Thursday, 31 December 2009

So that was 2009

So that was 2009.

It was a pretty mixed bag of a year both personally and in a reading sense and while it did have some high spots I can't say I'll be sorry to see the back of it. 2010 is already looking like it will be exciting and so I shall look forwards not back.

Well I will once I've listed my top books of 2009!

Now like many book bloggers out there I am going to cheat horribly on this. I have two Top 5 lists, one for books aimed at adults and one for books aimed at teenagers! Some of them I have bogged about already, some of them I read before I started blogging. Thank heavens I've kept a reading diary though!

Norfolkbookworm's Top 5 Adult Books (in no particular order)
Click on the authors' names to be taken to their homepage or a review of the book

American Wife - Curtis Sittenfeld

American Adulterer - Jed Mercurio

19th Wife - David Ebershof

The Rights of the Reader - Daniel Pennac

The Lord Edward Corinth Mysteries - David Roberts

Norfolkbookworm's Top 5 Books (ostensibly) for Children
Again click on the author name to be taken to either a review of the book or an author website.

Revolver - Marcus Sedgwick

Love, Aubrey - Suzanne LaFleur

Stolen - Lucy Christopher

Saving Raphael - Leslie Wilson

Devil's Kiss - Sarwat Chadda

So there it is, my top 10 books of the year. A mixed bag. My top non fiction titles had to be Sisters in Arms, Paradise Lost: Smyrna, It's a Dons Life and Pompeii.

Well I suppose that as it has taken me well over 3 hours to go through my reading diary and narrow my choices down 2009 can't have been such a bad year book wise. Here's hoping that 2010 will be just as good!

Sunday, 20 December 2009

All I Want for Christmas... my reading 'mojo' back.

Sometimes it takes a blog post from someone else to highlight a problem, and my friend Sam over at Books, Time and Silence has really hit the nail on the head. Leaving book retail has really changed my reading habit.

I've been keeping a reading diary for nearly 10 years - incidentally the only diary I've managed to keep - and on average I've tended to read about 350-400 books a year. Many of them were children's books (although I never counted picture books), lots of them were books I'd re-read but many of them were new books for that year. I am blessed with the ability to read fast (this can be a curse on journeys and holidays when my luggage is always twice as heavy due to the sheer quantity of reading matter) but even with that quantity of books I do retain the plots. Ask my husband he has tested me!

However this year I left the world of book retail, okay I now work in a library, but like Sam I no longer see the book on its journey from publisher's catalogue to customer's hand. I am now a browser not a hunter. This year I've read a scant 250 and many of them were comforting rereads at times when life has been more stressful. I know that this still seems an awful lot of books to have read, but for me it is a significant drop and I am having to remind myself frequently of the rules and I am trying not to feel guilty about this. It isn't even as if I have Sam's reason that the books I have read have been 'harder' than usual and have slowed me down.

Oh well my Christmas list was full of book requests and we have recently treated ourselves to this which I am rapidly filling with books so hopefully in 2010 I will rediscover my reading mojo and a whole heap of new authors!

And yes I will be jumping on the blog bandwagon and be posting my books of the year soon!

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

On going saga of Adrian Mole

Adrian Mole: The Prostrate Years

I've been a fan of Adrian Mole since I was a teenager, in theory we don't have a lot in common -I'm female for a start but from the very beginning I was hooked. In recent years there have been additions to the series and they didn't live up to my memories. This one bucks the trend.

I really couldn't put it down, it was well past midnight before I realised that I had to stop reading and I was up again just past six frantically trying to finish it before work.

Adrian's life is still overly complicated, he is dogged by bad luck and makes some truly diabolical choices but this book has the sparkle and wit that I found in the first two books all those years ago.

All the old characters seem back on form too. Pandorra is still around but seems to have lost some of her sharp edges, is she being nice to Adrian or does she want something? Adrian's parents infidelities are still causing ripples - will we ever know all that they got up to? Adrian himself is still convinced that he will become a famous literary figure before long, but is time for this ambition runningout faster than he thought?

Not all of these questions are answered in this book, and for once I am hoping that there is a sequel sooner rather than later.

The thing that made me sit up and think the most though is that since I first read this I've imagined Adrian as being from a totally different generation than me - doing the maths here he is infact only 7 3/4 years older than I am.

This is a fun comic read, but it has enough underlying seriousness to really keep you hooked even when you think that Adrian has gone one step too far.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Guilty Pleasures.


Even the most unobservant blog follower will have noticed that it has been nearly a month since my last post. I've been reading during that time and as ever some books have been good, some bad and shock horror there is one that I am actually reading really slowly because it is so detailed and beautifully written that I am savouring every page.

However I feel slightly guilty about the bulk of my recent reading as it is a genre that is really looked down upon.

The celebrity biography.

There I've said it. In a public place. Now I'll go for a cleansing shower.

No I won't. I refuse to feel ashamed of my reading choices. This time of year the bookshops are full of s'leb biogs. They aren't always very good, they aren't always very illuminating and sometimes they aren't even very enjoyable. Yet every year I am drawn to read at least a few of them.

The ones I've perused this year have been pretty run of the mill (and no I'm not going to open myself up to more ridicule by actually telling you whose they were) but they've made me smile and have made those first few weeks after the clocks change seem far far brighter.

I've had my fix for now tho' and I'm back on the hard stuff, more of which to follow.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Oops I Did It Again.

Sequels (again)

I did it again. I read an 'official' sequel to a childhood favourite. Why do I keep doing this to myself?

I've loved the stories and characters from Winnie the Pooh for years. Tigger is my favourite, and I did queue for an hour at Disney for the chance to meet him. I'm not even that bothered by the Disney version of the characters although I do prefer the original illustrations by E H Shepard.

I knew that there was an authorised sequel to the original books coming but having been disappointed by sequels already this year I hadn't pre-ordered the book anywhere except the library.

Wise move. I won't be buying it.

Again I'm not sure if it is because I am reading it as an adult but there was something missing. Magic I think. The stories were too knowing, the wonder, and the imagination, was missing. Milne would never have had Rabbit talking about the Romans or Christopher Robin referring to the Trojan Horse. The character would have made up far better references in the original, the biggest 'enemy' in this book is the thesaurus - it doesn't quite measure up to the Heffalump does it?

The illustrations are also just a touch too modern, I can't quite put my finger on it but they are just not quite *it*.

The best chapter was the one where the characters learn to play cricket and Tigger scores 27 runs. Two of my favourite things mixing - hurrah.

In summary I suppose that there is nothing wrong with the book, the stories read pretty well and the illustrations capture the words pretty well, it is just when the introduction, sorry Exposition, is the best bit you know the book isn't quite as magical as you'd hoped.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Dangerous Places

Airports are dangerous places, not because they involve huge security and airplanes but because of the bookshops.

If you are addicted to reading you stand no chance of escaping without buying something. Even if you know that you have a book, a spare book and a just-in-case book in your hand luggage there is always that underlying fear that if there is a delay you'll run out of reading material.

Then in the UK there is the added attraction of the airport edition. Who can resist a paperback version of the brand new hardback you've been coveting on high street?

Well I certainly can't and on a recent trip I indulged in new books on both legs of the journey, and unlike on so many previous occasions I actually regret neither book.

Leaving the UK I treated myself to Sadie Jones' Small Wars an it kept me engrossed throughout the 8 hour flight, although a book that has a tendency to make you weepy is probably best not read in public.

However it was the book I chose on impulse in Canada that was the real treat - Stuart McLean's Vinyl Cafe. I was drawn mostly by the appearance of this book and then the back cover blurb but it really didn't disappoint.
I'll use the description from the website to explain more fully the attraction:

The Vinyl Cafe stories are about Dave, owner of the second hand record store, and they are collected in books and on CD. The stories also feature Dave's wife, Morley, their two children, Sam and Stephanie, and assorted friends and neighbours.

The motto of Dave's store - and of the radio show - is "We May Not Be Big, But We're Small".

The books contain lots of short vignettes about Dave and his friends and family, they are gentle, heart warming stories which I am not surprised to find started life as radio broadcasts. This is in fact the Canadian version of Garrison Keillor's tales about Lake Wobegone and in my opinion is far superior to the American version.

Books in Canada are not that cheap but I do feel that this was certainly money well spent and I am now hooked on the series, the podcast and the website. Luckily there are a few volumes in circulation in the Norfolk library service but I can see that these books will be featuring highly on my Christmas list this year.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

70 Years On

Kisses on a Postcard - Terence Frisby

I've read a lot about this book in various places and I've been waiting for my library reservation to arrive for a couple of weeks. What better way to spend the weekend - curled up savouring a long awaited book.

It didn't quite work out like that. This book was so good I tore through it, there was no savouring to be had!

What drew me to this one was that Terence Frisby acknowledges that nearly 70 years on there is no way that he can remember everything accurately but that this is the memoir as he remembers it.

Terence and his brother were very lucky in that they struck gold with their foster parents, many didn't. This is a happy memoir and even the sad occurrences are threaded with humour.

I think that what I liked most was how the narrative is all linked together with train and railway anecdotes. Not only did it help the reader travel through the book it was a nice way for Terence to remain in touch with his parents back in Kent, as Dad was an essential railway worker.

I did want to savour this book but I couldn't. I do now want my own copy to add to an already large collection of books about the Second World War.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Of Sequels and Prequels

Wishing for Tomorrow - Hilary McKay.

I think that gods of reading are conspiring against me at the moment and it isn't a nice feeling.

I love the idea of sequels and prequels to my favourite books and series, they aren't always strictly in keeping with the originals but I still leap on them as soon as they are published. I am usually disappointed. Very rarely can a book be as good as the original.

When sequels to classic books are written then too much of the modern world creeps in and they books just don't have the right 'feel' to them. Often they descend into pastiche. Yet I still read them all.

I had high high hopes for Wishing for Tomorrow. Hilary McKay's previous books have all been wonderful. So good that I even buy them in hardback on publication because I know I will want to reread them many times. A Little Princess was also my favourite Frances Hodgson Burnett book as a child. What could be a better combination?

Well in all honesty pretty much anything.

Wishing for Tomorrow had none of the wit that McKay usually provides and none of the magic that Hodgson Burnett gives. It had no depth of style, content or character and didn't, for me, evoke any of the original at all. I know that as an adult you are never going to have the same experience reading a children's book as you have when you read it as a child but I recently reread A Little Princess and it still moved me. I fell headlong into the story and really felt I was living at Miss Minchin's Academy with Sarah and co. Wishing for Tomorrow didn't do this, I felt like a bystander watching a mediocre entertainer, I didn't want to keep reading but embarrassment kept me going.

I know that every time I read a prequel or sequel I am a little disappointed but this was in a different league. I think that perhaps the problem is that A Little Princess really didn't need a sequel. It was perfect as it stood.

I don't like being this negative but I was really underwhelmed with this one. I will continue to buy and read prequels and sequels as some of them are excellent, for example the Chalet School continuations published by Girls Gone By Publishing and the excellent Before Green Gables by Budge Wilson, but I don't think I will ever look forward to them with such enthusiasm again.

Monday, 31 August 2009

Is it a bird?

The Girl Who Could Fly - Victoria Forester.

My plans to indulge in the Booker Longlist went awry this weekend when I failed to be at home when the delivery man tried to bring me my parcel. (I was a bit cross about this as it also has Mr Bookworm's anniversary present in it - oh well better late than never!)

Instead I lost myself in a book that really surprised me. The Girl Who Could Fly was included in a big box of random books and I knew nothing about it, and the first few chapters really led me astray. I thought I was going to be reading just the sort of book that cram my shelves - an old fashioned American adversity tale.

Piper McCloud is different from all of the other children around and to protect her from teasing she has been homeschooled by her loving but strict parents. I assumed that this was going to be a tale of overcoming adversity and making good in the community after Piper saves the day in some dramatic way - and this isn't a criticism I love tales like this!

However Piper is special because she can fly. Unaided. Lots of people are interested in this and once Piper lets her talent be seen in public many people try to exploit her. Piper decides that for her safety, and that of her parents she will go away to school and learn how to use her special powers safely.

And this is where the book takes a sharp right angle from expectation and becomes a gripping thriller with great sci-fi undertones.

I love being surprised by books, especially ones as well written and compelling as this one. It would have been a good book had it followed the lines I'd assigned it, it became a great book with the twist.

The copy I read was an American hardback and I think that the cover helped misguide me some what. the book will be out in the UK in January 2010 and the cover is going to be very different:

I'm not sure that I'd have necessarily chosen it from a pile with this cover and I don't think the story would have surprised me quite as much as it did.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Who Knew?

Who Knew?
OK so I am as surprised as the next person - working in a library and being surrounded by books all day has actually cut my reading!

There is a reason for this. I am spending a lot of my days reading training manuals and library policies so that in theory I know what I am doing. This means that by the time I get home my brain is fried and it is all I can do to concentrate on daft comedy reruns or gentle nature programmes.

This week I have felt the fog start to lift and I've started to think about what to read next. I'm thinking about looking at the Booker Longlist and tackling a couple from there, before that I think a nice soothing children's book is called for...

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Right and wrong?

Evil? - Timothy Carter

This book was delivered earlier this week, and to be honest I had forgotten that I'd ordered it. To celebrate my new job I went on a little bit of a book buying spree. The books have been trickling in slowly and I guess I must have read a review somewhere to highlight this one. Once it arrived it instantly went to the top of my to read pile.

Stuart is growing up in a small community in Canada, as a whole the town is pretty religious but open minded and when Stu found the courage to announce his sexuality he was accepted fully. However there are now less benign leaders in the community and while homosexuality is tolerated other 'sins' become crimes and hatred, violence and persecution follow.

Stuart meets some true friends in the course of his journey and whilst never preaching this book has a lot to say about many things, especially tolerance and taking things at face value.

This book is not perfect, I've read the last two chapters a couple of times now and I am still a little hazy on exactly what happened, but as whole I think that this book is an important addition to the young adult market and I hope that it finds a UK publisher very very soon. It is one of those rare books that could easily be used in schools to make many valid points whilst at the same time be interesting to young adults.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

To read or not to read.

The Rights of the Reader - Daniel Pennac

I've just had three months not working. That has meant three months in which I could read all day without feeling guilty - well after doing the house work and job hunting of course. I had lots of plans back in May. I was going to catch up on my 'to read' pile, I was going to read all of those neglected classics and I was going to read some of those serious novels that I've been avoiding.

Instead I've haunted the library at least twice weekly, I've read all manner of teen novels, re-visited old favourites and indulged in an orgy of chick-lit. My to read pile hasn't diminished at all and the closest I've been to a classic was my umpteenth reread of Little Women. I should be rejoining the working world next week and now the guilt has set in that I haven't read all that I should have done.

In one of my frequent library visits I found Pennac's book and all of a sudden any guilt has vanished.

The Rights of the Reader
is not like many books about books and reading. Pennac's point is that as soon as you start studying books, or even thinking about them in too much detail, then the pleasure vanishes. His point is that reading is fun, not a chore or a guilty pleasure and that everyone has the right to read (or not to read).
This book was a timely find for me, reading is one of my greatest pleasures and so I should read what I want, not what I think I should be reading. It doesn't matter if I am reading this year's Booker Shortlist or the Very Hungry Caterpillar so long as I am enjoying the book.

I am going to make myself a large copy of Pennac's ten 'rights' and keep them close to hand and then I am going to reread Anne of Green Gables - without feeling guilty.

The Rights of the Reader.

1. The right not to read
2. The right to skip
3. The right not to finish a book
4. The right to read it again
5. The right to read anything
6. The right to mistake a book for real life
7. The right to read anywhere
8. The right to dip in
9. The right to read out loud
10. The right to be quiet

Friday, 31 July 2009

Smoking Gun

Revolver - Marcus Sedgwick

Once more I've been reading a lot but not finding much that is worth writing about. Nothing bad but just nothing outstanding. Until this one.

The very first author that I met, and incidentally the very first event I ever organised, was Marcus Sedgwick. His novel, Floodland, had just been published and with its local setting it was an obvious choice to appeal to the Norfolkbookworm. Marcus was a really nice guy and ever since then I've followed his career with interest.

As a rule I prefer his straight historical titles and until this week I think I'd have listed Blood Red, Snow White was my favourite but now there is Revolver...

The action in this short novel takes place in just 24 hours, although flashbacks fill in more of the plot. It is a tense, atmospheric thriller that conjures up the arctic circle instantly. Not a word is wasted and even though I read this in a sunny garden in July I was shivering as if I was living through a blizzard myself.

This really is a book that I can't talk about without risk of spoiling it, so much happens in such a little space of time.
Sig is sitting with his father's corpse awaiting help when a figure from the family's past reappears. The newcomer is terrifying and ruthless and claims that Sig's father owes him something and that he will stop at nothing to get it back. Sig might have a solution but is it the right one and just what has his father been doing?

The revolver of the title is very important but short of emphasising that this is not a book that encourages the use of guns I really can say no more.

Sedgwick is talented writer and this is one of his best. I hope that it makes it onto the short list for many prizes and is not overlooked for being short book. The best things often come in small packages.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Back home, but then what?

Moon Dust - Andrew Smith

At 16.10 GMT on July 24th 1969 Apollo 11 splashed down safely. Kennedy's dream of putting a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth had been realised. What next?

There were another 6 moon missions, five successful, and by the end of 1972 twelve men had walked on the lunar surface. So few people to experience such an out of this world experience. What happened next?

A few years ago writer Andrew Smith realised that there were only 9 moon walkers left and that if someone wanted to find out their stories it had to be done soon. The resulting book was Moon Dust. For the most part it is a fascinating read, Smith interviewed 8 of the remaining men and tells their post-Apollo life in a vivid way. He is a little struck by hero worship, but then so am I, this isn't my beef with the book.
My problem is that Moon Dust is part social history, part biography and part autobiography. And I don't want to read about Andrew Smith. I want to read about my heroes.

It is a small gripe and the book brings us up to date on all of the Apollo astronauts and finishes the story nicely, it should appeal to most people who like to know 'what happens next' and reads very well. I just find Smith intrudes too much at times.

This year I have been very lucky to have met some of these incredible men. Some I've just seen at a distance and others I've had the chance to speak to. I hope that in another 10 years we are looking forward to meeting the next generation of moon walkers as well as celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first landing.

Norfolk Bookworm and Charlie DukeNorfolkbookworm and Scott Carpenter

Norfolkbookworm and Jim Lovell

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Lest we forget.

Fallen Astronauts - Burgess, Doolan & Vis

Space travel is not without risk, this is something that all astronauts, cosmonauts and taikonauts know and accept when they start their training.

Before the launch of Apollo 11 eight American astronauts had lost their lives as well as about the same number of Soviets (the USSR space program was more secretive that the American thus it is harder to be 100% certain), since then more space travellers of several nations have also died.

At the Kennedy Space Center in Florida there is a beautiful memorial to those who have died whilst being members of the astronaut corps:

and a plaque was also left on the moon by the crew of Apoll0 15 to commemorate their fallen friends:

This book remembers them all in a way that is very moving. They are portrayed as humans, not super-humans and no excuses are given for how they died. If it was a problem with the space programs this is listed if it was human error it is listed.

These lost space travellers live again in this book, the stories are sad but the one thing that comes through is that everyone learns from every death and the same mistakes are not repeated. There is yet hope that one day we will return to the moon and travel further.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Women in space.

Almost Astronauts - Tanya Lee Stone

It wasn't until the launch of Space Shuttle Challenger in June 1983 that America let a woman go into space. (The Soviet Union launched Valentina Tereshkova in to space in 1963.) However way back at the start of the Mercury space program in 1958 there were 13 women willing to undertake the training in order to fly in space.

This book honours all the women of the American space program, but concentrates on the lives of the 'Mercury 13' who were perhaps not treated as well as they should have been. The stories told here prove that they were just as much the Right Stuff as their male counterparts and it was just society that kept them grounded.

Since their time women have gone on to pilot and command the Space Shuttle and also to command the International Space Station. If it wasn't for trail blazers like the 13 who knows if this would be the case?

Again this book was originally written for children but the eye witness accounts and the photographs make this just as interesting for adults to read

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

One Small Step...

First Man: The Life of Neil Armstrong - James Hansen

Hundreds of millions of people around the world watched Neil Armstrong take his first step out of the lunar module (Eagle) on to the surface of the moon at 02.56 GMT on July 21st 1969.

Since that moment Neil Armstrong has avoided the being in the limelight as much as is possible for a real American hero. Instead of living off of his fame Armstrong has buried himself in life as an academic. (And who can blame him when even his barber will sell his hair clippings to memorabilia collectors?)

Unlike his crew mates Armstrong has not written his autobiography, however in 2005 he did allow James Hansen to publish an authorised biography. Hansen talked to friends and family who normally remain silent and has produced a very thorough account of Armstrong's life.

First Man is by far the longest book about the Apollo 11 crew and is crammed full of details about every aspect of Armstrong's life, with a heavy bias on the technological aspects. This emphasis makes the book a more challenging read than those by Aldrin and Collins but as so little is written by or about Armstrong that is actually authorised and accurate it is worth reading if you are interested - just to get an idea of who he actually is.

Monday, 20 July 2009

To Infinity...

Magnificent Desolation - Buzz Aldrin

Buzz Aldrin stepped on to the surface of the moon twenty minutes after his commander on July 21st and while he claims to have no problems with this you really do have to wonder once you've read any of his books.

Aldrin wrote his first autobiography Return to Earth only four years after the moon landings. At the time he was battling depression and alcohilism as well as trying to come to terms with walking on the moon. Once you've walked on another planet where can you go from there?

To tie in with the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11 he has written a new autobiography. This one concentrates far more on his life since 1969 but in parts is a re-write of his earlier book (and life?).

This new volume Magnificent Desolation was a far more enjoyable read, it is certainly a book about the man and not the mission but was interesting throughout. It had flashed of humour and in it Aldrin takes far more responsibility for himself than he did in the first book. I am pleased that 40 years on he does seem to have found a balance and happiness in his life.

Oh and yes Buzz Lightyear in the Toy Story movies is named after Aldrin!

Sunday, 19 July 2009

The Third Man

Carrying the Fire - Michael Collins

There have been many books written about the Apollo 11 mission, some shortly after the success and many more in the 40 years since. This is reissue of an autobiography first published in 1974.

Collins is the often over-looked third member of the Apollo 11 crew. While Armstrong and Aldrin landed on the moon he remained in the command module awaiting their return, knowing that if anything went wrong on the lunar surface he would have to return to Earth alone.

This book is a stunning read, Collins comes across as a very humble and down-to-earth guy. He mixes personal details, mission details and a some technical details in a way that makes the story fascinating and even the most un-mathematical, un-scientific person (me!) can follow the whole story and understand exactly why the missions were so incredible.

I've been lucky enough to meet several astronauts in the past year but I'd travel across continents for the chance to meet Collins.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Go Team Moon

How 400 000 People Landed Apollo 11 on the Moon

Aldrin, Armstrong and Collins have said from the very beginning that they were the smallest part of the Apollo 11 mission and that most of the credit was due to the 400,000 other people who were essential workers on the Apollo Program.

This hardback picture book, written originally for children, uses NASA transcripts, archive material and pictures taken by the Apollo 11 crew to create a full picture of just how many people were integral to the landing.

This is a wonderful book championing the oft over looked 'back room' boys who worked so hard in the 1960s to achieve Kennedy's goal.