Morals: Believe in yourself what you can achieve
Themes: Try to make sense of the world around you.

It is a quite hard to pick out a moral or theme from this book. You could say that don't eat or drink anything you are unsure of (and checking it doesn't say poison isn't quite enough!) is a good lesson to take. That it is ok to be curious is potentially another one, as is being open minded to anything out of the ordinary.

Recommendation: 
I'm not sure whether to recommend this book because even though it's complete nonsense, it can also be quite difficult to understand in places. 3 1/2 stars

Hard to put into words how I feel about this book, the story is great and magical but it did feel a little bit of a slog at times. I can't say that children's literature has 'dumbed down' since Alice was published - you only have to look at The Umbrella Mouse to see that hard topics are covered - but something has definitely changed, and to be honest I think for the better.
I can't really say that my opinions are formed because I am more familiar with the Disney adaptation of the story - the Cheshire cat in that terrified me as a child and I will still switch over if I see the cartoon on!
I think I give the book 4 stars overall as so much of the book does remain in our consciousness today, even if the prose was hard work!





What I find most interesting is that Kentishbookboy highlights that the story is a dream/daydream from the very start, but when chatting to Mr Norfolkbookworm he was talking about the abrupt ending to the book - not even thinking that this was simply because Alice wakes up!

We're back to something more contemporary with our next book as it is the Michael Morpurgo novella I Believe in Unicorns.

Friday, 4 October 2019

Excuses, excuses

Time for me to post a confession - please don't think that the slow down in book related posts has anything to do with the Kentishbookboy - he's as busy reading as much as a busy nine year old can. The slow down has all been me.

I've just started a new round of my secret reviewing work which comes with deadlines that I find harder to meet now. I've also been out and about making the most of the nice autumn weather when possible - I'm not sure if you can store up sunshine and vitamin D against the winter but I'm certainly trying!

Finally I've also been doing more recently - there was the excellent trip to the O2 for the 2nd Space Rocks day (oh and book browsing after with Kentishbookboy as we look for our next contemporary read), I've been to a great author talk with Armistead Maupin and then this weekend Mr Norfolkbookworm and I are back off to Pontefract to meet astronaut Jack Lousma.

I will try to catch up with some of our reviews in the next week or so - there's a couple of books we've both read a while ago, and then there will be out thoughts on Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

For now here's a couple of my pictures from the past few weeks - I love the wildlife and landscapes of East Anglia!




Tuesday, 24 September 2019

Review Three - book group at a distance

The Boy in the Dress by David Walliams


I know that it is a really obvious thing to say but making sure you read three chapters a night of a book is a great way to read more! It has been quite a while since I've read this much fiction in such a short space of time, and in addition to loving the shared reading experience. I am also finding that I am also reading more of my own books too - a regular reading habit is a great thing!

Anyhow our third joint read was something completely different, being a hugely popular contemporary read. Kentishbookboy's thoughts are purple and mine (with interjections from my sister!) are in brown.


The Boy in the Dress

Synopsis:
Dennis lives in a boring town, in a boring street, in a boring town. But he's about to find out that when you open your mind, life becomes anything but boring! Life has a way of surprising you with events and opinions.

Dennis is a normal boy, he mostly keeps his head down at school and at home although he is something of a star on the football pitch. Inside he feels different - an interest in fashion isn't normal for a boy, is it?

Dilemma:
Dennis lives a tough life in his home with his brother and dad. He struggles with his feelings, regarding his love of fashion and dressing up in a feminine way. The family don't share their feelings, which leads Dennis to hiding his secret.

Dennis' mother has left the family leaving a big hole in house - both physically and emotionally. Dennis' dad tries to stamp out anything feminine which leaves Dennis feeling alone and bewildered. Not being allowed to share his feelings, and always having to 'man up' causes Dennis lots of problems.

Morals/Themes
The friendships between Dennis, Darvesh, and Lisa is an important feature in the story because it brings people closer together.
Dennis' love for dresses teaches people it is ok to be different, something that his dad and brother learn by the end.

Friendship is a strong theme in the book as is accepting that people are all different. Standing up for your beliefs is also touched on, as well as knowing how to apologise.

Recommendation: 
I'm not sure I would recommend the book since it includes rudeness towards the beginning of the book, and blackmailing at the end. Four stars.

I also agree with the Kentishbookboy in that I don't think I'd recommend this book either (and neither would his mum!). Our problems with the book also match his but we'd also like to add that we weren't impressed with Walliams' self referential mention of Little Britain. The whole idea of accepting people can be different (and that boys can wear dresses if they like) is a good one, but the writing style just didn't hit the spot for us and by the end it wasn't actually clear that this applied to everyone and not just the book's hero. 
I'm also not sure that the message that it is okay for boys to have feelings was carried through - Dennis' dad only came round slightly when Dennis had a sporting success, and even then the idea of hugging between boys/men as the norm was not accepted.  

Like the Kentishbookboy I also thought the whole ending, with blackmail was inappropriate. A grudging three stars from me!




We always knew that we wouldn't love all the books we read but going from Dahl and the Umbrella Mouse to this was a real shock. I was pleased that we tried a Walliams, I do like to stay in touch with what is popular in the kidlit world but for the life of me (apart from the short chapters) I can't see why Walliams is as popular as he is, and the view of one nine year old backs this up!


Another shock to the system next as we're moving on to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Mr Norfolkbookworm is going to join in with our read as well!





Thursday, 19 September 2019

Review Two - book group at a distance

The Umbrella Mouse by Anna Fargher


This was the first book that the Norfolkbookworm and the Kentishbookboy read simultaneously. For me this was a new way to read, usually if a book hooks me in then I read it from cover to cover in as short time as possible. Reading a small amount each night could have felt like the purgatory of a class book but instead for me it was great - this was a really tense book and reading in small chunks was one way to cope with this. It was also dramatic enough that I wanted to pick it up each night!

Again Kentishbookboy's thoughts are in purple and mine in brown.



The Umbrella Mouse.

Synopsis:
1944, and London is under attack. The umbrella shop that a young mouse, Pip Hanway has called her home all her life, is destroyed by a bomb, forcing her to begin a perilous quest to find a new home.

Pip is mouse who lives in an umbrella at a London umbrella shop. It is 1944 and bombing raids on London destroy her home and kill her parents. Pip is saved by a rescue dog and on realising that she is now an orphan decides that she has to get to her mothers relatives, who live in Italy. Through a series of adventures and misadventures she finds herself in Normandy, just after D-Day, working with the animal resistance - Noah's Ark.

Dilemma:

Should young Pip just go straight to the umbrella museum in Gignese, Italy, or should she stay and help Noah's Ark in France?

Pip has to learn to cope as an orphan in wartime London and then also has to decide if she is brave enough to help in some of the Noah's Ark missions. She also has to learn who she can trust and who she can't.

Morals/Themes:
Teamwork, friendship and courage all show that no matter your size, you can have an impact on the world. The author is clever to use the hardship of the animals to parallel the same hardships faces by the human resistance during WW2 and can express the characters' feelings clearly.

This book packs a mighty wallop for a middle-grade novel. The main theme is survival in wartime and also the decisions that you have to make in testing situations. The book does not shy away from any aspect of World War Two history but yet makes them accessible to a younger age range by making the characters animals rather than humans (although there are some humans who have their own tragic story arc).

Recommendation:

The book was great. there are tons of tense moments which encouraged us to read on...Pip is a wonderful chracter in the story, very adventurous and inspirational. Can't wait for book number two! Five stars.
I enjoyed this book, it was certainly tense and action packed, and for the most part credible (if you can handle talking mice!) but I didn't quite connect emotionally with it and unlike other children's books about WW2 I've read I wasn't moved to tears. I am pleased that the ending wasn't rushed and I will be reading any other books about Pip as soon as they are available. A solid 4 stars from me.

I was pleased that Fargher added in a nice author's note after the book proper to show just how based on real events it was - I was happy that my thoughts on one of the very first human characters to appear were right!

I've also enjoyed messaging and tweeting with family (and the author) as we read through the book. Highlights included

We don't trust xxxx 
Book is still very tense in the 3 chapters we read tonight 
Its not good for the blood pressure is it? 
If this was a film or TV show I'd be hiding behind the sofa by now



We know that we won't always agree on the books we read together, but I think that we'll definitely be reading more books this way as the year progresses - I think the next book up is going to be a totally different read as we try a David Walliams book.

As an aside Nanny and Grandad have both now finished this books and they both enjoyed it too - although they are lamenting the fact that Kentishbookboy is growing up so fast and tackling books with such grown up themes!



Friday, 13 September 2019

Review One - book group at a distance

Matilda by Roald Dahl


The postman brought me a wonderful envelope this morning - a note from my nephew, his chosen nickname for these posts and also his first three book reviews.

By lucky coincidence some of the reviews were for Roald Dahl books and today, 13th September, is #RoaldDahlDay so what better time to post?

The Kentishbookboy has a guideline from school on how they'd like him to write book reviews and so I will keep that format for his contributions on, and also try to tailor my reviews of our shared books to the same format. (His thoughts are in purple and mine in brown.)

First up Matilda:

Synopsis:
Matilda's parents are rather mean to her. But, she is a genius and has some extraordinary plans up her sleeve to prove them wrong.

Matilda is the second (and unwanted) child in the Wormwood family and she really doesn't fit in with them. Books are her saviour and at home she quickly learns how to use her knowledge to get the better of her family. School also comes with its own problems but a good teacher and Matilda's brain come together to a great solution.

Dilemma:
Matilda had to deal with a terrifying Trunchbull, mean parents and an ignorant brother.

Matilda has to learn how to cope with her terrible family and bullying (from a teacher) at school.

Morals/Themes:
Family is an important theme in Matilda. Both Matilda and Miss Honey had been living tough lives in their homes.
Education is another important feature in this book. Matilda and Miss Honey both realise that reading is key to their knowledge.

I think the big theme here is the importance of books, reading and education and how the things you learn from them are more than just school lessons. I also think that the idea of family can be more than blood relatives is important.

Recommendation:
First of all, I really enjoyed the book. I think Roald Dahl has a unique way of storytelling. Out of 5 stars, I would rate it 5 stars. I totally recommend Matilda to other people.

I agree with Kentishbookboy - this is a 5 star book and one that I think should be on all recommended reading lists - child or adult!



I am really pleased that Kentishbookboy loved this book as much as I do.  I came across Roald Dahl during a holiday to the Channel Islands as a child *but* only by stealing borrowing my sister's books. Before this summer she hadn't been an enthusiastic reader but fell in love with Dahl's books on holiday and we both raced through them!

I think that Matilda is either my favourite or 2nd favourite Dahl book and while I wasn't so keen on the RSC musical back in 2011 it was wonderful to revisit it earlier this year with my sister and the Kentishbookboy. I've come to terms with the plot changes and this time was totally swept away by the whole thing - something that I think is true for the others!

As for The Umbrella Mouse - we all finished it last night (with only 5 chapters left it was a longer read but we *couldn't* stop! We're all thinking about the book and the review will be coming soon!

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

Adaptations and different versions of the same tale

Matthew Bourne's Romeo+Juliet


It has been a while since I've posted about the theatre on the blog, I haven't given up going but I am going a lot less - I find the days in London (or late nights in Norwich) incredibly tiring since the brain haemorrhage and so I am being a lot more discerning!

Past reviews on here show how many versions of Romeo and Juliet I've seen and also how much I enjoy Matthew Bourne's ballets.

Initially I thought that this might be the ballet that destroyed my love of Bourne's work and had the potential be worse than the dire 2017 Romeo and Juliet.

This is a very liberal retelling of the story and at first I really couldn't handle the changes in the plot - I couldn't see where the original story was. I couldn't work out who was representing the Montague family and who were supposed to be the Capulets. In fact the only characters I could name were Romeo and Juliet!

I'm not going to talk about how the plot works as I don't want to spoil this for people still to see the performance but I will say that you should stick with it - by the end of the ballet all of the threads are pulled together and all of the story telling choices do make sense.  This is definitely Matthew Bourne's Romeo+Juliet and emphatically not Shakespeare's! However as Shakespeare already "repurposed" an earlier version to create his play I'm not that fussed about the story changes as ultimately they do all work.

The choreography, energy and in fact the whole performance by the dancers was wonderful - my main issue with this was the liberties taken with Prokofiev's score. This is so clever in the original but here was chopped about and reordered so much that it didn't seem to actually be helping tell the story - it could have been any music that the dancers were using. The original builds the tension, shows the romance and then the tragedy - here it is just noise and doesn't move the plot along.

I am pleased that I saw this, overall I enjoyed it, and it was so much better than the 2017 version but mum will be pleased when I say that so far no version of Romeo and Juliet I've seen comes close to being as good as the Kenneth Macmillan version of the ballet and I'd see that again at the drop of a hat!

Saturday, 7 September 2019

Book group at a distance

Sharing books as a family.


While I use the nickname Norfolkbookworm a lot it seems that I've managed to share this love of the written word with my nephew in Kent and as he gets older we are sharing more and more books.

Since before he was born we've indulged in book splurges on a fairly regular basis. These are great fun - we set a budget and then spend *ages* in a bookshop looking at all the shelves making piles of all the books that appeal. Once we've done this we find a cosy corner/table/sofa in the shop and carefully read the book blurbs and first pages to make our final lists. The books not selected are added to a list and looked for in the library or added to birthday or Christmas lists. My sister also tries to take him to as many events with his favourite authors as possible - highlights here have been Andy Griffiths, Tim Peake and Steve Backshall.

Last summer he recommended the 13 Storey Treehouse (and sequels) to me and I've spent many happy afternoons enjoying the craziness and imagination of the tales.

This autumn he enters Year 5 and his school sees reading as really important (hurrah!) and his class teacher has set a reading challenge - a list of 22 books has been drawn up and the children are encouraged to read 12 of the books during the school year.

This was such a coincidence as over the summer we'd discovered the wonderful lists created by the Books for Topics team - these have 50 books on them suitable for each year group and are a wonderful mix of fiction, non fiction and poetry titles.

As a family we've looked at these lists and have decided that although I'm in Norfolk and they are in Kent we're all going to read the same books and then either phone each other to talk about them or use social media.

Term started this week and so we've started the first book - The Umbrella Mouse by Anna Fargher. (Typically this book isn't on any of the lists but something drew my sister and nephew to it, and now that nanny has finished it and returned it with a thumbs up review, it seemed a good starting point!)

'Above all, we must be brave'
1944, and London is under attack. The umbrella shop that young mouse, Pip Hanway has called home all her life, is destroyed by a bomb, forcing her to begin a perilous quest to find a new home.
 But the only way to get there is by joining Noah's Ark, a secret gang of animals fighting with the resistance in France, operating beneath the feet of human soldiers. Danger is everywhere and as the enemy closes in, Pip must risk everything to save her new friends.
With my love of fiction set in wartime this book really appealed to me and using animals to tell a true story is a clever way to introduce deeper topics and history to my nephew. There are beautiful illustrations scattered through the text really which are really adding to the tale.

The Kent contingent of the book group are reading three chapters a night, with each member of the family reading a chapter aloud, and I am also limiting myself to the same pace so that we can share the story fully.  We may only have just finished chapter 6 but all of agree that the writing is so good that we really think we are in wartime London - my sister and I agree that we could almost smell the setting as we were reading.

We'll keep you posted on how the group reading goes and I hope to feature book reviews from my nephew as we go along - once he picks the nickname he wants to publish under!

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Nature Writing

The Wainwright Book Prize 2019


Over the past 18 months we've been spending a lot more time outside walking and nature watching. At the same time I've also really enjoyed reading a lot more nature writing and when it comes to finding new books in this genre the Wainwright has been indispensable.

The longlist was great this year and I started to pick and choose books from it to dip into, I was really pleased that many of the books I'd really enjoyed made the cut to the shortlist.

Three of the books have strong links to East Anglia but my absolute standout (so far - I have 2 still to read!) has been The Easternmost House by Juliet Blaxland.

As the title suggests this is a book about the easternmost house in England. However pleasant this sounds it comes with a huge caveat - the house is perched on a cliff that is eroding away incredibly fast.

The book is split into 12 chapters, one for each month of the year, and is a meditation on country/coastal life in the twenty-first century. Knowing the area being talked about I am sure added a lot to my reading as it became illustrated in my mind as I turned the pages.

A lovely touch to the book was the chapter end page, in this Blaxland lists all of the produce that is in season as well as charting the erosion of the coast and the position of the house in relation to the sea.

I wouldn't be upset if any of the books on the list wins the prize but I will be crossing my fingers hard that others love this book as much as I do when it comes to the final announcement tomorrow.