Sunday, 8 October 2017

Unexpected astronaut encounters

New Scientist Live, ExCeL Centre, London. September 2017.

Through being in the right place at the right time I made an unexpected trip to the Thursday of the 2017 New Scientist Live (sorry Natalie - hope you had a productive day in the office!)

The highlight of going on this day was that astronauts Tim Peake, Helen Sharman and Al Worden were headline speakers and giving an hour long session.  Even getting to the theatre 30 minutes early for this I wasn't too near the front but this didn't matter as the stage was also shown on two large screens raised above the stage so you didn't miss anything.

The astronauts didn't give talks as such but were asked questions by various people - the host, Stephen Hawking, school children and each other - and this lead to some wonderfully relaxed chat that was nicely balanced between all three speakers (and kudos to the host who let the chat flow!).

The three talked a little of their missions and then a lot about the future of space flight and the debate whether we should go back to the moon or on to mars was fascinating as was the chat on who should go on whichever mission happens.

All three speakers had great stories to tell and also displayed a lot of humour, as ever I was very pleased to hear from a female astronaut and am very excited that Helen Sharman will be in Norwich in October so that I can hear more from her, and hopefully get to meet her in person.

After this talk I spent a lot of time walking around the show, talking to people from all sorts of science and technology backgrounds as well as listening to talks on a variety of topics. I was lucky enough to get to meet Al Worden later in the day and get him to sign a copy of his autobiography for me. I also met (and got a signed book) from Libby Jackson who is head of education at the UK Space Agency, played with robots, learned about gene manipulation and played on the science fun fair.

I've looked at the programme for New Scientist Live before and debated whether it is worth it and now I can categorically say yes and that I'm already looking for details of next year's show so that I can go again - and this time with more people, especially my nephew!

Friday, 6 October 2017

Theatre 2017: Review Thirty - La Boheme

La Boheme, The Royal Opera House, London. September 2017

After our wonderful outing to see Madama Butterfly in the spring Mum and I have been looking at the ROH brochure often for other things to try and so when booking opened for this we were pleased to see that another lunch time matinee had been scheduled.

This time I didn't know the music at all, and only had a vague idea of the story but like all good theatre that didn't matter and from curtain up to last bows I was captivated.

For such a tragic story there were a lot of laugh out loud moments, although mum (who knows the story) says these came from the liberties taken with the libretto. I think that they were needed to balance the story for it showed how much Mimi's tale changed the group.

This was a new staging of the show and I for one loved it, it was deceptively simple and absolutely designed with every seat in the house thought of and the street scene was incredible, it really looked like you could walk down those arcades.

As this is a winter tale snow was falling on the stage a lot of the time and I did feel cold along with the characters and when they lit the stove I swear I did warm up.

I wasn't sure that I was as swept up in the story this time as when we saw Madama Butterfly but as I was crying by the end I guess I was as involved!

Another great trip the Opera House, we recommend the seats up in the amphitheatre - great views and easy viewing of the surtitles - and we are already looking through the brochure for what to see next!

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

September Reading Round Up

Our trip to Yellowstone and the other American National Parks has a big effect on me - I don't think that I've ever fallen in love with a place so deeply before.  My day (and night) dreams seem to be full of mountains and wildlife and so has my September reading as I worked my way through numerous memoirs of Rangers who live and work in the National Parks.

Apart from these books I've had an interesting month - many of my books had a space theme and as I blogged earlier this week these were of mixed quality. Unsurprisingly the two books I was complaining about haven't made my best of the month...

Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornack

This book isn't actually published until the 19th of October but thanks to Netgalley I got to read this early after hearing lots of good things. This is (sort of) a Christmas book - a family are forced into quarantine over Christmas as one of the family has just returned from Africa where she has been nursing in an Ebola style emergency.  Forced proximity with family is always stressful and this family all have secrets...
The book is a little cheesy and I did guess one of the twists but this didn't matter overall as it was just a really good book - it is also set in Norfolk and trying to guess the 'real' locations was an added level of fun to the read.

The Rise of the Rocket Girls - Nathalia Holt

After the success of Hidden Figures earlier in the year I was pleased to find another book about women working in the early days of the American space program. These women worked more with the unmanned programs and were based at JPL in Pasadena, CA.  It was great to hear more about the human computers and as I've been lucky enough to visit JPL this book really came alive for me.

A Galaxy of Her Own - Libby Jackson

Another book focusing on women in space, this is supposedly for children but wouldn't look out of place in any human spaceflight book collection. Jackson goes right back to the nineteenth century to look at women in history who have influenced the space program and features women from all over the world.  We get to 'meet' women from all walks of life - astronauts to computers to the people making the spacesuits. Each woman gets a page to herself and is illustrated by different up and coming artists.
The book isn't officially published until November but I got my copy at New Scientist Live and was lucky enough to get it signed by Jackson too.

A River Runs Through It - Norman Maclean

After reading so many books set in National Parks, Wyoming and Montana it was hard to pick just one as a book of the month.  Finally I settled on this one as it was just so different. On first glance it seems to be just about fly fishing but it was so much more - it is about families, nature, love and duty. I loved it! I wasn't quite so enamoured of the other short stories but this one really spoke to me.

Monday, 2 October 2017

The Grumpy Norfolkbookworm

A week which has left the Norfolkbookworm grumpy and bewildered.

I think that regular readers of this blog (waves at all three of you!) know that I love books from all genres and that as long as people read I have no snobbery as to what it is being read, however this past week has really challenged me three times.

Irritation number one – poorly edited books

This week I have picked up two new space books from the library with a view to buying them for my nephew later. However both of them have had major errors within the first 60 pages making me doubt the content of the rest of the book.

The first book (Apollo by Zack Scott) lists the wrong Apollo astronaut as part of a mission.
The second book (Beyond the Sky by Dara O’Briain) describes in really easy to understand terms how a solar eclipse occurs but then in big, bold, fancy text calls it a lunar eclipse. #facepalm

To be fair the publishers of Apollo have come back to me an apologised and assured me that this will be corrected in subsequent reprints and Dara O'Briain has tweeted me to say that he'll get his book corrected in reprints too.

Irritation number two – World Book Day 2018

The titles that children can swap their £1 vouchers for next March were announced this week and at first I was really pleased as there are 10 titles to pick from this time – surely this will mean there is something for everyone…

However of these 10 books
·         4 are by celebrities who are supposedly writing these books themselves
·         1 book is all about the Avengers and so not necessarily by any particular author
·         2 books feature well established characters (Paddington and the Mr Men)

This leaves just three books by ‘real’ authors.  Now I know that any book in the hands of a child is better than no book *but* why aren’t publishers using this opportunity to promote new authors to readers?  There are hundreds of great authors out there who go undiscovered because all of the press coverage goes to celebrity writers – why not use this promotion to widen reader experience rather than celebrity profile?

Before people call me out on this I’m not particularly questioning the quality of the books or the promotion as a whole. Free books give people the chance to try something new and I think a big opportunity is being missed here. Infrequent book buyers recognise celebrity names and brands and are more likely to buy these familiar books whereas they are less likely to try unknown authors and potentially ‘waste’ their money – WBD gives people the chance to try new things without spending anything…

Irritation number three – book reviews in the press

We’ve recently started buying a Saturday paper on a regular basis and I am enjoying the review section a lot as a rule. However this week I was just left fuming.

In the book section this week 20 books were reviewed. Of these just two were written by women and even these didn’t get full reviews, just short paragraphs.  A further two books were featured in more chatty articles – these were also by men. One book was about a woman but this too was written (and reviewed) by a man.  Three of the reviewers were female which is slightly better…

My rant on Twitter lead to some interesting chat with other readers, one said that she wasn’t bothered by the gender of the writer just the quality of the book which was a fair point but it goes back to my thoughts on World Book Day – if books/authors  don’t get the coverage how do casual readers (who don’t go in bookshops and libraries to browse) find them?

I confess that I was tired and grumpy as I read the paper yesterday and so to be fair I dug through the recycling to find last week’s paper to do the same counting exercise…

21 books were reviewed last week and 8 of these books were by women. There were also another four featured authors – 2 of whom were female. 

It is possible that I just overreacted this week but I will be watching this closely – and don’t get me started on the lack of children’s books or those in translation…

Friday, 29 September 2017

Theatre 2017: Review Twenty-nine - Boudica

Boudica, Shakespeare's Globe, London. September 2017.

After two shows that I found to be shockingly bad (and another that we didn't even bother going to) this was the last chance for the summer 2017 season to redeem itself...

For the most part I think that this new play did. This was a fun  retelling of a version of the Boudica story, this one from an incredibly feminist standpoint.  While I was watching the play I enjoyed it but a week on I am struggling to remember much of the show apart from broad brush strokes.

At times it felt a bit obvious and didactic. It was also quite simplistic with characters taking just one stance each rather than being nuanced (with the exception of Boudica herself), it was also pretty bloody and sweary!

However as Boudica and the Iceni come from East Anglia this play was always going to be a hit with me as the cast didn't attempt to speak in Norfolk dialect!

The addition of the modern pop songs - the cast singing a version of London Calling at the start of the second half (as they planned the attack on London) and then I Fought the Law (and the law won) at the end - really worked for me. The ending had been a little stop/start and this coming together was a great way to finally end the show.

This isn't a perfect play but it was a nice way to end the outdoor season at the Globe after so many disappointments. I have tickets to one more play programmed by Emma Rice but I am far more excited by next season when the theatre loses the lights and sound systems and gains a new AD.

Monday, 18 September 2017

Another Blog Tour: Salt Creek by Lucy Treloar

Salt Creek by Lucy Treloar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Friday, 15 September 2017

Theatre 2017: Review Twenty-eight - Against

Against, Almeida Theatre, London. September 2017.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 10 September 2017

My First Blog Tour: The Whitstable High Tide Swimming Club

The Whitstable High Tide Swimming Club by Katie May.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 3 September 2017

August Reading Round Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Talking Books: Things a Bright Girl Can Do

Things a Bright Girl Can Do by Sally Nicholls

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 28 August 2017

Talking Books: Ban this Book

Ban This Book by Alan Gratz

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Making an exhibition of myself

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

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

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

Nelson and Norfolk at Norwich Castle

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

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

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

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Theatre 2017: Review Twenty-Six: Ink

Ink, The Almeida Theatre, London. July 2017.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 3 August 2017

July Reading Round Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 30 July 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

As I said you really had to be there.

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

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Talking Books: These Dividing Walls

These Dividing Walls by Fran Cooper

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

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

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

(Millennium Approaches/Perestroika)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Talking Books: The Children of Jocasta

The Children of Jocasta by Natalie Haynes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 3 July 2017

June Reading Round Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 30 June 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Armchair Astronaut event with Michael Foale

An Afternoon with retired astronaut Michael Foale.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Theatre 2017 - Review Twenty-one - Twelfth Night

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 19 June 2017

Theatre 2017: Review Twenty - The Play that Goes Wrong

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Final, final thoughts about the Baileys Prize

Women's Prize for Fiction ceremony and final thoughts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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