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:

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.

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.

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.

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.

Friday, 9 August 2019


I had no idea that it was nearly 2 months since my last update - it has been a busy time but I think that I blame the heat/humidity since our return mostly for this big gap.

We had an amazing time on holiday, we were incredibly lazy while there and spent 13 out of the 14 days lounging around catching up on sleep, reading and sampling the wonderful local food & wine.

While by no means reaching pre-haemorrhage book totals I had made the right choice in saving up some of the fiction releases from the past few months and I think that these two in particular will feature highly on my end of the year round ups...

Those Who Were Loved by Victoria Hislop

Hislop has returned to modern Greek history for this book, and it charts the story of one Athenian family through the turbulent twentieth century. I knew that Greece had swung from right to left politically as well as from monarchy to junta but not a lot of the detail.
Hislop has told this tale through the story of four siblings and their grandmother and this allows all sides of the political spectrum to be explored as each character has different ideals.

My one reservation with the book is that I found the ending a little rushed, I wish that it was a two-parter. I wanted to spend more time with all of the characters!

A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes

This is another Greek book but this one took me back to the end of the Trojan War and was everything that Pat Barker's Silence of the Girls wasn't.  The premise in this retelling is that the poet Homer is trying to compose his epic tales but is a little stuck for inspiration, he has called on a muse to help and she is telling him the tale but from the viewpoint of all the women swept up in the chaos. 

This was a great retelling of the Iliad and Odyssey and I liked the way the stories wove themselves together in a way that was utterly modern (and very funny at times) and yet reminiscent of the classics from Homer onwards. I'm loving this vogue for retelling the classics and hope that there are lots more to come.

Now we're back home a lot of my reservations from the library have come in, and I'm reading for one of my non-bloggable projects, so hopefully I'll have more books to talk about soon.

Friday, 21 June 2019

A familiar refrain...

...well to be honest at the moment I seem to have more of a fiction reader's block rather than a full on block.

I don't seem to be alone in this as a member of the online book group I'm a part of has also said the same recently, which was nice and reassuring.

I'm taking this as a sign of just how good non fiction books are right now rather than thinking that fiction isn't in a good place. Some of this problem settling on novels is also self inflicted, Mr Norfolkbookworm and I are off on our holidays soon and I've been stockpiling books I do want to read ready for two weeks in the sun (well shade - I burn too easily!). My most eagerly anticipated books are out reach for another few weeks...

The exception to this was the third instalment from Gill Sims in her Why Mummy... series. I'm not sure why these appeal to me, I'm not a parent and my husband very definitely shares the housework with me and our families are nowhere near as dysfunctional as Ellen's.

There's just something about these books that I can lose myself in. On the surface they are light hearted books which take everyday events and humorously exaggerate them to great comic effect but you quickly realise that this is very much surface and that underneath there are some very serious issues that are handled incredibly sensitively.

This is especially true for the third book in the series Why Mummy Doesn't Give a **** which I've just finished. I'm not sure that reading this on a train was my brightest idea as I found myself snorting with laughter and crying, well at least I had a seat to myself...

I discovered the books before the hilarious Peter and Jane facebook page and while, obviously, the humour is very similar between the page and the books don't think that you've read the books if you follow the webpage - they are very different and on balance I prefer the books.

The book is published on 27th June, and it will make a lot more sense if you've read the other two - the story is a continuation.

Many thanks to Net Galley for the electronic proof.

Monday, 3 June 2019

The nature cure and volunteering

Since early 2018, when I started to recover from the brain hemorrhage, Mr Norfolkbookworm and I have spent a lot of time outdoors whenever the weather has been half way decent. We generally go out and about in Norfolk or Suffolk, usually taking the camera and binoculars, and just spend time in the fresh air walking, taking pictures and generally just looking around.

I am sure that this has helped my recovery to some extent, for us being out in the natural world has meant we are becoming far more observant and we are definitely far more connected with the seasons and the wildlife around the county. The rare weekends that haven't been nice enough to get out really do have an impact on my mood for the following week so there is surely something in the idea of a nature cure.

June is the Wildlife Trusts #30DaysWild, where people are encouraged to sign up and connect in someway to the natural world. We had a busy weekend - we walked at Ranworth Broad, Strumpshaw Fen and Cley Marshes, and we were lucky enough to see one of Norfolk's rarities - the swallowtail butterfly.

While seeing a special breed is nice we had just as much fun watching the domestic dramas of the avocets and wagtails from the inside of a hide and sharing these things with other people.

However we can't get out and about like this every day (work gets in the way!) but connecting with nature is still possible even in our city house. This morning while hanging out the laundry I was watching the swifts wheel about over the house, dozens of bees feeding on the privet hedge and a ladybird exploring the cornflowers - nature really is everywhere and taking just a moment to look at every day is so easy and something I intend to carry on doing after June is over.

Another activity that has kept me as sane as I can be is volunteering. Before I fell ill I had just started volunteering at the Royal Norfolk Regimental Museum, and once I was well enough going back to this was a real boost. The museum was responsible for curating the main Armistice exhibition in the main city museum and the wonderful curator, Kate, was brave enough to allow a lot of this to be written and illustrated by volunteers. My areas included agriculture, POWs and conscientious objectors and to be trusted with the research and writing for the exhibition despite a broken brain was a real boost.

There have been many upheavals with my paid employment in the past 6 months but the one good thing with a different job and fewer hours is that I have some more time to myself. I have recently started a new volunteer role within the Norfolk Wildlife Trust - which links back in nicely to #30DaysWild and our passion for the outdoors!

I mention this now because the first week of June is also #VolunteersWeek and I wanted to share just how much being a volunteer has given me. We often hear a lot about what volunteers offer to organisations but I'd just like to say thank you to those who have given me so much by letting me volunteer with them.

To bring this back to books just for a moment - if you are looking for some simple ways to get back in touch with the natural world then can I suggest Rewild Yourself: 23 spellbinding ways to make nature more visible by Simon Barnes. A friends recommended it to me and so I'd like to pass this on. It is full of simple ways to take more notice of the world around you, and each chapter starts with a quote from some wonderful children's books!

Rewild Yourself

Friday, 31 May 2019

Rewriting the classics

Katy by Jacqueline Wilson and Becoming Jo by Sophie McKenzie

Classic children's books have long been a passion of mine, and to the disgust of several of my friends I list Little Women/Good Wives as two of my favourite books of all time.

I agree that after almost 150 years that these possibly aren't as up-to-date and modern as they were originally. Enter these two new retellings of What Katy Did and Little Women.

Katy sticks very firmly to the original novel for the first half, right up until Katy is injured I could have been reading the original and not a new version. However after this point I think that Jacqueline Wilson makes a good attempt at rewriting the story with modern medical advances and sensibilities. The original novel is very dated now and this was a clever way to make it more relevant but I question why an entirely new novel couldn't have been published (and why not by a disabled person when we come to that) rather than a reworking of book that has a terrible message for people, both disabled and non disabled.

Becoming Jo did a better job of updating a classic novel, although I did internally wince as it opened using exactly the same words as the original. Alcott's original story worked well as a frame work for a modern story and the girls' aspirations for the future definitely were more inclusive and modern.  I was surprised how much I liked this book, tampering with my favourites usually doesn't go well! I'm also looking forward to sharing this one with one of my most anti-Little Women friends to see what she makes of it.

Thursday, 23 May 2019

Dipping in and out

My reading has become a little disorganised of late for three main reasons: a lot of my non fiction reservations arrived in one go at the library, I've been doing some more reading & reviewing for various projects and I've lost my fiction mojo.

This all means that I've not had a lot to say about my reading lately, however thanks to a trip to the theatre I've realised that I do have a book theme to talk about!

A little while ago we went to the Chichester Festival Theatre and saw Shadowlands, the play about C.S. Lewis' friendship with, and subsequent marriage to,  Joy Gresham and then her unexpected illness and death.  The play itself was magnificent, and the cast uniformly good. It was incredibly moving by the end, but shot through with humour meaning that it all felt very natural.

Between booking our tickets and seeing the play I had also read a new novel Becoming Mrs Lewis by Patti Callahan thanks to Net Galley and Harper Collins.  This told the more or less the same story as Shadowlands but from Joy's perspective, it of course is also fiction inspired by fact and I very much enjoyed seeing the dual perspective.  For a full rounding out of the story I am now waiting for Lewis' own version of the story Surprised by Joy to arrive at the library.

In the meantime I am reading Inklings, the biography of the writing group that Lewis started, along with Tolkien, in the late 1930s.  I've always been a fan of C.S. Lewis' work and still own the Chronicles of Narnia book set that I was given for Christmas when I was 7 or 8, but I only read Tolkien as an adult, and to be honest his tales never captivated me in the same way.

However reading Inklings I think that I would have preferred to be in Tolkien's company more than Lewis - like me they greatly enjoyed being out in the countryside walking. Lewis was a serious walker - far more about the distance covered and the conversations had while walking whereas Tolkien much preferred a walk with plenty of time to look at nature and the views rather than covering the miles!
It is all a moot point however as women were not included in either the meetings of the Inklings or on the walks!

I definitely recommend Shadowlands and if you like novels imagining real people then Becoming Mrs Lewis is a good read.

Thursday, 25 April 2019

The nature cure

As the days have lengthened and the weather improved we've been spending a lot more time outside in beautiful Norfolk (and Yorkshire). Rather than just reading about natural wonders we've actually been seeing them first hand.

Recent trips have included seeing the nesting seabirds at Bempton Cliffs - including dozens of puffins, and then also the wader spectacular in the Wash. We've also explored 'secret' gardens closer to home and taken a boat trip out on the Broads.

Even allowing for pub lunches in sunny gardens all of this fresh air has been exhausting and by the time everything is sorted and I can curl up with a good book I'm finding I'm dozing off.  My reading has definitely slowed down again - although for the healthier reasons!

One book that really did capture my imagination recently was The Girl from Yamhill by Beverley Cleary. I can't remember who or where this was recommended but I am so glad that I got a copy from the library with ease.

Cleary wrote the Ramona books which I enjoyed these as a child indeed when I flicked through a few of the books recently I was surprised at how much I remembered from them. The Girl from Yamhill is an autobiography of Cleary's childhood and was utterly wonderful - I think that it was written for a younger audience but it didn't shy away from some harder hitting plot lines, nor did it wrap everything up with happy endings.

Cleary was born in 1916 and so this is very much a book about America post WW1 and during the Great Depression. I think it taught me more about this era than any other history book has done. Cleary also grew up in an area of America that we have visited so I think that made it even more visual for me. The culture clash of moving from a rural life to a city one is also very well shown.

The book has echoes of both the Little House on the Prairie and Betsy Tacy books, although these series are set earlier than Yamhill, and as these are longtime favourites of mine it is easy to see why this one appealed so readily.

It isn't particularly profound, just very human and full of happiness, wonder and sadness all in the right proportions.

Now it looks as if the weather is returning to more normal conditions I expect I will have more time for reading again - although I will miss the fresh air. I think that my tbr piles from NetGalley and the library will appreciate the attention however.

Friday, 12 April 2019

Reading Challenge Updates

Personal Reading Challenges.

As was proved in 2017 I really suck at reading challenges, even ones I set myself for fun!

This year I am trying to do a little better. My job has changed somewhat and for the first time in 21 years I am not working directly with books, authors and readers.
As I've survived a brain hemorrhage and regained the ability to read it feels very important to not lose my book world knowledge or my love of books.

I belong to an online book discussion group linked to Norfolk's libraries and for this we created two challenges for 2018.

One is a simple monthly challenge:

And so far I have managed to complete the first quarter's challenges

  • In January I read Flat Share by Beth O'Leary
  • In February I started If Cats Disappeared from the World by Genki Kawamura, a book I only bought because I fell in love with the cover! (I didn't actually finish this one in Feb but I'm counting it as a challenge sucess!)
  • In March my reservations for Two Weeks in Florence and Yesterday Morning by Diana Athill arrived and I enjoyed both of these short books, one a diary of a holiday to Italy and the other a memoir of a Norfolk Childhood.
We also launched a bingo style challenge to inspire reading:
Without even realising it I have actually 'ticked' many of the boxes here as many of my reads do tick more than one box!
  • Is a story about a real character - Becoming Mrs Lewis
  • A debut novel - The Flat Share
  • A number in the title - Vintage 1954
  • Set during war time - Island Song
  • A non fiction book - The Cut Out Girl
  • Award Winning - The Cut Out Girl
  • A book from my wishlist - Chasing the Sun
  • An item from a library that is new to me - Beauchamp Hall
  • Read a children's book/watch a children't film - The Lego Movie 2
  • Read a book set in Norfolk - Beauchamp Hall
  • Read a book in translation - Vintage 1954

If I do complete this one, I might go back and try to get a unique item for each prompt.

Just this week one of my closet friends shared the reading challenge that she has developed as part of her job and I am tempted to start that one too.

I think that I like these challenges so much because I don't have to read anything set but can retrofit my choices!

Sunday, 7 April 2019

Travelling through time and literature - book reivew

Vintage 1954 - Antoine Laurain (trans. Jane Aitkin & Emily Boyce)

It is hard to say whether I am a bigger fan of Gallic Books or Antoine Laurain. As a publisher they've introduced me (and countless other readers) to so many great new authors from around the world *and* they translate Antoine's books into English.

I was very happy when Jimena from Gallic press sent me a very advance copy of Vintage 1954 and even more excited when I was told I could talk about it now and didn't have to wait until nearer to official publication in mid June.

Laurain's books for me are total comfort reads, something to turn to when you are a little under the weather or just longing to be anywhere other than Britain right now.

This one brings together a disparate cast of characters from around the world, and throughout time who are all linked by a particular wine. It takes you to a Paris that you instantly recognise and then to another Paris that (if you're like me) you'd love to visit.

This isn't deep sci-fi although there are elements and while I'm not sure it would stand up to a lot of scrutiny from die hard fans of that genre I found that the 'rules' Laurain created worked and while it is a fantasy it didn't stretch my credulity. Of course if you time travel you want to interact with famous people but even here Laurain is pretty restrained and again it all feels natural.

I'm being very circumspect with describing this book because most of the charm is discovering the twists and turns for yourself, and I think that the blurb Gallic Books have on their website (where you can pre-order the book) is just perfect:

After drinking a bottle of vintage Beaujolais, a group of Parisian neighbours are transported back in time to 1954.When Hubert Larnaudie invites some fellow residents of his Parisian apartment building to drink an exceptional bottle of 1954 Beaujolais, he has no idea of its special properties. The following morning, Hubert finds himself waking up in 1950s Paris, as do antique restorer Magalie, mixologist Julien, and Airbnb tenant Bob from Milwaukee, who’s on his first trip to Europe.
After their initial shock, the city of Edith Piaf and An American in Paris begins to work its charm on them. The four delight in getting to know the French capital during this iconic period, whilst also playing with the possibilities that time travel allows. But, ultimately, they need to work out how to get back to 2017. And the key lies in a legendary story and the vineyards of the Chateau St Antoine…
I recommend that you settle down somewhere comfortable, open a bottle of something nice and enjoy this whimsical, fantastical story.

Many thanks to Gallic Books for providing me with an advance copy, I was under no obligation to review this book but it is so good I had to!

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

Book Review: The Flat Share

The Flat Share - Beth O'Leary

This is a book that really took me by surprise when I read it. 

I'm lucky enough to read for several different projects and this was one that was on a review list a couple of months ago - it blew me away then but I've not been able to talk about it until now!

I really did think that it was going to be a run of the mill chicklit/romcom book. 

Tiffy needed to find a cheap place to live after a relationship break up and Leon also needs to raise some cash.
Tiffy works during the day and Leon by night so they are actually bed sharing, and not flat sharing and the idea is that they will never meet.
As I said so far, so fluffy, and it is obvious that they will meet...

But slowly, as you get drawn into their worlds, the plot takes several twists and becomes much darker. However the story unfolds slowly and the darkness slipped in and right under my skin before I realised it, very much like it does in real life I would imagine! I found my heart pounding at certain parts and wanted to shout at the characters to look out. I love being that involved in a book.

This is all very cryptic but while I really want people to read this book without knowing anything other than the bare plot outline.

I really did think that this was going to be a light, frothy, inconsequential read - perfectly fun but nothing more - I was pleasantly surprised and hope that this book does well. I look forward to reading more from Beth O'Leary too.

This books was provided as an electronic proof from Net Galley and Quercus and I was under no obligation to review the title.

Friday, 29 March 2019

Book Review: Island Song

Island Song - Madeleine Bunting.

I've written on here before about liking books set in the Channel Islands during World War Two and so it is unsurprising that when I saw this go by on Net Galley I requested a copy PDQ.

Like so many books this one starts with a mystery being revealed at the death of a parent and Ros finds her world turned upside down Everything she thought she knew about her life, and family events, are a lie.

The book isn't quite contemporary and that adds to this story as the layers are unpeeled slowly - literally at 'snail mail' pace. Our characters publish notices in papers, research in archives and travel to places to have conversations in person in order to find the truth. It helps the story unravel naturally rather than sensationally, and allows the flashbacks to slip in easily without upsetting the flow of either half of the tale.

The story is a new look at the occupation of the Channel Islands, and not one I had read before. I really didn't see the ending coming either, and it was far more satisfying than the one I'd imagined.

In the best tradition of books this left me wanting to know more about some characters and I'd love to read a companion work to this telling the other side of the story.

The hard copy of the book is published next week (April 4th) but the ebook is available now!

I received a copy of this book free of charge from Granta/Net Galley and I am under no obligation to review the book, nor did I receive any recompense for the review.

Friday, 15 March 2019

Busy life

I'm not sure why I open every post on my own blog with an apology for not writing more - after all it is my own blog and my progress isn't monitored by anyone!

I am still reading for various projects that I can't talk about and I am also reading a lot of books that aren't published until later in the year so hopefully I'll remember to come back and talk about them nearer to publication, although to be honest I really wouldn't hold you breath over that!

In addition to the reading projects I am also currently trying to tie up the loose ends of my current job *and* learn my new one.  This all feels overwhelming at times and means much of my reading has become turning to old favourites, and generally children's books at that as they are nice and familiar but in some cases I had forgotten how good they were - this week's rediscovery was The Secret Garden.

A book that did come along at just the right moment recently was Sarah Baxter's Literary Places.

I'd not heard of the book but the publisher contacted me through NetGalley to let me know it was available for review and I am so glad that the email didn't end up in my junk folder.

This book is a guide to the locations in many books and talks a little bit about the book/author and then the location.  It isn't particularly deep or even in depth but the chapters are wonderfully short and moreover beautifully illustrated and it felt a little like having a holiday just reading through it, which is funny as right now I can't leave the country as my passport is away being renewed.

To be honest I would have liked more written detail about each book/place as it just didn't go into enough depth for me to fall in love with books that were new to me, but I spent ages gazing at the pictures and it reminded me just how special an illustrated book could be however old you are!

It seems funny to be reviewing and praising a book that initially didn't seem like it was for me, but I have found myself returning to the proof just to look at the art work, and at a busy time in life it was great to find just the right book.

Many thanks to Quarto for alerting me to this book, and as ever I was under no obligation to read and review it.

Thursday, 28 February 2019

Too many books, too little time - and wasting what I have!

Books, books everywhere

Now that I am reading more again (although still nowhere near pre December 2017 levels) I am taking on more reading projects and finding that I can manage them in the time scales which is really heartening.  I am generally also more willing to give up on books that don't hook me, rather than wasting my time and concentration on them.

This is all well and good but as a new project is just started and many of the library books I've reserved have also come in recently I am feeling a little pressured. Of course this isn't stopping me requesting books (from Netgalley & the library) or from buying more so I am my own worst enemy sometimes.  I am watching a lot less television on my days off so that is probably a good thing! Hopefully I will sort the book balance out before too long, but realistically speaking this is only going to happen if publishing takes a 10 year break!

This week however I feel a little bit like I have wasted my precious reading time and concentration as I read (probably my first and definitely my last) Danielle Steel book - Beauchamp Hall.

While I do love a good chicklit book on occasion this one only crossed my radar because I read an article/early sales pitch stating that the book was set in Norfolk, but that the author had never visited the area. With this in mind I started reading this looking for errors.

On the plus side apart from building a stately home/castle in an area of the county where one doesn't exist there were no glaring geographical errors and Steel didn't try to recreate any Norfolk dialect.

That is pretty much all I have to say that is positive about this book!

I found the writing style dreadful and repetitive and I spotted every plot development coming all the way through - not something I often do with 100% accuracy, there is usually at least one surprise or twist that makes the read more enjoyable. As for the sex scenes at least the book was so unremarkable I should soon forget them! Let's not forget the repetitiveness either ;)

Even the trope of a 'superfan' coming to the location of their favourite TV show wasn't explored in anyway that is different and I'm pretty sure labour laws in the film/TV industry are a little stricter than implied here.

This book was like an identikit book you see advertised for children, you supply the name and a few details and the child is dropped into the plot - each book is the same but very slightly different and feels personal. The same was the case here - all that needed to be changed was the county the book was set in, the train station used and the drive time to London and the book could have been set anywhere!

Like I say I did go into this book expecting not to enjoy it, but I expected this to be due to a badly researched and stereotypical portrayal of Norfolk - not because of the plot/writing.

I'm guessing that to fans of Steel none of this matters but if you are someone who collects/reads books set in Norfolk I'd say really don't bother with this one - try the new Georgina Harding book Land of the Living which is set in the same area just post WW2 and has a far more interesting plot.

Sunday, 17 February 2019

A winning read

The Cut Out Girl by Bart Van Es

As soon as I saw this book on the Costa Longlist I knew that I'd want to read it and finally it has been my turn to borrow it from the library.

It was worth the wait and despite beating one of my favourite reads from last year (The Skylark's War) in the Costa prize now I have read it I can't be too sad at this turn of events.

I've written before about my interest in books about the Holocaust, in fact my dissertation for my first MA was about how such an event is portrayed in children's literature. This new addition to the canon - all about how one Jewish girl was saved by various Dutch families was right up my street.

The mix of family history (it was the author's family who played a part in saving Lien), modern history and thought, detailed scholarly research and Lien's own autobiography made this book a compelling read. It was also shocking and not just because of the horror of the extermination camps.

I had the idea, mostly gained through literature admittedly, that Holland had a good reputation when it came to their actions during WW2. So many Jews fled there from Germany during the 1930s that to me it seemed like a good place for people to have fled to.
We then have the stories of the heroic people who hid Jews and worked for the Resistance. The praise heaped on those hiding the Frank family and the other similar tales lead to me to believe that while the Dutch weren't quite as helpful as the Danish in saving their Jewish population they were definitely 'good guys.'

Van Es dispels this early on:
"The Jewish wartime death rate in the Netherlands, at 80%, was more than double that of any other Western country, far higher than in France, Belgium, Italy or even Germany and Austria themselves."  p.58
Van Es, like me, was shocked to discover this, and even more so when he found out that along with various geographic and military reasons "it was the native administration that brought death to the Jews" (p. 58).

The poor behaviour of (some) Dutch people continued through the war, and is an integral part of Lien's story, as well as afterwards when survivors returned home or people emerged from hiding.

I know that history is rewritten by the victors but this new knowledge adds to the unease I felt on visiting the Anne Frank House last year. It is so easy to promote the bits of your history that you want people to concentrate on by passing over the negative aspects quickly. The suffering that all of Holland experienced in the winter of 1944/45 and then in rebuilding the country as a liberal land has airbrushed a lot of the darkness.

It is early in the year to be picking 'best books' but I have a feeling that this one will stay with me for a long time, and in many ways is a companion read to one of my top reads from a few years ago - East West Street by Philippe Sands.

Friday, 8 February 2019

Long overdue


I really didn’t intend to leave it so long into 2019 before posting, I have been reading somethings but real life has got in the way quite a bit and I have been too tired for much sustained reading. I’ve also not been able to talk about the books as they aren’t published for quite some time and are under some embargoes.

Life first, after a few stressful (!) months I can now say that I do still have a job going forward into the year, I’m not at all sure how it is going to pan out, or to be frank exactly what it is, but hopefully it will be okay and that I can continue to recover. The whole application/interview process was another reminder of just how different my brain is still.

However time to rally about books!

The first book is called The Red Address Book by Sofia Lundberg (translated by Alice Menzies). It is billed as the debut book from the Swedish author and a book that has been “a word of mouth & blog sensation” in Sweden. I’d have to agree and wish that it had received more of a fanfare over here.
It tells the life story of 96 year old Doris through the names in her (red) address book. Her life was fascinating and is gripping to read, but what struck me the most about this was how positive Lundberg’s portrayal of an elderly woman was - Doris is tech savvy, she doesn’t need people to work her computer, she Skype and browses the internet with aplomb. She is also well aware of where she is in the life cycle and completely natural in her ageing.

I’m not ashamed to say that the book moved me to tears several times through the story, and it was a great book to start 2019. Badger your library to get a copy of this book ASAP, or treat yourself.

The next book is due to be published in a couple of weeks but again I urge you to reserve/order a copy...
If Only I Could Tell You by Hannah Beckerman is about how secrets within a family can tear it apart. So far so common but in some ways this book reminded me of a thriller as clues to the secret are dripped into the plot and caused me to speculate (wrongly) on a fair few of them. I had a few questions left at the end, but I do always think that if you are left wanting more from the characters then the book has been a success as the characters are ‘real’ to the reader.

This was another tearjerker for me, and I’m glad I wasn’t still reading it on the train as I don’t think I could have suppressed the emotion even being in public!

Monday, 31 December 2018

What a year!

So that was 2018!

What a year it has been, I ended 2017 in pretty bad health and by the end of January discovered that this was because in December 2017 I had in fact suffered a brain heamorrhage.

The first quarter of the year is pretty much a blur to me, I was incredibly tired and had the mother of all headaches (in fact nearly 13 months on there hasn’t yet been a day when I haven’t had headpain/headache which is pretty tiring). For me the worst thing was that I’d lost (temporarily thankfully) the ability to read - and as this is usually my way of self medicating when unwell it felt really awful, possibly worse even than the headache.

Slowly my concentration has returned and I can again (mostly) follow the plot of longer, more complicated books but I have a new found respect and love for short stories, essays and the wonderful Quick Reads scheme. Epistolary novels and those told in diaries are still the easiest for me to read and follow, especially when tired but I console myself that books rarely vanish completely and so all the great books I’ve not managed this year will still be there in years to come.

Sadly the same can’t be said for theatre and I know I’ve missed some cracking plays this year (whether due to illness or weather) but in the scheme of things I am just grateful I got to see the things I did, and that I enjoyed (most) of them.

At work it has been even more of a roller coaster. With great support from my colleagues I managed to return to work on limited hours & duties. I managed to deliver my 1918-2018 Armistice project and also got to work (as a volunteer) on creating the Armistice: The Legacy of the Great War on Norfolk exhibition - two things that at the start of the year seemed impossible to consider. However my current job, and those of many colleagues, has been deleted and I am currently trying to work out what will happen next...

There will be no top 10s from this year, but I do really recommend Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngsen, The Skylark’s War by Hilary McKay and To Obama, with Love, Joy, Hate and Despair by Jeanne Marie Laskas as these are the three books that have stuck with me longest and given me hope that my problems with memory/concentration/reading will continue to improve.

Who knows what 2019 will bring, certainly changes in my work life but as I’ve learned life is a very precious thing and work is by no means the most important thing in it,

Monday, 26 November 2018

Remembrance musings

What with our recent trip to Belgium, my work over the last 4 years on the Norfolkinworldwar1 website and the recent poppy project along with reading a lot of books connected to WW1 you could say I've been pretty immersed in the whole conflict for quite sometime.

I've enjoyed it a lot (enjoyed the research and learning, obviously not the horror of war) and this past November with the commemorations of Armistice100 a few thoughts have been swirling in my mind. In no particular order, and with no answers they include...

There has been, rightly, a lot of focus on the horrors and losses of war - but these have not focused much on those who came back injured either physically or mentally.

  • I wonder if this is because when the men returned they didn't (or couldn't) talk about their experiences? We don't have their stories but the people who lost family members wanted to keep their stories alive and so we 'know' more about them... 
  • This also ties in with family history research - records are sealed for around 100 years in a lot of cases and so only the bare bones of survivor stories can be researched, where as there are often many more records available for the dead...
  • The increase in ease of completing family history research thanks to the internet could also be a factor in this, along with the ease of visiting many of the WW1 locations...
  • There is also the point that we have very few, if any, survivors from the period to talk to - even our centenarians were born as the war drew to a close and so have very few memories of the period. They also grew up in a time where feelings were more repressed and so didn't ask/find out the thoughts, feelings and experiences of their parents...

My other concern has been regarding veterans from conflicts that came after WW1.  2019 will mark the 80th anniversary of the start of  WW2 and have we lost the chance to record the stories of those who fought/survived that war too as we concentrated so hard on WW1 for the past 4 years or so. I've also been surprised/annoyed by television programmes talking about the work of the Commonwealth War Graves (among other military issues) that just haven't even mentioned that the CWGC looks after graves from wars other than the Great War...

I don't have any answers to these thoughts and I am well aware that with my projects I have added to this agenda, but I hope that we have (for the most part) tried to work through the myths of the war and to tell new stories. I know that should I get to work on any similar commemoration projects for WW2 that I will certainly be paying more attention to the survivor stories.

Many of these musings have been brought into focus as I read through Neil Oliver's Not Forgotten: The Great War and our modern memory -  a book that I've been dipping into over the past month and whole heartedly recommend, and that I'm pleased to report echoes some of my thoughts even if it couldn't solve my dilemmas either.

Friday, 23 November 2018

Still here

I am still here but it has been a month of a lot of ups and downs, and as seems to be the case post brain hemorrhage the thing that now seems to vanish at these times is my ability to lose myself in a book.

I've been thinking a lot about Remembrance and WW1 over the past few weeks and I did originally intend to post about those today but then the Costa Book Prize shortlists were announced last night...

As is clear to people who read this blog I have really struggled with reading this year and I've read an awful lot less than ever before. I do wonder if this is making me more discerning, and that the list is far more quality rather than quantity.

I say this because two of the books that have been vitally important to me this year have made the Costa shortlists.

The first book that I managed to read all the way through after I fell ill was the wonderful Meet Me at the Museum by debut novelist Anne Youngson. I read it back early in the year, but this was in proof form and so my review didn't appear until late spring. Discovering that I could still read was a really important milestone and I knew that this book was incredibly special to me but to know that others also see this is wonderful, and on a personal level it reinforces that I can still spot a good book!

The Skylarks' War by Hilary McKay marked another landmark in my recovery - it was the first book that I read through in just one day, something I took for granted until December 2017.  There had been other books that I'd read reasonably quickly for the 'new' me but this was the one that I just had to keep reading, that kept my concentration throughout and made a very wet Sunday pass in a flash. (I reviewed this book for the NorfolkinWW1 website where I was much more about the book than the importance it had to me personally).

I'd love for both of these books to go on to triumph in the award ceremonies early in 2019, In the meantime I really do recommend reading both of these books as soon as you can!

Monday, 15 October 2018

A book that packs a punch despite being 'Little'

Little by Edward Carey

A micro review for a 'Little' book.
I received a copy of this book in proof form and it arrived in my hands with no blurb or information and I had no idea what I was starting.

It turns out that this is a book about the woman who became Madame Tussaud, it is fiction but uses the biographical information out there to make a truthful yet gripping read.

While I knew Madame Tussaud was a real person I'd never thought to learn more about her but in this book Carey really made her sing from every page.

I have to confess to skim reading some of the descriptions of how she learnt her trade - what can I say, I'm squeamish! It was the skill with which Carey evoked Europe of the late 1700s and early 1800s that won me over in addition to the wonderful  the little sketches which added loads to the reading experience for me.

Once more Belgravia Books have produced a little gem, and like Salt Creek last year I really hope that this gains great word of mouth interest and ends up on loads of 'best of 2018' lists in a few months time.

Although I was provided with a free copy of this book I wasn't expected to write a review for the title - I just found it so quirky that I had to share my thoughts.

Thursday, 11 October 2018

Another long pause

Oh dear another large gap between posts. I am a terrible blogger right now.

I do have three good reasons (I refuse to call them excuses)...

I've been reading books for another project and so can't share them with you. As ever they've been a mixed bag and definitely taken me out of my reading comfort zone.

I've been out and about enjoying the lovely long, warm autumn that we've been lucky enough to be enjoying. It has felt very nice to get back out with my camera - I've put some of my pictures at the end of this post.

My final reason for the lack of posts (and books read) has been the culmination of a crazy 18 month project.  I've been working on WW1 commemorations since 2013 and after planning a real celebration for the start of the war in August 2014 (this may sound odd but in 1914 the UK really did think that the war would be quick, decisive and was a really patriotic moment) I wanted to end the centenary with a far more sober, reflective project.

My idea was to commemorate all of the men and women listed on Norfolk's War Memorials with a poppy.  It took several months to work out this figure - and we settled on 15,500 as being the best guess. Some men are commemorated on more than one panel or memorial and short of physically visiting every plaque, grave and memorial this best guess was decided on.

Well over the last 18 months poppies have been arriving for me at the library and I've been sorting and counting carefully.  As of this week we reached our target, all of the poppies are ready to go and even more amazingly a city centre venue for the 15,500 poppies has been offered.
After this en-masse display then the garlands will be split into smaller displays and sent to all of Norfolk's libraries (including the mobile vans) so that people can get just a small idea of how many people from Norfolk lost their lives between 1914 and 1919.

I am so pleased that despite having a brain hemorrhage the project was still shared widely while I poorly and that counting poppies and creating the displays is something I've been able to do while recovering.

If any of my readers are in Norwich later this month then all the poppies will be on display in St Peter Mancroft Church from around 11am on 22nd October until 29th October.

Saturday, 22 September 2018

What I've been doing this summer instead of reading...

What I did in the summer of 2018

Inspired by my nephew writing all about his summer holiday at school I thought it would be interesting to keep a note of all the things I've been doing this summer instead of crazy theatre going and binge reading.

To be truthful there has been some theatre going, since May I've seen:

  • Two Noble Kinsmen (the Globe)
  • The Chalk Garden (Chichester Festival Theatre)
  • Othello (the Globe)
  • Me and My Girl (Chichester Festival Theatre)
  • Pressure (the Ambassadors Theatre)
  • Emilia (the Globe)
  • Love's Labour's Lost (the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse)
When listed like this it seems a lot but in the same time frame last year I saw 13 plays (often in double bill days) so this is a reduction.

So apart from a lot of resting, and poppy sorting (more on this soon), what have I been up to?

Spending time with family has featured highly this summer and thanks to the lovely weather we've been able to get out and about a lot too. We've been to cricket matches, family meals and also Legoland but there are two huge highlights.

The GoGoHares trail here in Norfolk - family came to stay with us for this and we spent several days out and about in the city and county looking for the beautiful sculptures.

Then while the good weather lasted we returned the visit to family and spent a glorious Saturday in Ashford following the Snowdog trail.

These trails are wonderful, we spent hours out in the fresh air, walking miles and at the same time soaking up the happy feeling of both locations. In addition to this we were supporting two wonderful charities - Break and the Pilgrim's Hospice.

We've done lots of other things too but the joy we had discovering beautiful sculptures and new areas of both locations will be hard to beat - and the fun and laughter we shared was brilliant. Here's hoping that the auctioning of the sculptures later in the year raises loads of money for each charity. Huge thanks to everyone who has made these two events so great.