9th January: Reading

I have had a soft spot for science fiction crime novels ever since I discovered Isaac Asimov’s Elijah Baley and R Daneel Olivaw, a long long loooong time ago. Going through the lists of new books coming out in 2018, the blurb for John Scalzi’s Head On caught my eye. It’s not out until April, but I noticed that there was an earlier book with the same characters…

I liked the idea that technology can be used to allow people with severe disabilities to live an active life. One such person is the protagonist, who is “locked in” , but has his mind downloaded into a “threep“- a robot body.

The crime element of the book is interesting, and the plot is fast-paced and believable (given the sci-fi context). I liked the diversity of the characters, mostly, but I wish the protagonists’s female cop partner didn’t have to resort to the old booze and random sex tropes to deal with her demons.

I enjoyed this book very much, and will definitely be buying the new one when it comes out.

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January 3rd: Reading

Last year I wrote about almost everything I read. This year, I’m only going to mention things I have really liked.

So, to start the year, I treated myself to a full set of Bryan Talbot’s Grandeville graphic novels.

I loved these books. I gave them 5 stars on Goodreads, and wished I could have given them more. They are beautifully drawn, and full of Easter eggs that made me smile each time I spotted one. Asterix and Obelix make a brief appearance. Tintin’s dog Snowy features in one of the books. And there are bears. Paddington Bear. Rupert Bear. Gladly the Cross-Eyed Bear (!)

If you don’t know these stories, imagine a mashup of Sherlock Holmes and Inspector Lestrade (the Rupert Graves version); add in an alternate history setting and a steampunk style. Oh, and the lead character is a badger.

It sounds weird. It is a bit weird, but not as weird as you’d think. There are some very bad villains (I won’t spoil it by telling you just who the worst villain turns out to be), and some clueless coppers. There is also a LOT of gory death. This is not a children’s comic.

The five books form a story arc, which is completed at the end of the final book. I want more though, and I hope that sometime in the future, Archie LeBrock will return.

Week 52

Last entry for 2017. No cultural outings this week – a quiet Christmas, followed by a sick in-between week wherein I am fairly sure I poisoned myself and various family members.

I finished my Reading Challenge!

img_0478Some highlights from the list: Yellow Blue Tibia – probably the best pun in a title ever; King Dido -a historical crime novel I would recommend to anyone; The Night Sessions, excellent SciFiCri.

I won some audio books, all Maigret stories, and listened to some of them; I read a few graphic novels, and some children’s books, including The Dark Is Rising, which I wasn’t supposed to finish until the new year, but I couldn’t resist.

I finally got to grips with Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath, and made a dent in the Dickens backlog. There were six cookbooks, and three books I bought because I didn’t think I would get to see the plays based on them, and then actually did get to see them all . There was a new Donna Leon, a new Dave Hutchinson, a new Christopher Fowler, a new Jo Nesbo and a new Ragnar Jonasson (do you detect that I like a crime story?)

Finally, there were two new Hogarth Shakespeares, based on Othello and King Lear.

It was a real challenge to read 100 books this year, as well as keep up my weekly culture outing. Next year’s challenges will be simpler, I think.

 

Week 49

It’s snowing!

Theatre

Jermyn Street Theatre

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, adapted by Steven Canny and John Nicholson: The Hound of the Baskervilles

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This was a comedy romp. Three actors playing all the parts, no set, but lots of foggy haze. It was a fun afternoon, but oh, such a cold day. I found myself almost onstage, having to wrap my scarf around my face to help with the enormous amount of haze, and to keep my neck warm in what seemed to be an unheated auditorium. I enjoyed the play, but would have preferred proper melodrama to farce.

Ballet

ROH Live: The Nutcracker

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It isn’t Christmas without a Nutcracker, and this was a lovely production. Seeing it up close via a live broadcast made a great difference to the experience. You can see facial expressions and costume and set details that might be missed in the theatre.

Popular culture

London Christmas Lights

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The Regent Street lights are beautiful, without the tacky commercialism of recent years. A pity it was so cold, or I would have walked to Trafalgar Square to see the tree. I did take a picture from the bus, which shows the lights.I wish that the style of lighting was better. This years tree looks rather like a giant cactus.

Reading Challenge

Three books this week, bringing my total to 87.

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Archangel is the latest offering from one of my very favourite authors. An alternate-reality dystopia with a bit of time travel thrown in. It is a graphic novel, which is a new direction for Gibson, and works very well.

The other two are seasonal titles, and they would fit very well on my winter shelf. The Advent Killer isn’t really an Advent killer at all, and was so full of tropes and false reveals that I stopped taking it seriously halfway through. And I guessed the killer.

The new Nigel Slater is wonderful. He keeps to his style of writing around the recipes, and sets the scene for the season very nicely.

Week 48

Advent begins, the decorations go up, I dig out my playlists of Christmas tunes, and start my yearly quest to see as many versions of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol as I can.

Theatre

The Old Vic

Charles Dickens, adapted by Jack Thorne: A Christmas Carol

This was a beautiful, wonderful production, with some excellent moments, from the mince pies and oranges given away at the start of the show by Victorian street sellers, through the brilliantly over-the-top weight of Marley’s chains to the beautiful snowfalls during the second act. There was some mucking about with the text, but nothing that harmed the story. Go if you get the chance.

Books

Time to dust off my winter shelf.

Reading challenge

Two books this week, bringing my total to 84.

99 Red Balloons was a little confusing. I felt there were to many PsOV, and it was difficult to remember what was happening when. The villain was a surprise, I must admit, but I think more could have been made of the song the book was named for.

The second book was another of my prize audiobooks. This was one I had seen as an adaptation for TV, so I was listening out for differences between the two versions. I have discovered a liking for audiobooks, which surprises me.

Week 47

Ooh, it’s getting cold…

Opera

Metropolitan Opera live in cinema

Thomas Adès: The Exterminating Angel

This is an opera I couldn’t afford to see at the ROH. Luckily, the Met performance was the same production, conducted by the composer, which was a bonus. The opera was another of those modern ones with no memorable “tunes”, but a lot of very difficult, very very high soprano singing, and some wonderful musical moments (a room full of drummers; a string section of miniature violins; a lot of bells). The story is odd, a surrealist nightmare, and I enjoyed it very much.

Theatre

The Puppet Theatre Barge

Wendy Cope: The River Girl

I really enjoy puppetry, and this production was lovely – some beautiful underwater scenes, and a literally breathtaking opening when a huge wave of haze rolled out over the audience. I found some of the puppetry a little clunky (the puppeteer working John Didde didn’t seem to have mastered the art of making a marionette kneel, for instance), but the use of narrative poetry was clever, and I came away from the boat very happy.

Reading Challenge

This is moving ahead slowly. I like Ragnar Jonasson’s Dark Iceland series, and this book brings me up to date with that. I find it odd reading books that have been translated out of order, and I am still very irritated with Ari Thor Arason, but that is part of the experience. No spoilers here – I recommend these books.

Week 44

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This week contained Guy Fawkes Night (aka Fireworks night, or for the more traditionally minded, Bonfire Night), when we in the UK celebrate the fact that the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 failed.  There are some huge public displays of fireworks in London, and one of the biggest is quite local to me. But I didn’t go to watch fireworks, as I was busy doing other things.

Theatre

National Theatre

Rory Mullarkey: Saint George and the Dragon

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This was a straightforward allegory (if there can be such a thing) of Brexit, ending with the cast and audience uncertain of what should happen next. There were some fun moments – the flaming dragon heads crashing down in fabulous pyrotechnic display; the clever origin of the St George’s cross on a flag. The set was very original, and made good use of the Olivier’s revolving stage. I think the time-jumping aspect of the story could have been managed better, but overall, I enjoyed this play.

Garrick Theatre

Mel Brooks: Young Frankenstein

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This was, as expected, full of “knobs and knockers” jokes, but having said that, it was very funny, even if I did find myself thinking “oh dear, I shouldn’t be laughing at this” more than once. The performances were strong, and there were some very clever scenic elements. The cart-horses were particularly inspired, and whoever thought that idea up should get a medal.

Reading challenge

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A trip into science fiction territory this week. I enjoy Adam Roberts’s quirky takes on the future, and this married my old love of SF with my new love of the crime thriller, by providing me with a locked door mystery that I didn’t solve, but could have, if I had though laterally. Clever stuff, but I would have liked more character  back story. My total of books read this year now stands at 80. Can I make it to 100? Watch this space…

 

 

 

 

Week 42

Opera

Glyndebourne: Hamlet

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Finally, I got to see  one of the Hamlets I should have seen back in week 27, as the wonderful BBC broadcast the Glyndebournd production. I have to say that I don’t quite get the thrill from modern opera music as I do from “classic” arias and choruses. I find it literally impossible to distinguish the music in one modern opera from another. Having said that, I do notice the voices, and what was interesting in this production was the two countertenors playing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Ophelia was a bit over-the-top in her madness, and I’m not sure it was necessary to put her in a scanty bikini. I liked Alan Clayton’s Hamlet very much. The set was grey. The costumes were grey. It worked. The splashes of blood were shocking against all that grey. I did like this production, even if there weren’t any standout songs.

Theatre

Young Vic: Wings

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This was brilliant. A short, no-interval play charting an older woman’s experience of and recovery from s stroke. The direction was inspired, and Juliet Stevenson was overwhelmingly good. How she managed to act while suspended on a wire for 90 minutes is beyond me. See this if you get a chance to.

Reading challenge

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One book this week, and not a brilliant one. I found the three-section three-narrators structure irritating, and the plot was clunky. I didn’t like the characters, and I was left dissatisfied, despite the no-loose-ends conclusion. Read it if you like lost-manuscript stories.

Week 39

A quiet week, punctuated only by essential “winter wellbeing admin”: flu jab; purchase of a rug to stop the living room feeling so chilly; renewal of magazine subscriptions.

I cancelled a subscription to a monthly cheese club on the grounds that I could buy all the “mystery” cheeses I’d received (the same suppliers, identical packs), from Waitrose for less money and a guarantee that I would actually want any that I bought. And I wouldn’t have to wait at home for the postman to bring me a weird-smelling parcel.

I had planned to see “Labour of Love” starring Martin Freeman, but the performance I was booked for was cancelled. Instead, I caught up with some reading.

2017 100 – book reading challenge update

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Four books this week: two crime books, a science fiction and the newest from the Hogarth reimagined Shakespeare series.

The Seagull is Ann Cleeves’s newest Vera Stanhope book. I have to admit to only having seen the TV incarnation of Vera, and I like that version of her very much. The book version is harder, rougher around the edges, less well dressed, more of a drinker. I found her less engaging than the TV character, but I still enjoyed the book. It seems odd to start with the last in a series, but I assumed (correctly) that this would be a story that had not yet been adapted. It was interesting to see that the literary Vera, even in book 8, was still a DI and still had her core team of Joe and Holly around her. This makes me hopeful that the other books will be different enough from the TV series to make them enjoyable reading. Next on my Vera list will be volume 1.

The second crime book is no 5.7 (!) in the Rivers of London series. They are crime stories, and Peter Grant is a detective (and another of my favourites), but there is so much magical realism in these books that the crime could take second place. This is a novella set between two other books in the series, and is great fun.

New Boy is an interesting retelling of Othello. I am enjoying this series, and have read each one as it has been published. This one is set in an elementary school in Washington DC, and is full of the petty jealousies of children and teachers that come to a head on one school day. It could have been longer and more nuanced. I give this three stars.

Finally, into outer space. I have really liked Dave Hutchinson’s Fractured Europe series, and decided to give this a try even though I have not really been a “hard SF” fan for a long time. Spaceships and aliens generally leave me a bit cold nowadays, but I loved this. No spoilers here, apart from saying spaceships figure large!

These four books bring my total up to 78 so far this year. 22 to go before the end of the year. I think I’ll make it.

 

Week 38

The autumn equinox this week heralded the start of probably my favourite season. Long-sleeved dresses, thick tights, woolly jumpers and warming food. I look forward to Harvest festivals, Halloween and bonfire night, and a new batch of cookery books.

Theatre

Shakespeare’s Globe

Tristan Bernard: Boudica 

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The Globe is a much better experience when the weather is cooler. And it pays to invest in a seat in the gallery, a seat cushion, and a backrest. Comfortably ensconced, I thoroughly enjoyed this play. Gina McKee is a wonderful actor, of course, and the rest of the cast were brilliant, too. The atmosphere was wonderful, and the production was well worth seeing. The subject matter is well-known, and this was a straightforward telling of the story, but with a main theme being the differing aftermaths of the two daughters’ experience at the hands of the Romans.  It was gritty at times, and funny at times -I liked the dry humour of the Roman sentries and the brilliant choice of “London Calling” for the musical interlude. I recommend this.

 

Reading

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Three titles this week, bringing my progress towards my 100-books-in-2017 reading challenge to 75. The first up is one of Georges Simenon’s Maigret books, in audio CD format. I have to admit that I won this, rather than bought it.  Maigret is one of those detectives that everyone knows about. In my case, from very old TV programmes that I wasn’t that struck on. I do like the new Rowan Atkinson Maigret, and I hadn’t read any of the books until after seeing this version. I find the books themselves quite ordinary, and there are so many (76) of them. As with so many works that are translated to English, the story loses something in the translation, and I am never sure that I am hearing the author’s authentic voice. However, I found the audio recording of this story more enjoyable than I think I would have found the reading.

The second book is another crime novel, set in Reykjavik, and by one of my favourite authors, Arnaldur Indridason, who is one of a few authors who doesn’t seem to suffer in translation.  This is the first in a new series that does not feature dour detective Erlendur. I think I am going to like the new guys.

Finally, my first new cookbook for a while.  It does exactly as it says on the cover, and I have the six-hour lamb in the oven as I write this.