Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Top 10 Books of 2014

Top fiction and non fiction from 2014.

Despite a lot of my reading being for uni during the year I seem to still have managed a lot of reading for pleasure too, although it has to be said I struggled more to get a top 10 for each genre, more than 5 was easy but getting to 10 less so.

These are simply in alphabetical order and nothing more - simply the best books I have read this year.


  • Song for Issy Bradley - Carys Bray
  • A Place Called Winter - Patrick Gale
  • Ishmael's Oranges - Claire Hajaj
  • Wars of the Roses: Trinity - Conn Iggulden
  • The Dead Lake - Hamid Ismaliov
  • Strange Weather in Tokyo - Hiromi Kawakami
  • A Tale for the Time Being - Ruth Oyezeki
  • Unspeakable - Abbie Rushton
  • Mr Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore - Robin Sloan
  • Mrs Hemingway - Naomi Woods
In this we have 2 books not out until 2015, 2 in translation and one sequel that was easily as good as the first!


  • The Fateful Year: 1914 - Mark Bostridge
  • Europe in the Looking Glass - Robert Byron
  • Bitter Lemons - Lawrence Durrell
  • How to Be a Heroine - Samantha Ellis
  • Apple of My Eye - Helene Hanff
  • H is for Hawk - Helen Macdonald
  • My Salinger Year - Joanna Smith Rakoff
  • The Boy in the Top Knot - Sathnam Sanghera
  • Without Reservations - Alice Steinbach
  • Gin, Glorious Gin - Olivia Williams
From this list it seems that travel writing is my top genre of 2014!

Here's to another year of reading in 2015, although studying continues and will involved a 15000 word dissertation so who knows how much I'll read for pleasure.  I do have a 2 week beach holiday planned which will mean at least a dozen books...!

Monday, 29 December 2014

Top Ten Theatre of 2014

That Time of the Year Again

In a year where I have seen 36 pieces of theatre live and 4 broadcast as live plays narrowing down to just five was impossible and even now I think that my frequent companion, Rebecca, will disagree with my rankings at the very least.

I have had several outings to the theatre with my nephew and while all of the productions we saw together were magical this year they haven't made the top 10 but rest assured theatre aimed at the under 10s is excellent and I had a lot of fun watching them and sharing my love of live theatre with him.

So with no further ado my top 10 are:

  1. Lord of the Flies
  2. Red Velvet
  3. 'Tis Pity She's a Whore
  4. To Kill a Mockingbird
  5. My Night With Reg
  6. The Scottsboro Boys
  7. Oh! What a Lovely War
  8. Another Country
  9. A Bunch of Amateurs
  10. Pitcairn
A real mixture of genres here and it was very hard to narrow it down to just 10, so many plays nearly made the grade.  I shan't list my least favourite plays - I think the reviews speak for themselves!

As I already have my first trip of 2015 planned for January 3rd I think it is fair to say that 2015 will also be theatre filled!

Friday, 26 December 2014

Bookaday December

The monthly book challenge continued though into December in two formats so as everyone gets busy at this time of year I picked the shorter one! I am guessing that the organisers think (hope) that after this we'll all be reading our new books!

1st: Iconic first line?
So many of these but I do love "Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents" from Alcott's Little Women.

2nd:Last Read?
On the 2nd this was actually the new novel Impossible! by Michelle Magorian. This connected to several of her other books and has the theatre of the 1950s as a plot line and especially the theatre at Stratford East and Joan Littlewood which was apt after seeing one of her plays at that venue this year!

3rd: On my Christmas list?
I'm far too naughty for this and I have just ordered the books I want myself as I can't even wait the 3 weeks until Christmas to read them. #NoSelfControl
4th: For chilly nights?
I like books set in warm places when I am cold but for me it is the location of reading on cold days/nights that is important. Ideally it would be in front of an open fire but failing that wrapped up and all cosy in a fluffy duvet with a heated wheat bag.

5th: Quintessentially British?
That opens a whole can of worms as to what is British but I think I'll pick the Famous Five books by Enid Blyton
6th: Everyone should read?
That's hard as no book is going to appeal to all readers but I know I've shared The President's Hat to lots of people all of whom have enjoyed it - including a couple of non-readers.

7th: Childhood favourite?
Oh - so many. Little Women, Little House on the Prairie, Heidi, Black Beauty,WIndsong Summer..

8th It's a mystery?
Not my favourite genre at all but I really enjoyed Gone Girl recently.

9th: I judged this by its cover?

Sorry - so many of the physical books I pick up are influenced by cover, I do think that I'd avoid the Harry Potter books as a new reader now as I don't like their covers.

10th: Latest purchase?
That will be three new books from Girl's Gone By - a new Chalet School fill-in, and two new (to me) books by Phyllis Mathewman.

11th: Christmas classic?
Reading The Night Before Christmas to my nephew has happened the past few years, but I won't see him on Christmas Eve this year.  I often re-read a few of the Christmassy Chalet School books.

12th:Book of poems?
I don't have many just poetry books but I do have an illustrated collection of WW1 poems and several versions of Shakespeare's sonnets.

13th: Stocking filler?
I think that the Simon's Cat books are great but as a rule I'm not a fan of stocking filler books as you tend to read them once and then donate to charity.

14th: Read at school?
Many childhood favourites were read while I was at school, in class I remember a teacher reading Stig of the Dump but I don't recall us getting to the end!

15th: Favourite colour cover?
What an odd question - I guess I'll turn this around and say I'm not that keen on bright pink books, but even then I'll give them a go if the content looks good!

16th: For someone I love?
I buy my nephew books all of the time and can't say no when he asks for or even mentions a book.  I recommend lots of books to Mr Norfolkbookworm too.

17th: Funny read?
Comedic books are funny as they are often only funny in the right context and they don't always age well, but I do always smile when I read the Duck books by Jez Alborough.

18th: Massive tome?
I used to pick books by width when I visited the library as a child!  I think that Birds Without Wings fits here.
19th: Travelling home - reading this?
Anything I like from my shelves as we are celebrating Christmas in our own home this year.  In general though I travel everywhere with my Kindle so I don't run short of reading material!

20th: Set where I live?
Lots of books are set in Norfolk, but I think one of the best is Coot Club as even 70+ years after it was written you can still make the same journey as describe in it!

21st:To be read?
Far, far, far too many but it is essay time and I am bogged down in research!

22nd: Favourite festive scene?
The bit towards the end of 101 Dalmations in the church is very nice.

23rd: The best present?
Unlimited time and money to spend in bookshops and no guilt for doing either!

24th:For Father Christmas?
A travel guide to somewhere warm where he can relax for a few weeks after his busy season!

25th:Under the tree?
Book tokens to allow a huge binge in the new year!

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Theatre 2014 - Review Forty

'Tis Pity She's A Whore, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at Shakespeare's Globe, London. December 2014.

It was a very cold and damp December day when Bec and I went to London to see this, and to be honest after our experiences at the SWP earlier this year we didn't go in with high hopes.  The Duchess of Malfi was good, but the seats that time were very uncomfortable, Knight of the Burning Pestle was fun but over long and felt forced by the end and the Young Player's version of The Malcontent was frankly a disappointment and over priced.

This was a different experience entirely, I am not sure if we accidentally picked the best seats in the house or what but we had a good view and missed very little of the action at all and didn't find ourselves wriggling too much to stay comfortable.

The key thing is however that this play was fantastically acted - the space of the theatre was used completely and the scene where all the candles were extinguished was spooky - far more so than in the Duchess of Malfi.  I still can't decide if this play was actually bloodier than Titus Andronicus earlier in the year, or if it just seemed so because the playhouse is so much smaller and we were so close to the action.  No pies in this production but a bloody heart on a sword was waved around for much of the last act!

The only thing I didn't like about this play was the feeling that I couldn't discern what John Ford was actually trying to say.  The Catholic Church certainly came across as corrupt, and sleeping with your sister will drive you insane but I'm note sure beyond that.  The way I 'read' the performance Annabella was almost coerced into sleeping with her brother, and that every time she tried to repent he bullied her back into his arms yet why she should be castigated and called a whore is beyond me.  Politics of the time I guess.  I found it interesting that the audience hissed more as the one anti-Semitic line the play but laughed when the woman was called a whore.  Something to think about and investigate further I feel.

I am pleased that we had a good experience at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse finally, and I am pleased that we have got tickets to one more thing there this winter season.  I do look forward to their first full Shakespeare in the venue however and without wishing my life away hope that that will be a feature of the 2015/16 season!

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Bookaday November

This wonderful challenge making you think about and talk about books continued into November with the publisher Headline throwing out the challenges for the month:

1st: Movember begins - your favourite hairy hero?
We're talking beards and moustaches here and I think that I would have to pick Mr Twit here - not a role model but a wonderful character!

2nd:A book you can't wait to read this winter?
I have no self control and as soon as a book comes out I have to read it - the one I was waiting for most keenly was the new Conn Iggulden and it didn't disappoint.

3rd: Your favourite fictional family?
Often is which ever book I'm reading at the time but I like the chaos of the Weasley family, although do love Little Women I think the family itself would drive me insane.

4th: A brilliant epic read - we mean one with more than 600 pages!
Birds Without Wings by Louis de Bernieres for a one volume epic but if not The Flowers of the Field & A Flower That's Free by Sarah Harrison (not so fusssed about the 3rd volume!)

5th: Guy Fawkes Night - pick a character you love to hate.
Achilles in Madeline Miller's Song of Achilles is a bit annoying but it is still a great book.

6th: A book that reminds you of your schooldays?
Vera Brittain's Testament of Youth as I remember when my group of friends discovered this one and read it.

7th: The book you wished you'd owned as a first edition?
I'd love a Shakespeare's First Folio!

8th:Doctor Who ends tonight - best book featuring time travel?
I have three for this one: The Time Traveller's Wife, Charlotte Sometimes and Tom's Midnight Garden

9th: A book you have to read twice to fully appreciate?

Most of Shakespeare's plays - once to just get the story and then a 2nd time using all of the notes to get the full meaning. Who knew Romeo and Juliet was such a smutty play?

10th: Happy Birthday Neil Gaiman! Favourite fantasy novel?
Not a huge serious fantasy fan but I like most of Trudi Canavan's books and most of Garth Nix's

11th: Remembrance Day - your favourite WW1 novel?
There's a lot of good WW1 fiction out there but I think that this is a tie between War Horse and Remembrance by Theresa Breslin.

12th:A book on your shelf that you haven't got round to reading yet?
Shamefully there are many but the author I keep meaning to start but then never getting around to is Dickens.

13th: A book you'd love to see on the big screen?
None of them - the book is always better than the film!

14th: A book you loved but wouldn't want your mum to read?
She reads this blog so I'm not going to list it here! In all honesty I think I'd pass anything on to my mum just with the appropriate warnings, my parents were always open minded when it came to reading.

15th: A book that made you hungry?
I can't remember the title but it was a travel memoir of a man and his family in Japan and it made me crave all of the food mentioned.

16th:The best debut you've read this year?
Ishmael's Oranges  by Clare Hajaj.  It was handed to me in a pile of books to read and rate for an upcoming work promotion and I loved every word.

17th: Your favourite mystery novel?
Not a genre a really like very much but the closest I come is Josephine Tey's The Daughter of Time although the Montalbano books are on my to-be-read pile.

18th: It's Scotland v England! Tell us your favourite sport book?
I don't mind watching some sport but reading about it isn't my favouite thing so I am going to go with Cat by Freya North - a novel set during the Tour de France.
19th: A brilliant book with an eye-catching read cover?
I'm frantically scanning my shelf for books with red covers and all I can see are some antiquarian hardback missing their covers that have red boards... if that counts then I chose some of my Chalet School books!
20th: Your favourite fictional pet?
Those that appear in the Tortall books by Tamora Pierce.

21st:A book you've read that you wish had a sequel?
There's a lot of books that I finish wanting to know what happened next but none that I consciously want a sequel too.  Often they aren't as good or are written a long time afterwards and aren't as good.

22nd: Your favourite book about a journey?
I like travel books a lot and think that perhaps Bill Bryson's books about rediscovering America win here, although Patrick Leigh Fermor is also good, and so is Robert Mcfarlane....

23rd: An awesome autobiography by one of your heroes?
I love the diaries that Michael Palin is publishing.

24th: A series you'd happily read all over again?
Has to be the Tortall books by Tamora Pierce.

25th: One month to go! A book you want for Christmas?
There is a new Greek cookbook out that features some of my favourite dishes so I'd like that, however I already have dozens of Greek cookbooks so this would have to be a gift as I can't justify buying another one!

26th: Tasty! Your favourite cookery or baking book?
Currently this is Rick Stein's India as we're experimenting with new curries.

27th: Happy Thanksgiving - your favourite US classic?
Children's classics are the Little Women and Little House on the Prairie books and a modern classic is John William's Stoner.

28th: A book with beautiful title typography?
H is for Hawk a truly stunning book from cover to cover.

29th:  Happy birthday C. S. Lewis! Favourite fictional world?
Predictable for those who read these each month but has to be Tamora Peirce's Tortall!

30th: Your favourite book featuring a wedding?
Oh dear, I must gloss over these as I don't recall many weddings in books at all...