So long and thanks for all the fish!

I have had several attempts at writing this post. It isn't an easy one. This will be my last post on Fennell Books. It has been over five years since I started blogging, on a bit of a whim, to keep me out of trouble. My whims often don't last all that long, but for some reason, this one stuck. Blogging is a strange experience. Here I sit, at my laptop in Fennell Towers, sending words out into the ether. Apart from a few exceptions I have no idea who you all are. I do know that you all spend you some of your precious time reading my thoughts, and that I find quite incredible.

I should probably try and articulate why I am hanging up my blogging shoes. Reading is hugely important to me. It is a joy, an escape and also how I make sense of life. I have read all of my life, and I will be a reader every second that I walk this earth.  Blogging was a part of that joy, but in recent times it has become harder. There is a lot that goes on in the background with social media which I find quite unpleasant, and consequently I would rather not expose myself to that any longer Other bloggers will know exactly what I mean.

That isn't to say that Fennell Books hasn't been fun. It has. It has been enormous fun. I have made contact with some wonderful people and had some lovely literary chats. I have enjoyed the process of writing and I have enjoyed your comments, and hearing what you think about the books I have read. 

So, the end of an era. Who knows what 2015 will bring. I'll need a new hobby.  Newt collecting like Gussie Fink-Nottle? Battery collecting like Mr Weasley? I think I'll work on that some more. 

So thank you for your company, I've enjoyed it very much. Maybe I'll see you at Mr B's soon. 

Happy reading,

Helen :)


By Coincidence...

A little update on my "Walk to Mr B's" challenge... I made it! In fact, I made it some time on Friday 14th November. Completely by coincidence, this was the day that The Delightful Mr F and I went up to the launch of Fox, Finch and Tepper.  By my reckoning, I think I probably reached the  87.9 mile mark whilst I was in Reading Station. 

My last update finished at Swindon. From Swindon I continued along the M4 , passing the exit for Castle Coombe, where The Delightful Mr F once raced a Ford Focus around the track, a smidge over the speed limit. 

Leaving the motorway at J18, I headed off towards Lansdown Racecourse. The walk through the countryside around this area is beautiful, and the road names are wonderful. I particularly like the very evocatively named "Freezing Hill Lane". Apparently this hill took a role in a battle in 1643 between the Royalists and Parliamentarians. It all looks very peaceful now. 

Heading down from the heights of Lansdown, I reached Weston on the outskirts of Bath. Passing through Royal Victoria Park I saw the Royal Crescent, enough to make the heart of any Austen fan soar. From there, just around the corner and across Queens Square, is Mr B's!

All in all, it took me about 26 days to walk the distance which is an average of about 3.4 miles per day. Not bad at all. I really rather enjoyed tracking my progress, and I am sorely tempted by the Walk to Mordor challenge now. 


The Girls of Slender Means by Muriel Spark

Published by The Folio Society

This is the second Muriel Spark book I have read, the first being The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.  

This is another quick read, more of a novella than a full blown novel. Spark is known for her efficiency with words, and for such a short book, the characters are wonderfully developed.

The books flits back and forwards in time. The earlier sections being from just after the war, set in the May of Teck club, a boarding house for young women under 30. The later period is some 20 years on when the girls have gone their separate ways. 

Superficially it feels like a gentle social comedy. We have a group of girls, the glamorous one, the clever one, the dappy one and so on, bickering, sharing and laughing together. However, there is an undertone of something lurking just in the future which will result in tragedy. 

The plot develops through a series of scenes, which are punctuated by lines of poetry recited by Joanna, who teaches elocution. The poetry seems to act almost as music does in a film, filling the reader with the emotions of what is to come next. 

If you haven't read any spark before, I might be tempted to start with the Prime of Jean Brodie, which is somewhat more straightforward. The Girls of Slender Means is great, but is somewhat more unusual and less tight in terms of plot. The ending, which is foreshadowed throughout the book is perfect, if not happy. 


You Didn't Think...

... that I had been to Mr B's and not bought anything did you? I know, I know... I have absolutely no willpower, but I defy anyone to go in there and not come out with at least one book. There are worse things I could spend my hard earned cash on.

Anyway, after a nice browse around the shelves I came out with:

- The Lonely Skier by Hammond Innes. Nazi gold hidden in the Dolomites triggers a frantic dash to find the treasure.

- Butterflies in November by Audur Ava Olafsdottir. Woman wins lottery in Iceland after a really bad day.

- The Circle by David Eggers. Corporate giant runs everyone's lives in creepy and "too close to the truth" story.

- Hons and Rebels by Jessica Mitford. Why have I not read this yet?!

- The Foundling's War by Michel Deon. The follow up to The Foundling. A lovely, newly translated French novel with a warm glow around it. 

- 365 Stories by James Robertson. 365 stories (obviously), each 365 words long for each day of the year. I think I may even read one per day for 2015. I can feel many blog posts coming on...

My To Be Read Pile is growing again. I was doing so well... 

Fox, Finch & Tepper Launch Party

On Friday night, the Delightful Mr F and I hot footed it down the M4 to Bath after work. We had an invitation to the Fox, Finch and Tepper launch party! Fox, Finch and Tepper is the new publishing venture by those wonderful literary people at Mr B's Emporium of Reading Delights in Bath.  I was so excited when I saw their new plans announced, and received their first two books through the post last week.  

The shop was closed for the evening and the party was held inside. There was something rather mischevous about being in a bookshop after it has closed. There were drinks and nibbles and bunting, and best of all, the first two Fox, Finch and Tepper books. At this juncture I should probably mention the man in the bath (photo above). It was made by Ed's Mum, and it was fantastic! I love the way he's wearing his glasses.

We were split into groups across the three floors and a little speech given about the new Mr B's adventure, ours by Ed, and then a reading from each of the books. Lucinda read to our group. It is a long time since someone read to me, other than an audio book which isn't quite the same thing. It was a really lovely few minutes as we all stood in the shop, drinks in hand, and Lucinda transported us firstly to the Australian plains and then to a bar in Louisiana.

We had a super evening chatting to all sorts of folks and looking at the books. Most importantly of all, everyone was there to celebrate the achievements of the Mr B's team, and wishing them all the best for the successes to come. 

One thing I hadn't realised is that the Fox, Finch and Tepper books are not just for sale at Mr B's. You can of course get them from the shop or the website, but they are available in other bookshops too, including Waterstones. So, take yourself down to your local bookshop and ask, nay demand, that they supply you with a copies of The Next Step in the Dace by Tim Gautreaux and The Shiralee by D'Arcy Niland immediately. Then make yourself a cup of something warm and enjoy. 

Awful Auntie by David Walliams

Published by Harper Collins Children's Books

The Delightful Mr F bought be this book a couple of weeks ago as I was feeling rather down in the dumps. He's not called "Delightful" for nothing you know. 

This is the third Walliams book that I have read, the first being The Boy In The Dress and the second, Mr Stink*. I adored both, but this one takes things to an even higher, funnier and rather moving level. 

Set in the 1920s, Stella Saxby awakes from a coma to find her parents have been killed in a car crash. She is now the new Lady Saxby and has inherited Saxby Hall. She realises she is in a whole load of trouble when she discovers that her Awful Aunt Alberta and her pet owl, Wagner, are trying to steal her inheritance away from her. 

Aunt Alberta is truly nasty, she locks Stella in the coal cellar, bullied her siblings and has trained Wagner to hunt Stella down if she tries to escape. Alberta's versions of fairy tales don't really have a happy every after either. Stella is convinced that her Aunt murdered her parents and sets out to prove it, with the help of Soot, the ghost of a dead chimney sweep. 

The story is set against a snowy backdrop in an old rambling house in the middle of nowhere. It is glorious fun, made even more so by the wonderful illustrations by Tony Ross.  It is extremely funny. There are icky jokes, clever jokes, and just downright hilarious jokes. It has rather a moving ending too. Of all of the Walliams books, this is my favourite by far.

*It looks as thought I haven't reviewed Mr Stink. How very remiss of me. I shall attend to that directly.

Look What Has Arrived!

Cue much excitement here at Fennell Towers! The very first Fox, Finch and Tepper publications are here. The titles are The Next Step In The Dance by Tim Gautreaux and The Shiralee by D'Arcy Niland.  I haven't read them yet (but it won't be long), so can't comment on the novels themselves, suffice to say if the team at Mr B's think they are worth publishing, then they are bound to be marvellous. 

The books themselves are rather lovely. They are sturdy paperbacks with nice double covers, the sort that fold over on themselves (they probably have a proper name, and the entire publishing world is shuddering at my ignorance, but I shall plough on regardless). I have taken some photos, but they don't really do justice as I was getting a lot of shadow from the lights. Anyway... here are the covers...

And the back covers...

And the spines... I think I might start a Fox, Finch and Tepper shelf...

The inside of each book has the Fox, Finch and Tepper logo...


Nic (Mr B himself) has commented on how the name came to be, but when I look at the logo, I see an inquisitive fox, and a bird, birds always reminds me of freedom. To me, books satisfy my curiosity, and allow me to escape and go to wonderful places whenever I want. The type faces interest me too. The three words have a different font, which also reminds me of the Mr B's shop. No matter what you want to read, whatever you particular favourite type of book, the team will find you something wonderful to suit you, and I love that they appreciate the diversity of readers out there. 

So, I have bumped these two to the top of the To Be Read pile and will start on them in a couple of days once I have finished, my current tome (which has me gripped by the way). Once I finish them I'll let you know what they were like. If you can't wait, you can get them from Mr B's website. Go on, treat yourself.

The Girl With All The Gifts by MJ Carey

I bought this on a complete whim when on a jaunt to Woking. It was the blurb on the back which got me:

Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class.

When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don't like her. She jokes that she won't bite. But they don't laugh.

Melanie is a very special girl.


So, we have a class of children who are kept in solitary confinement, for reason or reasons unknowns (until about page 100). Each morning the military comes to their cell, and straps them into a wheelchair, clamping their hands, legs and necks so they can't move. They are then wheeled into a classroom for lessons. Every so often one of them is wheeled through a mysterious secure door, never to be seen again. 

I'm going to try and avoid spoilers here if I can, so this review may start to come apart at the seams, but we'll see how we go. 

The story is told from the point of view of one of the children, Melanie, who seems to be slightly different from the other children. One day, something happens (no spoilers!) which means that she ends up outside in the big wide world, where things are rather chaotic, not to mention dangerous due to, well... no spoilers...

What transpires is Melanie, and several adults from the compound where she was kept, trying to get to safety, and in doing so, what makes Melanie so special is revealed. 

In reading this I blew hot and cold on it. At first thinking it was utterly compelling and then veering towards thinking it was daft. I did keep reading though, and when I got to the ending I was rather disappointed. The interesting thing about this book is that I finished it several weeks ago, and am now only writing this post. On reflection, I realise that I have been going back in my mind to Melanie and her situation on and off over time, and the ending has settled with me as being the right way to wrap things up. It couldn't be any other way. So, although it has taken a few  weeks to bed in, I have decided I rather liked this one. 

I Really Shouldn't...

But frankly, who am I kidding? It's Halloween and The Delightful Mr F and I are in the library at the back of the house pretending we aren't in. That is to say hiding form the trick or treaters. Is there a Halloween equivalent to Bah Humbug? I'm sure we aren't the only ones doing this. Anyway, to pass the time I have been surfing literary websites and came across this on the Penguin site. Isn't that a lovely cover?

Here is the write up form Penguin:

"Dating from at least a millennium ago, these are the earliest known Arabic short stories, surviving in a single, ragged manuscript in a library in Istanbul. Some found their way into The Arabian Nights but most have never been read in English before. Tales of the Marvellous and News of the Strange has monsters, lost princes, jewels beyond price, a princess turned into a gazelle, sword-wielding statues and shocking reversals of fortune."

Well, that's me sold.  I do like the odd monster and a statue armed to the teeth, not to mention a damsel changing into another species. It's out on the 6th November and I've added it to my "wants list", which is now embarrassingly long.