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.

Friday, 7 April 2017

Theatre 2017: Review Fourteen - Abigail's Party

Abigail's Party, Theatre Royal, Norwich. March 2017.

I've never squirmed so much in a theatre where the play was causing the movement and not an uncomfortable seat!

The acting in this was terrific, not a weak link in the cast at all, they had be believing utterly that we were back in the 1970s at the most awkward drinks party ever.
None of the characters are particularly nice and as the drinks flow their true colours really start to show and my sympathies were with none of them, but such was the cast's skill - and of course Leigh's fabulous script - that my attention was held throughout.

A special mention has to go to the set for this tour which was really magnificent and yet looked like it would fold straight back into itself and transport back to the 1970s where it had clearly stolen from!

A week on from seeing this play I am still inwardly shuddering at the play, and I feel like I watched it through my fingers like the best horror movie!

Unknowingly this theatre trip also links in with my own 2017 reading challenge as it was written and first performed in 1977.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

March Reading Round Up

March was a good month for reading with me, thanks to that lovely holiday at the start of the month (and then a nasty cold later on) I ready 30 books in a month of 31 days!

Several of the books are for a review project and again even if they were amazing I can't talk about them or review them yet, but that notwithstanding it was a pretty good reading month.

The Bear and the Nightingale and Greatest Hits which I read and reviewed at the start of the month were definite hits this month but a few of the other highlights of the month include the following.

 Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave. This is an interesting book about London in World War Two, following four main characters during the early years of the conflict. I liked this book a lot because it managed to tell a new story of this era to me, I've read a lot of books set in this time frame and this felt new and exciting - despite none of the characters being particularly likable.

The Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse. Again a World War Two book but this one set in Amsterdam. It starts interestingly with the protagonist being a black marketeer but then evolves into a more complicated resistance story. A few bits of language jarred slightly but on the whole I was kept guessing all the way through, in the right way.

In Praise of Shadows by Junichiro Tanizaki. This book was recommended to me by a friend as I asked for recommendations of books translated in 1977 as part of my personal challenge. It was a slim volume about one man's musings on how traditional Japanese life is being changed by modern ways - and this book was written pre-WW2 so is a real snapshot of a lifestyle now totally vanished. It is hard to explain fully but as this is such a slim volume I urge you all to hunt it down, read it and then go out for great Japanese food!

My final picks for the month are the Birchbark House books by Louise Erdrich.  I've read a few of her adult books but this is a children's series is all about an Ojibwa family at the time when the Native American population was under greatest threat from white settlers. I've been a long time fan of the Little House on the Prairie series but I know that they aren't very historically accurate and it is great to find another series from the same time frame but telling the other side of the story.