Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Proof is in the pudding

Till We Eat Again - Judy Gruen

I've had a few more success's with proofs downloaded from Net Galley since the last time I posted about the service.

Till We Eat Again was one of these.  This is an autobiographical account of a woman (Judy) who needs to lose 15lb before a special occasion and how she tries all manner of diets, exercise plans and holistic treatments in that goal.

As someone who has a love of food and a few(!) pounds to lose I loved this book.  Judy is unfailingly honest throughout the book - whether it is the revolt form her family at the food she is making them eat or the lapses she experiences when faced with a cinnamon bun.

I am someone with a healthy scepticism for the majority of the holistic and 'miracle' weight loss cures and at first I was nervous when Judy started exploring these but it quickly became apparent that she also shared these thoughts and that nothing tried made her change this opinion.

Unsurprisingly the conclusion of the book is that the only things that can help you lose weight are sensible eating and exercise. Not a shock to hear but a very entertaining book to have my prior knowledge confirmed.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Say Cheese

Here we go again...another post full of excuses as to why I'm not reviewing a book!

Once more my reading has slowed down, however this time not because I have got a reader's block or even my regular problem of getting stuck on a reading group novel. 

I've just been too busy to read!

I am studying again and a lot of the books I've been reading and dipping into are books relevant to the course - a Diploma in Drama.  The current units are on Shakespeare and so I'm reading a few plays, critical studies of the man and history books about the age in which he lived and wrote.  The current programmes on the television have been very helpful as well.

In addition to this I went on a photography experience day a little while ago. 

This was a truly wonderful experience.  A whole day was spent with a professional photographer, Paul Sawer, at the Suffolk Owl Sanctuary, we got up close and personal to a wide range of birds of prey and saw two flying shows.  All through the day we were guided with our shots and camera use and I've been blown away by my results from the day.  I am generally best at landscape shots but I could easily see myself wanting to do some more wildlife shoots like this.

Cobweb the male barn owl in flight

I was very pleased with the how my equipment behaved, I was using a super-zoom lens on this day and while it is a great lens for me to take out and about it doesn't always get the best reviews.  However I found that all my pictures needed was a little cropping to get rid of the tiny bits of lens visible in the tightly zoomed shots. The auto-focus and image stabilising worked a treat. Of course I've come away wanting a new lens specially for this type of photography but realistically I know that I don't need one AND would have problems carrying it about if I did!

My favourite shots of the day can be found on my Flickr stream but I can't resist putting just a few more here!

Three week old eagle owl chicks

Swooping red kite

Bataleur eagle

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Pipped at the post

 Sadly the Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library didn't win the Library of the Year award on Monday night.  We've shrugged off the disappointment and have started working on projects that will hopefully mean that 2013 is our year.

It was a shame we couldn't have added this award to Norwich as it would have been the icing on the literary cake as last Thursday it was announce that Norwich had become the first English UNESCO City of Literature.

We did lose to another City of Literature, Edinburgh, so there is no shame in it!

Dystopian Australian Fiction

A Small Free Kiss in the Dark by Glenda Millard

A while ago a friend in publishing sent me an advance copy of a new teen novel to read. To my shame the book slipped down my to-be-read pile and it wasn't until I got a small twitter nudge that I dug the book back out.

I read it from cover to cover on a train journey to London a few weeks ago and it has really stayed with me since I finished it.

I've read quite a bit of Australian kid lit, not trying to be trite but "some of my favourite authors are from Australia" and books from the antipodes can sneak their way to the top of the pile just due to this quirk.

A Small Free Kiss in the Dark was different from the start as it is all about a destructive war, about what we never find out, and the whole idea of bombings, barricades and military fighting in Sydney really stuck out.

I was quickly swept up into the story and read through the book quickly - although I can't recall a lot of the fine details now. It did move me hugely and the twists were unusual and the story a strange mixture of simplistic children's book and hard hitting war novel. It is the unusual premise of a book set in an area that I've visited but in a world that I can't associate with that location that has stayed with me.

On finishing the book I was instantly reminded of the unsettled feelings I experienced as a teenager on reading Louise Lawrence's Children of the Dust or Robert Swindell's Brother in the Land.  These books were about living in the aftermath of nuclear war (a still real prospect during my childhood) and it was the fear that, although unlikely, the happenings in the books *could* come true that haunted me.
A Small Free Kiss in the Dark has that same foreboding - as we are in a time when terrorism or economic crises could cause society to disintegrate quickly and entirely - and that it what has made this book stick in my memory.

As dystopian books are all the rage at the moment this book might do well, but I found it very unsettling as it was too realistic, unlike many of the Hunger Games'esque books that are all the rage.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Theatrical Interlude 5 (2012)

What the Butler Saw, Vaudeville Theatre, May 2012.

This was a surprise addition to my theatre calendar for 2012: an unexpected trip to London for work, some lieu time and a May Madness Offer from Lastminute.com all worked in my favour and after a lot of deliberation I decided to see Orton's What the Butler Saw.

I found the play to be a very full on experience from the instant the curtain rose and it wasn't until the 2nd act that I felt I had got in my stride to go with the humour, I almost felt that a 'warm up act' was needed like you get at some stand up comedy shows just so that you are in the right mindset for when the action starts.

Like most of the plays I've seen so far this year this was truly a comedy (nay farce) and I enjoyed the performances of all six actors immensely, as to be expected Tim McInnerny is brilliant but I found Omid Djalili's style of delivery spot on for his role.

I knew nothing about the play before seeing it which was a delight for as the plot became more and more farcical I was swept up and eager to see how it was all going to resolve itself.

I can't say that this was the best play I've seen, and to be honest it would probably fall in the bottom half of a ranked list. I can't quite put my finger on why, I liked the actors, the acting and the scenery. I also laughed a lot - especially in the second half. I'll also never again be able to look at a statue of Winston Churchill without sniggering. There's even full frontal (good looking) male nudity. But...

Perhaps a comedy/farce like this needs to be a shared experience? I saw this alone and sat in an area of the theatre that was sparsely populated...

It was great for the £10 I paid for the ticket but not one I want to see again, or that I can put my hand on my heart and recommend. I am left wondering if I shouldn't have paid the same money and gone to see The King's Speech.

When I saw the play it was still in preview, and it isn't until May 16th that the press night is held and it is officially 'open'.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Theatrical Interlude 4 (2012)

Hay Fever, Noel Coward Theatre, May 2012.

This theatrical trip was nearly a disaster.  Once more there were huge rail problems on the day of the outing, however this time I'd always planned on going the slower, indirect route and consequently missed all of the trouble.  It was a good feeling to outwit the trains for once.

I'd not seen any Noel Coward plays before this one. I've seen some of the films he scripted and read a few of the plays but I wasn't sure what to expect, especially as reviews have been so mixed.

I loved it.  It was laugh out loud funny, the cast worked as a whole, the set and the costumes were fantastic.

When we arrived at the theatre we were expecting to be seated in limited view seats in the Upper Circle however as we tried to get in to the theatre we found we'd been upgraded to the fifth row of the Dress Circle in seats that were far more expensive than the ones we had paid for.  Sadly the reason for this was because there weren't enough people in the audience to fill the Dress Circle let alone that and the Upper... I hope it was just a quiet day because the play is very good and deserves to be seen.

There are a lot of famous people in the play - Lindsay Duncan, Jeremy Northam and Olivia Colman being the biggest names, but it wasn't about them at all - it was a true ensemble piece without a weak link. The acting is quite over the top, but only as the script demands and the physical comedy was just as funny as the script. I shall now be looking for more Coward plays to go and see.

The lasting impression of the play - I really want some silk pyjamas and a silk dressing gown to swan around the house in - the elegant cigarette holder is an optional extra.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Lest we Forget

War Diaries, published by Simon and Schuster and the Imperial War Museum

I've written in other places about my fascination with the diary format and I've reviewed quite a few books set during war time.  Now two of my favourite genres have collided with these new books from the Imperial War Museum:

A Chaplain at Gallipoli: The Great War Diaries of Kenneth Best
A Nurse at the Front: The First World War Stories of Sister Edith Appleton

Kenneth Best was, as the title says, an army Chaplain in WW1 and he served in Egypt and then at Gallipoli. After being invalided home from this battle front he continued as a Chaplain on the Western Front.  He is very frank in his diaries, he criticises and questions constantly and unlike a lot of his fellow priests he spent a lot of time right on the front line and got a reputation for bravery from the men he ministered to.

While I knew that the Gallipoli campaign was ill fated, badly planned and ultimately a disaster this book with the full explanation of Kenneth's comments really brought this home.  I really didn't realise how many British and Indian soldiers were involved, I did have the idea that it was almost a solely ANZAC affair.

Edith Appleton was a career nurse with the Queen Alexandra's Imperial Nursing Service and served in France throughout World War One.  I knew more about this aspect of the war, Vera Brittain's Testament of Youth was the first memoir of WW1 that I read and she was a nurse in France during some of the war. This lead me on to other nursing memoirs and novels.

What I wasn't aware of was the animosity between the various nursing services and especially towards the VADs such as Vera Brittain.  In most of the books about this era that I've read the VADs have been pretty much the equivalent of the 'brave Tommies' who could do no wrong...Edith's diary certainly gives another view!

There are already another two books planned in this series and I for one can't wait to find out more about these lesser known theatres of war. I'm personally hoping for a more personal account of the naval experience of WW1 but I know I'll read what ever is published.