Tuesday, 24 September 2019

Review Three - book group at a distance

The Boy in the Dress by David Walliams

I know that it is a really obvious thing to say but making sure you read three chapters a night of a book is a great way to read more! It has been quite a while since I've read this much fiction in such a short space of time, and in addition to loving the shared reading experience. I am also finding that I am also reading more of my own books too - a regular reading habit is a great thing!

Anyhow our third joint read was something completely different, being a hugely popular contemporary read. Kentishbookboy's thoughts are purple and mine (with interjections from my sister!) are in brown.

The Boy in the Dress

Dennis lives in a boring town, in a boring street, in a boring town. But he's about to find out that when you open your mind, life becomes anything but boring! Life has a way of surprising you with events and opinions.

Dennis is a normal boy, he mostly keeps his head down at school and at home although he is something of a star on the football pitch. Inside he feels different - an interest in fashion isn't normal for a boy, is it?

Dennis lives a tough life in his home with his brother and dad. He struggles with his feelings, regarding his love of fashion and dressing up in a feminine way. The family don't share their feelings, which leads Dennis to hiding his secret.

Dennis' mother has left the family leaving a big hole in house - both physically and emotionally. Dennis' dad tries to stamp out anything feminine which leaves Dennis feeling alone and bewildered. Not being allowed to share his feelings, and always having to 'man up' causes Dennis lots of problems.

The friendships between Dennis, Darvesh, and Lisa is an important feature in the story because it brings people closer together.
Dennis' love for dresses teaches people it is ok to be different, something that his dad and brother learn by the end.

Friendship is a strong theme in the book as is accepting that people are all different. Standing up for your beliefs is also touched on, as well as knowing how to apologise.

I'm not sure I would recommend the book since it includes rudeness towards the beginning of the book, and blackmailing at the end. Four stars.

I also agree with the Kentishbookboy in that I don't think I'd recommend this book either (and neither would his mum!). Our problems with the book also match his but we'd also like to add that we weren't impressed with Walliams' self referential mention of Little Britain. The whole idea of accepting people can be different (and that boys can wear dresses if they like) is a good one, but the writing style just didn't hit the spot for us and by the end it wasn't actually clear that this applied to everyone and not just the book's hero. 
I'm also not sure that the message that it is okay for boys to have feelings was carried through - Dennis' dad only came round slightly when Dennis had a sporting success, and even then the idea of hugging between boys/men as the norm was not accepted.  

Like the Kentishbookboy I also thought the whole ending, with blackmail was inappropriate. A grudging three stars from me!

We always knew that we wouldn't love all the books we read but going from Dahl and the Umbrella Mouse to this was a real shock. I was pleased that we tried a Walliams, I do like to stay in touch with what is popular in the kidlit world but for the life of me (apart from the short chapters) I can't see why Walliams is as popular as he is, and the view of one nine year old backs this up!

Another shock to the system next as we're moving on to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Mr Norfolkbookworm is going to join in with our read as well!

Thursday, 19 September 2019

Review Two - book group at a distance

The Umbrella Mouse by Anna Fargher

This was the first book that the Norfolkbookworm and the Kentishbookboy read simultaneously. For me this was a new way to read, usually if a book hooks me in then I read it from cover to cover in as short time as possible. Reading a small amount each night could have felt like the purgatory of a class book but instead for me it was great - this was a really tense book and reading in small chunks was one way to cope with this. It was also dramatic enough that I wanted to pick it up each night!

Again Kentishbookboy's thoughts are in purple and mine in brown.

The Umbrella Mouse.

1944, and London is under attack. The umbrella shop that a young mouse, Pip Hanway has called her home all her life, is destroyed by a bomb, forcing her to begin a perilous quest to find a new home.

Pip is mouse who lives in an umbrella at a London umbrella shop. It is 1944 and bombing raids on London destroy her home and kill her parents. Pip is saved by a rescue dog and on realising that she is now an orphan decides that she has to get to her mothers relatives, who live in Italy. Through a series of adventures and misadventures she finds herself in Normandy, just after D-Day, working with the animal resistance - Noah's Ark.


Should young Pip just go straight to the umbrella museum in Gignese, Italy, or should she stay and help Noah's Ark in France?

Pip has to learn to cope as an orphan in wartime London and then also has to decide if she is brave enough to help in some of the Noah's Ark missions. She also has to learn who she can trust and who she can't.

Teamwork, friendship and courage all show that no matter your size, you can have an impact on the world. The author is clever to use the hardship of the animals to parallel the same hardships faces by the human resistance during WW2 and can express the characters' feelings clearly.

This book packs a mighty wallop for a middle-grade novel. The main theme is survival in wartime and also the decisions that you have to make in testing situations. The book does not shy away from any aspect of World War Two history but yet makes them accessible to a younger age range by making the characters animals rather than humans (although there are some humans who have their own tragic story arc).


The book was great. there are tons of tense moments which encouraged us to read on...Pip is a wonderful chracter in the story, very adventurous and inspirational. Can't wait for book number two! Five stars.
I enjoyed this book, it was certainly tense and action packed, and for the most part credible (if you can handle talking mice!) but I didn't quite connect emotionally with it and unlike other children's books about WW2 I've read I wasn't moved to tears. I am pleased that the ending wasn't rushed and I will be reading any other books about Pip as soon as they are available. A solid 4 stars from me.

I was pleased that Fargher added in a nice author's note after the book proper to show just how based on real events it was - I was happy that my thoughts on one of the very first human characters to appear were right!

I've also enjoyed messaging and tweeting with family (and the author) as we read through the book. Highlights included

We don't trust xxxx 
Book is still very tense in the 3 chapters we read tonight 
Its not good for the blood pressure is it? 
If this was a film or TV show I'd be hiding behind the sofa by now

We know that we won't always agree on the books we read together, but I think that we'll definitely be reading more books this way as the year progresses - I think the next book up is going to be a totally different read as we try a David Walliams book.

As an aside Nanny and Grandad have both now finished this books and they both enjoyed it too - although they are lamenting the fact that Kentishbookboy is growing up so fast and tackling books with such grown up themes!

Friday, 13 September 2019

Review One - book group at a distance

Matilda by Roald Dahl

The postman brought me a wonderful envelope this morning - a note from my nephew, his chosen nickname for these posts and also his first three book reviews.

By lucky coincidence some of the reviews were for Roald Dahl books and today, 13th September, is #RoaldDahlDay so what better time to post?

The Kentishbookboy has a guideline from school on how they'd like him to write book reviews and so I will keep that format for his contributions on, and also try to tailor my reviews of our shared books to the same format. (His thoughts are in purple and mine in brown.)

First up Matilda:

Matilda's parents are rather mean to her. But, she is a genius and has some extraordinary plans up her sleeve to prove them wrong.

Matilda is the second (and unwanted) child in the Wormwood family and she really doesn't fit in with them. Books are her saviour and at home she quickly learns how to use her knowledge to get the better of her family. School also comes with its own problems but a good teacher and Matilda's brain come together to a great solution.

Matilda had to deal with a terrifying Trunchbull, mean parents and an ignorant brother.

Matilda has to learn how to cope with her terrible family and bullying (from a teacher) at school.

Family is an important theme in Matilda. Both Matilda and Miss Honey had been living tough lives in their homes.
Education is another important feature in this book. Matilda and Miss Honey both realise that reading is key to their knowledge.

I think the big theme here is the importance of books, reading and education and how the things you learn from them are more than just school lessons. I also think that the idea of family can be more than blood relatives is important.

First of all, I really enjoyed the book. I think Roald Dahl has a unique way of storytelling. Out of 5 stars, I would rate it 5 stars. I totally recommend Matilda to other people.

I agree with Kentishbookboy - this is a 5 star book and one that I think should be on all recommended reading lists - child or adult!

I am really pleased that Kentishbookboy loved this book as much as I do.  I came across Roald Dahl during a holiday to the Channel Islands as a child *but* only by stealing borrowing my sister's books. Before this summer she hadn't been an enthusiastic reader but fell in love with Dahl's books on holiday and we both raced through them!

I think that Matilda is either my favourite or 2nd favourite Dahl book and while I wasn't so keen on the RSC musical back in 2011 it was wonderful to revisit it earlier this year with my sister and the Kentishbookboy. I've come to terms with the plot changes and this time was totally swept away by the whole thing - something that I think is true for the others!

As for The Umbrella Mouse - we all finished it last night (with only 5 chapters left it was a longer read but we *couldn't* stop! We're all thinking about the book and the review will be coming soon!

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

Adaptations and different versions of the same tale

Matthew Bourne's Romeo+Juliet

It has been a while since I've posted about the theatre on the blog, I haven't given up going but I am going a lot less - I find the days in London (or late nights in Norwich) incredibly tiring since the brain haemorrhage and so I am being a lot more discerning!

Past reviews on here show how many versions of Romeo and Juliet I've seen and also how much I enjoy Matthew Bourne's ballets.

Initially I thought that this might be the ballet that destroyed my love of Bourne's work and had the potential be worse than the dire 2017 Romeo and Juliet.

This is a very liberal retelling of the story and at first I really couldn't handle the changes in the plot - I couldn't see where the original story was. I couldn't work out who was representing the Montague family and who were supposed to be the Capulets. In fact the only characters I could name were Romeo and Juliet!

I'm not going to talk about how the plot works as I don't want to spoil this for people still to see the performance but I will say that you should stick with it - by the end of the ballet all of the threads are pulled together and all of the story telling choices do make sense.  This is definitely Matthew Bourne's Romeo+Juliet and emphatically not Shakespeare's! However as Shakespeare already "repurposed" an earlier version to create his play I'm not that fussed about the story changes as ultimately they do all work.

The choreography, energy and in fact the whole performance by the dancers was wonderful - my main issue with this was the liberties taken with Prokofiev's score. This is so clever in the original but here was chopped about and reordered so much that it didn't seem to actually be helping tell the story - it could have been any music that the dancers were using. The original builds the tension, shows the romance and then the tragedy - here it is just noise and doesn't move the plot along.

I am pleased that I saw this, overall I enjoyed it, and it was so much better than the 2017 version but mum will be pleased when I say that so far no version of Romeo and Juliet I've seen comes close to being as good as the Kenneth Macmillan version of the ballet and I'd see that again at the drop of a hat!

Saturday, 7 September 2019

Book group at a distance

Sharing books as a family.

While I use the nickname Norfolkbookworm a lot it seems that I've managed to share this love of the written word with my nephew in Kent and as he gets older we are sharing more and more books.

Since before he was born we've indulged in book splurges on a fairly regular basis. These are great fun - we set a budget and then spend *ages* in a bookshop looking at all the shelves making piles of all the books that appeal. Once we've done this we find a cosy corner/table/sofa in the shop and carefully read the book blurbs and first pages to make our final lists. The books not selected are added to a list and looked for in the library or added to birthday or Christmas lists. My sister also tries to take him to as many events with his favourite authors as possible - highlights here have been Andy Griffiths, Tim Peake and Steve Backshall.

Last summer he recommended the 13 Storey Treehouse (and sequels) to me and I've spent many happy afternoons enjoying the craziness and imagination of the tales.

This autumn he enters Year 5 and his school sees reading as really important (hurrah!) and his class teacher has set a reading challenge - a list of 22 books has been drawn up and the children are encouraged to read 12 of the books during the school year.

This was such a coincidence as over the summer we'd discovered the wonderful lists created by the Books for Topics team - these have 50 books on them suitable for each year group and are a wonderful mix of fiction, non fiction and poetry titles.

As a family we've looked at these lists and have decided that although I'm in Norfolk and they are in Kent we're all going to read the same books and then either phone each other to talk about them or use social media.

Term started this week and so we've started the first book - The Umbrella Mouse by Anna Fargher. (Typically this book isn't on any of the lists but something drew my sister and nephew to it, and now that nanny has finished it and returned it with a thumbs up review, it seemed a good starting point!)

'Above all, we must be brave'
1944, and London is under attack. The umbrella shop that young mouse, Pip Hanway has called home all her life, is destroyed by a bomb, forcing her to begin a perilous quest to find a new home.
 But the only way to get there is by joining Noah's Ark, a secret gang of animals fighting with the resistance in France, operating beneath the feet of human soldiers. Danger is everywhere and as the enemy closes in, Pip must risk everything to save her new friends.
With my love of fiction set in wartime this book really appealed to me and using animals to tell a true story is a clever way to introduce deeper topics and history to my nephew. There are beautiful illustrations scattered through the text really which are really adding to the tale.

The Kent contingent of the book group are reading three chapters a night, with each member of the family reading a chapter aloud, and I am also limiting myself to the same pace so that we can share the story fully.  We may only have just finished chapter 6 but all of agree that the writing is so good that we really think we are in wartime London - my sister and I agree that we could almost smell the setting as we were reading.

We'll keep you posted on how the group reading goes and I hope to feature book reviews from my nephew as we go along - once he picks the nickname he wants to publish under!