Reading Spa No. 8 (or possibly 9)...

The Delightful Mr F, as long time readers will know, is delightful in many a way, but he has a particular knack with present buying. His complete understanding and appreciation of my book addiction knows no bounds, and he happily supports my literary cravings by giving me Mr B's Reading Spas at least once per year. I have lost count on how many I have had*, but it doesn't matter, each one is as different as the last, and all are marvellous. 

The Delightful Mr F and I pottered up the M4 in good time last Friday to have a pre-reading spa breakfast at Rosarios. After a little wander around the town we headed back to Mr B's where The Delightful Mr F left me with in the capable hands of Ed. My favourite part of the spa is talking with one of the Mr B's team about what I have read, what they have read, the latest books, recent discoveries and new favourites. Due to The Important Things, I hadn't read as much as I normally have by this point in the year, nevertheless we had a good chat about The Vegetarian by Han KangStoner by John Williams (more of that later) and the rather dark nature of my recent reading**. I was then left with a few books to look at, and a very nice chocolate brownie as Ed headed off to find me some more reading material. 

I hadn't asked for anything in particular, and Ed bought back a lovely eclectic mix of dark, unusual, feel good and classic books for me to choose from. I bought the lot***.  So here they are, have you read any of these?

Books from Mr B's Emporium of Reading Delights

Books from Mr B's Emporium of Reading Delights

You can find them on the Mr B's webshop if you fancy getting copies yourself, and of course they will be reviewed here in due course. I'm particularly looking forward to The Power of the Dog by Thomas Savage which Ed tells me is better than Stoner. Better?! Well that's a lot to live up to.  City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett is one I would never have looked at on my own, and I have a feeling my open up a whole new genre for me to explore. 

A Reading Spa at Mr B's is one of life's pleasures as far as I am concerned, and so, see if you can get yourself down to Bath for a natter with one of Team B. Your book joy will spilleth over.  

 

* Mr B - do you know? Is it 8 or 9?

** Not dark for a reason, they were just short books and I couldn't face anything longer than about 200 pages. 

*** I always do, I have no willpower, and a strong husband to help me carry them back to the car. 

 

I'm Back and I'm Blogging!

I’m back and I’m blogging! Yes, the Important Things which have been taking up so much time have finished for the time being, and so I have returned to the blogosphere charged up and ready to go. Heaven help you all.

As you may recall, the Important Things, have taken up a lot of time, and sapped me of all my reading energy. My reading mojo is never away for very long though. Yesterday I had a little surf on the interwebs and discovered lots of lovely books to add to the “would like to read” list.  

Next week I am off to Mr B’s for Reading Spa No.8* which The Delightful Mr F bought for me, because he is delightful. I should have some lovely new books to bury my nose in and literary balance will be restored.

So, as I have been out of the literary loop since before Christmas, hit me with your recent reads, which you would recommend?

Happy reading!

 

 

*I think it is number 8, it might be 9. Either way I’m a happy bunny

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

So here we are, we have arrived at one of Christie’s most famous and arguably best mysteries. There was a marvellous adaptation on the BBC at Christmas, which if you haven’t seen, is well worth the watch.

The set-up for this book is ingenious. 12 people are invited, for various reasons, to an island off the coast of Devon. On arrival, their host is nowhere to be seen, and the weather closes in, leaving them stranded. At dinner on the first evening a disembodied voice, which turns out to be a record playing in the next room, accuses them all of getting away with murder.  One by one, each of them is murdered… until then there none.

As the bodies pile up, the remaining guests  search for the killer on the island, until they come to the conclusion that it must be one of the party. Then the paranoia, accusations and fear really kick in. All semblance of good manners, and standards go out the window as they refuse to eat food the others have prepared and lock their doors at night.  The unravelling of the English ladies and gentlemen, normally so formal, is fabulous.

The resolution is fantastic too, the reasons the killer had for murdering all these people strike me as rather contemporary, and ahead of its time. It is all rather marvellous as a crime story goes. Great characters, atmospheric weather, a high body count, and a cold, clever and calculating murderer.

I honestly didn't think it was possible...

... that I would read myself out. I honestly can't bring myself to read another word. "Where is Helen, and what have you done with her? ",  I hear you cry.  Dear readers,  a great calamity has befallen me. You may have noticed it has been somewhat quiet around here since the beginning of the year, with just the odd review materialising every so often. The sad fact is that I have been working on other Things, very Important Things*, which needed my undivided attention. The upshot is that I have had to rely on posts I had written some time ago and put on the "in case of emergency" shelf in the blogging cupboard. I have been raiding this shelf on a regular basis and blowing off bits of fluff and dust from these reviews and posting them on here as and when I have had a moment. 

These Important Things have required me to read and read and read. In fact I have read over 1000 pages of text, three times since the start of January, and frankly I can't read another word. The text wasn't even a good story, just technical stuff, with really small typeface and bad formatting.  It is now Easter Sunday, prime reading time, but frankly the thought of running my eyes across the page is causing some distress. 

The good news is that the Important Things will all be done and dusted in a couple of weeks, when I hope that my reading muscles will be back in full force and  I can once more pick up my To Be Read pile and make some headway.  Perhaps a visit to Mr B's would help?

Do Important Things get in the way of your reading and have you ever read yourself out completely?

*Note the capital letters, that shows just how Important these Things are

Stoner by John Williams

This novel was proposed as a potential read at the book club I go to, I had read it before and had a copy. After a frustrating search for it* I settled down to read. Readers, I was transfixed. The note on the front of the copy I have says “The best novel you’ve never read”. And that about sums it up.

It is really a book about an everyman. Set in the US over the lifetime of the main character, Stoner leaves his parent’s farm to go to University. There he discovers a love of English Literature and goes on to gain a PhD. World War I passes him by as he settles into a teaching post at the university he studied at. It is an odd book in that nothing really happens, but everything happens. Stoner has an average career, marries, has a little girl, his marriage hits problems, and he deals with office politics. This is not the tale of a remarkable life, or a man swept up in a great adventure, it is the story of the problems all of us face.

The prose has very little dialogue in it, which is something that doesn’t always sit well with me, but in this instance was absolutely right. The reader is the observer of Stoner’s thoughts and feelings as he stumbles his way through each day. I particularly liked the descriptions of the interactions between the university staff members, as the try to out manoeuvre each other.

The book left a lasting impression on me, I wondered why things had happened to Stoner, and could he have changed things if he had wanted. It’s a fabulous read and I would happily read it for a third time. If you want an intelligent, beautifully written book following a very human character we can all relate to on some level, then this is the one for you.

 

*I eventually discovered it on a random bookshelf, far away from where I originally thought it should be. Why is that? I am sure books move on their own.

The Evening Chorus by Helen Humphreys

I will admit that I picked up this book because of the beautiful cover. Isn't it stunning? The wonderful discovery I made is that the novel which sits inside that wonderful artwork is just as brilliant. 

Set during the Second World War we first meet James, a young officer who finds himself in a German prisoner of war camp. To try to insulate himself from the horrors he starts a study of the family of red starts, small birds, which have nested just outside the fence line of the camp.

Back in the UK Jame's wife, Rose finds herself alone while her husband of just a few months in the camp. She embarks on an affair with another young soldier who quickly also heads off to war. Meanwhile Enid, Jame's sister is bombed out of her flat in London and decides to ask Rose if she can move in with her. 

As we follow James, Rose and Enid through the war and into peace time the theme of nature goes with them. Each of them retreats to the natural world around them. I am a great believer in the power of nature on wellbeing and this aspect of the book really connected with me. 

James, Rose and Enid go through the mill one way and another, and their thoughts, feelings and reactions to the situation they find themselves in feel totally authentic. This is a beautiful and subtle tale of how people cope in difficult times against a backdrop of stunning descriptions of the natural world. 

The Visitors Book by Sophie Hannah

The Visitors Book by Sophie Hannah

The Visitors Book by Sophie Hannah

This is a lovely collection of creepy ghost stories, which I read during a howling gale in a remote cottage in Devon when The Delightful Mr F and I were last on holiday. The climatic conditions contributed to my being quite considerably spooked. 

The stories are unnerving, mainly because the set-ups are so mundane. The description of a children's birthday part had me laughing at the stress of the host's parents as they try to stop crips being trodden into the expensive Axminster. My smiles disappeared pretty quickly as it becomes clear that one little boy hasn't been collected by his parents. 

Another story sees a young Mum at the school gates struggling with the politics of the school Mum clique, it doesn't end well. 

Add to those two stories, the mystery as to why a new boyfriend is so desperate for his date to sign his visitors book and why someone in a post office queue appears to be dead, and you have a great set of plot twists. 

May I recommend renting a cottage somewhere remote during a storm to get the full effect?

The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald

I read The Great Gatsby a very, very long time ago and so when I saw it in the library during a jaunt around the fiction section, I thought it deserved a re-read. 

I always forget just how short this book is, more of a novella really. For those who don't know the story, it is narrated by Nick Carraway over the summer of 1922 in Long Island. Newly back from fighting in Word War I he moves to the town of West Egg, to a small house next door to the insanely wealthy Jay Gatsby.  Gatsby is known for his extravagant parties where the rich and beautiful gather. 

Nick's cousin Daisy lives in East Egg with her husband, who is having an affair with the wife of a mechanic near New York City. It all gets rather tangled when it transpires that Gatsby is an old flame of Daisy's and is still hopelessly in love with her. I won't got on to spoil what happens next, but the reader can see where it is all headed.

A little research on the book has shown there are many interpretations of what the plot means, from the excesses of the super rich to the folly of youth and the destruction of the class system. I'm not one to pontificate on these matters, particularly when there are more learned people out there doing just that, and far more eloquently than I ever could. Suffice to say, it's a great read, beautifully plotted with very real characters and a storyline which will ring very true. 

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

I am rather embarrassed to admit this, but I have never read this book. I have seen lots of TV adaptations, lets not linger on the recent ITV series, but never actually read the book. So as I was wandering through the library the other day, I saw it on the shelf and thought I’d give it a whirl.  It is much shorter than I expected, more of a novella, and it is far darker, more creepy and thoroughly more horrifying too.

The story focuses on Mr Utterson, Dr Jeckyll’s friend and lawyer who is concerned over his pal’s odd behavior and instance that if he disappears his estate is to be left to Mr Hyde.  Mr Hyde, is of course Dr Jeckyll’s alter ego after he takes a potion developed in his lab. Mr Hyde is reputed to give everyone who claps eyes on him quite a turn, seeming to be the embodiment of evil.

The idea that a person has both good and evil inside them is synonymous with this famous book, and even though I knew the story I was still gripped. It goes a long at a terrific pace, with scenes of a dark Victorian London, and the ever present possibility that the evil Hyde will do something monstrous. Marvellous, marvelous stuff. 

If you like lists...

...here is a nice freebie from Penguin. They have produced some free downloads for keeping a record of your reading. There are several designs, all different, but i rather liked the one below. They would be great to print out and keep in a binder as a record of what you have read. I do keep a reading journal, and I have a special reading journal project which is taking shape. I'll share it once it is in a fit state to be seen by anyone other than me!

Do any of you keep a reading journal? 

Kettlebell Challenge - 2000 Swings Complete!

This morning, bright and early, and I mean early*, The Delightful Mr F and I were in the garage doing our kettlebell training. I have progressed a lot since I started on January 1st. I am now swinging a 16kg bell, for 10 reps per minute for 10 minutes. More importantly, today saw me reach 2000 swings, which means I am 20% of my way through my challenge. It is all rather pleasing. 

I have to admit that this morning's session felt hard. After a very long, but lovely day out yesterday, my legs were not operating quite at their peak performance. The key with weight training is that as long as you can keep good form, you will be OK. So despite my tired muscles at minute 2, I pressed on whilst The Delightful Mr F kept watch to ensure I didn't end up getting scrappy with my kettlebell swing technique.

I made it to the end dear readers, but I don't mind admitting it was a struggle. It did however give me a good excuse to have a lazy day. Recovery you know, is just as important as training.  

 

*7am dear readers, 7am! On a Sunday morning!

The Vegetarian by Han Kang

The Vegetarian by Han Kang

The Vegetarian by Han Kang

Yeong-hye has a dream, and the following morning becomes a vegetarian, much to her husband’s disgust. From that point forward Yeong-hye starts to fade from herself, her refusal to eat any living thing results in mental and physical decline.

I am going to struggle to explain this book to you, dear readers, but I’ll have a go, and if you don’t read any more of this blog post, then just read this: Get a copy of this book, read it and be amazed.

The story is told in three parts. Yeong-hye’s husband, a frankly horrible man who works in an ordinary job in an office and is shocked at his wife’s change, narrates the first section of the book. Rather than try and understand and help her, he leaves her. Admittedly, She is firmly committed to her newfound lifestyle, but she doesn’t explain why.

The second part focuses on Yeong-hye’s brother-in-law, an artist, who becomes obsessed with her. In the final section we see her older sister trying to help Yeong-hye, who by now is fading, she isn’t eating and is in mental health facility.

We hear very little from Yeong-hye herself, other than some short paragraphs detailing her thoughts, which range the mundane to the bizarre.

Taking the story on face value, it is a sad account of how a young woman for reasons known only to her, starves herself and succumbs to an eating disorder. I am not going to claim I know what the underlying meaning of the book is, although it feels to me to be a parable. Once I read it, and looked back on it, I could see multiple layers fluttering within it, but all of them quite hard to grasp. It is haunting, and violent, and made me question free will, the right to die, families and personal principles.

The language is rich, shocking and colourful, and I suspect that each person who reads it will take something different from it. I will re-read this, perhaps next year to see if my interpretations are different. I have a feeling that this is one of those books which impacts you in vastly different ways depending on when you read it. 

10,000 Kettlbell Swing Challenge...

Remember  this? Well, I started on the 1st January 2016, and yesterday I completed my 1000th swing. The delightful Mr F counted my last set for me with a flourish... 998, 999, 1000! So, 1000 down, 9000 to go. Somehow I feel much better about this now I am in four figure territory. 

I am quite impressed with myself in that I have managed to train so consistently.  I haven't missed a session since I started, training three times per week. And I have to say, I feel jolly good on it. I am feeling stronger and generally more chirpy. 

We train in our garage which the Delightful Mr F as set up as a dojo/gym. My only moan is that when it is cold the kettlebell handles, which are metal, are freezing, and they chill my little hands to the bone*. 

Under the guidance of The Delightful Mr F, I am doing on the minute training, the 16kg kettlebell being my weapon of choice.  At the start of the minute I complete one set, and then I get the balance of the minute to rest, before the start of the next minute rolls around and I do another set. I started at 6 reps per minute for 10 minutes, and am now at 9 reps per minute. I'll work up to 10 reps per minute for 15 minutes, and then move up a kettlebell size, drop the reps back down and start working back up again. It is all terribly satisfying, and being me of course, I have a spreadsheet to collate the data. I am pleased to report that so far, my 1000 swings mean I have moved 16 tonnes worth of weight. 

So there we have it, not a bad start at all, and all being well I shall be able to keep this up until I hit 10,000 and then the habit of training three times per week will be well and truly ingrained*. 

 

* I'm such a wimp. The Delightful Mr F will often do his training first to warm the handles up for me. He's such a gentleman. 

* And with any luck I will have a body like a warrior goddess. Or possibly not. We'll see. I will at least have swapped some flab for muscle. 

Murder Is Easy by Agatha Christie

Murder Is Easy by Agatha Christie

Murder Is Easy by Agatha Christie

This is another Christie that starts on a train. Newly returned from overseas, former policeman Luke shares a carriage with an old lady called Lavinia Pinkerton who announces she is off to Scotland Yard to report that there is a serial killer on the loose in her quiet English village. Luke puts her down as a batty old woman, but starts to change his mind when she is killed in a hit and run before she makes it to Scotland Yard.

Intrigued by the series of murders Lavinia clams have been committed he heads off to the village for a spot of undercover detective work. There he meets a wonderful cast of villagers, and it appears that Lavinia might well have been on to something, a lot of people have died in odd ways.

This is the funniest Christie I have read in my challenge so far.  The conversations between the characters are hilarious. They are full of that restrained level of insult English people can trade when they don’t want to be outright rude, but need to make a point.  I read parts out to The Delightful Mr F, and we were both in fits of laughter.

The mystery of who is bumping people off, is extremely satisfying, and quite unusual a motive for Christie, it is actually quite sinister and somewhat gothic which sets off the laugh out loud moments perfectly. I think this might be my new favourite. 

Reader's Reads #13: Richard Staples

Of late I have become an obsessive listener to Desert Island Discs on BBC Radio 4. Clever, famous (not necessarily the same thing) and interesting people are interviewed and asked to choose eight records they would like to have with them on a desert island. I wanted to get to know some of my readers a little better, so thought it would be fun to feature readers and their favourite reads. This spawned the rather natty, although probably not originally named "Reader's Reads".

If you would like to be featured, please contact me via the email button (bottom left of the main page) and I'll email out the bits and pieces to you. 

Each reader has a comfy seat, anywhere in the world, real or imaginary, a beverage and snack of their choice and a bookcase which will only hold eight books. 

Today we have Richard, the bold founder of our local book group, his patience in putting up with my ever increasingly bizarre suggestions for book club reads is endless. Over to you Richard!

Beverage of choice: Kir -  For me, drinks go hand in hand with places and settings, and what might be a perfect marriage in one setting could easily be a nightmare combination in another.  My drink of choice has therefore largely been dictated by the location of my comfy chair and bookshelf.  If the chair were to be in an English garden on a summer’s afternoon, then I would have to go for a pot of tea or maybe a Pimms.  Similarly, if it were to be by the fireside on a winter’s evening in a Scottish castle, then a single malt would be the obvious choice.   As it is, Kir is the perfect fit for where I would like my chair to be, bringing back many happy memories of time spent in the brilliant southern French sunshine. 

Snack of choice:  A bowl of ‘posh’ crisps -  Whilst I can take chocolate or leave it, I am a complete sucker for salty, savoury snacks.  A bowl of Kettle chips or similar at my side would be the ideal accompaniment to my Kir and chosen reading material!

Location of comfy chair and bookshelf:  On the terrace of a villa, overlooking the sea in the South of France -  I have a mental image of my dream home, which is on a hill in the south of France, overlooking the Mediterranean.  The sun is blazing in a cloudless sky, and my deckchair has been judiciously placed in the shade of an umbrella on the terrace, giving an unbroken view over the sparkling sea.  The chilled Kir and the crisps are waiting for me on a small table beside the chair, along with the stack of books and the much needed hat and sunglasses.  Perfect.

The one which kick started your reading habit:  Five on a Treasure Island by Enid Blyton

One day when I was six years old, my dad came home from work with this book for me, - the first in the Famous Five series.  The book was a total revelation to me, being my first “real” book, with text rather than pictures.  I found the book wildly exciting and very quickly worked my way through the entire series of 21 Famous Five books.  I took great pride in having them all lined up in order on my bedroom shelves.

Although it is now easy to criticise Enid Blyton for painting an outdated and idealistic view of the world, I would defend her skills as a children’s story teller, and for me there is no question that my love of reading was triggered by the Famous Five.

The one which changed your view of the world:  Roots – The Saga of An American Family by Alex Hailey

Having been brought up in a very conventional “middle England” environment, I spent my early life blissfully unaware of many of the terrible injustices which blight the history of what we consider today to be civilised nations   Roots and its sequel Queen gave me a much needed wake-up call in terms of my understanding of the horrors of slavery.  I was a little too young to see the famous 1970s TV adaptation, but the books made a powerful impact on me when I read them in early adulthood.

The one you go back to again and again:  The Collector by John Fowles

If there is one book which I wish I could have written myself, it is this one, - for me it is literary perfection.   Dark and disturbing, and with the interesting technique of presenting the same set of events from the perspective of two protagonists, this short novel contains one of the biggest shock moments I have come across in any book.  The fact that it is John Fowles’ debut novel makes the achievement even more impressive.

The one you comfort read:  Christine by Stephen King

My guilty pleasure is horror or psychological fiction, - possibly a legacy of the James Herbert novels which were furtively passed around between classmates in the fourth form at school!  There are many examples of the genre which I could have picked, but Christine is one which I found particularly unnerving.  The idea of a possessed car sounds ridiculous in the abstract, but works only too well in this case. 

The one which you had an unexpected response to:  Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Choderlos de Laclos

Les Liaisons Dangereuses was a set text on the curriculum of my degree course.  An epistolary novel made up of letters sent between French aristocrats in the 18th century was never going to have much appeal for a 20 year old British male student in the late 20th century, and I put off reading it again and again.  How wrong can you be?!  The depth of intrigue, sexual tension, sophistication and sheer malice at the heart of this novel is simply breath-taking, and stands comparison with anything that could be written today.  I was utterly gripped when I first read it, and have since gone back to it several times, as well as having seen the stage and film versions.  It is a real pleasure to be able to include in my list of all-time favourites a work which I had initially so easily dismissed.

The one you wish you had time to read:  War & Peace by Leo Tolstoy

The sheer size of War & Peace, along with some mixed experiences of Russian literature, have meant that I have never had the courage to tackle this.  Everyone I know who has read it says it is brilliant, and I have a permanent ‘note to self’ telling me that I really should grasp the nettle and plough in.  Proust’s In Remembrance of Things Past is very much in the same category. 

The one with sentimental value:  Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

A previous partner of mine was a big fan of Thomas Hardy and it is on her recommendation that I read Tess, along with many of the other Hardy novels.  I find the storyline in Tess absolutely heart-breaking, and the novel contains some of the most poignant lines that I can think of.  I am not ashamed to say that this is one which always brings tears to my eyes.  Absolutely beautiful.

The last one you read:  The Girl in the Spider’s Web by David Lagercrantz

Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy is right up there on my list of all-time favourites, and I had mixed feelings when I saw that someone had been commissioned to continue the series after Larsson’s death.  Happily, David Lagercrantz’s The Girl in the Spider’s Web has met with generally positive reviews, and I completely agree that he has not made a bad fist of it at all.  It was always going to struggle to achieve the heights of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but then what could?!

Thank you Richard! This is a wonderfully diverse list of books, a few of which have ended up on my  "would like to read" list!

The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper

The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper

The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper

This is the second book in The Dark Is Rising Sequence, confusingly also called The Dark Is Rising and is all part of my The Dark Is Rising Read-a-thon.

In this book we leave the Drew siblings, who found the Holy Grail in Over Sea Under Stone, and we join Will Stanton, the seventh son of a seventh son the day before his eleventh birthday. His birthday is the 21st December, Midwinter’s Day, and when he wakes he finds a deep blanket of snow. He also finds that he has left the modern world and outside is the world as it was centuries before.

He goes on to meet Merriman Lyon, one of the Old Ones of the Light, pitched in an eternal battle with the Dark. Merriman tells Will that he is the Sign Seeker, an Old One, with a special role to play. Will has to collect the six signs, which will make the ring of power, required to help defeat the Dark.

The book is incredibly atmospheric, with Will travelling backwards and forwards through time as the Dark pile on ever more destruction in the modern day. There is never ending snow, bitter cold, and then floods. The village in which Will lives in is set in the Thames valley, and the descriptions are stunning, as is the plotting. The whole story slowly builds momentum until the Dark unleashes the peak of its power on the twelfth night and Will truly starts to understand what being an Old One means.

It all sounds quite full on, and it is, but lovely family scenes break the tension as the Stanton family prepare for Christmas. Seeing Will go from being an ordinary eleven year old boy to an Old One with ancient knowledge is wonderful, and your heart will be in your mouth as he finally faces The Dark. 

PS. Don't judge the book by the film, which was a travesty. 

The Boy at the Top of the Mountain by John Boyne

This wonderful novel is by the same author who wrote The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas, which I haven’t read, but have never met anyone who didn’t rave about it.

This story is set over the course of the Second World War, it follows a young boy, Pierrot, born in France to a French mother and German father. His dad is deeply psychologically scarred from fighting for his homeland during the First World War, and Pierrot is eventually orphaned when both parents die. Aged just seven, and with war in the air he leaves his best friend, a young deaf Jewish boy called Anshel to live with his Aunt in Austria.

It transpires that his Aunt is housekeeper to Hitler and Pierrot is taken under Hitler’s wing. Over the course of the war Pierrot becomes, what we would now call radicalized, and his behavior and actions lead to some devastating consequences.

Despite being set over seventy years ago, the book has some very strong contemporary messages about ideology, how good people can be swept up into behavior they never would have thought possible of themselves, and the devastation which can be caused by those who feel alone and isolated, despite being surrounded by others.

This might nominally be a children’s book, but it has a message for all of which we can’t afford to ignore. 

Happy New Year!

2016 is here! Heaven only knows where 2015 went. Was it just me, or did it whizz by in a flash? The first post of the New Year on Fennell Books normally has me resolving not to buy any more books until I have cleared some of the To Be Read Pile, which has accumulated alarmingly at Fennell Towers. I have decided not to bother this year. I mean really, it is a bit of a farce isn’t it? We all know I won’t be able to manage it, so why kid myself. I have also argued (successfully) that it would harm my wellbeing to try and restrict literary joy in my life, and why would I want to do that?

I often try to plan my reading for the year, particularly so I can organize items for the blog. This year we are going to wing it, so hang on to your hats folks as I have no idea what I will be reviewing and when.  I do like to live life on the edge.  

There are a few books coming out this year which I want to get my mitts on, but I’ll do a separate post about that in a couple of weeks (probably, with this new found “go where the wind takes me” posting approach, who knows where we will end up?)

I will also be keeping a running track of my Duke of Edinburgh Jubilee Award 10,000 Kettlebell Swing Challenge, so watch out for me looking increasingly strong (or knackered) as the year goes on.  I have done the first workout of the year (see photo) so I am 60 swings down and only 9940 to go…

On the whole I have a good feeling about 2016, so best wishes to you all for a happy and healthy new year!

The Totally Uninfluential Fennell Books Blog Awards 2015

Who would have thought it? Once again we are at the end of another year, and it is time for me to announce the prestigious Uninfluential Fennell Books Blog Awards*.

The Delightful Mr F is handing around the orange squash**, and the buffet (3 items for £10 from M&S) is on the side, please do help yourself***.

This year has been a very good reading year indeed. I have read 57 books in total, which isn’t bad at all, especially as I had a bit of a reading drought around July. I have read everything from cosy crime, to some full on, bragging rights literature, and have enjoyed it all.

Without further ado, here are the awards:

  

The Check Your Facebooks Settings Award

This has to go to The Circle by David Eggers. A story on the dangers of mega corporations and your online profile. It is hugely readable in that thriller, page turning sort of way, but packs a very heavy cautionary punch. 

 

The How to Put Your Characters through the Wringer Award

The Shiralee by D’Arcy Niland was one of the first books published by Fox, Finch and Tepper. I adore this book, the tale of a man in the Australian outback, looking for casual work with his young daughter in tow. I don’t know where to start with praise for this book, the plot, the characters, the descriptions of Australia are all amazing. The relationship between Macauley and his daughter Buster is wonderful and develops beautifully through the book as the pair of them face just about every trauma a writer could throw at them.

 

The What the Heck was that About? Award

Sombrero Fallout by Richard Brautigan was the runaway winner here. The story about a broken hearted writer who throws a story he has written about a sombrero in the bin, only for the story to start to take on a new life. I have tried several times to explain to people what this is about, but fail every time I try. I suspect there to be some deep meaning to both the plot about the author and the sombrero story, but I think it passed me by.  Nevertheless, the chaos caused by the sombrero in a small town is so ridiculous, and yet so real, it is worth the confusion.

 

The Exactly the Right Denouement Award

Regular readers will know I am big fan of Clementine Beauvais, The Royal Wedding Crashers is a part of her Royal Babysitters series for younger readers. The book is full of the mad, the funny and the exciting, just as you would expect. What I wasn’t expecting was the ending. It is fabulous. Obviously I am not going to give it away, but it is brilliantly, slickly and cleverly done. It could easily have ended differently, and if it had, it wouldn’t have been anywhere near as good.

 

The Beautiful, Strange and Compelling Award

I picked up Spill Simmer Falter Wither by Sara Baum randomly at Mr B’s and it was one of those lucky purchases. In it we meet a man who lives alone, apart from his dog, a one-time badger baiting animal which has to be kept apart from other dogs. Eventually the dog attacks another dog and the pair of them, in fear of the dog warden, go on the run. On their travels across rural Ireland we start to learn about the man’s background, and finally his name. There is a feeling of underlying uneasiness, and the reader is never quite sure whether the man is misunderstood, or has done something truly dreadful. The writing is so skilful that I was unsure what had gone on right up until the final paragraphs. As a whole, the characters, the relationship between man and dog and the wonderful descriptions of the seasons passing in Ireland makes for a very powerful read.

 

The Book of the Year Award

My book of the year is…. The Merman by Carl-Johan Vallgren. This is actually a young adult book about many things, but primarily bullying. Nella and Robert live with their alcoholic mother and troubled father. Robert is badly bullied at school and Nella does her best to protect him from what, in some cases, is brutal violence by his classmates. Bella’s friend Tommy has a secret, his older brother and his friends have captured a Merman. When Bella’s problems start to overlap those of the Merman’s who is being kept captive, things start to spiral out of control. Set in Sweden in the 1980s the plot is not easy to read, this is no “little mermaid” storyline.  What this book does so well is to describe sibling relationships, both good and bad, and the mystical Merman doesn’t make any of it less real. It is stunning, there isn’t any other word for it. I read it back in January and even now I think of it regularly. A book that stays with me for that long and in such detail has to be my book of the year.

So there we have it. My favourite reads of the year. I hope the winners are pleased, and I expect they are rushing to their downstairs cloakroom to place their award carefully on the cistern, next to the spare loo roll.

What were your favourite reads of the year?




* These awards are becoming increasingly uninfluential as the years go on…

** With a little umbrellas in each glass

*** Beware the salmon vol-au-vents, the pastry is crumbly.

Hercule Poirot's Christmas by Agatha Christie

Honestly, you would think I had planned it wouldn’t you? I didn’t, of course, it was just a happy accident that the next book on my Great Agatha Christie Challenge is Hercule Poirot’s Christmas. To top it all, I read it at Greenways, in Agatha Christie’s own reading room no less. In fact, the photo of the book is my copy on a table in that very room.

The dedication at the front describes how Christie received some feedback about her books becoming too sterile, and that they needed more blood. She wrote Hercule Poirot’s Christmas to add the blood back in. She didn’t hold back. To give you a flavour a quote from Macbeth crops up often, "Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?”

Simeon Lee is an old millionaire, partially disabled, he’s nasty piece of work. He cheated on his wife, who then died and bullying one of his sons. In what appears to be an uncharacteristic fit of family sentimentality, he invites all his children and their partners, including his estranged son, and his granddaughter to Gorston Hall for Christmas. If he was hoping for an idyllic family reunion around the Christmas tree, he didn’t get it as he is promptly murdered. Hercule Poirot who is staying with a friend locally is called in to help solve the mystery.

It is a classic locked room mystery, and any of the family plus the butler and the valet could have done it. In all honesty it doesn’t feel that festive, but it is a marvellous mystery which just goes to show, what goes around comes around.