Friday 24 November 2023

Micro review 18 (Non Fiction November)


Space: The Human Story by Tim Peake (Cornerstone)

Regular readers, and people who know me IRL are aware that I am something of a space nerd, and that I love meeting astronauts and reading about them. Since Peake's flight into space he has written and spoken a lot about his experiences and I was slightly nervous that this was going to be another remix of what he's already said.

I was soooooooooooooo very wrong - this book is fascinating history of human spaceflight and even though I've read quite few (!) books on this topic there were lots of new to me anecdotes and he presents a new take on a lot of the history. 

He has a very wry sense of humour and makes some very pertinent points about the future of space travel, and even when talking about his space flight/training has new stories to tell.

If I am being picky I'd have liked to know more about the European Space Agency history and selection process, and n the Chinese crewed space programme doesn't event get a but these are minor points. My other disappointment was to do with the bibliography - I was poised, pen ready, to add new books to my wish list but out of the 44 books mentioned I'd only not read 9!

Reading this tied in nicely with the new series of For All Mankind - the AppleTV and also as a fitting tribute to the two Apollo era astronauts who sadly died recently.

Tuesday 21 November 2023

Micro review 17 (Non Fiction November)


The Dictionary People by Sarah Ogilvie (Chatto & Windus)

Earlier in the year I read (and enjoyed) the novels The Dictionary of Lost Words & The Bookbinder of Jericho by Pip Williams which were all about the creation of the first OED and book publishing at the Oxford University Press so I leapt at the chance to read more about the people behind the story.

In idle moments (mostly when cataloguing my own book collection) I had thought how hard it must be to write a formal dictionary -  and indeed Black Adder has a whole episode dedicated to the process - but it had never occurred to me that it was in fact an enormous crowd sourced project that is still ongoing!

Obviously over more than 150 years there have been 1000s of contributors to the OED and reading about them all would be overwhelming but Ogilvie has cleverly created 26 chapters all dedicated to different groups of people working on the project.  L is for lunatic for example and there are some incredible stories of people working on the project from asylums...

In picking a thematic approach Ogilvie manages to paint a full picture of all the types of people working on the project as well as those trying to wrestle the mammoth undertaking into a publishable format. It was really nice to see how egalitarian the project itself was, even if the celebrations by the 'good and the great' when it was published weren't...

I loved dipping in and out of this book during my tea breaks - each chapter was just the right length and contained just the right amount of information to enjoy in a limited gulp - I'm sure there must be a work for that...

Many thanks to the publisher for granting me access to an advance copy via NetGalley

Thursday 2 November 2023

And now for something completely different


The Runaway Heiress by Emma Orchard (Allison & Busby)

I was very lucky to be offered a chance to read this in advance of publication and it arrived at the perfect time. I'm reading (and enjoying) lots of non-fiction books right now but really struggling to find fiction that captivates me.

The Runaway Heiress is so far away from my normal reading choice that I hoped (rightly) that it would break the run of 'did not finish' books.

The blurb for the book reads:

London, 1815. Cassandra Hazeldon is on the run.

Under duress to marry a repellent friend of her uncle, Cassandra has made her escape, but now she is very much alone. With luck and quick thinking, she finds a refuge in a grand mansion in Mayfair, and a protector in Lord Irlam, or Hal to his friends.

Posing as a friend of Hal's sister, Cassandra is swept up into the social whirl of a Brighton summer. But the attraction between her and Hal is starting to scorch, and when jealousy is added to the mix, things are set to reach boiling point.

I don't read a lot of romance and this isn't a period of history I know about,  other cultural touchstones such as Bridgerton and Georgette Heyer have passed me by completely too. 

It was all these novelties that helped me to race through the book, along with the very vivid writing style. I was somewhat taken aback as to just how raunchy the book was in places - and if I am honest  I did prefer the less explicit romance scenes  where the tension was more erotic than the full on scenes - but I did feel like I was an eyewitness to all of the plot and could really 'see' a lot of the characters and settings in colour, so to speak.

I don't think that this period of history is ever going to become a favourite setting of mine but once in a while it will be nice to visit and it has reminded me to read books from genres I don't often touch as they are fun!

Huge thanks to Allison and Busby for the book and for widening my reading as well as my eyes!

Friday 20 October 2023

Micro Review 16


Finding Bear by Hannah Gold. Illustrated by Levi Pinfold (Harper Collins)

I think that it was Kentishbookboy who first recommended Hannah Gold's books to me and while I'm not sure if he has grown out of them now I was very excited to see that April was back and off on another adventure with Bear in Svalbard.

This time April manages to convince her dad to be part of the adventure from the beginning as they return to Bear Island to make sure 'her' bear is safe after reports that a polar bear has been shot and injured.

Even with parental approval the book is full of adventure, peril, excitement and a bear cub... While you have to suspend a little belief for the story to work it is a magical read from start to finish and like the best books gets its message across without being at all didactic.

Pinfold's illustrations make this book even more special and I really hope that Gold's books become modern classics - and not because polar bears have become extinct and this is the only way to find out more about them.

Thursday 5 October 2023

Micro review 15


The Figurine by Victoria Hislop (Headline)

I was very lucky to win an advance copy of this in a Twitter competition and it has to be said that I abandoned everything else and just got stuck straight in - I'd only been back from Greece a matter of weeks but I was already homesick for the people and place so this just ticked so many boxes!

I really enjoyed Hislop's sweeping history of Greece from 1941-1970s (Those Who Are Loved) told from a family perspective but I did find the ending abrupt, and it left me wanting to know a lot more about the military Junta rule of the 1970s.

The Figurine isn't quite a sequel to the earlier book in that all of the characters are new, but it does pretty much pick up historically from where Those Who Are Loved ended which was great.

In this novel we follow Helena first as a child where she spends summers with her maternal grandparents in Athens where she becomes fluent Greek speaker while observing the politics of the time without understanding them. Her family decide that it is too dangerous for her to continue these visits eventually, but while a career in the sciences beckons, Helena never forgets her Greek roots.

Life continues and Helena has the opportunity to return to Greece, first as a volunteer on an archaeological dig with her new boyfriend, and then thanks to an inheritance as an expat returning home and there discovering her family's past.

The title 'Figurine' refers to the second theme of the book and is about the topical subject of who owns ancient artefacts and the problem of their illegal trade.

I say topical as it was as I was reading The Figurine the story about the curator at the British Museum stealing items from the collection broke - sometimes books are incredibly timely and not written after the events to highlight a story!

I loved this book totally, I did spot the little twist in the tale coming, but this isn't a 'who dunnit' book, it is Helena's story and all of the events fit in totally with her narrative.

Another book for my best of 2023 list and I really need to re-read Hislop's earlier books to give myself that real Greek buzz as winter approaches!

Monday 18 September 2023

Micro review 14


Underneath the Archers by Graham Harvey (Unbound)

I think that regular readers of this blog, as well as those who know me on social media/in real life, will not be surprised to hear that my nerdiness stretches into all sorts of areas and that I am quite a fan of the radio soap opera The Archers.

I remember it being on the radio in the afternoons when I was a child, and I am sure that I can remember one specific afternoon sitting under the ironing board while the soap was on the radio - not an ideal place for a pre-schooler to play, sorry mum! Listening to the Sunday omnibus in bed as a student is also a fond memory.

More recently I dip in and out listening, but keep up to date by reading the synopses on the BBC webpage. When doing work experience with the BBC at the Mailbox in Birmingham I got to see the 'set' for the show - including the bar at The Bull. Sound effect props included an ironing board which felt very 'on brand' for me!

Anyhow, back to the book. Graham Harvey was the long time agricultural adviser to the soap, as well as a writer and storyline creator, and his book is an enjoyable mix of titbits from the show, thoughts on farming and its future, some rural history of England, and also some really interesting family history.

It is a niche book but it was a little bit like listening to The Archers - wonderfully comforting and like spending time with a friend you've not seen in a while.

Saturday 16 September 2023

Micro review 13


Fair Roasline by Natasha Solomons (Bonnier Books)

Being someone who has studied Shakespeare's plays in quite some detail I wasn't entirely sure about a speculative fiction based on Romeo and Juliet but it has to be said that the tagline:

Was the greatest ever love story a lie?

As someone who has always found Romeo and Juliet to be a bit creepy rather than a romantic tale I was interested enough to request a copy from NetGalley and I am pleased to say that I did enjoy the book.

Many people forget that at the very beginning of the play Romeo is smitten by Rosaline, not Juliet, and it is this romance that Solomons explores as it was just as 'forbidden' as the central one for Rosaline is Juliet's cousin and thus from the 'enemy' Capulet family.

The story stays faithful to the Shakespeare play (which he in turn had borrowed from someone else) for the large part , with the first half being about Rosaline's time with Romeo and then what happens as this relationship wanes and she is replaced by Juliet. The big twist however is that rather than having Romeo roughly the same age as Juliet here he is much older and very much a predator (which fits with my idea of the play's plot being creepy). His romantic words and wooing become incredibly uncomfortable reading as you hear him say them to multiple women/girls.

The parts where the novel  branches furthest away from the play were slightly less credible for me - although perfectly within keeping for the period in which the play is set - but overall I really liked this 'what if' version of the story.

Wednesday 13 September 2023

Distracted - or another apology for no blogging!


A bit of a gap in blog posts again - and to be honest a bit of a gap in my reading during August, and some of this is because of the new member in the Norfolkbookworm house...

Sadly we lost Mr Norfolkbookworm's aunt recently which was a bit of a shock to us all, but we are pleased that we've been able to rehome her much loved cat - Sooty.

It has been a long time since we had a cat and we're very happy that he's settling in well, although last week's heatwave was hard on a black cat.

It has meant that a lot of the time I usually spend reading has been spent with the cat, although as the weather turns again I am hoping that he will become my afternoon companion/hot water bottle as I catch up with all those books waiting for me...

Friday 4 August 2023

Micro review 12


Disobedient by Elizabeth Freemantle (Michael Joseph)

I've just been lucky enough to spend a long weekend in Venice, surrounded by wonderful architecture and art so when I was looking for a book to read on my journey home Disobedient seemed the obvious choice from my Kindle.

This is a retelling of Artemesia Gentileschi's early years as she learns her craft and is caught up in the politics, intrigues and scandals of Rome in the early 1600s. Her life was quite shocking and she was subject to some terrible abuses but overcame them all to become a wonderful, if often overlooked, artist.

Rome 1611.

A jewel-bright place of change, with sumptuous new palaces and lavish wealth on display. A city where women are seen but not heard.

Artemisia Gentileschi dreams of becoming a great artist. Motherless, she grows up among a family of painters - men and boys. She knows she is more talented than her brothers, but she cannot choose her own future. She wants to experience the world, but she belongs to her father and will belong to a husband.

As Artemisia patiently goes from lesson to lesson, perfecting her craft, she also paints in private, recreating the women who inspire her, away from her father's eyes.

Until a mysterious tutor enters her life. Tassi is a dashing figure, handsome and worldly, and for a moment he represents everything that a life of freedom might offer. But then the unthinkable happens.

In the eyes of her family, Artemisia should accept her fate. In the eyes of the law, she is the villain.

But Artemisia is a survivor. And this is her story to tell.

The book definitely evoked Rome of the time, and I could clearly 'see' the action (and smell it too, such was the power of the writing) but at times I felt that the writing was too Twenty-first century and I did step out of the period setting.

I'd have loved this book to have been longer and contained more about the art and methods used - maybe not quite as detailed as Irving Stone's The Agony and the Ecstasy but heading this way! Once I read the author's notes at the end I understood the authorial choices more and came to admire the book in an extra way.