Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Theatre of the Year

2017 At the Theatre

I was hoping to be trying to pick my favourite shows from a list of 36, but due to unexpected illness I had to miss the last three plays I had booked for the year. Annoyingly one of these has already finished and the other will come to an end before I am recovered enough to go. Oh well, health is more important.

So this year the Norfolkbookworm has written 33 reviews and also seen another 4 comedy shows which are just too hard to review, the improvised one for sure was something you had to be there for to find it all funny.

Right my top 8 plays for the year, and these are just the top plays - they are in no other order than the dates in which I saw them:
Even in a year where I was really disappointed with the Globe's offering two of their productions are still in my top 8 but it has to be said that I am looking forward to seeing where the new AD takes the theatre.

Friday, 22 December 2017

Book vs. Film

Call Me By Your Name - Andre Aciman

Rebecca introduced me to this book a few years ago and it has become a favourite of mine too. We've both been waiting for this film with some nervousness - how often have you heard me ask are adaptations ever as good as the original?

In this case I think my answer is a qualified yes. For the most part it stayed very close to the source material - although the film is set away from the coast and along a river, where as the book has a wonderful seaside setting. Surprisingly this didn't bother me too much, it just made me want to go to Italy!

The book is, for the most part, better. It is easier to overlook the harsh behaviour of Elio and Oliver on the page but I did prefer the ending to the film rather than that of the book. It came to an end rather than drifting on and on. This will become a film I'll watch again and it was a nice adaptation of a loved book.

It has been a while since I saw this, and I've been unwell in the meantime, so my thoughts are a bit foggy now.  In staying faithful to the book this is a film that is quite explicit so it won't be for everyone but it was good.

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Quick thoughts on a new book

Artemis - Andy Weir

I was late to the party with Weir's The Martian but I loved it when I did get there. It was a gripping romp set in space with science that (mostly) worked, and it was in the 'hard' sci-fi camp rather than soft/fantasy end of the genre.

I was really excited when I got an advance copy of Artemis and, unlike so many of the reviews I've seen, I really liked the book. Yes the prose is clunky and there is a little too much 'Basil Exposition' in the plot but the story races ahead and I was swept away with it.  I'm not a fan of crime capers and this was the bit of the story that I enjoyed least but there was so much to enjoy...

  • A female lead
  • A female lead who is competent and tech savvy
  • A female lead who enjoys life, all of life - including sex and drinking without guilt.
  • Wonderful descriptions of what a moon base could look like.
So many of the reviews are calling Jazz things like "a middle aged man's fantasy", but I liked her. To me she seemed believable - she knew what she wanted and went for it without asking permission/feeling bad afterwards - oh that's right she behaved like a man whilst being resolutely female...hmmm I wonder if this is actually what many people dislike?

This book won't win prizes for prose (or possibly plot) but I found it a great read where the whole space set up worked and Jazz didn't fail because she was female but rather because she was too gung-ho and dangerous.  She definitely owed a lot more to the early American astronauts with her slightly reckless attitude rather than the much more cautious (and sensible) modern was of exploring.

Artemis was 'just' a romping good read, and in a week when the scary figures surrounding how few literary books are bought each year I think that it is a great that there are still some non chick lit/crime romping reads written.
I also liked the little jokes/word plays/assumptions that Weir led you towards - I'd never have thought that KSC stood for that.

My thoughts have got muddled as I write this - I know what I want to say... I liked the book a lot, and I hope that a base like Artemis is built on the moon eventually. I also liked a strong female character who was quite happy in her life choices. It might have been a bit stretched in terms of plot, and the language not outstanding but to be honest as long as people are enjoying the book then that's the most important thing. Enthusing, inspiring and entertaining - what more do you need from a book?

Friday, 8 December 2017

November Reading Round Up

For a variety of reasons in November I did a lot of rereading, one was to compare book and film (Andre Aciman's Call Me By Your Name) and others were Girls' Own type stories.

There were some new reads however mixed in and I enjoyed four of these enough to mention here.

Princess and the Suffragette by Holly Webb.
Back in 2015 I was very excited by Webb's updated sequel to A Secret Garden and I'm really pleased to say that she's done it again! This is a follow on to another Hodgson Burnett story (A Little Princess) and follows the lives of the girls left at Miss Minchin's seminary after Sara left. As stated in the title it is about the women's suffrage movement and I found it gripping - one that really should get lots and lots of attention next year as we mark 100 years of women getting the (limited) vote.

Wonder by R. J. Palaccio
I'm not sure how I've missed this book for so long, I know that colleagues have loved it and recommended it to me but somehow it just never rose to the top of the pile.  However Mr Norfolkbookworm went to a preview of the film adaptation and was really impressed so I read the book.  It is powerful and moving, as being a good tale. It borders on being didactic, saccharine and predictable but through beautiful writing and clever narration it stays just the right side of these line (for me) and was just a wonderful book that did make me cry.

Why Mummy Drinks by Gill Simms
I love reading Simms posts on Facebook where she chronicles her chaotic life in the form of spoof Peter and Jane tales.  I expected that this book was going to be just a collection of these social media posts but instead it was a full novel, told in diary form, using the same style as the posts. I laughed a lot.

White Chrysanthemum - Mary Lynn Bracht
This book was a proof thanks to Net Galley and is set in Korea starting in the Second World War. It deals with the Japanese occupation and atrocities, then the internal problems caused by the politics post war which ultimately led to the Korean War, the ramifications of these two conflicts then echo down the generations to the modern day.  I knew a little of the history here, especially regarding the Japanese history but what came next horrified me. 

In following the lives of two sisters we get up close and personal to this history and it isn't easy reading at all, at times it is horrific. However I feel that this is an important part of history all too often glossed over in the name of reconciliation and rehabilitation - there are a lot of lost stories in this part of the world that need to be told, whether in history books or in fantastic fiction like this. 

Friday, 24 November 2017

Theatre 2017: Review Thirty-three: Young Marx

Young Marx, The Bridge Theatre, London. November 2017.

After a busy week away for me, and a nightmare journey for Rebecca, we were both hoping for a huge amount from Young Marx. We'd also convinced Mr. Norfolkbookworm that this was going to be good and worth a trip to London...

The Bridge Theatre is brand new and it felt lovely walking through the doors on a cold and wet November afternoon. It was bright, warm and spacious with friendly staff.

Due to booking at different times we weren't all sat together, Rebecca and I were in the side of the gallery and Mr. Bookworm was in the back row of the same gallery, square on to the stage.  The side seats were very clever as they were angled to face the stage - no awkward leaning needed.  Our seats did seem a little hemmed in as there was a low black ceiling almost in our eye line - it looked like a plane's bulkhead - but once the play started we didn't notice it at all.  Mr. Bookworm said he found the sound muffled from his seats but as he has some hearing problems (and we didn't test the seats) we can't say if that was him or the acoustics.

Now for the play, well for me it was just the tonic I needed. It explained a lot of Marx and Engels' ideas in a way that I finally understood but it had me smiling and laughing from the very beginning. At times it bordered on descending in to farce, which would have snapped me out of the mood, but it always stayed just the right side of that comedy line.

The play was full of killer lines, which I am still chuckling over. I also loved the scene in the library, some might think that it is over the top and could never happen in such and august place but I know better.  The character sketches of patrons behaviour was spot on throughout, the end of this scene did have me doing a double take and wondering if the interval gin and tonic had gone to my head more than I anticipated!

There was some darkness to the play, and it did have some pertinent points to make but they weren't rammed home and I just thoroughly enjoyed this lighthearted comedy and can't wait to make a return visit to the theatre.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Theatre 2017: Review Thirty-three - Sunset Boulevard

Sunset Boulevard, Birmingham Hippodrome, Birmingham. November 2017.

During some recent time in Birmingham (more on this soon) I discovered that the new touring version of Sunset Boulevard was playing during my stay. I was most surprised that there were good, cheap, seats still available so it seemed fate that I should go!

I knew a couple of the songs from this show but I had no real idea what it was about - as seems to be the way when I go to the theatre at present.  This was a lavish affair with a huge cast, live orchestra and a lavish set. In fact the set could almost be called fussy, it needed changing so often that I'm sure a lot of the run time of the show was due to scene changes!

The show itself took a long time to grow on me, by the interval I admired the voices but wasn't fully involved with the story at all, however the second half was better. The sub plots were far more interesting to me in all honestly and some of the reveals really did move me.  Oh and the ending itself - I didn't expect that!

Now for the confession - I was so convinced by the projections used as back drop I assumed that Norma Desmond was a real person and that this was a biopic, I think Mr Norfolkbookworm has stopped laughing at me now...! 

I have now watched the film that the show is based on and I'm glad that I saw it afterwards, it is darker and some of the reveals are shown earlier. You like the main two characters even less in the film too, where as the musical did give them some warmth. I was struck with how much dialogue in the show came directly from the film too.  My advice - if you are planning on seeing this and haven't seen the film then see the show first; if you've seen the film then the show doesn't really add anything to the story (but has some amazing singing). Always nice to see a new show, in a new theatre but this one won't be making my top of the year lists.

Friday, 17 November 2017

Theatre 2017: Review Thirty-two - Hedda Gabbler

Hedda Gabbler, Theatre Royal, Norwich. November 2017.

I'd missed this in London at the National Theatre and so was very happy to find out that the tour was coming to Norwich but even after all of this time I still went in 'blind' to the play as I didn't know the story at all.

I think that this was a great way to see the play as it kept me on the edge of my seat as I couldn't work out how the plot was going to play out at all.
I could sense that it wasn't going to be a happy play, and the focus of the guns at the start made me think of Chekhov's rule. This roughly states that if there is a gun shown in act one it has to be used by the end of the play...

While all of the cast were very good, none of their characters were and the slow growing air of menace and madness really drew me in and left me with shivers running up and down my spine. There were moments of levity (and sometimes I seemed to find things funny when others didn't - oops?) but this was an oppressively dark play, despite the light set!

This version was an adaptation by Patrick Marber and as I'm not familiar with the original I don't know how purists see it, I will be hunting down an earlier version to compare very soon. This is only the 2nd Ibsen play I've seen - the first Emperor and Galilean back in 2011 put me off a little but I think that I will be trying more in the future.

Monday, 13 November 2017

Astronaut Untethered

Bruce McCandless, Space Lecture event. November 2017.

Apologies for the lack of detail in this write up - the event was as excellent as usual, with an incredible guest, but it fell in the middle of an incredibly busy couple of weeks for me and already the details are hazy.

While my memory is shot to pieces the same cannot be said of McCandless as his hour long lecture was interesting - and like so many events lately covered all sorts of topics, including quidditch!

From my point of view I was a little sad that there wasn't more of McCandless's memories and personal history - this is the area that I am most interested in - but I quickly became enthralled with his detailed analyses of why we need to keep exploring and the pros and cons of manned missions v. robotic missions.  At a time when I'd just finished Scott Kelly's autobiography which definitely talked about the downsides of space travel this seemed very apposite!

More detailed write ups of this event can be found if you read back through @Space_Lectures tweets and also on Collect Space. The talk, and the chance to briefly meet McCandless were brilliant and the deficiencies here are all mine.  Perhaps I was just overcome by winning in the raffle this time and then getting a wonderful piece of art signed (as shown in the image!)

I can't wait for the next event in March!

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

October Reading Round Up

I didn't think that I'd read that much in October but when I counted up it was a respectable 20 books again.

There was a lot of non fiction in this mix, and a lot to do with farming in Norfolk during, and just after, World War One all ready for a project next year.

My three top reads for the month in no particular order are:

Endurance by Scott Kelly

No surprises that a space book features in a top read, and having met Scott Kelly last year I was looking forward to this book a lot. Kelly is wonderfully open about his experiences, good and bad, and also pretty indiscreet with some of his memories which made this a fun read. My only (slight) niggle with the book is that it opens with an account of the health issues Kelly experienced following his year in space but he doesn't really come back to this and I would like to have learned a little more about the long term effects, especially as he did touch in this at the talk last year.

On the Bright Side by Hendrik Groen

I was so excited when an email from Net Galley dropped into my inbox offering me the chance to read this second book from Hendrik Groen and although it isn't actually published until January 2018 I think it may well be one of my top books of 2017, just as the first book was last year. Hendrik is back and he's as grumpy as ever despite mellowing in other ways.  This book has real depth and a powerful emotional punch. I just hope I am as brave and bold when I am 84!

Ask an Astronaut by Tim Peake

Oops another astronaut biography in my top reads. I was sceptical about this book when I heard it being announced, it seemed a little but like Peake was milking his fame for a book that wouldn't be very personal at all. However he was very clever and instead of it just being a book full questions about space sent in via Twitter Peake has produced a simple autobiography of his astronaut career using the questions provided by the public as the starting off point. The book can be read by his young fans but has enough technical detail to make it a great addition to my space shelf.

Apologies for the lateness of this October post - computer problems delayed publication.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Meeting a space legend in Norwich

Helen Sharman at the Norwich Science Festival, Norwich Cathedral. October 2017.

Having had a hint of what a great speaker Helen Sharman is at the recent New Scientist Live event I was very excited about this event, and it was heart warming to see that the people of Norwich, Norfolk and far beyond also felt the same.  Norwich Cathedral's main space was full the on the afternoon of Dr Sharman's talk.

Dr Sharman spoke for 45 minutes about her career as a scientist and her time as an astronaut, and this was a brilliant talk taking a different tack than many of the other space talks that I've heard - this one was very much about the science involved.

This wasn't just about the science Dr Sharman undertook in space (more of this later) but about the importance of science in getting to space, in surviving in space and also how science will let us explore further in space.  Linking everything back in this was really inspiring and gave a real insight into how earth based science really does have implications for space.

The parts I found most interesting however was when Dr Sharman talked about the experiments she undertook on MIR regarding plants and seeds. Although she was only there for 8 days it was enough time to see how roots grow and seeds germinate. All well and good and at this point it looked like growing food in space would be possible. Indeed I thought that this was the case as we've seen astronauts on ISS grow lettuce and flowers.  I didn't know that as yet it hasn't proved possibly to actually grow fruit or vegetables, and that as yet no one is actually sure why, although there are theories.  This inability to produce food has great implications for long duration missions to other planets where regular resupply deliveries won't be possible.

After a great question and answer session, Mr Norfolkbookworm and I were lucky enough to have the chance to meet Dr Sharman and talk with her for a few minutes.  I had another question about the science she undertook on MIR as I was interested if she'd seen practical applications of any of her experiments back here on earth. I wasn't aware that due to the nature of her mission (and the lack of money) she wasn't able to take her 'own' experiments and was just helping the Russians with theirs.

This was a wonderful afternoon, and although the cathedral was packed and we were very much in the middle of the audience the great PA system and large screens relaying the talk meant that we didn't miss a thing. Here's hoping Norwich starts to get the same reputation as Pontefract for welcoming astronauts and we become a regular stopping off place for space travellers!

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Theatre 2017: Review Thirty-one - Fantasia Live

Fantasia Live in Concert, The Royal Albert Hall, London. October 2017.

Delayed gratification appears to be a thing in our family as this was actually my nephew's birthday present and he's waited patiently since June for this to come around!

My sister and I saw a previous version of this back in 2012 and so knew we were in for a treat and it didn't disappoint.  Wonderful music and scenes from these beautiful films - what more can you ask for.

Once more the responses from the audience added to the magic and I think pretty much the whole Albert Hall jumped at the volcano in the scene set to Stravinsky's Firebird Suite.  It wasn't until afterwards that we realised how different to before this show was - with over half the programme coming from the newer Fantasia 2000 film.

My personal favourites were all included and so I was very happy, and from the applause I think that my nephew, sister & husband felt the same!  For me there really is something special about live music and live music in the splendour of the Royal Albert Hall is even more special!

Our only small quibble with the experience is that there was no programme and we do all really like one of these as a souvenir.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Hanging out with Mickey

It has been a busy month here in the Norfolkbookworm burrow - as well as lots of exciting things happening at work I also took a short break with my sister where we embraced our inner children (never far from the surface if I am honest) and had two nights and three days in Disneyland Paris.

I've been lucky enough to visit a few of the Disney parks in Orlando for day trips but I've not stayed in a Disney hotel or seen the fireworks at the end of the night - we decided to rectify this in my 40th birthday year!

I can say that we had a wonderful time - we got to meet favourite characters - especially thanks to my surprise late present which included a wonderful breakfast and the opportunity to meet Tigger, Eeyore, Mickey, Daisy and Scrooge McDuck.

Huge rides aren't our thing but we had fun on those we went on (mostly - sorry about *that* one Emma!) and I can say that there really isn't anything quite like a Disney firework display, or a the parade or even the decorations.  I was also really impressed with the food we had in the parks - from the fancy restaurants to the snacks everything tasted lovely.

Oh - and yes we did try the ridiculous cocktails - and they were very nice :)

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Unexpected astronaut encounters

New Scientist Live, ExCeL Centre, London. September 2017.

Through being in the right place at the right time I made an unexpected trip to the Thursday of the 2017 New Scientist Live (sorry Natalie - hope you had a productive day in the office!)

The highlight of going on this day was that astronauts Tim Peake, Helen Sharman and Al Worden were headline speakers and giving an hour long session.  Even getting to the theatre 30 minutes early for this I wasn't too near the front but this didn't matter as the stage was also shown on two large screens raised above the stage so you didn't miss anything.

The astronauts didn't give talks as such but were asked questions by various people - the host, Stephen Hawking, school children and each other - and this lead to some wonderfully relaxed chat that was nicely balanced between all three speakers (and kudos to the host who let the chat flow!).

The three talked a little of their missions and then a lot about the future of space flight and the debate whether we should go back to the moon or on to mars was fascinating as was the chat on who should go on whichever mission happens.

All three speakers had great stories to tell and also displayed a lot of humour, as ever I was very pleased to hear from a female astronaut and am very excited that Helen Sharman will be in Norwich in October so that I can hear more from her, and hopefully get to meet her in person.

After this talk I spent a lot of time walking around the show, talking to people from all sorts of science and technology backgrounds as well as listening to talks on a variety of topics. I was lucky enough to get to meet Al Worden later in the day and get him to sign a copy of his autobiography for me. I also met (and got a signed book) from Libby Jackson who is head of education at the UK Space Agency, played with robots, learned about gene manipulation and played on the science fun fair.

I've looked at the programme for New Scientist Live before and debated whether it is worth it and now I can categorically say yes and that I'm already looking for details of next year's show so that I can go again - and this time with more people, especially my nephew!

Friday, 6 October 2017

Theatre 2017: Review Thirty - La Boheme

La Boheme, The Royal Opera House, London. September 2017

After our wonderful outing to see Madama Butterfly in the spring Mum and I have been looking at the ROH brochure often for other things to try and so when booking opened for this we were pleased to see that another lunch time matinee had been scheduled.

This time I didn't know the music at all, and only had a vague idea of the story but like all good theatre that didn't matter and from curtain up to last bows I was captivated.

For such a tragic story there were a lot of laugh out loud moments, although mum (who knows the story) says these came from the liberties taken with the libretto. I think that they were needed to balance the story for it showed how much Mimi's tale changed the group.

This was a new staging of the show and I for one loved it, it was deceptively simple and absolutely designed with every seat in the house thought of and the street scene was incredible, it really looked like you could walk down those arcades.

As this is a winter tale snow was falling on the stage a lot of the time and I did feel cold along with the characters and when they lit the stove I swear I did warm up.

I wasn't sure that I was as swept up in the story this time as when we saw Madama Butterfly but as I was crying by the end I guess I was as involved!

Another great trip the Opera House, we recommend the seats up in the amphitheatre - great views and easy viewing of the surtitles - and we are already looking through the brochure for what to see next!

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

September Reading Round Up

Our trip to Yellowstone and the other American National Parks has a big effect on me - I don't think that I've ever fallen in love with a place so deeply before.  My day (and night) dreams seem to be full of mountains and wildlife and so has my September reading as I worked my way through numerous memoirs of Rangers who live and work in the National Parks.

Apart from these books I've had an interesting month - many of my books had a space theme and as I blogged earlier this week these were of mixed quality. Unsurprisingly the two books I was complaining about haven't made my best of the month...

Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornack

This book isn't actually published until the 19th of October but thanks to Netgalley I got to read this early after hearing lots of good things. This is (sort of) a Christmas book - a family are forced into quarantine over Christmas as one of the family has just returned from Africa where she has been nursing in an Ebola style emergency.  Forced proximity with family is always stressful and this family all have secrets...
The book is a little cheesy and I did guess one of the twists but this didn't matter overall as it was just a really good book - it is also set in Norfolk and trying to guess the 'real' locations was an added level of fun to the read.

The Rise of the Rocket Girls - Nathalia Holt

After the success of Hidden Figures earlier in the year I was pleased to find another book about women working in the early days of the American space program. These women worked more with the unmanned programs and were based at JPL in Pasadena, CA.  It was great to hear more about the human computers and as I've been lucky enough to visit JPL this book really came alive for me.

A Galaxy of Her Own - Libby Jackson

Another book focusing on women in space, this is supposedly for children but wouldn't look out of place in any human spaceflight book collection. Jackson goes right back to the nineteenth century to look at women in history who have influenced the space program and features women from all over the world.  We get to 'meet' women from all walks of life - astronauts to computers to the people making the spacesuits. Each woman gets a page to herself and is illustrated by different up and coming artists.
The book isn't officially published until November but I got my copy at New Scientist Live and was lucky enough to get it signed by Jackson too.

A River Runs Through It - Norman Maclean

After reading so many books set in National Parks, Wyoming and Montana it was hard to pick just one as a book of the month.  Finally I settled on this one as it was just so different. On first glance it seems to be just about fly fishing but it was so much more - it is about families, nature, love and duty. I loved it! I wasn't quite so enamoured of the other short stories but this one really spoke to me.

Monday, 2 October 2017

The Grumpy Norfolkbookworm

A week which has left the Norfolkbookworm grumpy and bewildered.

I think that regular readers of this blog (waves at all three of you!) know that I love books from all genres and that as long as people read I have no snobbery as to what it is being read, however this past week has really challenged me three times.

Irritation number one – poorly edited books

This week I have picked up two new space books from the library with a view to buying them for my nephew later. However both of them have had major errors within the first 60 pages making me doubt the content of the rest of the book.

The first book (Apollo by Zack Scott) lists the wrong Apollo astronaut as part of a mission.
The second book (Beyond the Sky by Dara O’Briain) describes in really easy to understand terms how a solar eclipse occurs but then in big, bold, fancy text calls it a lunar eclipse. #facepalm

To be fair the publishers of Apollo have come back to me an apologised and assured me that this will be corrected in subsequent reprints and Dara O'Briain has tweeted me to say that he'll get his book corrected in reprints too.

Irritation number two – World Book Day 2018

The titles that children can swap their £1 vouchers for next March were announced this week and at first I was really pleased as there are 10 titles to pick from this time – surely this will mean there is something for everyone…

However of these 10 books
·         4 are by celebrities who are supposedly writing these books themselves
·         1 book is all about the Avengers and so not necessarily by any particular author
·         2 books feature well established characters (Paddington and the Mr Men)

This leaves just three books by ‘real’ authors.  Now I know that any book in the hands of a child is better than no book *but* why aren’t publishers using this opportunity to promote new authors to readers?  There are hundreds of great authors out there who go undiscovered because all of the press coverage goes to celebrity writers – why not use this promotion to widen reader experience rather than celebrity profile?

Before people call me out on this I’m not particularly questioning the quality of the books or the promotion as a whole. Free books give people the chance to try something new and I think a big opportunity is being missed here. Infrequent book buyers recognise celebrity names and brands and are more likely to buy these familiar books whereas they are less likely to try unknown authors and potentially ‘waste’ their money – WBD gives people the chance to try new things without spending anything…

Irritation number three – book reviews in the press

We’ve recently started buying a Saturday paper on a regular basis and I am enjoying the review section a lot as a rule. However this week I was just left fuming.

In the book section this week 20 books were reviewed. Of these just two were written by women and even these didn’t get full reviews, just short paragraphs.  A further two books were featured in more chatty articles – these were also by men. One book was about a woman but this too was written (and reviewed) by a man.  Three of the reviewers were female which is slightly better…

My rant on Twitter lead to some interesting chat with other readers, one said that she wasn’t bothered by the gender of the writer just the quality of the book which was a fair point but it goes back to my thoughts on World Book Day – if books/authors  don’t get the coverage how do casual readers (who don’t go in bookshops and libraries to browse) find them?

I confess that I was tired and grumpy as I read the paper yesterday and so to be fair I dug through the recycling to find last week’s paper to do the same counting exercise…

21 books were reviewed last week and 8 of these books were by women. There were also another four featured authors – 2 of whom were female. 

It is possible that I just overreacted this week but I will be watching this closely – and don’t get me started on the lack of children’s books or those in translation…

Friday, 29 September 2017

Theatre 2017: Review Twenty-nine - Boudica

Boudica, Shakespeare's Globe, London. September 2017.

After two shows that I found to be shockingly bad (and another that we didn't even bother going to) this was the last chance for the summer 2017 season to redeem itself...

For the most part I think that this new play did. This was a fun  retelling of a version of the Boudica story, this one from an incredibly feminist standpoint.  While I was watching the play I enjoyed it but a week on I am struggling to remember much of the show apart from broad brush strokes.

At times it felt a bit obvious and didactic. It was also quite simplistic with characters taking just one stance each rather than being nuanced (with the exception of Boudica herself), it was also pretty bloody and sweary!

However as Boudica and the Iceni come from East Anglia this play was always going to be a hit with me as the cast didn't attempt to speak in Norfolk dialect!

The addition of the modern pop songs - the cast singing a version of London Calling at the start of the second half (as they planned the attack on London) and then I Fought the Law (and the law won) at the end - really worked for me. The ending had been a little stop/start and this coming together was a great way to finally end the show.

This isn't a perfect play but it was a nice way to end the outdoor season at the Globe after so many disappointments. I have tickets to one more play programmed by Emma Rice but I am far more excited by next season when the theatre loses the lights and sound systems and gains a new AD.

Monday, 18 September 2017

Another Blog Tour: Salt Creek by Lucy Treloar

Salt Creek by Lucy Treloar

After never having taken part in a blog tour before I now find myself taking part in two in a month!  This book however is very different to Whitstable Hightide Swimming Club in every aspect but I loved Salt Creek by Lucy Treloar just as much.

Salt Creek is a more or less uninhabited tract of land outside of Adelaide in South Australia and the Finch family have been forced to relocate their after some bad decisions made by Hester Finch’s father.

Hester is our narrator and the book slips in time from the family’s exile in Salt Creek to her later life back in Chichester, England.  At first the move to Salt Creek seems like the end of the world – the area is not easy to work or love but slowly the family adjust until slowly their world unravels again.

Set against their struggles are stories of Aborigines and their poor treatment by Australian settlers, the tales of the first settlers and the way that the isolation, heat and cold slowly drive people mad. 
The story seemed slow at first and I wasn’t too keen on the time jumps however before I realised it the book had totally wormed its way into my life and I was turning the pages like it was the latest thriller.

For me the addictiveness of this book for me came through the way Treloar made me think that I was one of the Finch family, I wasn't just reading about them - I was in their house, sitting at their table, sharing their triumphs and their pains. On putting the book down it did take me tome to remember that it was 2017 and I was in Norfolk not  1860s Australia.

Reading about the treatment of the indigenous people, and the troubles Tully faced after being adopted in the family didn't make easy reading but then it certainly shouldn't have done - this is a shameful piece of history that carried on for far too long. The point was driven home effectively by the characters being unable to see the irony of being abolitionists at the same time. 

This book deserves to do well, I felt it covered new ideas in a very compelling manner. It is long and it is slow but these things are important, and like the landscape of Salt Creek, it grows on you.

Many thanks to the team at Gallic Press for the chance to read this book and take part in the blog tour.



Friday, 15 September 2017

Theatre 2017: Review Twenty-eight - Against

Against, Almeida Theatre, London. September 2017.

Well a week on and I still don't know what to make of this play. And reading online reviews I don't think that I am alone in this.

I liked a lot about this play. The characters & the individual stories all had me captivated. The basic idea is that Luke* (Ben Wishaw), a rich entrepreneur with an interest in space travel, has received a message from God to "go where the violence is." He uses his fortune to move into communities where violence has happened (a town after a school shooting, a university with a sex assault scandal). He stays long after the mainstream media have gone to try and get to the heart of the community and encourages people from all sides of the story to talk with him and publish their tales on his website.

All well and good, but then people who don't think their stories are being told start to question and criticise and things unfold and not for the good.

This strand of the play was great but then there were the odder parts - Luke's relationships with women, the story of his father, and his business rival (definitely not Jeff Bezos & Amazon) sat oddly in the play for me and I think that the scenes with the two workers in the non-Amazon were worthy of their own play (perhaps with Luke's story as the secondary line).

I'm also not at all sure what the message of the play was - there were so many ways to read it that it left me confused.  I know that some audience thought is good but not knowing at all if it is a nihilistic play or an optimistic one is a leap too far.  I can also see other's criticism that calls it highly misogynistic on reflection many of the female characters only existed as ciphers, however I did like that the stage (almost) nudity was completely equal!

We saw a lot of Ben Wishaw in this and I do think that he held the play together, with a weaker actor I think I'd have lost patience with this play totally, where as now I am at least still spending a lot of time thinking about it even if I can't work out if I liked it!

*I am guessing that Luke is supposed to be a version of Elon Musk, especially once we meet Jon later on.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

My First Blog Tour: The Whitstable High Tide Swimming Club

The Whitstable High Tide Swimming Club by Katie May.

I’m really rather excited to be talking about the Whitstable Bay Swimming Club: Diving In by Katie May, especially as this is the first blog tour I’ve participated in.

The Whitstable Bay Swimming Club will be a full novel in the end but currently is being published in novella sized chunks and this first part is a real treat, I was looking for something fun and light to read to fill a break between two heavier nonfiction works and this fitted the bill perfectly.

It is a story of unlikely friendships all forged on Whitstable beach by a group of sea swimmers.  Due to the geography of the beach swimming is only really possible at high tide and so slowly people get to know each other and when their swim is threatened they are ready to fight. The friendship and tensions all seem very real, and as I was reading the book I could see them meet, sum each other up and then learn more about each other

Katie May herself says:
Meet Deb, Maisie and The Whitstable High Tide Swimming Club  When I was planning The Whitstable High Tide Swimming Club, I had a strong vision of Deb and Maisie, my two central characters, but little else. I knew that I wanted to write a novel about the power of female friendship, but I also knew that there needed to be a community of swimmers around them, all with different lives and problems. I wondered how I’d manage to pull this off.
 I needn’t have worried: gradually, as I wrote my book, a whole cast of characters introduced themselves and joined in with the action. Here are my favourites.
 DebI first imagined Deb when I was sitting on Whitstable beach one afternoon, and suddenly, from nowhere, a dog jumped over the wave-break and onto my picnic. He was closely followed by a woman who was at once panicked and chaotic, but warm and instantly likeable. I knew immediately that I wanted to write about her. In the book, Deb’s waited until her fifties to finally leave her bullying, feckless husband, but she’s making the most of her freedom. She has an incredible ability to get on with anybody, and can’t help trying to solve their problems, too. And yet she’s hopeless at taking care of herself, and is constantly at risk of being dragged back into her awful old life.
 MaisieIn many ways, Maisie is the opposite of Deb – poised, wise and authoritative, she always seems utterly in control. But just like Deb, Maisie is starting her life again too, running away from a high-flying career and a loveless marriage to start a new life by the sea. She and Deb meet because they find themselves swimming on the same beach each day, but they bond because they each have something that the other one needs: for Maisie, it’s Deb’s easy-going nature; for Deb, it’s Maisie’s confidence. What’s more, it turns out that Maisie is running away from more than her past life – she’s terrified of her future, too.
 Ann and EdithAnn doesn’t exactly endear herself to Deb at first. Instead, she invites herself in to the swimming club and tries to take charge. But, as time passes, it’s clear that this irritable, awkward woman is doing her best to be make friends, even if it’s sometimes rather thwarted. What’s more, she has been caring for her mother, Edith, for so long that she’s forgotten how to live her own life any more. Perhaps the High Tide Swimming Club can save both of them.
 DerekDeb’s ex-husband, Derek, at first appears to be a lovelorn fool, desperate to win back the wife he’s so mystified to have lost. But, as time goes on, we learn the reason that Deb appears to be so heartless towards him. And she’d rather let her children believe that she’s just being cruel than tell them the truth.
 BillWhen painfully-shy Bill first turns up on the beach, Deb mistakes him for a Peeping Tom, and nearly scares him off for good. But Bill has hidden depths beneath his quiet exterior. Let’s just say he becomes very important in Parts 2 and 3!
 I’d love to introduce Chloe, Cherie, Rick and Brian too, but I’ve run out of space. You can find them all, and more in The Whitstable High Tide Swimming Club. I hope you’ll enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!
 Katherine May
August 2017

As this is both the first part of a story but also a complete work there are moments when you feel that perhaps things are rushing along a bit fast and simultaneously that there are too many cliffhangers or unexplained bits but just like a soap opera that it the book’s charm – you are left both satisfied but wanting more!

I’m from Kent and I do know the area the swimmers meet and the settings feel just right, and in a book where location is so important this is a real plus.  I’m not one for swimming in British seas, especially on grey damp days, but Katie May does make the water seem appealing even here and as I was reading this on a bright summer day all I wanted was to join the group, have a swim and then go to the pub with them for a cold white wine and chat afterwards!

I’m really looking forward to further parts of this book and also loving that this style of publishing is taking off, sometimes a perfect 100 page story is just what you want and knowing that there’ll be more really soon is perfect.

I hope that the other people like this as much as me and many thanks to Trapeze Books for sending me such a delight to read!

Sunday, 3 September 2017

August Reading Round Up

August saw me reading fewer books that in recent months but this was a for a great reason - Mr Norfolkbookworm and I have been on an American road trip.

We've visited Seattle, taken an overnight Amtrak train and then spent nearly 2 weeks in National Parks (Glacier, Yellowstone and Grand Tetons) with the culmination of the trip being the 2017 Solar Eclipse.

The whole trip was amazing - we did visit bookstores and I did find a theatre! The highlights however have to be the scenery, the wildlife and of course the eclipse. I can't pick a 'top' thing from our experiences and you can find my photos (edited - we took 5000+ between us!) on my Flickr pages.

Thanks to the long flights and also to the unhurried itinerary I did still read 19 books in August. It wasn't a stellar month for books but there were a few standouts...

Salt Creek by Lucy Treloar - this was sent to me for review and I loved it so much I'm part of the blog tour later in September.

Logical Family by Armistead Maupin - I've loved Maupin's books for years and the chance to read his autobiography in proof form was a great way to get over the holiday blues.  It is very frank and won't be for all but I enjoyed it a lot and was moved and amused by it.

Whitstable Hightide Swimming Club by Katie May - this was another book provided by the publisher for review and again it just hit the spot. My review will be out as part of a blog tour in September.

There were no duds in the month, and a couple of re-reads but most of the books have faded into the background because of our trip!