Matilda by Roald Dahl

Matilda by Roald Dahl

Matilda by Roald Dahl

This is one of the few Dahl books that I didn't read a child. As with all Dahl books, it has some really nasty adults in it. Matilda is clever. Very, very clever. She also has pretty useless parents, who at best neglect her and are too stupid themselves to realise how brainy their daughter is. 

Matilda attends the local school, and is taught by the very lovely Miss Honey, who in turn works for the awful headmistress, Miss Trunchbull. Miss Honey can see how clever Matilda is and tries to help her. Meanwhile Miss Trunchbull is preparing increasingly abusive punishments for any minor misdemeanours her charges may undertake. 

This is a brilliant book. Miss Trunchbull is a truly horrible character, very dark and very macabre. She of course gets what's coming to her, but not before Matilda and Miss Honey have gone through some mild peril. It's funny and icky and exciting. All the things children (and some grown-ups, that is to say, me) love. 

The Body In The Library by Agatha Christie

So here we are at another full length Miss Marple story, and one of my favourites from the BBC adaptations starring Joan Hickson.

Colonel and Dolly Bantry are woken one morning by their maid screaming because she has tripped over the body of a strangled woman in the library. The Colonel phones the police and Mrs Bantry calls her old pal Miss Marple. 

The Bantrys have no idea who the dead woman is, although village gossip soon ramps up to wonder whether the Colonel might have been up to no good behind Dolly's back. It transpires that the girl is a pro-dancer at a local hotel, and from there the trail leads into a web of family lies and deceit. 

Miss Marple is delicious in this, nudging the ever grumpy Inspector Slack and rather upright Chief Inspector, Colonel Melchett,in the right direction.  The solution is ingenious, and with your eyes open, you can solve this one on your own. You may find tea and knitting help sharpen your mind. 

Christie is at her best when she does these sorts of plots. A closed cast of characters, each one rather shady and with a secret, all bound up with a British stiff upper lip. Marvellous autumnal reading. 

Modern Lovers by Emma Straub

Modern Lovers by Emma Straub

Modern Lovers by Emma Straub

Here's a turn up for the books*, I read a sort of chick lit type thing. I'm not, in general, a chick lit kind of girl. I gave up after all I found within these tales were useless lead female characters falling for the wrong man and having absolutely no common sense whatsoever**. I can't say exactly what possessed me to pick this up in the library. Under normal circumstances I would have been a bit sniffy about the cover. Which just goes to show that you should never be sniffy about such things. You learned a valuable lesson there Helen, and don't you forget it.

So, what's Modern Lovers all about? We have two couples, both with teenage children, having known each other since college days and now living in the same neighbourhood. Elizabeth and Andrew have been married for years, and their son Harry is in love with Zoe and Jane's daughter, Ruby. Still with me? 

Andrew is having some sort of midlife crisis. He joins a, well not quit a cult, but creepy new age, weird yoga and suspicious juice drinking bunch of people who want his money to open a healing centre. Meanwhile his wife is approached by a Hollywood agent who want to make a biopic about the band she, Andrew, and Zoe were in in college with another, now dead friend. Down the road, Zoe and Jane are having relationship difficulties too, and the stress of running their own restaurant is taking it's toll. 

With their parents otherwise occupied, this leaves Harry and Ruby to their own devices, ending in a them being arrested for... well... I'll let you find out. It's very funny though. 

Yes, it's about relationships, yes it's quite suburban, and yes it's a family tale, all things I generally find rather dull. These types of plots really don't anything for me. If I may quote the Wee Free Men, it can all be a little bit "waily, waily, waily". Modern Lovers has a lovely balance of really quite acute family problems against the absurdity of life which lifts it above other books I have read like this. It's funny and thought provoking and I have made a mental note that as I get closer to fifty I will be wary of yoga instructors offering free cleansing juices. 

 

*Pun intended

** Susan Sto-Helit is my role model. 

The Very Royal Holiday by Clementine Beauvais

Oh how I love the worlds that Clementine Beauvais creates! The Delightful Mr F and I are both massive Sesame Seade fans, and the Royal Babysitters series, aimed at slightly younger readers, is just as fabulous. You may remember from previous reviews that Holly, Anna and Prince Pepino (of Britland) have been trying to save up to go on a Holy Moly holiday, and have had various adventures in the process. Finally they have enough money, and are hoping for the best holiday ever imagined. Of course, not everything is quite as it seems, and as the gang head off into the sunset, strange things start to happen. 

As with all of the books Clementine Beauvais has written there are some wonderful set pieces, it's a riot of adventure and fantastic characters** along with a plot which is funny, clever and resolves some loose ends from previous books. These are great books for kids to read either themselves or with grown ups*. 

This appears to be the last book in the series, and when I asked Clementine on Facebook*** when her next book was coming out, she told me she was working on the French side of her writing and translating one of her YA novels. Lucky old France is what I say. It looks as though I may have to improve my French over and above asking the way to the nearest post office. Either that or ask The Delightful Mr F if he will read it to me, seeing as how he speaks French. Incidentally, when we went to see the Bayeux Tapestry the lady on the ticket desk thought he actually was French, and so assumed I was too. What followed was me looking blankly at her until she realised my French vocab only stretches as far as directional requests to postal establishments and she returned to talking to the Delightful Mr F en Français. 

I digress, the book is wonderful, and if you haven't read either this series, or the Sesame Seade series, I would urge you to hot foot it to the bookshop, buy the lot, and then laugh until your sides split. 

 

 

*I defy anyone to read these aloud and not end up crying with laughter. 

** Including a space pirate, with a space parrot! Who doesn't love a space parrot?!

*** You didn't know I was down with the authors did you? 

The One About the Other Hobby...

You may remember this post, about my renewed love/obsession with photography. Well, I have been out and about taking some photos and thought I would share them here. I've been doing quite a lot of astrophotography of late, which means I get to stay up past my bedtime, sometimes on a school night!

First off we have the moon. Taken using The Delightful Mr F's telescope and my XT1. For those of a technical nature, it's ISO400, 1/60s, F2, 35mm Fuji X Mount lens.

Next up we have Cassiopeia, or rather a slightly cloudy Cassiopeia, but it was the best I could manage with the skies I had. Pretty nontheless. 

Finally we have Vega, the fifth brightest star in the sky. It's a lovely blue white colour and was particularly twinkly that night. Twinkly is an expert astronomy term you may not have heard before.

I have some ideas about some astrophotography and other photography projects that I want to do over the winter, so hopefully they will come to fruition. It is all rather dependent on the British weather though, which is a worry. 

I Need To Raid My Piggy Bank Again...

Yes, it's that time of the year when the publisher's put out all their books for Christmas, and I have to muster all the willpower I have in order not to spend every penny. It was a real struggle yesterday when The Folio Society sent me a list* of their 2016 Christmas Collection.  If you don't want to end up spending all your money on books this month then I suggest you look away now...

Remember this?

Remember this?

If you like a bit of Shakespeare of an evening, then this edition of Twelfth Night looks gorgeous. If, on the other hand, the dark nights make you want to regress back to your childhood, we have Anne of Avonlea by LM Montgomery, it matches the Folio edition of Anne of Green Gables which has been on my list for a while. I adored Anne of Green Gables when I was little, and was glued to the BBC version which was broadcast over the summer holidays. 

There is nothing quite like a good thriller of an autumn evening, and The Folio Society are adding to their Ian Fleming collection with From Russia with Love

Moving on to SciFi, we have an Asimov classic - I, Robot, a favourite of The Delightful Mr F, and another which has been on my list to read. Staying with the SciFi, the Folio collection of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy books by Douglas Adams is complete. I have the first three, so the final two will be winging their way to my bookshelves very soon indeed. 

I, Robot by Isaac Asimov

I, Robot by Isaac Asimov

The rest of the collection is also stunning, and includes Kim by Rudyard Kipling, Michael Morpurgo's War Horse, Winnie the Pooh and The Red House by AA Milne. That's just  the fiction, the Non-fiction is equally as compelling, covering topics as diverse as the Bayeux Tapestry, Cleopatra and the history of China. 

With a collection like that, what is a reader to do? I could easily buy all of them, well, I say easily, I could if I had a smallish lottery win. Strike that, it would need to be a medium sized lottery win. Alternatively, The Delightful Mr F and I could live off bread and water for a few months. Who needs to pay the mortgage eh?

* As always, there are no hand outs here, I am on their list as a customer, not as a blogger.

N or M by Agatha Christie

So here's the thing. I am absolutely positive that I have posted a review of this book. I'd bet my last Hotel Chocolat Rose & Violet Creme on it*. The fact of the matter however, is that it's not on the site, well, not this one anyway. I know I am well behind on reviews, but I was so sure... It's a mystery worthy of Christie herself**. 

Back to the book. It is another Tommy and Tuppence story, and long time readers will know my views on these tales. They aren't my favourite. They tend to be a touch too jolly hockey sticks and to include daft espionage plots. This particular book had a rather unfortunate adaptation last Christmas on the BBC, which could have been so much better if only David Williams hadn't played Tommy for laughs.

We start with Tommy and Tuppence feeling at rather a loose end. The Second World War has broken out and they are no longer working for the British Intelligence Service and so feel rather helpless. Tommy receives a visitor, asking him to go undercover, but not to tell his wife. Tuppence, due to a rather slick bit of eavesdropping, finds out what's a foot, and heads off undercover herself. The pair find themselves on the trail of German Fifth Columnists, using a seaside B&B as a base. What follows is some mild peril and some derring do. 

Perhaps I  am getting soft in my old age, but this is nowhere near as bad as I feared. In fact, I would go as far as to say it's quite a good romp. It's not of the standard of her classic murders,  but, it will pass an afternoon very nicely. I don't mean to damn it with feint praise, but it's better than the other Partner in Crime books, but not a patch on Death on the Nile or Murder on the Orient Express. The problem for Mrs Christie is that she wrote some corking books, so the others pale next to them. My advice, if you want to read a Tommy and Tuppence book, this is probably the one to read. 

 

*Strong words indeed. 

** To be fair, it's nothing of the sort is it? It's more likely that I thought about writing the review, put it on my to-do list and then did something else instead. 

Harry Potter and the Curse Child

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by JK Rowling 

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by JK Rowling 

Where to begin? I'll try to write something sensible about this without giving spoilers, although I can't promise it will make any sense. 

First things first. In case you didn't realise, this isn't novel, despite what the press might have you believe by saying that it is the eight Harry Potter book. This is actually the script for the West End play. So, what to make of it?

In it we meet Harry's son Albus, and his friend Scorpius Malfoy, newly installed at Hogwarts, in Slytherin House. It's all very school story, there is bullying and angst, and well, not much else really. The script pushes us through several years in a rush, where Scorpius looses his Mum and has to put up with rumours that he is actually Voldemort's son. Albus meanwhile is finding the burden of being Harry Potter's son all a bit too much to bear. What follows is a time-turner, induced adventure which, on the page at least, can be a little bit hard to follow. 

Let's talk about plot to start with. I read it one Sunday afternoon, in one sitting and thought it was OK, a little underwhelming, but OK. Then after a few hours, it struck me that it is in fact utterly terrible. The Potter universe is vivid and vast, and though some of the novels were a little bloated, the detail was amazing. The problem with detail of course is that you need to be consistent with it. That's the trouble with this play, the characters simply aren't consistent with what we know from Harry's adventures first time round. The whole premise and resolution just doesn't sit well with me, knowing what we know about the characters from the main series. Can you tell I am trying desperately not to give anything away? 

Since it is a play, there is very little in the way of the descriptions of the wizarding world which make the Harry Potter books so great. There are stage directions of course, but that's all. Mind you, I don't think this plot would have worked as a novel either. 

So, are there any redeeming features? As a book, not really, but as a play I can see it would be spectacular. So if I can get tickets, The Delightful Mr F and I will be getting the next port key to a performance. 

Has anyone else read it? What did you think?

One by Sarah Crossan

One is the 2016 of the Clip Carnegie medal, so it comes with good pedigree, I was hoping for something rather less traumatic, but just as compelling as The Bunker Diary by Kevin Brooks.  The premise follows Grace and Tippi who are conjoined twins, schooled at home, but about to start that traditional source of teenage angst and stress – the American High School.  They are of course a source of curiosity for their fellow students, and the soon make friends with Yasmeen and Jon, outsiders themselves who accept the twins without mockery or judgement. There is of course a spanner in the works, the twins health fails and the doctors have to decide whether to separate them or not, and after 16 years, this is physically and emotionally terrifying for Grace, Tippi and their family. 

It all sounds rather straight forward, and in all honesty it is. It falls into that “teen(s) under pressure” category of YA fiction, alongside The Fault in Our Stars by John Green and The Bunker Diary. Perhaps I am getting old and cynical, but the novel feels like a well-trodden path with the new twist of co-joined twins. There are some interesting set pieces such as how their psychologist deals with giving them therapy individually, and how the practicalities of life are handled. Beyond that though, there is little depth, certainly it is missing that real psychological tension and insight that The Bunker Diary gave us, and which surely must exist in such life and death situations.  

One was up against stiff competition, including The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge, The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness and The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick, so I wonder why this won over these other fantastic novels. The writing style is unusual, with very short chapters, some written as poems, short bursts of prose and verse. Perhaps it was this, which is uncommon in YA fiction the judges saw as pushing it ahead of the others on the shortlist. I can’t help that feel though that it might be clever, it lacked soul.  Certainly read it, it’s a good book, but it isn’t a medal winner for me.

Where In The Literary World Are You Today?

Today I am staying at the Hotel du Lac, sitting on the terrace drinking tea with Emily Hope. Emily seems to have misbehaved a little at home and on the suggestion of her friends is getting away for a while. 

I can feel the sun on my face and a light breeze on my skin. It's all very pleasant indeed. 

- Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner

Incoming...

Yesterday I had to go to the dentist for a check up and polish. My dentist and dental hygienist are lovely people, and generally I don't have any trouble with my teeth, I don't even have any fillings. Nevertheless it is always a worry isn't it? There is that overwhelming dread of the words "drill" and "extraction". As it turns out, this visit was no problem, and I was even complimented on my flossing technique. That's not something that happens every day. Anyway, since dentists don't give out lollies anymore (why did dentists think that was a good idea?) and apparently I am too old for a "I've been to the dentist" sticker, ageist I call it, I decided a quick browse in Waterstones was in order as I had been such a brave bunny. 

Obviously after my flossing triumph I was able to justify a small purchase, and since they were on offer, two books came home with me. The first is Grief is the Thing With Feathers by Max Porter.  I have heard nothing but good things about this, and it has a crow on the front and I am a sucker for crows. It sounds terribly sad as a man and his young sons come to terms with the loss of their wife and mother, with the help of a visiting crow.  I have a feeling that this is going have the same effect on me that Spill, Simmer, Falter Wither by Sara Baume did. In which case, that's no bad thing. To sit alongside that I bought the new Katherine Rundell novel, you may remember I reviewed the superb Rooftoppers last year.  Wold Wilder is set in Russia, and features a young girl being trained up as a Wolf Wilder, a person who trains animals to fend for themselves after they have been kept as pets. I started to read the first few pages in the shop, realised I couldn't stop and thought I ought to buy it. 

So there we go, the new additions to the Fennell Towers shelves. What's new on your bookcase?

Standby, new obsession coming through...

To be fair, it's an old obsession, newly awakened. You may remember that I posted about joining a local camera club. Well, it's been a revelation and reignited my love of all things photography. Last year I did the 100 days project, which was a lot of fun, and it started that niggle to take my photography a little more seriously. The Delightful Mr F taught me to use a "proper" SLR camera when we first met and after my first payday post graduation, we toddled off to a camera shop in Guildford where I purchased a lovely Nikon FM2 camera. I was very happy taking photos and then the MonSter appeared in our lives and I was too tired to carry the kit around and it all fell by the wayside. 

Then the miracle that is digital photography arrived, and even better the wonder that is the mirrorless compact system camera. I am now the proud owner for a Fuji XT1, and my photography is back on track as the kit is light and portable.  

Armed with good kit and lots of enthusiasm I thought I would sign up for a photography course. This is not as easy as it might sound. If I want to do a degree (and remortgage Fennell Towers in the process), there are lots of options. If I was a complete beginner and just want to get out of auto, lots of options there too. Nothing in the "I like photography and know what I am doing for the most part but want to get a bit better at it" category.  Whilst I was musing this over, an advert popped up on my Facebook feed from one Mr Kevin Ahronson, local pro photographer,  patron of the aforementioned photography group with a studio about 10 minutes down the road from Fennell Towers. He and his wife Linda have started the Hampshire School of Photography and I have signed up for their new Foundation Year Photography course, with lectures, and one-to-one mentoring.  I shall blog my way through the course, starting in January, and this means of course, a good excuse to buy photography books, for research purposes you understand. 

Folio Society September Releases

It's the first of September*. That can mean only one thing. Well, actually it means lots of things**, but the one I am mostly concerned about is that The Folio Society release their new collection.  My literary love for The Folio Society is eclipsed  only by my adoration of Mr B's Emporium, so I was somewhat taken aback when a week or so back I got a letter saying that they were doing away with membership. Up until today you had to buy four books a year to maintain membership and have access to the books. There was something very nice about being a "member", with the associated magazine and catalogues coming through the post. It harked back to a slower pace of life where buying one really good item and enjoying it wasn't considered odd compared to buying heaps of cheap tat***. A chat with a literary chum, also a member, saw it differently in that now there was no barrier to the books, which is also true. I still can't help thinking that this is just the result of the ongoing onslaught on the bricks and mortar bookshops****. 

Anyway, back to the lovely books. This year's releases are, as usual, really quite eclectic and here are the ones which caught my eye. First off we have A Brief History of Time by Professor Stephen Hawking, the book that all A-Level Physics students attempt (me included) in the hope that it will make some sort of sense so they can impress at university interview. I did finish it. I didn't understand it. I am quite tempted to have another bash to see if 20 years has made any difference to my ability to understand mind bending theoretical physics. Probably not, but it will look nice on the bookshelf. 

Now this does look interesting doesn't it? A book of African folktales. I have read very little set in Africa, and this would be a good start in filing in that literary gap. 

You can't go wrong with a bit of Classic Crime, and Edmund Crispin is one of the best, and funniest. The Folio Society released The Moving Toyshop a couple of years back, so perhaps they are going to release more. I do hope so. For those who haven't read an Edmund Crispin before, then why not? It is Christie meets Wodehouse with more Wodehouse than Christie. It's marvellous stuff after a long week at work. 

Finally, we have another Pratchett. I have already dropped not so subtle hints to The Delightful Mr F that this might be quite a nice birthday present. It transpires he already knew... Pratchett books were made for Folio editions. The text provides so many illustration opportunities, it can only ever be a delight. 

Which ones take your fancy?

 

*How can that be? How can it basically be autumn already? It was surely only last week we were putting away the tinsel and fairy lights.

** For instance did you know that on 1st September 1159 Pope Adrian IV, the only English Pope, died? Or that in 1981 garages started selling petrol in litres? No, I didn't either. 

*** I think I am starting to rant, so will call it quits here.

**** Back on my soap box again...

Helen In Lack of Blog Post Shocker

Yes, I have been a very bad blogger indeed. I have failed repeatedly to schedule any blog posts whatsoever in the last month or so. To make matters worse, I am, at this very moment, committing that terrible blogging sin of typing this post straight into Squarespace. No drafting, no editing, no checking for grammatical or typing errors. This is blogging on the edge. It's risky, but hey, you never know, I may produce blogging gold. Or maybe not. 

The lack of reviews does not mean that there has been a lack of reading. Far from it. I have had my nose in a book almost constantly for the last few weeks, and very satisfying it has been too. I have also been slightly preoccupied with an actual social life. Yes, one which doesn't involve an internet connection and a like button. One with actual Human Beings, in cafes and other social gathering places. There was book club, then dinner with old work chums, and I have joined a new local Photography Group, which I am enjoying immensely. They are all very nice people who helped me justify the purchase of a new camera. Once I work out what all the buttons do I will post some photos. 

It is Sunday morning and The Delightful Mr F and I are sat in the upper library at Fennell Towers. Yes, we now have so many books we have two libraries in our house. No other furniture, just book cases. When the sofa finally wears out, we might just replace that with book cases and sit on the floor. Who knows. As The Delightful Mr F once commented, we don't have too many books, we simply have a lack of bookcases. He's a keeper isn't he?

I digress. I am now about to embark on a list of potential blog posts to write for you delectation and delight. Reviews, musings and that terrible dilemma which crops up a couple of times per year... which books to take on holiday...

Standby for a downpour of literary appreciation. Or perhaps a light shower... ooh look, my new camera battery is charged.... better make that some light literary drizzle. 

 

Evil under the Sun by Agatha Christie

The weather has turned from grey and gloomy to the other extreme. It hit 31C at Fennell Towers this week, which frankly,  is too much for my English rose complexion to cope with. It was Factor 50 all the way. It did however lend a lovely backdrop to reading Evil Under the Sun by Agatha Christie. I know this story well, having seen the film multiple times and read the book at least twice. Nevertheless I still enjoyed it. 

Evil under the Sun by Agatha Christie

Evil under the Sun by Agatha Christie

Poirot is on his holidays at a hotel on an island off the coast of Devon, the Jolly Roger. His fellow guests include Arlena Marshall, a beautiful actress and notorious flirt. She soon sinks her claws into Patrick Redfern, much to the annoyance of his mousey and quiet wife Christine. The rest of the guests, including a retired Major*, a fashion designer, Arlena Marshall’s husband and step daughter, and Mr and Mrs Gardener a couple of American tourists watch as the flirting escalates and the humiliation of Christine accumulates. Sat on the terrace Poirot spots a sequence of events that he fears will lead to murder**. Poirot of course is right, and it isn’t long before the body of Arlena Marshall is found on a beach in a cove. It is a tough and confusing case, everyone seems to have a rock solid alibi, and Poirot supports the police in trying to work out what happened. 

This is a hugely satisfying mystery. The characters are great, and I was particularly fond of the very talkative Mrs Gardener and her very quiet husband Odell. You will know people like Mr and Mrs Gardener, and it’s hard not to smile as Poirot becomes verbally pinned to his seat as Mrs Gardener repeatedly assaults him with hour upon hour for chit chat. The set-up for the unmasking of the murdered is very clever, Poirot setting a trap, and the actual mechanism of how the crime was committed is complex and as perfect as anything of Christie’s I have read. Add to it the summer holiday tinged with murder feel and it’s a winner. 

 

*Obligatory in a Christie

** I have to say that if I ever found myself on holiday in the same place as Poirot, I’d pack and go home sharpish.

Corduroy Mansions by Alexander McCall Smith

Corduroy Mansions by Alexander McCall Smith

Corduroy Mansions by Alexander McCall Smith

I have to be honest I have never really got on well with The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency (although I approve of the correct use of the apostrophe). I do enjoy the Scotland Street books, and this is the first of the Corduroy Mansions stories. 

Set in Pimlico in London, Corduroy Mansions in the nickname for a block of flats where a bunch of quite desperate people live. William, and his ex-vegetarian dog live in the top flat, and is desperately trying to evict his son, whom he feels should really be standing on his own two feet. His son thinks his Dad is having some kind of midlife crisis, and wants to stay in the flat as an easy route to home ownership when his Dad finally pops his clogs. 

Downstairs is a flat shared by three young women. One is a vitamin addict and provider of free colonic irrigation to her rather reluctant friends, one is studying art history and has fallen for her gay friend, and the third is PA to Oedipus Snark, the nastiest Lib Dem MP you can imagine. 

An accountant lives on the ground floor and likes to leave flowers in the hallway for everyone to enjoy. 

Other characters, including Oedipus Snark's Mum, uncle and girlfriend make their impact on the residents of the flats. It is all extremely gentle, funny, and completely devoid of any real nastiness. Even the MP, as horrible as he is, is more pantomime villain than conniving political bad guy. 

Sometimes the timing of when you read a book is as important as the book itself. I picked this up, without thought, from my bookcase, and found a charming, witty, observant story about a group of people who genuinely want to be good neighbours and help each other out. It is exactly what I needed, high literature it isn't, but if what you need is the literary equivalent of a warm blanket, a cup of hot chocolate and a nice biscuit, then this is it. 

A Tale of Four Kettlebells

A few days ago I finished my Duke of Edinburgh Diamond Challenge. On January 1st 2016 I challenged myself to complete 10,000 kettlebell swings by the end of the year. The number of swings was less important than making me train regularly. Since the start of the year I have trained at least three times per week, not missing a single session. 

Kettlebells

Kettlebells

A couple of thank yous. Firstly, thanks to everyone who sponsored me, I have raised over £300 for the Duke of Edinburgh Award charity, which will help young people complete their own awards. Secondly, thanks to The Delightful Mr F who counted all those swings. He was my independent ajudicator!

The first month was slow progress, but I have learned that constancy and persistence pay off. For the most part I have been doing on the minute training, swinging the bell for a given number of reps, then resting for the remainder of the minute. Rinse and repeat. I started with the 16kg bell, six swings per set for 10 mins. By the end I was using the 24kg for some sets, 10 swings per set and training almost daily. 

For those who like stats, here are some numbers:

Training sessions: 94

No of kettlebells: 4 (16kg, 18kg, 20kg, 24kg)

Weight moved: 168.96 tonnes

Locations: Our garage, a gym in Warwick, a car park in Manchester

I'm an engineer, so we have to have a graph don't we? So here we are a graph of cumulative swings against date. 

I have really rather enjoyed this, so the question is what next? Well, next I am working on my deadlift and pressing which have been sadly neglected, so this morning the trap bar was re-commissioned and my press technique checked by The Delightful Mr F. I'm ready for the next challenge.

Number 11 by Jonathan Coe

This is Coe's 11th novel, and the number repeats throughout the book as we join and leave a variety of characters making their way through life in the years following the millennium.  We begin with the eight year old Rachel, staying with her grandparents at around the time of the death of Dr David Kelly, the event having an impact which she carries with her into adulthood. Rachel and a friend meet a woman with a kestrel, and who also may, or may not, be keeping someone in her basement. We move on and join a woman who travels on the number 11 bus, around and around Birmingham because her house is too cold and she can't afford heating. We watch as some art critics are seated at table 11, and as celebrities are humiliated and manipulated by a pair of TV presenters in the jungle, whilst the superrich dig basements under there houses in London. All of these characters and circumstances are loosely held together by the number 11.

Number 11 by Jonathan Coe

Number 11 by Jonathan Coe

The social commentary on austerity Britain, the cruelty of reality TV and the viciousness of the internet and social media are laid bare for the reader, and it is hard not to flinch at some of it. There is a dreadful misunderstanding lasting for years down simply to an autocorrect on a smartphone, which made me wonder how many perfect good friendships have been wrecked by similar confusion. 

Whilst this book makes some very serious and acute obeservations on how we live now, and the impact of the financial crisis, it is very witty in places, just as satire should be. Funny, but with a sting in the tale. 

A long time ago I read The Terrible Privacy Of Maxwell Sim, which I enjoyed very much, but felt Number 11 was much better. I suspect that if you are one of the rare few in the "high net worth" category, you aren't going to enjoy this very much, but perhaps you should read it anyway. Everyone else will see a distilled down version of Britain, and perhaps now, more than ever, is the time to try and change these rather unpleasant aspects of our society.

Here Be Helens

Hoot the library owl is very, very cross

Hoot the library owl is very, very cross

Well, 2016, what on earth have you done to me? It is now July, halfway through, you pesky leap year you, and I have barely blogged since the Christmas decorations were packed away. I’ll tell you what you have done 2016. You have warped time, in some Stephen Hawking, timey-wimey, Dr Whovian, time-turner kind of way.  Your messing with the space-time continuum has meant that import things have piled upon important things leaving little time for reading, let alone time for blogging about reading. Well, enough is enough and I shall no longer tolerate such a cavalier approach to our fourth dimension. For the rest of the year, I plan to read at every opportunity. Tucked in my bag is my “on the go book” for reading in queues, on trains and at lunch times. I also have a list. Yes, a list 2016! A list of books I intend to read before you come to an end. You know how good I am with lists. Give me a list, and I’ll get to the bottom of it, ticking off every item with a ruthless efficiency. You may want to speak with your pal 2017, I intend to tackle 2017 in full literary sail. If you come between me and my reading again I shall be very cross indeed.  Consider my library one of those places on old maps which say “Here Be Dragons”, in this case though, “Here be Helens”. Don’t say that I didn’t warn you.

Literary Links

I haven't done one of this for a very long time, but a wonderful random selection of interesting bits and pieces have landed in my inbox and I thought I would share. 

The winner of the Clip Carnegie Medal has been announced as One by Sarah Crossan, published by Bloomsbury. I haven't read it, but it sounds stunning. The story revolves around a set of conjoined twins who have to go to school as they can no longer be home schooled. The Carnegie Medal doesn't shy away from difficult topics (see The Bunker Diary by Kevin Brooks), and this promises to be another worthwhile read. 

BBC Radio 4 are setting out to celebrate Roald Dahl's 100th birthday with a series of dramatisations and documentaries. I rather like the look of the one about the Gremlins story. 

Meanwhile, over on your tellybox, BBC Four has a documentary called B is for Book, about children learning to read, following them over a year. This has the potential to be fascinating, one to record I think. I can remember being taught to read, but have no idea how long it took me to start to read independently. 

Finally, Carol Ann Duffy is doing her bit to support independent bookshops. Why not do your bit too and buy a book from an independent, either in person or online on their websites. You'll be supporting a good local business, and you'll have a new book!