Thursday, 31 August 2017

Talking Books: Things a Bright Girl Can Do

Things a Bright Girl Can Do by Sally Nicholls

I first read a book by Sally Nicholls back in 2008 when her Ways to Live Forever was given to me on a visit to Waterstones head office and then made me cry in public (it is a great book - search it out!) but for some reason since then she has slipped off my reading radar.

I was given a proof of Things a Bright Girl Can Do when I was in Cambridge at a publisher roadshow organised by the Reading Agency and as soon as the representative from Andersen Press started talking about it I knew it was going to be my sort of book.

The book follows the lives of three teenagers/young women from the middle of 1914 through until women received the limited vote in 1918.  All three women have strong feminist ideals and are connected in some way to the Suffragette movement and all come from very different backgrounds.

The plot covers a lot of ground but I was immersed in all the plot strands and felt I was living with the women as they came of age.  This book mixed the best bits of Vera Brittain's Testament of Youth, Pat Barker's books, Robert Graves Goodbye to All That and the film Suffragette.

For me this is historical writing at its best and it has shot into the top ten of my 'favourite books of the year' list.

Monday, 28 August 2017

Talking Books: Ban this Book

Ban This Book by Alan Gratz

Book censorship is a topic I feel quite strongly about - people should have the freedom to read if a book does not contain dangerous, illegal or inciting material and I am lucky enough to work in for a library service that echoes that ethos.

That's not to say that I disapprove of readers being given advice or guidance on content or suitability but I do think that the books should be available for people to try and form their own opinions from.

This book for children nailed all of these points as well as being a fabulous family story too.  One parent objects to a book that her child brings home from the school library and thus starts a crusade to have all the books she disapproves of removed from the library.  Events spiral and more and more books are removed from the library...

This imposed censorship leads to some interesting outcomes - not least making reading cool!

The book is a little simple in message but on the whole it was as brilliant introduction to the ideas of censorship and how people power can overcome many problems.  The book is very American but that doesn't matter - it is just a great story that needs sharing as a warning about maintaining freedom, and the freedom to read.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Theatre 2017: Review Twenty-Seven - Fiddler on the Roof

Fiddler on the Roof, Chichester Festival Theatre, Chichester. August 2017

This was what has become our annual treat with Mr Norfolkbookworm's aunt, but I think that in this case I was the only one in the audience who didn't know the entire plot of the show.

For some reason I've never seen this before, either on stage or the film version which is strange as I know that it is one of my dad's favourites.  I know the famous song of course (If I Were a Rich Man) and I think I'd heard Matchmaker, Matchmaker and Sun Rise, Sun Set before but that was it.

During the first act I wasn't convinced, Tevye and Golde spoke with Russian/Yiddish accents but their equally rural children all spoke with almost RP accents and for a while this stopped me being drawn in to the story.  I also found it a little over long in the first part - I don't know what could have been shaved but at the interval I was definitely pleased that act two was going to be a lot shorter.

And here's the lesson why you should never leave at the interval because all of the build up in that long first act paid off and I was utterly immersed in the story by the end and truly sad that it came to and end.  I want to know what happened to all of the characters after they were forced out of their village - such an open and potentially sad ending was a real surprise.

Another real surprise was just how good Omid Djalili was - I'd seen him on stage in What the Butler Saw a few years ago and I really disliked his acting, but here he was Tevye and the lynch pin of the production.

I am not sure if this really counts as a musical - I feel that a play with some songs is a more accurate description for the songs don't really move the plot on at any point, they just emphasise what is said/shown but I am glad that we saw it.  I might not have been keen at the interval but by the end I was won over and now I can't stop thinking about is which means that it was obviously a good outing!

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Making an exhibition of myself

Although I don't blog about them as much as I do other things I do go to museum exhibitions reasonably regularly but in the past few weeks I've been to two exhibition launches here in Norwich and can't wait to go back and explore them again.

Cecil Aldin: The Art of Black Beauty at the Museum of Norwich.

It is 140 years since Black Beauty was published and to celebrate this Jarrolds have loaned the museum their original watercolours which were used as the plates for the 1912 illustrated edition.
The art work was amazing and as I love the novel so much I just had to glance at them to know exactly which scene was being illustrated - for once the pictures on the wall matched the pictures in my mind.
Black Beauty has long been a favourite book of mine, I have my dad's childhood copy on my shelves and it is a book I've read time and time again so to see the original pictures, and many different editions of the book, was a treat and in this setting it was a perfect exhibition.

Nelson and Norfolk at Norwich Castle

Norfolk's most famous son and I have a history - my paternal grandfather was in the navy and as a child he told me that he was actually Nelson's cabin boy and I believed him. In my defence I was under 10 at the time and didn't have the best grasp on history!
However his gentle teasing has given me a lifelong interest in Nelson so a chance to see a lot of new items about his life and career was wonderful.
This exhibition starts with a huuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuge flag - a tricolour that flew on a French ship at the Battle of the Nile. When I say huge I mean it - this flag is as big as a tennis court.  After this there is a labyrinth of other Nelson items to pore over - including his uniform from the said battle and also the shot that killed him.
There are also lots of handwritten documents to study, and items showcasing the Nelson-mania that swept the county during and after his lifetime. At first you think this is a small exhibition but there is so much in the space that you can easily spend hours in there.

I was lucky to get an invite to both of these launches and to get a sneak peak at them but I will be going back to both of them and exploring them and the museums more before they end.

The Cecil Alden exhibition runs until November 25th and Nelson until 1st October - full details here

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Theatre 2017: Review Twenty-Six: Ink

Ink, The Almeida Theatre, London. July 2017.

Wow - what a play. I am so glad that after a dip in June that the plays I've seen in July have meant that summer 2017 hasn't been a washout after all.

This is a play about the newspaper industry in 1969/1970. Rupert Murdoch has just bought a failing newspaper, The Sun, and challenges the new editor to make it outsell The Mirror within a year. He doesn't really care how this happens...

The first act is quite light, the explanation of how Larry Lamb sets his paper up is actually done through a song and dance routine - don't wince it was amazing! There is lots of humour as a bunch of misfits come together and turn a broadsheet paper into a million copy selling tabloid.

Act two is much, much darker as Lamb's ruthlessness to meet the target knows no bounds.  At times the actions taken are heart stopping and also very prophetic as to where the press, and in particular The Sun, have gone since.

This was an incredibly strong play and my two complaints  about it are personal to me. I am a printer's daughter and knowing what Murdoch did to the print trade in the 1980s it was very disconcerting to feel any sympathy for him while watching the play. Secondly I am also very much pro-union and seeing them in a less than favourable light was again not a comfortable watch!

As I said criticisms very personal to me and this was a brilliant play. It left me wanting to know more and I was very pleased to see a list of references in the programme so I can find out more!

Thursday, 3 August 2017

July Reading Round Up

July was another great month of reading for me, and one where I had lots of time to catch up on requests from Net Galley.  2017 is shaping up again to be a great year for books.

Two of the books that have made my top reads of the month I reviewed earlier The Children of Jocasta and These Dividing Walls but other standouts this month were:

Circe - Madeline Miller.
This was a very early proof (the book isn't actually out until sometime in 2018!) but I loved every word. It is very different from her first book The Song of Achilles whilst still firmly being rooted in Ancient Greece. The scope is huge but told very intimately - I hope it does really well.

The January Man - Christopher Somerville
Another walking book come memoir makes my list this month and this one is also shortlisted for the Wainright Prize. Somerville (and his wife or friend on occasion) takes a different walk around the UK each month. He talks about the history of the area he is walking and the legends but is quite open about how unobservant he is about his surroundings!
The story also tells of Somerville's relationship with his father and is wonderfully moving without being sentimental.

Artemis - Andy Weir
I loved The Martian when I read it on holiday a few years ago (I've not seen the film) I love this type of sci-fi - set in the not too distant future with a premise that could be true. Artemis is just this sort of fiction and added to this is a bit of a crime caper. The icing on the cake? The person "science-ing the shit out of the moon" is female!
The book is out later this year and I hope that it does even better than The Martian because there was no hint of the 'difficult second novel' here.

Travels with my Sketchbook - Chris Riddell
Chris Riddell has just completed his two year stint as the Children's Laureate and he has been a huge supporter of libraries and school libraries throughout his tenure. This is a collection of his sketches, cartoons, drafts for his final work and a diary in image form and a pure delight.  Riddell manages to capture the whimsy of life along with the terrible and I wanted to race through this book and savour every image simultaneously. Who says picture books are just for for children?

One Summer in Tuscany - Domenica de Rosa
This is a real guilty pleasure book - I won it in a Twitter competition with Quercus books and it was a pure delight to read some unashamed chick lit. Okay I guessed the main plot points early on but I enjoyed the ride as we got there and the writing definitely made me think I was in Tuscany in summer with the heat and the food. This was a fun escapist read.