Monday, 31 December 2018

What a year!

So that was 2018!

What a year it has been, I ended 2017 in pretty bad health and by the end of January discovered that this was because in December 2017 I had in fact suffered a brain heamorrhage.

The first quarter of the year is pretty much a blur to me, I was incredibly tired and had the mother of all headaches (in fact nearly 13 months on there hasn’t yet been a day when I haven’t had headpain/headache which is pretty tiring). For me the worst thing was that I’d lost (temporarily thankfully) the ability to read - and as this is usually my way of self medicating when unwell it felt really awful, possibly worse even than the headache.

Slowly my concentration has returned and I can again (mostly) follow the plot of longer, more complicated books but I have a new found respect and love for short stories, essays and the wonderful Quick Reads scheme. Epistolary novels and those told in diaries are still the easiest for me to read and follow, especially when tired but I console myself that books rarely vanish completely and so all the great books I’ve not managed this year will still be there in years to come.

Sadly the same can’t be said for theatre and I know I’ve missed some cracking plays this year (whether due to illness or weather) but in the scheme of things I am just grateful I got to see the things I did, and that I enjoyed (most) of them.

At work it has been even more of a roller coaster. With great support from my colleagues I managed to return to work on limited hours & duties. I managed to deliver my 1918-2018 Armistice project and also got to work (as a volunteer) on creating the Armistice: The Legacy of the Great War on Norfolk exhibition - two things that at the start of the year seemed impossible to consider. However my current job, and those of many colleagues, has been deleted and I am currently trying to work out what will happen next...

There will be no top 10s from this year, but I do really recommend Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngsen, The Skylark’s War by Hilary McKay and To Obama, with Love, Joy, Hate and Despair by Jeanne Marie Laskas as these are the three books that have stuck with me longest and given me hope that my problems with memory/concentration/reading will continue to improve.

Who knows what 2019 will bring, certainly changes in my work life but as I’ve learned life is a very precious thing and work is by no means the most important thing in it,

Monday, 26 November 2018

Remembrance musings

What with our recent trip to Belgium, my work over the last 4 years on the Norfolkinworldwar1 website and the recent poppy project along with reading a lot of books connected to WW1 you could say I've been pretty immersed in the whole conflict for quite sometime.

I've enjoyed it a lot (enjoyed the research and learning, obviously not the horror of war) and this past November with the commemorations of Armistice100 a few thoughts have been swirling in my mind. In no particular order, and with no answers they include...

There has been, rightly, a lot of focus on the horrors and losses of war - but these have not focused much on those who came back injured either physically or mentally.

  • I wonder if this is because when the men returned they didn't (or couldn't) talk about their experiences? We don't have their stories but the people who lost family members wanted to keep their stories alive and so we 'know' more about them... 
  • This also ties in with family history research - records are sealed for around 100 years in a lot of cases and so only the bare bones of survivor stories can be researched, where as there are often many more records available for the dead...
  • The increase in ease of completing family history research thanks to the internet could also be a factor in this, along with the ease of visiting many of the WW1 locations...
  • There is also the point that we have very few, if any, survivors from the period to talk to - even our centenarians were born as the war drew to a close and so have very few memories of the period. They also grew up in a time where feelings were more repressed and so didn't ask/find out the thoughts, feelings and experiences of their parents...

My other concern has been regarding veterans from conflicts that came after WW1.  2019 will mark the 80th anniversary of the start of  WW2 and have we lost the chance to record the stories of those who fought/survived that war too as we concentrated so hard on WW1 for the past 4 years or so. I've also been surprised/annoyed by television programmes talking about the work of the Commonwealth War Graves (among other military issues) that just haven't even mentioned that the CWGC looks after graves from wars other than the Great War...

I don't have any answers to these thoughts and I am well aware that with my projects I have added to this agenda, but I hope that we have (for the most part) tried to work through the myths of the war and to tell new stories. I know that should I get to work on any similar commemoration projects for WW2 that I will certainly be paying more attention to the survivor stories.

Many of these musings have been brought into focus as I read through Neil Oliver's Not Forgotten: The Great War and our modern memory -  a book that I've been dipping into over the past month and whole heartedly recommend, and that I'm pleased to report echoes some of my thoughts even if it couldn't solve my dilemmas either.

Friday, 23 November 2018

Still here

I am still here but it has been a month of a lot of ups and downs, and as seems to be the case post brain hemorrhage the thing that now seems to vanish at these times is my ability to lose myself in a book.

I've been thinking a lot about Remembrance and WW1 over the past few weeks and I did originally intend to post about those today but then the Costa Book Prize shortlists were announced last night...

As is clear to people who read this blog I have really struggled with reading this year and I've read an awful lot less than ever before. I do wonder if this is making me more discerning, and that the list is far more quality rather than quantity.

I say this because two of the books that have been vitally important to me this year have made the Costa shortlists.

The first book that I managed to read all the way through after I fell ill was the wonderful Meet Me at the Museum by debut novelist Anne Youngson. I read it back early in the year, but this was in proof form and so my review didn't appear until late spring. Discovering that I could still read was a really important milestone and I knew that this book was incredibly special to me but to know that others also see this is wonderful, and on a personal level it reinforces that I can still spot a good book!

The Skylarks' War by Hilary McKay marked another landmark in my recovery - it was the first book that I read through in just one day, something I took for granted until December 2017.  There had been other books that I'd read reasonably quickly for the 'new' me but this was the one that I just had to keep reading, that kept my concentration throughout and made a very wet Sunday pass in a flash. (I reviewed this book for the NorfolkinWW1 website where I was much more about the book than the importance it had to me personally).

I'd love for both of these books to go on to triumph in the award ceremonies early in 2019, In the meantime I really do recommend reading both of these books as soon as you can!

Monday, 15 October 2018

A book that packs a punch despite being 'Little'

Little by Edward Carey

A micro review for a 'Little' book.
I received a copy of this book in proof form and it arrived in my hands with no blurb or information and I had no idea what I was starting.

It turns out that this is a book about the woman who became Madame Tussaud, it is fiction but uses the biographical information out there to make a truthful yet gripping read.

While I knew Madame Tussaud was a real person I'd never thought to learn more about her but in this book Carey really made her sing from every page.

I have to confess to skim reading some of the descriptions of how she learnt her trade - what can I say, I'm squeamish! It was the skill with which Carey evoked Europe of the late 1700s and early 1800s that won me over in addition to the wonderful  the little sketches which added loads to the reading experience for me.

Once more Belgravia Books have produced a little gem, and like Salt Creek last year I really hope that this gains great word of mouth interest and ends up on loads of 'best of 2018' lists in a few months time.

Although I was provided with a free copy of this book I wasn't expected to write a review for the title - I just found it so quirky that I had to share my thoughts.

Thursday, 11 October 2018

Another long pause

Oh dear another large gap between posts. I am a terrible blogger right now.

I do have three good reasons (I refuse to call them excuses)...

I've been reading books for another project and so can't share them with you. As ever they've been a mixed bag and definitely taken me out of my reading comfort zone.

I've been out and about enjoying the lovely long, warm autumn that we've been lucky enough to be enjoying. It has felt very nice to get back out with my camera - I've put some of my pictures at the end of this post.

My final reason for the lack of posts (and books read) has been the culmination of a crazy 18 month project.  I've been working on WW1 commemorations since 2013 and after planning a real celebration for the start of the war in August 2014 (this may sound odd but in 1914 the UK really did think that the war would be quick, decisive and was a really patriotic moment) I wanted to end the centenary with a far more sober, reflective project.

My idea was to commemorate all of the men and women listed on Norfolk's War Memorials with a poppy.  It took several months to work out this figure - and we settled on 15,500 as being the best guess. Some men are commemorated on more than one panel or memorial and short of physically visiting every plaque, grave and memorial this best guess was decided on.

Well over the last 18 months poppies have been arriving for me at the library and I've been sorting and counting carefully.  As of this week we reached our target, all of the poppies are ready to go and even more amazingly a city centre venue for the 15,500 poppies has been offered.
After this en-masse display then the garlands will be split into smaller displays and sent to all of Norfolk's libraries (including the mobile vans) so that people can get just a small idea of how many people from Norfolk lost their lives between 1914 and 1919.

I am so pleased that despite having a brain hemorrhage the project was still shared widely while I poorly and that counting poppies and creating the displays is something I've been able to do while recovering.

If any of my readers are in Norwich later this month then all the poppies will be on display in St Peter Mancroft Church from around 11am on 22nd October until 29th October.

Saturday, 22 September 2018

What I've been doing this summer instead of reading...

What I did in the summer of 2018

Inspired by my nephew writing all about his summer holiday at school I thought it would be interesting to keep a note of all the things I've been doing this summer instead of crazy theatre going and binge reading.

To be truthful there has been some theatre going, since May I've seen:

  • Two Noble Kinsmen (the Globe)
  • The Chalk Garden (Chichester Festival Theatre)
  • Othello (the Globe)
  • Me and My Girl (Chichester Festival Theatre)
  • Pressure (the Ambassadors Theatre)
  • Emilia (the Globe)
  • Love's Labour's Lost (the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse)
When listed like this it seems a lot but in the same time frame last year I saw 13 plays (often in double bill days) so this is a reduction.

So apart from a lot of resting, and poppy sorting (more on this soon), what have I been up to?

Spending time with family has featured highly this summer and thanks to the lovely weather we've been able to get out and about a lot too. We've been to cricket matches, family meals and also Legoland but there are two huge highlights.

The GoGoHares trail here in Norfolk - family came to stay with us for this and we spent several days out and about in the city and county looking for the beautiful sculptures.

Then while the good weather lasted we returned the visit to family and spent a glorious Saturday in Ashford following the Snowdog trail.

These trails are wonderful, we spent hours out in the fresh air, walking miles and at the same time soaking up the happy feeling of both locations. In addition to this we were supporting two wonderful charities - Break and the Pilgrim's Hospice.

We've done lots of other things too but the joy we had discovering beautiful sculptures and new areas of both locations will be hard to beat - and the fun and laughter we shared was brilliant. Here's hoping that the auctioning of the sculptures later in the year raises loads of money for each charity. Huge thanks to everyone who has made these two events so great.

Monday, 3 September 2018

Wasted on children...

The Goth Girl Series by Chris Riddell

Just over a week ago I was lucky enough to be working an event with the former Children's Laureate - Chris Riddell.

I've long been a fan of his illustrations and political cartoons, and last summer I picked his Travels With My Sketchbook as a top read but for some reason I've not read any of the books solely written by him, despite recommending them to all and sundry based on the illustrations and blurbs!

I've rectified this now as I've raced through three of the four Goth Girl books in the past 10 days, I picked these ones on the back of Chris's comment at his talk where he talked about some painters of bucolic scenes calling themselves the twee-Raphelites  and something about this dreadful pun really spoke to me.

The Goth Girl books were a delight, and as an adult the fun came in the puns and jokes as much as the plots and I was giggling hysterically from the description of Ada Goth's father as being mad, bad and dangerous to gnomes at the start of the first book right up until the very sweet book in a book that slots into the fourth book and gives an alternative origins story to the Narnia books.

I am really surprised that these books haven't been recovered and rebadged for the adult satire market as they really do stand up against books like Bored of the Rings. I hope that the plots do mean that the books appeal to children as much they do to me!

In addition to this Chris is a great guy and spends time talking to, and listening to his fans of all ages, I'd hoped that would be the case as I'd hate to have had my illusions of such a library and reading advocate to have been not so nice in real life!

Be warned - everyone in the family is going to be getting books by Mr Riddell for birthdays and Christmas from now on...

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Stretching myself

Oooops - another long gap in posts to the blog, but again for good reasons I think...

We've been visiting family over the summer weekends and generally having a good time relaxing, I've been to a couple of cricket matches and I've started going to the theatre more often - all good things and an indication that I am getting better. I don't think I'm up to the "three shows and an exhibition weekends" that I was doing before but I am picking what I see with more care and enjoying my outings a lot.

I still haven't returned to my previous levels of reading, nor even the heights I reached on holiday but I am restarting some of my former reading projects which feels promising.

Currently I have six very varied books supplied by the Reading Agency to get through before the end of the month, I feel proud of myself as I have already read 3 cover to cover, and 100 pages of a fourth (the historical errors just kept throwing me out of the book) and am about to start the fifth.  As ever these generally aren't books I'd have chosen myself so making progress with them is certainly encouraging.

I did abandon these books yesterday as I was approved for a Net Galley proof of book I've been longing to read over the weekend and for the first time since the start of December I did spend an entire day just reading and finished the book in one go. More about this soon but I know it is going to feature highly in my top books of the year in a few months...

It is important to keep reminding myself of these gains as I am still definitely suffering the after effects of the brain hemorrhage every day and it is easy to forget the progress I'm making.

Thursday, 2 August 2018

Holiday Reading

Holiday Reading

As promised here's the (short for me) list of books I read on holiday, and some brief thoughts about them.  Six were great, one was 'meh' and the last one I wish I'd not bothered with...

Love and Ruin by Paula McClain - this is a companion piece to The Paris Wife which I read a couple of years ago. This book is the story of Martha Gellhorn and her relationship with Hemingway and it made me want to read more books by both of these authors and to find a good book on the Spanish Civil War.

Tempest and Slaughter by Tamora Pierce - I've been a fan of Tamora Pierce's books for nearly 30 years but the past few books haven't really been my cup of tea so I was really pleased that this one was set back in Tortall and is the first of a new series.

Warlike by Michael Ondjaate - This book has since been long-listed for the Booker Prize and I am really pleased about this as I thought the book was brilliant. It has two distinct halves but they weave together wonderfully and the just post-war setting was intriguing.

Heartburn by Nora Ephron - This book had been book of the month in several places and I was really excited to read this one. Sadly I found it dated and banal.

Mythos by Stephen Fry - This retelling of the Greek Myths won't be for everyone, it is very 'Fry' but the light hearted turn of phrase was just what I needed.

A Very English Scandal by John Preston - I missed the recent adaptation of this but had heard so much about it I thought I'd try the book. I wasn't disappointed and found the whole story enthralling, and at the same time a little sad because I feel that despite the decriminalization of homosexuality it would still be far too easy to blackmail someone over the topic.

What Kitty Did Next by Carrie Kablean - This is an imagined sequel to Pride and Prejudice and I enjoyed it very much. It doesn't have quite the pizazz of the original but like Longbourn certainly adds to the Bennett sisters' stories.

Early Riser by Jasper Fforde - I always start Fforde's books with enthusiasm and enjoyment but by the end I start to find them, and their humour tedious. The basic ideas are always good but I find them too convoluted and contrived to fully enjoy. I'm pleased he is over his writer's block but this one just didn't quite do it for me - although the cold setting was great at cooling me down in the Greek heat!

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Radio Silence

Ooops - a month has passed very quickly, I really didn't intend for that much time to go past without a blog post.

Mr Norfolkbookworm and I just had two wonderful weeks in Greece - yes I know the biggest heatwave in years hit the UK at the same time, but what can I say? I have stunning timing!

We had a lovely time and for the first time since the brain hemorrhage in December I managed to read for longer periods of time and even better than that it was more complicated narrative fiction. While it was a great improvement on the past few months and 8 books in two weeks is a 2018 triumph it was a far call from the last time we had two weeks away when I got through 23...

I'll share my books and thoughts soon but for now I'll leave you with the place I did most of my reading...

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

100 and counting

The Century Girls by Tessa Dunlop

1918 was a momentous year in so many ways - the end of World War One, the partial granting of the vote to women and the murder of the Russian royal family to name but a few. It was also the year my nan was born.

Because of this last fact I was fascinated to read Dunlop's Century Girls. Not all of these remarkable women were born in 1918 but they are all around the same age. They come from all walks of life and have lived fascinating, normal lives.

While obviously none of them lived the same life as my nan there were little tidbits in each narrative that I knew could have been applied to her. It was a good mix of rural and city tales plus remembered those who were originally born in Empire countries. The women also span all economic classes which brings in very different view points too.

The book is mostly told in a chronological fashion, taking bits from each remarkable lady to make a rounded, female, history of the last 100 years. The book is wonderfully chatty in style but never overly sentimental. I loved it.

My nan - 26th June 1918- 14th April 2008
(picture from my sister)

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

A companion not a sequel

Auggie and Me by R.J. Palacio

Back in November I read Wonder by R.J. Palacio and loved it, even though it made me cry lots. I still haven't had the emotional energy to watch the film!

I had hoped that Palacio had written lots of books before this and so had a great back list for me to explore. Events stopped this happening for a while but while I was browsing the Norfolk Library ebook catalogue looking for some short stories to read I came across Auggie and Me and I remembered how much I loved the original.

Palacio is clear to stress that this isn't a sequel to Wonder but rather a companion piece, in fact in many ways Auggie barely features in these three stories - he is an incidental character allowing us to learn more about his friends and classmates.

I loved all three stories, and once more I was reduced to tears by the characters and events. Palacio really manages to make her characters alive, and even when you think you know how a story arc is going to flow she manages to surprise. These stories could be terribly moralistic and didactic but the humour and writing lift them above this and any morals are absorbed without realising.

Sadly apart from books connected to Wonder Palacio hasn't written anything else (yet) but I really hope she does soon.

Friday, 8 June 2018

30 Days Wild and beyond

The Wildlife Trusts have an initiative every June called 30 Days Wild - this encourages people to get out and about connecting with the natural world.

I have certainly found that on the days I get out and about in the fresh air I really do feel better, I'm calling it the nature cure which isn't terribly original but who cares.

While walking for the sake of walking is great I do prefer to mix a walk with some nature watching and living in Norfolk we have no shortage of places to go. I also like to take the camera with me and I've been pretty pleased with a lot of the pictures I've snapped this spring/early summer.

I post a lot of my pictures on Flickr, you can find me at but below are a few of my favourites.

There is one downside to all this fresh air...I'm generally too tired to read  so I'm not sure how my reading stamina is progressing as I'm either outside or just too sleepy!

Saturday, 2 June 2018

Challenging My Brain

Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy by Anne Boyd Rioux

Little Women (and the three follow up novels) have long been some of my favourite reads - I've lost count of how many times I've read them! However I've also spent a lot of time in the past few years debating with friends (who's opinions I really value) about if these books are pro- or anti-feminist works.

Warning - there are some spoilers below...

I've always maintained that they are positive reads for young readers - Jo makes a living from her writing and later her teaching. Meg may marry young but the struggle of being a homemaker and mother is stressed, Amy becomes a successful artist before marrying.

My more critical friends however see the books less positively - that only marriage and family can make women happy, or if they are truly good then they die.

When I saw advance copies of Boyd Rioux's book up for review on Netgalley I got really excited. Then a little nervous that perhaps a serious lit-crit book would be beyond my broken brain. It nearly has. I can only read the work in small chunks, and I have had to reread chapters/pages multiple times. I've also been reading this book for nearly a fortnight and I'm still not  at the end - something that those who know me will find incredible.

My feelings for this book are absolute love. It covers the way that Little Women mirrors Alcott's life, and a potted biography of all four March/Alcott women. It then talks about how the books have been represented on screen (and how this has influenced the pro/anti feminist debate) and I am just up to the part where Boyd Rioux is making the case for both viewpoints.

I can now appreciate my friends' views more but unless in the last portion of the book there are significant twists/revelations I am proud to stand by my opinion that this is a book that promotes female independence!

The book will be published in August and I know that I will be buying at least one copy for my Little Women critical friends!

Saturday, 19 May 2018

Gifting books you'd like to read

I've always been a great believer in the idea that if you are surprising someone with a gift then it should be something you'd like to receive yourself.

After a friend was talking about her reading block at the end of last year, and knowing her quirky tastes, I decided to surprise her with a copy of The Forgotten Authors by Christopher Fowler. When it arrived I had a look through it and instantly wanted to keep it and not pass it on.

Reading slumps are a real pain, that longing to read something but not being able to find a suitable book can drive you mad. Even with my limited reading stamina at present I still find this a problem - if you've got limited ability to read it has to be a good book after all!

This book includes details of 99  authors who were once popular but have slipped from collective memory overtime plus some extra essays about things like translation and pulp fiction.  I consider myself a prolific and knowledgeable reader but I only recognised 16 of the writers included...

The sections that the book is split into are clever and humorous - being a perverse person my favourite was "The Justly Forgotten Authors" - why do they deserve this epithet? My reservation for this book just came in at the library and I am looking forward to the essays and the new authors to discover. I'm sure that my list of books to read is going to grow hugely!

Friday, 11 May 2018

Graphic history

Sally Heathcote: Suffragette by Mary M Talbot, Kate Charlesworth and Bryan Talbot.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of (a limited number of) women being given the vote and while my book of the year last year was the wonderful Things A Bright Girl Can Do about the suffrage campaign I wanted to read more.

Around the February anniversary there were a lot of new non fiction books about the suffragettes and I have added them to my reading list to investigate when my reading stamina is improved, but in a lot of recommended lists I saw mention of Sally Heathcote: Suffragette. On looking the book up I found it was a graphic novel (a genre I always intend to read more of) and so reserved it from the library in the hope that my brain would cope with the format.

It took a while for it to be my turn to borrow the book (hurrah - it is popular!) and this did mean I am further along in recovery and after a few pages struggling with the different format I was drawn in.

Sally is a fictional character but is obviously based on detailed research into the suffrage campaign, and we follow her contacts with the movement from its early days in Manchester, through the split between the militant and peaceful branches, on to the real violence of the years before the First World War and then the war itself and the culmination of the campaign.

This little splashes of colour, especially for Sally's hair, help to keep the story straight in all of the scenes and I did become involved in her story, the little flash forwards were especially effective. I also very much liked how the tale did poke holes in the mythology that surrounds the Pankhursts, they were a complicated family and this is highlighted in the book.  I've always been uncomfortable with Emmeline and Christabel's total volte face on the outbreak of war and this is reflected very well here.

To make the narrative work Sally is obviously repeatedly in the right place at the right time which does sometimes seem a little improbable but it is the only way the authors/illustrator can give a complete overview of the movement, the book definitely follows the 'show not tell' school of story telling.

Without spoilers the last few pages of the story pack a real punch.

Overall I enjoyed this book, but I think that it should be taken as a version of the history of the Suffragettes and read in conjunction with other books on the subject. It is also not clear from a quick glance at the book that Sally is an amalgamation of characters and the book fiction not biography.

Friday, 4 May 2018

War and Agony (aunts)

Book Review: Dear Mrs Bird

(review copy provided by Net Galley)

This was a book I read quite a while ago, before I fell ill in fact, but I was looking back through my list of books read and realised I'd never talked about it.

This was a book that at first I didn't think I was going to enjoy, it seemed so light, and to a great extent predictable but I persevered and found that my first opinions were deceptive.

Emmeline is a typical literary WW2 heroine in many ways, she comes from a privileged background but is 'slumming it' in London. She is doing her bit for the war effort as she is a phone dispatcher for the Auxiliary Fire Service just as the Blitz is increasing in intensity.  Her dream it to be a war correspondent and she is overjoyed to get a job with the London Evening Chronicle, it isn't quite her dream job however - she ends up being part of the agony aunt team for one of the other publications from the Chronicle's stable.

It is at this point that the book becomes both the most predictable and the most unpredictable and I got fully swept up into the lives of the protagonists and by the end I'd cried more than once!

This is a book very much in the vein of Their Finest by Lissa Evans - mostly fun, frothy and light but with the occasional emotional wallop. It takes familiar events of the war and weaves them into the narrative in a way that is believable as well as being just one coincidence too far.

This review doesn't seem as positive as the feeling the book left me with last autumn which seems slightly unfair - so many of the details of the book, and the emotional impact it had on me are very strong and sometime you do just want a little bit of light-hearted reading.  That I can still recall so much of the book is also a point in its favour - there are some books I read at the end of November last year that I can't recall at all...

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Too impatient to wait any long to talk about a book

Book Review Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson

(many thanks to Netgalley for the advance copy of this title)

It feels like I've been waiting to talk about this book forever and although it isn't officially published until mid-May that is less than a month away so now is the time to pre-order with your favourite bookshop or to get an early reservation in at your local library.

Anyhow back at the start of the year when I was still really quite unwell and despondent because I hadn't managed to read any fiction for over a month I saw people talking about this book on Twitter and then in lists of 'books to watch out for in 2018.' It sounded just my thing and I was approved for an advanced copy on Netgalley and then tentatively opened it up.

The joy - this book was written in an epistolary style and while the letters crossing to and fro the North Sea did link to each other as the tale unfolded they weren't forming a long, continuous narrative. The letters themselves were also reasonably short and so I could really stop and start with  as I needed while thanks to the format the story was almost recapped in each new letter so I was always able to pick the plot up.

This is a very gentle novel and is primarily about Tina, a Suffolk farmer's wife, and Anders, a Danish museum curator. Slowly we learn about them - their lives, families, thoughts and sorrows - nothing is off limits however hard the topic may be. Letters allow both characters to share their inner most thoughts and a real, believable, friendship grows between the writers, and I was so immersed in their worlds that I almost felt guilty for reading their private letters.

There are twists and turns, I didn't spot most of them coming but they all felt convincing - I hope that this is true for all readers and not just because I was ill when I read the book. Reviews are comparing this to another of my favourite books, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and I can definitely see why - and not just because the book is made up of letters. It is a gentle story but with a realistic edge that stops it becoming saccharine sweet, it also doesn't take the easy or obvious route which was a nice touch.

The final selling point for me was that while most of Tina's story takes place in Suffolk, around Bury St Edmunds, there is also a trip to a couple of archaeological sites in north Norfolk. I was aware of the Warham Iron Age Fort (and indeed have visited it) but I didn't know that there was also an Iron Age Barrow in the area and I plan on luring Mr Norfolkbookworm to visit it soon with the promise of a pub lunch...

Even a few months on from reading this book I am still not managing to read long or complicated fiction books but this one will always be special to me as it did show that I could still read and enjoy fiction and that mood boost was incredibly important.

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Writing back to books

Book Review

Dear Fahrenheit 451 by Annie Spence

I am still struggling with reading narrative fiction, I think it is getting better but retaining a complicated plot with multiple characters is still too hard. Books of letters however are ideal and I was very excited to come across this mentioned in a catalogue and then to discover that it was a book I could borrow from the library.

Annie Spence has written letters to books that have had an effect on her - whether positive or negative and all these notes are wonderful and often hilarious. Not only are they heartfelt but often they are written in a pastiche of the original which just adds an extra dimension.

Spence talks about many books that I am familiar with, which makes me think we are of a similar age (or have at least worked in the book world for a similar time) and there are many books I have added to my must read or reread lists. Her asides about working in libraries also give an insight into some of the other things we do as well as stamping books!

The end of the book is comprised of amusing articles full of book recommendations, the one called I'd rather be reading: Excuses to tell you friends so you can stay home with your books made me laugh a lot. I also like the article about how books lead to other books, taking The Virgin Suicides as a starting point Spence then takes us on a journey through 10 books that lead on from each other.

I do enjoy books about books and this one is a real treat, now to keep building my reading stamina so I can enjoy all the new titles I've added to lists!

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Two Steps Forward (in my reading recovery)

Two Steps Forward by Graeme Stimison & Anne Buist.

Book provided by Bookbridgr.

This book caught my eye as soon as I saw it advertised on the Bookbridgr website - it is a book told in two viewpoints by two authors, in this case with each chapter being told by the alternating protagonist. It is also a book that could easily be a non fiction, travel writing book and I love them.

Zoe and Martin both end up walking the Camino de Santiago from Cluny in France all the way to Santiago de compostela in Spain - well over 1000km. They have very different reasons for undertaking the walk, Zoe is recently bereaved, and Martin recently divorced and from the start you know that their paths will cross and there will be sparks of all sorts.

Despite the mental place that both lead characters start from, this isn't a book that focuses entirely on the spiritual journey the pair take, nor does it read like a diary of the journey taken by the two authors in real life. All aspects of the journey are covered. It is a fulfilling read, but it is always believable - perhaps because Zoe and Martin have time to tell their stories as the walk progresses.

All of the incidental characters we meet on the way have their own reasons for walking and are well rounded if used slightly in deus ex machina roles. While the ending could be seen as a little predicable and trite the authors have the confidence to extend the story on a little beyond the pilgrimage and tie up loose ends in a satisfying, but believable, conclusion.

This was a brilliant book to continue my reading recovery with, again the short alternating narratives were great for my concentration but unlike previous books I had to follow the plot from one chapter to the next. I did find myself having to reread chapters as my concentration slipped but the story was so good I didn't give up - I had to find out how it ended!

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Book Post

Book Review

All Day at the Movies by Fiona Kidman

I recently received an advance copy of this book from Belgravia Books and once more the format of the novel again worked in my favour.

Kidman's novel The Infinite Air made my top fiction reads of 2016 and I was r keen to read more from this New Zealand author. While being very different indeed to The Infinite Air I really enjoyed this novel.

It follows the life of four (half) siblings over more than 50 years:
When war widow Irene Sandle goes to work in New Zealand’s tobacco fields in 1952, she hopes to start a new, independent life for herself and her daughter – but the tragic repercussions of her decision will resonate long after Irene has gone.
Each of Irene’s children carries the events of their childhood throughout their lives, played out against a backdrop of great change – new opportunities emerge for women, but social problems continue to hold many back. Headstrong Belinda becomes a successful filmmaker, but struggles to deal with her own family drama as her younger siblings are haunted by the past.
A sweeping saga covering half a century, this is a powerful exploration of family ties and heartbreaks, and of learning to live with the past.

What made this book ideal for me currently is that it is told in short, 'snapshot' chapters. We start in 1952 with the Irene's story and then chapter by chapter we follow what happens to the four siblings throughout their lives. Each chapter is self contained and as we jumped through time with each one I found the experience to be more like reading a series of connected short stories featuring the same characters.

The writing style was easy to follow and I really did get the feel that this book could only have taken place in New Zealand - in an indefinable way the location and feel of the country came through. The story details about politics added to this with the detail that absolutely grounded this feel.

The book was very different from the first Kidman I read, much darker and grittier but I still loved it and will be looking out for more of her books as they are published in the UK.

Many thanks to Belgravia Books for sending me the book. 

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Quick Reads whilst reading slowly

The kindness of Twitter

Happily my reading stamina is still increasing following my recent illness (although it has slowed/gone a little backwards as I am tired out by a limited return to work) but while I was really struggling the kind people from ED Public Relations ( on twitter) sent me a surprise parcel comprising three of the 2018 Quick Reads titles.

From my work in the library I was aware of the Quick Reads promotion which
 "was founded by Baroness Gail Rebuck DBE in 2006 to provide shorter, easier to read, accessible fiction for less confident adult readers. Now in its 12th year, the programme has distributed over 4.8 million books since it was launched and introduced hundreds of thousands of new readers each year to the joys and benefits of reading."
It took me a while to read them but I did enjoy them greatly but the biggest discovery for me was the Inspector Chopra book.  This is a mystery set in the back streets of Mumbai and featured a private detective and his pet baby elephant solving a the mystery of a missing car.

On many levels this book wasn't an instant fit: how was I going to follow the plot of a crime/mystery novel at a time when I had real concentration and memory problems? Also how was I going to be able to break an already short book up into chunks that I could physically manage to read? Oh, and the biggie, as a rule the crime genre really isn't my cup of tea!

The wise people from @edpr obviously knew what they were doing for the format of the book was just right, the chapters were complete vignettes and easy to start and stop. The mystery was just complicated enough so that I didn't guess 'whodunnit' but not so complicated I couldn't follow the reasoning. The addition of a baby elephant sidekick is a genius idea. The book may also be considered easier to read but for me it perfectly conjured Mumbai and I felt like I was watching a movie as I was reading, fewer words creating a full picture regardless.

Now I am more recovered I will look out for the full length novels by Vaseem Kahn but I am a little nervous that they won't be as good as this short book. I know that the short story format is considered both hard to write and hard to sell but it worked splendidly here and I'd love to read more short stories in this world.

Again many thanks to those at ED Public Relations who sent the books to me as a gift and with no expectations that I'd review them.

Saturday, 24 March 2018

The dangers of visiting book related locations

Anne Frank  House, Amsterdam

The Diary of Anne Frank has long been an important book to me, I first read it as a young teenager, then went on to read it in German for that A Level and finally studied it in some depth during my MA in Children's Literature. The last time we visited Amsterdam we didn't realise how far in advance you had to book tickets to tour the Secret Annexe and so it was top of my wish list on a recent visit to the city.

I don't know what I was expecting but it certainly wasn't entirely what we got.  I've seen the touring Anne Frank exhibition in a couple of forms and always been impressed at the balance this presents. While Anne's diary and story are special the exhibition always managed to put her life into a greater historical context.

I found this to be missing in the tour of the Prinsengracht building. The whole thing felt a little like a shrine to Anne, there was so little information about her immediate family - let alone the other four people who shared the annexe with the Franks. I have studied the Holocaust/Shoah and so have a greater understanding of this part of twentieth century history, but if I was coming to the Anne Frank House with little or no context I would have come away feeling that it was sad Anne (and most of her family) died but with no idea of the scale of the Holocaust, that Anne was one of millions from across Europe...

It wasn't all bad however. The audio tour was brilliant. It was clear and easy to use and if you missed something then it was easy to re-listen and not be forced on a route march through the building. You also got a real feel for how small and dark the hiding place was - I really did imagine it being both bigger and lighter. The fear of discovery thanks to noise was also clear to see as the wooden floors in Dutch building are not built for quietness.  It was also nice to see some of the photos that Anne stuck to the walls and also excerpt from the original diary.

I may be being unfair on the museum as it is currently undergoing some renovations but the final straw for me was that the tour ended in a cafe/restaurant, not even the ubiquitous gift shop! When I did look in the museum shop however that was also a disappointment for again it only contained copies of the Diary (admittedly in dozens of languages) and gifts relating to Anne and the building - there were still no items putting Anne's story into context.

I'm pleased to have finally seen the Secret Annexe so on my next reread of the Diary I will be able to visualise the location more but right now I am not at all impressed with the museum's interpretation of the two plus years the family spent in hiding.

Friday, 9 March 2018

At last a book review!

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin.

This is actually the second new work of fiction I've managed to finish so far this year (I will talk about the 1st closer to when it is published in late spring) and I really liked the book a lot. Here's the blurb from NetGalley that 'sold' the book to me:

It's 1969, and holed up in a grimy tenement building in New York's Lower East Side is a travelling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the date they will die. The four Gold children, too young for what they're about to hear, sneak out to learn their fortunes.
Such prophecies could be dismissed as trickery and nonsense, yet the Golds bury theirs deep. Over the years that follow they attempt to ignore, embrace, cheat and defy the 'knowledge' given to them that day - but it will shape the course of their lives forever.
 I think that what helped me finish this book over others was the format of the book. Although the siblings' lives do intertwine each of the four has a definite section and so it was like reading four novellas rather than one long novel.

I found this book to be very clever - it covered vasts sweeps of American history and also remained very intimate.  All of the responses given by the siblings to being given a death date seemed very real and how this knowledge affected their behaviour seemed totally plausible - do you burn brightly for a short time or do you do everything you can to live a long life? Does the knowledge overwhelm you?

I've read books before where protagonists have known their death dates but these have tended to be either dystopian fiction or pure sci-fi/fantasy and I've often found them a bit far fetched. This more literary, family focused novel was just a great read and the style just perfect for me right now.

Thanks to Net Galley for providing the eProof.