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 Golda 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 and 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 emphasis what is said/shown but I am glad that we saw it.  I might not have been keen at the interval but by the end I was won over and now I can't stop thinking about is which means that it was obviously a good outing!

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Making an exhibition of myself

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

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

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

Nelson and Norfolk at Norwich Castle

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

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

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

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Theatre 2017: Review Twenty-Six: Ink

Ink, The Almeida Theatre, London. July 2017.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 3 August 2017

July Reading Round Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 30 July 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

As I said you really had to be there.

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

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Talking Books: These Dividing Walls

These Dividing Walls by Fran Cooper

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

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

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

(Millennium Approaches/Perestroika)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Talking Books: The Children of Jocasta

The Children of Jocasta by Natalie Haynes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 3 July 2017

June Reading Round Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 30 June 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Armchair Astronaut event with Michael Foale

An Afternoon with retired astronaut Michael Foale.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Theatre 2017 - Review Twenty-one - Twelfth Night

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 19 June 2017

Theatre 2017: Review Twenty - The Play that Goes Wrong

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Final, final thoughts about the Baileys Prize

Women's Prize for Fiction ceremony and final thoughts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Bailey's Prize final thoughts

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 3 June 2017

May Reading Round Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Theatre 2017: Review Nineteen - Spamalot

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 26 May 2017

Bailey's Book Prize book six

The Dark Circle by Linda Grant.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 22 May 2017

Bailey's Book Prize book five

Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Theatre 2017: Review Eighteen - Romeo and Juliet

Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare's Globe, London. May 2017.

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. From the sublime The Ferryman in the afternoon to this... It will be clear to regular readers that The Globe is one of my favourite theatres and that I am rarely disappointed by what I see there.  I've even tried to stick up for the decisions in direction made by Emma Rice over the past 18 months - I'm not against modern innovations in the traditional spaces - last year's Two Gentlemen of Verona was a great watch with lights and pop music. But this was just awful.

I don't really want to write about this show. I am all for exploring what you can do with a text but I'm really not sure that semi naked dancers with nipple tassels, a man pretending to be a dog, women giving birth to coffins and a radical re-write to the ending was just all too much for me.

My other niggle is with the Globe itself - this production used strobe lighting and at no point did I see any warning for this.  I was lucky that this time I was able to shut my eyes and not end up unwell watching this but the same wouldn't have been true if I'd come with my mum. The Globe say they do warn about the lights and to some extent this is true - it is mentioned on their website and in the email they send out before a performance BUT in small text buried in other information. You do not expect this style of lighting at the Globe and strobe lights are a real health issue so this should be made much clearer - big letters on the top of the webpage, signs on the wooden doors before you enter the theatre...

I hate writing a hatchet job like this, especially for one of my favourite places and especially after seeing the wonderful Nell Gwynn just a few days before but I am now very nervous about the rest of the season.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Bailey's Book Prize book four.

The Sport of Kings by C.E. Morgan

This thick tome was the fourth book I pulled out of my box and is possibly the one I approached with the most trepidation - it was over 500 pages long and about horses!

It has taken a long time to read this, well a long time for me anyhow - but I still don't know if I liked the book or if I even enjoyed it.

I was compelled to keep reading, the story for the most part was gripping and I wanted to know how it was going to play out. I liked the weaving of all of the threads together from the Forge's story, Kentucky history through to Allmon's modern experiences - they did all work together well. Even the parts about horses and horse racing were mostly interesting.

Here comes the but... the prose was so flowery at times that I lost interest in what was being written as I scanned to get to the next part of the plot. Sometimes this worked - especially in the scenes with Allmon and Scipio but for the most part it felt a little too showy.

By the end however I found it to be a bit rushed and all that slow build was just wiped away too quickly. I'm not sure I believed in the main character twist either.

I felt like I was watching the story through a window - I couldn't get close to any of the characters and while I see that the casual racism and sexism was integral to the story I found it all a bit too much - it felt the most real part of the narrative and that bothered me.  I know that neither 'ism' has gone away but as they did feel so real I worry that these are the truest part of the book for Morgan.

I'm glad this book was shortlisted for the Bailey's Prize as I'd never have read it otherwise and I don't begrudge the time I spent on the book, ultimately it just wasn't for me.

Next up is Stay With Me - again a book I'd not come across before.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Theatre 2017: Review Seventeen - The Ferryman

The Ferryman, Royal Court, London. May 2017.

A few year's ago Jez Butterworth's Jerusalem was the big 'thing' in London theatre and for some reason Rebecca and I missed this. We saw his Mojo on opening night and could see that it would be a good play when it settled down into the run so when The Ferryman was announced we pounced on tickets.

Apart from seeing that it garnered dozens of five star reviews and that it was a family drama set in Ireland I knew nothing about this play and I think that this was the right way to approach it - which means I am going to write nothing about the plot here.

This was a clever piece of theatre as it drip fed information to the viewer and I made assumptions and guesses as to how the story was going to go and every time I was wrong - but what we got was better. At the end I felt stunned, it was such a powerful piece of theatre. Both Rebecca and I were on our feet for a standing ovation, whilst wiping the tears from our faces.

It feels wrong to have such a short review for such a fantastic 3 1/4 hours in the theatre but even now a few days on all I can say is 'wow!'

This is transferring to the West End next month and I am hoping to convince Mr Norfolkbookworm to see this. If this isn't in my top 3 plays by the end of the year then I will be surprised and so happy that 2017 has been a fantastic year of theatre!

Friday, 12 May 2017

Bailey's Book Prize book three

First Love but Gwendoline Riley.

The third book I picked out of my book prize box was First Love and my initial impression was how minimalist the cover appeared. Then when I opened it and saw both the line spacing (lots of white areas on the page) and the length (short) I wondered just how minimalist the tale was going to be!

In general I read very fast and book of this length usually wouldn't have taken much longer than my lunch break to read. As this book has been  shortlisted for the Bailey's Prize I made a deliberate decision to read this slowly, to read each segment and then take a break to think about what I'd read.

I think that this was the right decision as at first glance this is a slight book, Neve is in a bad relationship and the story charts this but in reading it slowly I also read behind the lines.

Again if I talk about this too much I am aware that I could spoil the book for other readers but I know that if I'd read it at my normal speed I would have come away with only one story from the novel. By reading it slowly I got a more rounded story, but this did change my sympathies entirely... swings and roundabouts I guess!

At first I wasn't sure that such a slender story was in the same league as the other books on the shortlist but this one really has got under my skin and while Do Not Say We Have Nothing remains my favourite read of the year so far this one is a worthy contender for the Bailey's Prize.

Now from the compact to the epic - the 545 page Sport of Kings was the next book out of the box!

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Theatre 2017: Review Sixteen - Nell Gwynn

Nell Gwynn, Shakespeare's Globe, London. May 2016.

I am so pleased that this has come back to the Globe. In 2015, when it first played, I also didn't see it when in came to Cambridge in the hopes that it would return to the Globe like the rumours had suggested. When the day of the play came around it has to be said that my heart wasn't in it entirely - the lovely warm weather of April had morphed into some really cold, unseasonable, weather in Norfolk and the idea of sitting in an open air theatre wasn't appealing.

I am so glad that we went (this will be Mr Norfolkbookworm's only trip to the Globe this season). From the moment the play started I had a happy smile on my face and this just didn't slip for the entire performance.  The story is slight in many ways but it has a lot to say about the Nell's time and our own - Swale seems to be the mistress of making history speak to us without over doing it, while at the same time knowing that you can write with a broad brush for performances at the Globe.  The lines about how important the arts are and Brexit were utterly played to the audience but yet some of the quieter lines making similar points resonated just as well.

It is hard to write about a piece of theatre that I loved so much, I wanted to watch it again instantly and I am worried that if I write too much about it I will lose the magic. This was the ultimate in a feel good show and has set the bar high for the rest of the Globe's Summer of Love season.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Bailey's Book Prize book two

The Power by Naomi Alderman

Next out of my Bailey's Prize box came The Power by Naomi Alderman and I didn't have such a great relationship with this book. Part of the problem was probably the 'book hangover' Do Not Say We Have Nothing left me with.  After falling in love with a book so completely the book that comes after it always suffers I find.

The ideas behind The Power all made me think that the book was going to be for me.  All of a sudden girls (and women) get a new power that makes them the dominant gender and the way the world is run gets turned on its head. Sort of.

The premise of the book is that here is a devastating event and all history before this new power is lost, the book presents as a piece of academic research charting what happens in the run up to this event and the resetting of history. It is told from four alternating points of view, three female and one male and eventually all four characters interact.

To say more will spoil the book and I found bits of it very clever, I didn't have a problem with the way the narrator changed so frequently but I never felt like I was a part of the story. This could have been intentional as the start and end do remind you that this isn't supposed to be novel but is a piece of 'academic research' although I confess I did lose sight of  this while I reading.

I also didn't have a problem with the authors idea of how history (and people) would unfurl after such an event. There were also some killer lines, especially the very final one! I didn't like the author writing herself into the book but that is just a personal peeve. I've been thinking about this book for several days and I can't quite explain why this book didn't hit the spot for me.

To be fair I can't say that in the end I really disliked this book, a few days after finishing it I am still turning over the ideas presented and I loved the ideas at the heart of it...but...I also can't say I liked it hugely. It didn't feel particularly new to me and even reading the ending of the main part of narration twice I am not 100% certain quite what happened.  My overriding feeling is that this would have made a great short story.

Oh dear - I really don't like writing about books that don't quite hit the mark for me but I did promise to write about all of the Bailey's Book prize books honestly. On to book three...

Friday, 5 May 2017

April Reading Round Up

After the great reading month that March gave me I didn't find April to be so good for the main part - although becoming a Bailey's Book Prize ambassador at the end of the month was really exciting.

I 'only' read 15 books in April and four of them are worth mentioning here.

Margot and Me - Juno Dawson. 
This is a teen novel about a family of strong women and their stories and secrets. I enjoyed it but the book was set pre-2000 and I found myself questioning some of the technology that the teenagers use as a matter of course. These niggles aside I was swept away by the story and wholeheartedly recommend the book.

Durrells of Corfu - Michael Haag
I love the TV series about the Durrells, I've greatly enjoyed reading books from both Larry and Gerry Durrell and thus I've been looking forward to the biography of the whole family a lot. It didn't disappoint, in fact this was a very affectionate look at the family which took some of the legendary episodes and told the true version behind them.  It didn't shy away from the bad times but in being a whole family biography it wasn't always as detailed as I'd have liked. It has left me with a reading list and a desire to go to Greece!

Balancing Acts - Nick Hytner
This is Hytner's selected memoirs of his time running the National Theatre in London and while I raced through the book and enjoyed lots of it I did find it ultimately a little disappointing. It rarely does more than scratch the surface and even when it is talking about flops/failures it is all really good hearted. I realise that Hytner is a relatively young man and his career is nowhere near over so he needs to be careful in what he says but I'd have liked a little more. There is very little of Hytner the man either. Oh dear - this all sounds negative again but I did really enjoy what was in the book hence why it is on my best of April list!

Do Not Say We Have Nothing - Madeleine Thien
Already reviewed here!

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Bailey's Book Prize book one

Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien

I'm not sure why I picked this one out of the box to read first - perhaps it was the gold foil on the cover shining at me!

My first thoughts on opening the book were possibly a little negative as I was bit overwhelmed by the length and the font - this is where eBooks really win for me as it is so easy to change the text size and font to make the reading experience easier.

However within moments of starting the book these thoughts vanished, I was sucked in to the book and loved the present day narrator, Marie, instantly.

This is a sweeping tale which mixes fact and fiction seamlessly at the same time as bringing the history of China since 1940 to life. The weaving together of all of the strands was handled so deftly that I really felt like I was peeling back the layers of a story and falling deeper and deeper into it as I turned every page.

At times I wanted to know more about Marie and her life but as the book progressed I understood why it was structured as it was and by the very end I was a soggy, snotty mess as the ending just finished me.

I loved the way that I learned so much about China while reading this. Passages of history, such as The Cultural Revolution, which I'd heard of and had a vague idea of came to life in that way that sometimes only fiction can make happen.

I know that this was a good book because it has fluttered in and out of my dreams since I started it and I have a feeling that it may well end up on my 'best fiction of the year' lists come December. I am now even more excited than before to read the remaining short listed titles to see if they can beat this one!

If you've liked Wild Swans by Jung Chang or This is All by Aidan Chambers then I think you'll like this one, but it will also appeal to people who like detailed historical fiction such as Birds Without Wings, Birdsong & Memoirs of a Geisha.

Friday, 28 April 2017

Being an ambassador

Reading Agency / Baileys Library Ambassador 2017

A long time ago a careers quiz at school suggested that perhaps I should consider working for the diplomatic service but I never thought I'd ever be an ambassador...

Joking aside this is actually a really exciting development for 2017, a spur of the moment decision, encouraged by my manager, to apply to be a library ambassador for this year's Bailey's Prize paid off and on Monday this week a lovely box of books got delivered containing this year's shortlisted titles.

The six titles this year are:
All six are new to me, I had read several from the longlist but none of these. The first one I've picked out of the box is Do Not Say We Have Nothing....

You can read more about the Bailey's Prize here and you can meet all three ambassadors here.  I will be tweeting my progress on the books from @norfolkbookworm and updating my progress through the books here and on the Norfolk Library review blog.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Book vs Film (sort of)

There hasn't been too much on at the cinema lately that I've wanted to see but typically just now there are three films all once.

Another Mother's Son was my priority as it covers a period of history that I am very interested in - the German Occupation of the Channel Islands during WW2.

I can date my interest in this area back to childhood holidays in Jersey and Guernsey when dad took me to WW2 locations such as the Underground Hospital in Jersey. The first book I read on the topic (and possibly my first autobiography and first WW2 book) was A Child's War by Molly Bihet. She was certainly the first author I met and I still remember the occasion and location and have my signed copy of the book.

Since then I've read lots of books set in the Channel Islands during the Occupation, in fact one of my favourite books of all time is The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society which is heavily influenced by the true story depicted in Another Mother's Son.

The film certainly packed an emotional punch, and although I did know how the story ended I still was moved by it and generally enthralled, but...
I just found the film to be too historically inaccurate, too Hollywood. There was nothing too obvious, just enough niggles to make me unhappy as I was watching it.

My main problem was that the film. although based on the true story of Louisa Gould, felt less real than the novels I've read.  The people just didn't come across as oppressed, or as hungry as other sources have shown and the timeline at the end was just a little too compressed. And don't get me started on the accents... I am going to be generous and say that perhaps this is because many of the books I've read were set on Guernsey and this is Jersey but I am not sure this really can explain my feelings.

I know I am forever saying I prefer the book to the film but in this case I am really surprised that this is the case. It doesn't feel right that a simple novel based on many sources and thoroughly fictionalised should be better than the true story.

The film is worth watching, and I like to support British films but in this case I really do urge you to read the books, especially Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Theatre 2017: Review Fifteen - Love in Idleness

Love in Idleness, Menier Chocolate Theatre, London. April 2017.

Due to a variety of events I am later reviewing this than normal and it has been nearly two weeks since I saw this, but it doesn't seem to matter too much for as soon as I think of this I smile.

Rattigan's plays have that effect on me it would seem. At first thought they seem light and fluffy but then the depth and emotion grows on you and this play was no exception and I was so involved with this one that I went from crying with laughter to crying with sadness in one breath.

The play itself is a hybrid - Rattigan wrote the serious  Less than Kind  first but this was not produced and with input/help from the original lead actors is became the comedy Love in Idleness. For this production elements from both plays have been taken so that the comedy has more bite, emotion and politics but is also still incredibly funny. It remains very much a play of its original time however.

I do think that it is the cast that really makes this sing - the timing is impeccable and I utterly believed in the main trio's relationship. They felt like a dysfunctional family unit and the wonderful ending came together brilliantly from this build up.

I've now read both versions of the play and I feel that the hybrid that has been created does appeal to me more than either of the originals - this was feel good theatre and I loved every moment of it, so much so that I am tempted to try and see it again when it transfers to the West End.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

I feel the need, the need for speed...

Meeting Scott "Scooter" Altman, retired astronaut with Space Lectures, Pontefract. April 2017.

Another trip north to meet an astronaut and this one had me feeling a little nervous. Before Altman became an astronaut he was a naval fighter pilot and whilst on active service he was also Tom Cruise's stunt pilot for the film Top Gun. I only watched this for the first time recently and mentally I'd made the mistake of equating Altman with Tom Cruise's arrogant character in the film.

As soon as Altman started talking I knew I'd made a mistake - this was an articulate, funny and pretty humble man who had some great stories to tell. While he had flown into space four times this lecture concentrated on his military career and then his final mission in which he was the Commander for the Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission.

As with all the best tales there are problems to overcome and some real cliffhanger moments and another member of the audience has a better memory for these things than me (I just get star struck!) and has written up a great account of the talk here. My main takeaway points were that necessity really is the mother of invention (who knew that a chisel, hammer and brute force work in space too!) and also that space is perhaps the way to maintain peace here on earth.  If Altman, a trained combat pilot, can work with and admire his former enemy then cooperation in orbit will hopefully smooth the way to cooperation everywhere.

We had a (sort of) personal connection to Altman's missions. Way back in 1998 we made our first trip to Florida in the hope of seeing STS-90 launch. We missed the launch by about 2 weeks (darn those slipping schedules!) but this would have been Altman's first mission.  To top this my sister and her husband saw STS-125 launch in 2009 - this was Altman's final mission.

STS 125 launch view from Jetty Park, Fl. Taken by my sister

Sadly we can't make the next event in June, where Space Lectures will be hosting Alexei Leonov and tickets are available - if you are at all interested in space history I recommend going. The team organise the events wonderfully and Leonov is a great speaker.