Sunday, 31 August 2014

Greek Delight?

The Sunrise by Victoria Hislop

proof supplied by Headline and the Reading Agency

When an email dropped into my work inbox offering me the chance to apply for an advance copy of Victoria Hislop's new novel I leapt at it and was lucky enough to get one of the copies on offer.

I read The Island when it first came out and loved it - possibly because I knew the setting, mainly because it was a great book - and have read Hislop's new books avidly since.

The Sunrise is set in Cyprus in 1974, before, during and after the failed coup and the subsequent Turkish invasion and partition of the island.  Cleverly following two families and the way they are linked both sides of the argument are clearly put whilst at the same time making the point that there are very few differences between them. I knew that Cyprus was still a divided nation but not really how or why it happened and the idea of an abandoned city right in the middle of the divide was intriguing.

I'm not sure why but for me this book just didn't have the resonance of Hislop's others.  There didn't seem to be quite the depth of history that I've found in her other novels and also I never felt that I got to know any of the characters despite the length of the book. It all seemed very rushed and at the same time terribly plodding.

I do wonder if this is my fault as I started this book shortly after reading some quite 'heavy' literary fiction and perhaps I hadn't managed to switch my brain around for lighter reading.  Perhaps this really is holiday book and if I re-read it next year on a beach (possibly in Greece) I'll enjoy it more?

A recent photo of Famagusta - a modern ghost town

This is a review of an advance copy, the book is published in September 2014.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Reuniting with an old (book) friend

Best to Laugh by Lorna Landvik

Electronic proof provided from

I've been a fan of Landvik's writing since a friend pressed a copy of Angry Housewives Eating Bonbons into my hand many years ago.  Since then I've eagerly treated myself to her books on publication and sometimes even ordered the American versions because I just can't wait for the English edition.

I loved this new book although as it was in electronic proof form all the advance information I has was limited and it took me a little while to work out just when the book was set.

From the beginning the characters drew me in and I laughed and cried along with them.  Despite having little in common with any of them I could instantly identify with them and that is the mark of a good writer.

I loved escaping into this book on a day off and like other reviewers I found it blurred, in the right way, fiction and autobiography.  I think that the most shocking thing I found was just how little has changed for women in so many ways since the setting of the book. Women can't be funny, are still judged by their looks and are in a quest to stay young looking.

Brilliant book and now I must go and find Angry Housewives and reread an old favourite.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Theatre 2014: Review Twenty-Seven

Antony and Cleopatra, Shakespeare's Globe, London. August 2014.

This was a postponed play, Mr Norfolkbookworm and I had booked to see this in May but due to the illness of Clive Wood the performance we hoped to see was cancelled and we had to rebook.

It was worth the wait and I am really pleased that we did manage to fit a performance in before the end of the run.  From start to finish this was full of energy, laughter and fun with characters who were totally believable.

For me Antony was a perfect mix of upright soldier who tried to do his duty and a man who had his head turned by a clever, beautiful woman who was completely his equal rather than subservient to him.

Cleopatra was wily, clever, fun, intelligent and just a little insecure and the chemistry between them sizzled throughout.  However they didn't over shadow the rest of the cast, it still was a full ensemble piece that didn't have a weak link.

I'd read the play a little while ago and found myself unsure as to whether it could be labelled as a history, tragedy or comedy and I found that this production married all three aspects whilst leaning towards comedic end of the spectrum the most. There were moments of glorious over acting, thanks to the text not hammy performances, but these were balanced by the drama given to more serious scenes.

Performing battles at sea is never going to be easy on the stage at the Globe and I was very impressed by the portrayal of Actium using just two actors, two flags and some very clever rope work.  The outcome of the battle was very clear and this almost trapeze work made a complete change in pace to the play without spoiling the flow.

Without a doubt this has leapt into my top 5 plays of the year so far and if it hadn't just finished I would urge you all to see it. Luckily it has been filmed and will hopefully be out on DVD (or in the cinema) next year.

After the show there was a special event for Friends of the Globe and we got to spend 45 minutes in the beautiful Sam Wanamaker Theatre hearing 3/4 of the cast talking about the play and answering questions from the audience.
Rightly so a lot of the conversation involved praise for the cast and production but from my studying point of view it was really interesting to hear how the actors feel about performing at The Globe.  I've read a lot of critical work on the space but to hear from the horses mouth about how different, yet rewarding, the space is pleased me.  Many of the cast made the point that it really does make Shakespeare more accessible - as I've certainly found.

This made a perfect end to the afternoon and I think that next season I may try to get to more of these events and I am pleased that Rebecca and I have tickets to the pre-performance talk for Dr Scroggy's War in October.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Theatre 2014: Review Twenty-Six

Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, London. 2014.

In 2012 I saw the amazing Globe Theatre/Mark Rylance Richard III twice and in 2013 I saw Macbeth at the Trafalgar Studios by the same director.

Both of these things had made me wary about seeing this version of Richard III but the thought of seeing Martin Freeman in a serious role drew three of us to the theatre on a very hot August day.

When the cast appeared on stage wearing gas masks Rebecca and I groaned simultaneously - was this to be a total repeat of Macbeth where the characters were incomprehensible?  Happily they pulled this odd prop off straight away and one fear at least was allayed.

The play wasn't totally bad. Freeman was very good and it was easy to forget that it was 'him from Sherlock/ the Hobbit/ the Office' on stage.  He was also very good at the comic side of Richard's character but I never really got the malevolent side of him at all, even in the scene where he is brutally murdering his wife.  He wasn't particularly playing the role for laughs I don't think but the audience were certainly reacting as if it was total comedy throughout and I think this, and the staging lead me to feel this.

The staging was cluttered, the actors couldn't move around at all and I'm not really sure what the 1970s setting added to the play, in fact when Richard calls "my horse..." it seemed really stupid and nothing at all to do with the play.

I never connected with the action at all, I really might as well have been watching a film - something that I've not experienced at the theatre for a long time. It isn't as if the theatre itself is huge causing this disconnect, just my response to a flat production which seemed to be just like Macbeth complete with the opening of the back of the theatre to the main street to allow the soldiers to flood in and create an effect.

Rebecca had a lot of problem with the female characters adding nothing to the production, and reminded me of the power they had in the all male version. I can see what she means,I thought that in this version the director realised that the play was quite 'female-lite' and so had them on stage more but despite this they become indistinguishable from each other and to be honest a lot of the time were inaudible.

I wanted to like this production, I'd hoped that Macbeth was an aberration from a good director but I feel that his attempts to make Shakespeare 'hip' are hindering the plays which don't need fancy staging just good clear story telling.

This production has come in for some criticism from various sides saying that the audience are only going to see Martin Freeman and that they are spoiling theatre by not knowing how to behave.  I didn't find this at all, it was nice to see a younger audience at a play and there was no inappropriate applause or screaming.  I did find the humour overplayed in respect to the horror but that isn't necessarily the audience's fault.

I'm glad we saw Freeman on stage -it was nice to see that he can be more than a  bumbling side-kick but I'm afraid I won't be rushing back to any more Trafalgar Transformed productions and I'll be very wary of plays directed by Jamie Lloyd.

It was nice that our third theatre-going friend could make this play with us again, we've missed her! I just hope that she wasn't put off by our choice of play.  A third perspective after the production was really nice.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Theatre 2014: Review Twenty-Five

The Tiger Who Came to Tea, Lyric Theatre, London. August 2014.

Attending theatre events aimed at the under ten audience is becoming a real treat and I am so happy that my nephew is becoming an ardent theatre-goer.

Unlike the other shows I've attended with him this one was more typical of a children's play and I wasn't quite sure what to expect, especially after having read The Tiger Who Came to Tea out loud so many times at work story times it isn't one of my top 10 picture books (it is in the top 50 however).

This was, again, magical. There was lots and lots of audience participation but unlike at panto this was totally integral to the story and not at all cringe worthy.

The special effects were wonderful - watching the Tiger eat all of the food and the gasps of amazement that accompanied this made it worth the ticket price without a doubt!

The other thing that amazed me was the audience, a full theatre of children and yet the audience were so well behaved and much less disruptive than many at serious shows full of, supposedly, adults. Very few people fidgeted or left and I didn't hear/see a single mobile phone.

I was worried how such a short, and lets be honest quite old fashioned book, would work but it was brilliant.

Once more the programme was a copy of the original book - another plus for seeing children's theatre and I love the idea of using theatres in the morning (or in the afternoons on non-matinee days) to introduce a new generation to the delights of the theatre and the excitement of seeing plays in London's West End.

This was the last trip for a while I'll be making to the theatre with my nephew as he starts school in a month but I'm already looking out for plays suitable for him that will be on stage in the school holidays but shhhh... don't tell his mum!

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Summer Reading

Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando

Supplied by

Seeing this book on the Bookbridgr review scheme made me very happy - two of my favourite teen fiction tropes and by an author I already love.  I was a very happy Norfolkbookworm to find this on my doorstep over the weekend.

Lauren and Elizabeth are about to leave home for the first time to go to university, they've been assigned as room-mates for their first year and so spend the summer emailing each other in preparation for the autumn.

The book isn't deep, and there was little in it that related to my memories of leaving home for uni but I loved the book, the way that the girls are slowly trying to sort their lives out before a big change and how two such very different people can be so similar in many ways was wonderfully conveyed.  The characters felt real and their situations always realistic which is an achievement when as an adult you read light fiction aimed at teenagers.

I think that the mixture of sensible length emails interspersed with straight forward narration worked well, too often when reading epistolary fiction I lose interest because in reality very few people would write letters/emails that long every time.

I needed the escapism of something easier to read after a session of longer, complicated books and a big event at work - this fitted the bill completely and was a fun read.  I hope that we hear more from LoCo and EB as they were such strong voices.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Theatre 2014: Review Twenty-Four

Julius Caesar, Shakespeare's Globe, London. August 2014.

Another lovely day weather wise and this time spent in the almost outdoors theatre!

I was a little apprehensive at seeing this one as I've seen a production of Julius Caesar before and my review then was a little ambiguous and I think that this one will be too as I've decided that perhaps it doesn't matter what the staging is I'm just not keen on this play.

I was right in my assessment of preferring the Globe version, the involvement of the audience in the key scenes in the first half was brilliant, I felt really swept away in the Lupercalia celebrations and surprised when it all turned darker.

The scenes with Brutus and Mark Anthony were also wonderful, the famous "friends, Romans, countrymen" speeches really had impact and like at a public meeting I felt myself first believing one and then changing my mind and following the other - the power of speech.

The second half again, whilst still fast paced and well acted, just didn't carry me along in the same way and this is why I think the play itself isn't for me rather than any fault with any production.  A play of two halves, and from that I prefer the first!

This production continued with the bloody theme and I am beginning to wonder if the stage will be stained pink forever!
A play summed up Rebecca as "a bit stabby" which is possibly a slight understatement!

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Book a Day July

As promised/threatened last month I've once more summed up all of my answers to the #BookadayUK questions for July into one place.  Some of the questions are a bit similar to those in June but I did manage to respond to a few tweets on the day this month!

1st - A book that made you laugh out loud
The Suicide Shop by Jean Tuele, trans. Sue Dyson.  Deliciously black comedy, I found it a mix of The Addams Family and Pixar's Ratatouille.

2nd - Favourite SF/Fantasy novel for world UFO day
Easier to pick authors than specific books as so many are series rather than stand-alone novels but John Wyndham is a real favourite.

3rd - Favourite novel in translation
Either The President's Hat trans. by a team at Gallic Books or All Quiet on the Western Front (new trans. by Murdoch).

4th - All time favourite American novel for 4th July Independence Day
Children's book has to be Little Women but Stoner by John Williams is one I've recommended a lot.

5th - Most delicious novel about food
I really liked Baking Cakes in Kigali and also Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe but I'm not sure I'd try the barbecue.

6th - Which book you will put down to watch the Wimbledon final
For the first time in a long time I actually stopped reading to watch the sport, I usually multitask, but I was reading Madeline Miller's Song of Achilles (again).

7th - Most chocolatey novel - it's National Chocolate Day
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory without a doubt.

8th - Favourite Great War novel
Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front is probably my favourite novel set in WW1 but my favourite book about the war is Vera Brittain's Testament of Youth.

9th - Most irritating character in a novel
Pollyana.  The idea of turning a positive to a negative is fine once in a while but for two novels and countless spin-offs it is just too much.

10th - Novel with the most memorable picnic for Teddy Bear Picnic Day
Any of the ones that happen in Ransome's Swallows and Amazons series of books.

11th - The book that made you cry
Many books can make me cry but John Green's The Fault in Our Stars left me a wreck for ages.

12th - Novel that best conjured a place for you
This would be Caroline Lawrence's Roman Mystery series, by the time I got to Rome I felt I knew the place and on visiting Ostia I felt I'd stepped back in time.

13th - Best title for a novel
Which ever one has just caught my eye and made me pick it over everything else I've got in a to read pile.

14th - For Bastille Day, your favourite novel about or set in France
No surprises here as I pick The President's Hat.

15th - Last book that you bought
On the day here it was the wonderful biography of the first American female in space - Sally Ride - as recommended by the team who run Space Lectures and the events in Pontefract with the astronauts.

16th - Favourite book to take to the beach
Cheating here as I have to pick my Kindle as it gives me access to 100s of books to suit whatever mood I'm in.

17th - Novel which surprised you the most
Probably On the Beach by Neville Shute as it was the first truly bleak book I ever read and I was surprised that books didn't have to have a positive ending. I was only about 12 at the time.

18th - Favourite crime novel of all time - it's the Harrogate Crime Festival
Not a favourite genre at all but I do like the Greek Detective books by Anne Zouroudi.

19th - Most memorable plot twist
We Need to Talk About Kevin. I really didn't expect how that concluded. Really powerful writing.

20th - Your desert island novel
Again I'll have to cheat and pick either my Kindle as the thought of being without a book is the scariest thing ever.

21st - The novel you expected to hate, but turned out you loved
I wasn't expecting to like Longbourn as I've not read Pride and Prejudice but it was a real surprise and favourite from 2013.

22nd - The novel you most like to give to friends
I'm always a bit worried that people won't like books I love so I tend to give book tokens!

23rd - Favourite novel with an exotic background
Twisting this to be favourite exotic background and saying anything set in Greece as they either bring back memories or inspire travel!

24th - A book that reminds you of your English teacher
My Family and Other Animals. Durrell was recommended to me by a teacher when I had no clue what to read next.

25th - Book that is your guilty pleasure
The one I'm reading when I should be doing anything else.

26th - The novel you wish you'd written
I'm a reader not a writer so it really could be any book ever written but I think that if pressed I'd pick Matilda by Roald Dahl

27th - For National Parent's Day - the best or worst parents in fiction
Predictable but Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird is awesome.

28th - Favourite animal character
I think this one goes to Badger in Wind in the Willows - antisocial and grumpy but a really good friend when in need! Although Tigger will always be my true favourite character.

29th - Favourite likeable villain
Influenced by the film Hook I've always had a soft spot for Captain Hook from Peter Pan.

30th - The book that you'd like to read thanks to recommendations on the #bookadayuk thread?
I've been reminded of so many books in the past few months but I think that it is time to re-read the Swallows and Amazons series and to try The Master and Margarita by Bulgakov.

31st - The book that reminds you of someone special
Two here - Heidi and Black Beauty as my parents recommended these two to me and I still have their childhood copies of the books.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Thought Provoking

The Virgins by Pamela Erens

(book supplied by

I saw this on the shelf in a bookshop a few months ago and noted it down as one to read over the summer and then when the chance came to review it for Bookbridgr I was really pleased.

It wasn't an easy read in terms of content and style but I certainly found myself racing through the pages.

Set in an elite and relatively free thinking American boarding school in the late 1970s we follow a few of the students through one academic year, mostly from the view point of the graduating class. Our narrator is truly unreliable although this only comes to light a little while into the book. He however does let us know that a lot of what he is saying is supposition or discovered after the event and so as a reader you are informed of this.

Two of the students develop a passionate relationship and this spirals out of control during the course of the year in many ways and while a lot of reviewers talk of a surprise and shocking ending I did find this signposted throughout by our narrator and enjoyed seeing how skilfully Erens managed to build to the event.

I found the book deeply unsettling, a good reminder of just how far women have come since 1979 - the casual acceptance of sexual assault (although again all from our unreliable and rather nasty narrator) really made an impact on me.

Very much like Stoner last year I enjoyed this book but I can't see myself recommending it to all and sundry - it will make an interesting reading group read for some as there are so many ideas to discuss.