Monday, 29 September 2014

Theatre 2014: Review Thirty-One

To Kill a Mockingbird, Theatre Royal, Norwich. September 2014.

I ran out of time to see this at the Open Air Theatre both last summer and this so I was very pleased to read it was coming to Norwich and that some colleagues were as keen as me to see it.

From the moment the actors appeared on the stage to the moment the curtain fell I was transfixed and I was living in 1930s America with the cast.

Rather than turning the book into a straight play and adding too much new dialogue to a classic story the cast read from the novel and various scenes are then acted out, I'm not familiar enough with the text to know if this was the original dialogue but for me it worked absolutely.

The big courtroom scene blew me away totally and even though I knew how it ended I was swept away totally and really couldn't believe that a anyone would have reached the verdict reached.  I loved the playing of the scene to the audience as well, making us the jury worked brilliantly.

The whole production was incredibly strong, with a very small part of me finding the young actor playing Jem to be a little weaker than the rest but apart from that the staging, the music and the who thing were just fantastic.

By the end I had a definite lump in my throat (as did my companions) and this play has jumped right up towards the tops of my favourite plays of the year.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Talented friends

Unspeakable by Abbie Rushton
Electronic proof provided by

This review comes with the disclaimer that I know the author and have done for many years, however the proof was provided through a third party and the review isn't paid for or sponsored in any way.

Good teen fiction that doesn't feature the supernatural seemed to be on the decline recently and then came the wonderful John Green with The Fault in Our Stars and happily good quality teen fiction with real characters is back on the publishers' agendas.

Unspeakable had me gripped from the start. A traumatic event has seen Megan lose both her best friend and the ability to speak and the start of the new school year is not going well.  Along comes Jasmine and all of a sudden things are starting to look up, however the secrets surrounding the events that left Megan unable to speak are causing more trouble than can be imagined...

The book was a fast paced read with elements of a thriller, a teen 'problem' novel, and a love story all of which combine wonderfully and do not conform to expectations - the first love isn't what you think, there are no miracle cures and mental health issues aren't always what they seem.

The book has a nice well finished ending that leaves you wanting to know more about the characters but without a sequel at all being needed or hinted at - hurrah, I love stand alone novels!

It has a really nice British feel about it, without being full of over description, I could see all of the characters and locations clearly. The issues that teenagers face - peer pressure, school pressure, drinking, parental problems, etc. - are all just a natural part of the plot not the focus of a preachy novel.
I did spot the slight twist coming which is unusual for me but I did follow the red-herring for a long time so this was well done.

The major downside is that the book isn't published until February 2015 and you'll all have to wait to share my happiness that is Abbie's fantastic book!

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Theatre 2014 - Review Thirty

The Comedy of Errors, Shakespeare's Globe, London. September 2014.

After seeing this earlier in the year and being less than impressed I was nervous about seeing this play even at my favourite venue - was it going to be another Julius Caesar and play I just don't like?

It started very well with a silent mime in the style of the old Chaplin-esque slapstick comedy of a man trying to get some washing off a line.  It really was something you had to see to understand just how funny it was, made all the better by a mobile phone ringing in the audience and the actor encompassing this into his routine.

The play itself is daft, mistaken identity taken well beyond the bounds of any plausibility but as the cast seemed to be having so much fun you could over look the daft plot and just go with it.  I think that some of my dislike of the earlier production is to do with the source material but this version was so much more fun - it didn't need added smut or nuns dressed as tarts to work.

This was a short, high energy play that made a great end to the Shakespeare season this year at the Globe.  I do have two more plays to see at the venue before the action moves inside to the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse but on the whole the season has been brilliant - I enjoyed a play that I never thought I'd manage to sit through (Titus) and fell in love totally with another play (Antony and Cleopatra).

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

End of summer break reading

Uni goes back in a matter of days and so I've spent the past few days indulging in a real orgy of reading to finish a few books I know I don't want to put off until we have a break in November.

First up was Nora Webster by Colm Toibin.

Not officially published until October 7th, I read an advance copy thanks to Netgalley.

This held me captivated on a slow train journey to Cambridge and back, it follows a couple of years in the life of one family as they come to terms with the death of a family member.  In many ways this is a gentle book, very much in the vein of Maeve Binchy, but underneath all of this is a darker undercurrent that keeps you off balance and unsure as to where the plot is going to take you.
I became totally involved in the whole Webster family and my sympathies with individual characters changed all the time as we learned more about them.  This isn't a challenging book, but it is quite haunting and certainly a great read.

My next book was Travelling to Work by Michael Palin.

I've said before that I am a sucker for diaries and Palin's are no exception.  I always liked the films Life of Brian & Holy Grail plus the Ripping Yarns series and I can watch and re-watch Palin's epic travel series and enjoy them each time so it goes without saying that I'd like jump on the diaries.

The third volume doesn't disappoint, it is full of tiny details about Palin's life as well as asides about people in the entertainment world - but if you aren't interested in diaries or Palin then the book really won't be for you!

Palin is known as a really nice guy - and I'm afraid that I have to agree after meeting him a few years ago - but he rails against this from a very early stage. His diaries won't do much to dispel the image but I loved the hours I spent reading the tome!

The final book for the weekend was H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

I love birds of prey, and I'm lucky enough to have spent a day learning to handle them and another learning how to photograph them.  I think that if I has the time and money I would consider owning my own.

This is something that is shared by Helen Macdonald and in fact she has gone further and is a qualified falconer and has owned several breeds.

This volume is part autobiography, part falconry manual and part biography of author T H White and it totally blew me away.

After the sudden death of her father Helen decides to buy and train a goshawk, one of the hardest birds of prey to train and fly. The book then mixes memories of her father, insights in to training Mabel and much more.  Several times the book brought tears to my eyes, it is very personal and beautifully written and deserves to become a classic book.

H is for Hawk is published but I read a copy again provided by Netgalley.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Theatre 2014 - Review Twenty-Nine (cinema)

The Two Gentlemen of Verona (RSC Live), Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford. September 2014.

According to all of the publicity this is play that the RSC haven't performed on their main stage for around 40 years and this alone made me want to see the production, however Norwich to Stratford is not the easiest journey whether by car or train and so the fact that they too broadcast selected plays into cinemas is a blessing.

I didn't know anything about this play at all prior to sitting in my seat and the broadcast started with a few interviews with the main cast members and the director. This helped set the scene and also made it easy to spot who was who when the main action started.

It wasn't that easy to see when the main action started as there was an incredibly long, wordless prologue (which included some audience participation - shudder!) and as this also featured the two male protagonists I don't think I was alone in thinking that the sound wasn't right coming through from Stratford.

Once this bit was over the story fairly raced through and even with no prior knowledge of the play it was one of the easiest plots to follow that I've seen from Shakespeare. That coupled with the modern dress made it very easy to forget that this was a 400 year old play as it felt very up-to-date. It was nice that the modern dress, set and music didn't seem at odd with the areas that were kept more 'Shakespearean' elements, or of course the original words.

A dog is major character in the play and the live dog in the play was very good, but as I've seen mentioned elsewhere it must be a little disheartening for the main actors to be working their socks off for three hours yet the dog get a round of applause for just appearing!

The play itself felt very safe, and the 'baddie' never seemed quite evil enough. His neglected lover, Julia, also seemed to forgive him a little too easily. I can see why the play hasn't been performed in full on the main stage for such a long time because of these points - although how much of this was the directors view rather than the original material I will find out when I read the play.

I enjoyed the performance very much but due to the slightness I am pleased that I did wait for the RSC Live broadcast and didn't make the trek to Stratford.  However the trailer for the two winter plays Love's Labour's Lost/Love's Labour's Found and the little bit of back story to the setting of these does have me looking at the theatre brochure and the train times!

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Sequel-ly Good

Wars of the Roses: Trinity by Conn Iggulden

Electronic proof provided by

Last year the first book in this series made it into my top three books of the year and was one that I'd been unable to stop thinking about since I read and reviewed it. I've been keeping a close eye on websites waiting for the sequel to be released and was over the moon when it appeared on Netgalley as an advance copy.

All too often a sequel, and especially book 2 in a trilogy, can be disappointing and after Stormbird being so relevant last year I was worried that this would be the case with Trinity. When I found the book as strong, or possibly even stronger, I was over joyed.

The book plunges straight into the action and there is no recap of what came before and I found myself enthralled from the start. The family feuds of the time influencing the monarchy, and the protectorate, made history come to life and the writing invoked life at the time wonderfully for me.  The sweeping battles being as real as the small side bets between lord and servant over how close a shave could be.

I think that seeing Shakespeare's plays covering this period of history help because as I read I can see the actors from the Globe playing the roles but the books are certainly adding to the detail sketched out in the plays.

The downside? I'm now back in that place of being desperate to read the next part of the series even before this one is officially published!

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Theatre 2014: Review Twenty-Eight (cinema)

Skylight (National Theatre Live, Wyndham's Theatre, London. September 2014.

Thanks to the NT Live programme Mr Norfolkbookworm and I got the chance to see a play that were both interested in but just couldn't fit into our diaries this summer.  Instead on a Sunday when the weather was a bit 'British' we went to our local Odeon cinema and spent almost three happy hours watching a great piece of theatre.

All I really knew about this production was that Carey Mulligan made a spaghetti bolognese on stage during the course of the drama and I do find that it is a real test of if a play works or not as to whether this approach works.

In this case I found that it did, the characters and their motives were written well enough that without too much extraneous explanation you knew who they were, how they related to each other and what drove them.  There was an awful lot of humour in the roles and I found myself laughing with and at the three characters throughout the play. (The plot is well explained on Wikipedia if you are interested, but I'd try and see an Encore if you can.)

A mark of the writing is that my opinions of the characters changed repeatedly throughout the action and although I would put myself on the liberal end of the political and social spectrum I found myself swayed by both Tom and Kyra's speeches and on balance think I had a little more sympathy with the more traditional, conservative part by the end which really surprised me! The 'star' casting was spot on and made use of actors' idiosyncrasies without making about them not the role.

Some reviewers have criticised the role, or the actor, playing Tom's son Edward.  I found him totally believable as a teenager taking a gap year.  He was the right mix of gauche, cocky, over confident and underneath it all bewildered and insecure.  His actions in the last scene are also some of the sweetest I've seen (or read in a novel) for a long time.

As is so often the case I do wish that I had seen this on stage. As I didn't manage that then I wish I'd seen it at my usual NT Live venue - Cinema City - as the screening we were in had very few people in it and really did lose more of the atmosphere than I've ever found at an NT Live screening.  I'm really pleased that another venue was showing Encores as otherwise I'd have missed this one totally but the cavernous, 3/4 empty screen did change the experience.

I've found myself thinking about the play an awful lot, it was first written and staged in 1996 but society has changed so little in that time (or we've come full circle) that it doesn't seem dated. Only the set dressing and props plus the reference to Yellow Pages give it away that this revival wasn't set in 2014. I also want to commend the set, all too often if all reviewer/bloggers can write about is the stage then there were issues with the play but in this case the backdrop was magnificent and really did make me think we were in a rundown, inner city estate.

The good news for those who missed it is there will be another chance to see the play, it will be re staged on Broadway from next April...

Thursday, 4 September 2014


Gin Glorious Gin by Olivia Williams.

Electronic proof provided by

I'm not sure this book was good for me, until I read it I didn't think I liked gin but after reading this book it may be that I don't like the tonic rather than the actual gin. I do think that a great deal of taste testing may be called for...

Olivia Williams' book takes us through the history of gin - how it went from being a luxury drink to being Mothers' (and almost London's) ruin - think Hogarth - and then back again to being a premium drink.

There is a nice balance in the book between history, anecdotes to amuse and recipes to try or avoid. There are also detailed descriptions and illustrations of how the different stills work to make the different types of gin.  The convoluted history of the distilleries, and product, always remain clear and I loved seeing how it all fitted together to make an interesting snapshot of social history.

At the very end of the book there are some recommendations of bars to try, pubs to find and also of different gins, their flavours and their mixers.  All of this is useful information, especially to a gin novice like myself.

Gin is again an up-and-coming fashionable drink, in Norwich there will be two gin specialist bars before very long, and after reading this book I did head out to one of them to try the product. Apologies for any incoherence and typos this has caused in this blog entry!

for the record today's choice of Elephant gin, ice, fresh strawberries and bitter lemon was very palatable :)

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Book A Day August

Another part of the book world picked up the #bookadayUK baton in August and as anything that makes you think about, or talk about, books is good and so I continued to think about the 31 questions, and when possible to take part in the Twitter conversations.

This month's questions or prompts were given by the Siobhan Dowd Trust.

1st - To start, most arresting opening line?
"I write this sitting in the kitchen sink" always makes me smile, from I Capture the Castle.

2nd - Best pairing of words and pictures?
I adore Diary of a Wombat by Jackie French, simple words that the pictures add so much detail too.

3rd - Favourite collection of short stories?
Has to be those from Katherine Mansfield or Mollie Panter Downes both published by Persephone books.

4th - Best graphic novel?
I've only read a couple so for now has to be Maus but any recommendations are gratefully received.

5th - Classic hero/ine or antihero/ine?
I do like Henry V as portrayed by Shakespeare and Margaret of Anjou as written by Conn Iggulden is a strong character. Being more 'traditional' then m favourite antihero is Captain Hook.

6th - Best for a bedtime story?
I have very fond memories of the Chronicles of Narnia being read to me over time as bedtime stories.

7th - Enjoyed by several generations?
My mum and nan enjoyed Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson as much as I did.

8th - Never fails to cheer me up?
I love Business as Usual by Jane Oliver and Anne Stafford

9th - Most powerful storytelling?
I think that my vote on this one goes to Louis de Bernieres for Birds Without Wings

10th - Best written bestseller?
Depends on your definition of best seller I guess but I think my choice of a recent book is The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Moshin Hamid.

11th - Ideal for a book group?
I really enjoyed the discussions my book group had when we looked at All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque.

12th - Most practical book?
Has to be the book How to Boil an Egg that my nan gave me when I left home totally unable to cook for myself.

13th - Favourite controversial read?
I'm taking controversial to mean most challenged/banned and picking To Kill a Mockingbird. 

14th - Best quick read?
I'm a fast reader so not many books take that long to read for me but I do re-read Tamora Pierce's Tortall books a lot and race through them as they are old friends.

15th - Best looooooooooooooooooong read?
Once more this has to be Birds Without Wings by Louis de Bernieres.

16th - This book defends the undefended?
Not quite sure that I fully understand this prompt but Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie certainly talked a lot about an important genocide that has swiftly been forgotten.

17th - Most beautifully designed book?
All of those published by Persephone Books and Pierene Press are works of art.

18th - I read it to impress (& did it work?)
I've always been a stubborn reader who only reads what she wants, I'll take recommendations but I don't read to impress.

19th - Best young adult book?
Recently published has to be The Fault in Our Stars by John Green but my favourite teen books of all time are those by Tamora Pierce.

20th - The sequel was better than the first?
I think that the Harry Potter books improved as the series went on.

21st - Helps to tackle a difficult subject?
This can be any book really as we all find different things difficult, anything that pushes boundaries and raises questions is good.

22nd - 19th Century characters - lets play shag/marry/kill...
Now a confession - I don't think I've read enough books from this era to pick!

23rd - Best picture book for older readers?
The Sad Book by Michael Rosen.

24th - Who's life: best biography or autobiography?
The best one I've read is Carrying the Fire by Apollo astronaut Mike Collins - his story of being the 3rd man on Apollo 11 and the man who didn't walk on the moon.

25th - Recommended for a Bank Holiday?
A Fortnight in September by R C Sherriff, a wonderful book about the end of summer where nothing much happens but the story remains tense.

26th - A book worth persevering with?
Life is too short to keep going with books that you aren't enjoying but I did love Anna Karenina on the 3rd attempt.

27th - Classic book most relevant to now?
I think many of the books about wars through the ages that stress the waste of life and futility strike home the most right now.

28th - Most timeless modern book?
Another one that is hard to predict but I do keep returning to The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller.

29th - Was totally worth the hype?
I think this goes to Harry Potter as they are good stories and have inspired so many readers.

30th - Best back to school book?
For the first day at school I heartily recommend Chu's First Day of School by Neil Gaiman as Chu is such a wonderful character.

31st - Top book of the month?
Of the books I've picked for August's #bookadayUK my favourites have to be the Tortall books by Tamora Pierce, great fantasy novels and real comfort reads.