Well, here we are…

When I wrote that review of Clouds of Witness two and a half years ago I never intended that it would be my last post on the Blue Bore for such a long time. But that is indeed what happened. Now that I look back I’m not exactly sure why. I changed jobs shortly after that post and I suppose that might have had something to do with it. My new (not new anymore) job is much more intense and there’s none of the leisurely lunchtimes dedicated to reading that I used to enjoy before. I kind of love it though, even if it did take away one of the only opportunities I had to settle down with a good book.

I stopped keeping a record of the books that I’ve been reading but I think (based on some very quick notes I’ve just made) I read about 30 books in the interval which is better than I imagined but still not as many as I used to read in one year. There’s no point agonising over it though. It’s been a busy time. Aside from changing jobs, we moved house (twice) and, of course, 2020 happened. I won’t dismiss 2020 as a complete write off because my beautiful, happy baby was born at the start of this epidemic. 2020 has brought lots of reasons to despair but I have something wonderful to be thankful for too.

I’m not sure why I wanted to write this post. I think I just thought I’d like to end things on a slightly tidier note, not with everything hanging in the air post-Wimsey like that. Of course, I don’t know now that I want to end things at all. Maybe I could keep the Blue Bore’s doors open for the occasional update or review, on a purely as-and-when-I can-be-bothered arrangement of course. We shall see what happens.

While I mull this over, here are some notable bookish highlights from my time away from the blog. Firstly, the books I remember most fondly are:

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2006). Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. I don’t know what else I can say about it. I have Purple Hibiscus sitting here ready to go but I’m not yet in the headspace for it.

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (2014). It’s set in St Malo, where I spent many happy summer holidays as a teenager. I love being able to picture where my reads are set, especially one as good as this.

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (2017). It took me a little while to get my eye in with this one but once everything started falling into place it felt like a very easy but gloriously atmospheric read.

We Have Always Lived In The Castle by Shirley Jackson (1962). Delightfully weird.

In fifth place, I might have In Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford or Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell. I haven’t decided yet. Possibly the latter. I love Miss Matty.

I read five Agatha Christie’s during this time: They Came To Baghdad (silly), Towards Zero (I’ve forgotten it), Murder at the Vicarage (better), And Then There Were None (a new favourite) and Curtain , Poirot’s last case. I knew how that one would end but it was still a bit of a shock. I’m currently reading David Suchet’s book, Poirot & Me, for just a few minutes each night before bed. It’s the only time I get to read at the moment. As a rule I don’t enjoy celebrity autobiographies (or autobiographies at all now that I think about it) but this one has been fine, although I’d have liked more anecdotes about the filming of the TV series than I’m really getting now that I’m further in. I’m a little bit bored of all the non-Poirot related stuff about contracts and theatre performances.

I reread two old favourites. One was When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, which I remember first getting out of the local library when I was probably about ten or so. My little one is too small to sit still for long enough really but I’ve been reading Mog The Forgetful Cat and The Tiger Who Came To Tea regularly for the past few months in the hope that he will also be a Judith Kerr lover one day. I also reread Jane Eyre, mostly while the baby bump and I were balanced precariously on a lilo in a swimming pool in Cyprus. This was in September last year, but it feels like such a long time ago now.

It occurs to me, after reading through the above, that while I was pregnant I seem to have favoured comfort reads: all five Christies, both of the rereads, Cranford and Good Omens were all read during the long autumn and winter months of my pregnancy. I didn’t realise it at the time but maybe I was just craving cosy reads. Of course, I also read Adam Kaye’s book, This Is Going To Hurt, about a month before I was due to give birth which I realised later was possibly a bad move. I recommend it wholeheartedly, even if that final devastating chapter did put the fear in me for a short time. I’m still favouring the comfort reads at the moment, mainly because I’m perpetually tired but also because the world is just so darn grim at the moment… a happy read every now and again just helps, you know?

Other special mentions go to High Fidelity, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine and Where do You Go, Bernadette?, all of which I remember enjoying immensely. I also read Daniel Defoe’s 1722 Diary of a Plague Year, although of course I had no idea back then how apt it would prove to be. I should have taken notes.

I think that’s me done, at least for now. I will try to pop back every now and again if I can, although I realise that it’s impossible for me to keep blogging at the same rate I was before. For now, then, goodnight and best wishes to you all. Stay safe.

Clouds of Witness (1926) by Dorothy L. Sayers


“My dear child, you can give it a long name if you like but I’m an old fashioned woman and I call it mother-wit and it’s so rare for a man to have it that if he does you write a book about him and call him Sherlock Holmes.”

After the horrors of Alone In Berlin* (I mean that in a good way) I was desperate for something light hearted. Clouds of Witness was one of the books I purchased during a monumentally unsuccessful Christmas shopping trip last year when I failed to buy any presents for my friends and family but came home with several books for myself instead. For this reason I still feel a little guilty every time I look at it.
This is the second Lord Peter Wimsey novel in the series but it’s the fourth that I’ve read now. I’m a bit in love with these books but it occurred to me for the first time after I finished this one that I often seem to find their resolutions vaguely disappointing for some reason. I don’t get that nice, satisfying ‘Oh, of course!’ feeling when the culprit is revealed like I do with many Agatha Christie mysteries. I’m not sure why that is. I wonder if I just enjoy the setup to the mystery more with Sayers; she’s good at the atmosphere and the scene setting and I love some of her characters to pieces but she sometimes relies too much on easy plot devices (a secret diary in which the killer conveniently confesses to his crimes, for instance) to close the investigation. Christie, I think, may just be better at the plotting and revealing of the mystery although I find her books more annoying in other ways.
Anyway, that’s all by the by. In this book Lord Peter’s brother, the Duke of Denver, is pegged by the police when their sister’s fiancé is discovered dead at his hunting lodge. The dead man and Lady Mary had been engaged for some time until his erratic behaviour on the night of his death (coupled with hints of a very dodgy past) caused the wedding to be called off. Did a broken heart provoke Lady Mary to murder? Did her brother pull the trigger to protect his sister and prevent further scandal? Or was it one of the dead man’s other enemies, some of whom just happen to have been staying at the hunting lodge on the night of his death? Lord Peter will have to get to the bottom of it all without dragging the family name through the dirt at the same time.
It’s a difficult one to solve because, as in all good murder stories, all the key witnesses are lying for one reason or another. It twists and turns and goes off at odd angles, picks up strange characters along the way, before eventually coming back to the start to do what it was supposed to do all along. I didn’t quite solve the mystery in time but I was on the right track I think and I was enjoying it enormously until the ending which, as I mentioned, left me feeling a little deflated. Although I’m still not sure I can put my finger on exactly why that is. Still, it was good and I would recommend it for the journey if not for the destination.

*Incidentally, there’s a brief passing reference in CoW to a Lord Quangel (or something similar, I can’t find the page now). You can go your whole life never hearing the name Quangel at all and then it appears in two very different books in the space of a week. How strange.

Alone In Berlin (1947) by Hans Fallada


“At least I stayed decent,” he said. “I didn’t participate.” 

I started making notes for this review of Alone In Berlin almost before I’d turned the last page of the epilogue. This was back in February. I must have felt like I had a lot to say about it at the time although, now, after the passage of several weeks, I find that my notes don’t really mean much and the review I started to write is nonsense. Oh well. I do remember getting frustrated at my own inability to say what I meant about this book and this probably explains why it all got put on the back burner for so long. It’s particularly embarrassing because it means that this short, obscure blog post took longer to write than the novel itself. Fallada famously wrote Alone In Berlin – 568 pages in my edition – in a measly 24 days. And he was dying at the time.

Fallada was apparently inspired to write his story about a middle-aged German couple who wage a private resistance campaign against the Nazis after being passed a secret Gestapo file on a real dissident couple. In his version of the tale, Anna and Otto Quangel’s eyes are opened to the truth around them when their only son is killed fighting Hitler’s war in Poland. They start writing anti-Nazi slogans on postcards and leaving them in public places across the city in the hope that other Berliners will find them and be encouraged to oppose the regime too. Of course, they know that their postcards may seem paltry and insignificant in the great scheme of things and they’re also painfully aware that discovery will lead to interrogation, torture, imprisonment and probably execution. But they carry on regardless. Anna and Otto are only a part of the story here and I think really the whole point is that while their small acts of resistance don’t encourage much in the way of active disobedience elsewhere they are important and they have far reaching consequences for their loved ones and for those tasked with investigating and punishing them.  

It’s the sort of story that’s difficult to put down and I think to a certain degree this might be the case even if it was told by a less competent, more indulgent writer than Fallada. By this I mean that he doesn’t dress up the Quangels, he doesn’t make them nice or their deeds heroic, he doesn’t pretend that their postcards changed much. In fact, there’s nothing exciting here; it’s ordinary and small and utterly, utterly chilling at times. The Quangels’ world is characterised by suspicion, fear of denunciation, cruelty and betrayal even before the thought of civil disobedience enters their minds and Fallada doesn’t hold his punches. He doesn’t hold your hand through the unpleasant bits or offer any glimmers of hope to light the way. No. For me, this made the book almost relentlessly harrowing and I read the whole thing with my heart in my mouth, scared of all the things that I knew could and would go wrong. I know that’s a personal response and other readers might not react in the same way but for me that’s how it was. I confess to finding it emotionally gruelling.

And I don’t mean any of this as a criticism of Fallada or his writing. In fact there isn’t a thing I would change about Alone In Berlin and with hindsight I think his unwillingness to indulge the reader is one of the things I like about it. In the hands of another writer it could become dismal, depressing, trite or mawkish and he avoids all of that spectacularly. It just made me very glad that I wasn’t one of his characters or even one of the people who inspired them. I at least had the power to close the book and walk away from it all.  

An Artist of the Floating World (1986) by Kazuo Ishiguro


Good grief. I’m so far behind with book reviews at the moment that it’s starting to feel a little bit unfunny. I read An Artist of the Floating World way, way back in February, and I’ve read four (or five?) books since then so my memories are hazy at best. This was a Christmas present from a friend and fellow Ishiguro lover who also lent me Remains of the Day at the same time. I read this one first because I remember hearing somewhere that it was best to read them this way round; apparently An Artist falls a little flat if you’ve read and loved Remains first. I don’t know if that’s true or not but I wanted to give them both a fair chance.

“There is certainly a satisfaction and dignity to be gained in coming to terms with the mistakes one has made in the course of one’s life” 

The artist of the title, and the narrator of the text, is Masuji Ono, a once celebrated and respected painter who now finds himself the subject of suspicion and shame. Over the course of the novel Masuji looks back over his life and particularly at the years immediately before the war when idealistic, nationalist fervour caused him to abandon his early artistic training in favour of a career producing propagandist art for the Imperial government. These were the happiest years of his life but now the war is over and as Japan comes to terms with its past artists like Masuji are an uncomfortable reminder of a time and an ideology that many would like to forget. He has become an embarrassment.

Masuji is a very human, very unreliable narrator and it’s difficult to know what to make of him. While he clearly enjoys remembering those happier days before the war when he was considered a powerful and revolutionary artist, he is at first less keen to call to mind the times when his actions brought destruction down upon others. Instead he tries to gloss over the finer details, preferring to justify his behaviour more generally and to wonder at the embarrassment of the younger generation. The war has taken his wife and only son but he obstinately refuses to see how his decisions may have contributed to the destruction around him. It’s the upcoming marriage of his youngest daughter, Noriko, and the worrying realisation that his reputation might hinder her chances of making a respectable match, that forces Masuji to confront his own past.

An Artist… moves at a fairly languid pace and not a great deal happens for much of the book. Like Masuji, it’s in no particular hurry to say its piece but I quite like the way that Ishiguro takes his time with this novel. He doesn’t rush Masuji’s development as a character, but lets it all unfold on the page quite naturally. In spite of its subject matter it feels like quite a gentle, if uneasy, read at times and this makes its punches seem all the more powerful. I never really knew how I felt about Masuji, or how much I trusted what he was saying, but I think that’s part of this book’s power.  

In spite of swearing that I’d read something a bit more easy-going next I immediately picked up Alone In Berlin. It was not easy going. At all.

Top Ten Tuesday: For the Love of Books



Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl.

Not being much of a romance reader I always struggle to come up with a meaningful response to these Valentine’s Day prompts. This year I’m going for a lovey subject close to my heart: books about the love of books or, alternatively, books for booklovers. Here are some of my favourites:

1. The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett. A short novelette, if you will, in which the Queen discovers the joys of library membership and has her eyes opened to a whole new world. Short and sweet and so typically Bennett. Review here.

2. The Book Thief by Markus Zuzak. This was one of those books that made the rest of my life – all those moments when I didn’t have time to read – feel like an enormous inconvenience. Narrated by death itself, this is the story of a young girl in Nazi Germany and her love for reading.

3. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. A gripping tale involving a young man’s introduction to the Cemetery of Lost Books and his discovery that a devilish figure is intent on burning all the surviving copies of his favourite novel. I got completely hooked on this.

4. Matilda by Roald Dahl. Surely the best known bookworm in literature? And yet more proof that booklovers are the very best sort of people.

5. Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi. A moving memoir of one woman’s experiences teaching classic literature in the years after the Iranian revolution. Review here.

6. Possession by A S Byatt. Two modern-day academics join forces to research a secret love affair between two famous Victorian poets; the title can refer to lots of things but I love the way Byatt describes the curious feeling that certain books and authors belong to you alone.

7. 84 Charing Cross Road by Helen Hanff. Epistolary stories are the best and this is one of my favourites. This is the story of the unusual friendship between Hanf, an American writer, and a London bookseller with a shared love of used books. Review here.

8. The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde. Suffice it to say that there’s a parallel world (or two), a detective specialising in literary crimes, a missing copy of Martin Chuzzlewit, a woman trapped in a Wordsworth poem and several alternative endings to Jane Eyre. Indeed Jane Eyre gets rewritten, or rewrites itself, multiple times throughout. It’s mad but brill.

9. The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler. As much as I love her novels, a book club that reads only Jane Austen sounds pretty hellish to me. Nevertheless I remember quite liking this.

10. The Children’s Book by A S Byatt. A Byatt double whammy here. This is an epic tome (and the prettiest book on my shelves). It covers a lot of ground but focuses mainly on the children of a group of artists and writers in pre-war bohemian London.

Let me know in the comments if you think if anything I’ve missed 🙂

Mrs Dalloway (1925) by Virginia Woolf


“Fear no more, says the heart, committing its burden to some sea, which sighs collectively for all sorrows, and renews, begins, collects, lets fall”

I always seem to be harping on about the fact that I can’t finish To The Lighthouse. It’s not that I haven’t enjoyed what I’ve read of it, not at all, but on each of the four occasions I’ve tried I’ve inevitably lost my way and given up, probably way too soon. I’ve come to regard this book, or possibly just Virginia Woolf, as something like my very own, personal literary nemesis (alongside James Joyce and Henry James). Back last year I added it to a Top Ten Tuesday list of books I’ve never been able to finish and one commenter kindly recommended Mrs Dalloway as a more accessible introduction to Virginia Woolf for a beginner like me. I promptly added it to my mental TBR list, forgot about it for a year, and then was delighted to receive it for Christmas. What a nice surprise.

Wishfulpennywell was absolutely right to recommend this as a more suitable introduction to Woolf than TTL; it’s a gentler, more forgiving read and for me at least it didn’t seem to require the same sort of agonised perseverance necessary just to keep up with the plot. In fact – and I don’t want to sound too gushy here– I think I might be in love with Mrs. Dalloway. Like, really. I often say that a particular book has me hooked but this didn’t have me hooked exactly, it was more akin to being spellbound. I knew within the first paragraph that I wouldn’t just read it all the way to the very end but I’d take my time and savour the experience as I went along. To this end I started avoiding all my lunchtime reading haunts in favour of quieter spots (my car, stationery cupboards and so on) where I’d be able to read undisturbed for an hour. I was obsessed.

Mrs Dalloway is a surprisingly simple novel, which I think is probably part of its charm. Set on one June day in 1923, it follows Clarissa Dalloway as she makes preparations for a party she’s throwing that evening. She buys flowers, mends her dress, sees an old friend, frets about her daughter. And all the while the reader is there, party to all her thoughts and feelings as she goes about her day, as she wonders at the passing of the years, the choices she has made and how life might have been different. Her thoughts often dwell on the happiest years of her youth, before her marriage, on her dearest friend Sally Seton with whom she once shared a kiss and a doomed relationship with the intensely enigmatic Peter Walsh.  The narrative frequently shifts away from Clarissa so we have a chance to observe her from the point of view of those around her but it never stays with any of them for very long. The only other character whom we have chance to study in any detail initially appears to be unconnected to Clarissa; Septimus Warren Smith is an ex-soldier suffering from shell shock, depression and paranoia and while Clarissa is preparing for her party his wife is taking him to doctors and wondering at some of her own past decisions.

It’s all beautifully, mesmerizingly written and there were some sentences I read three or four or more times just to savour them. I love the way it flits from one thing to the next, never settling on anything for long, but landing just long enough for you to learn everything you need to learn. One of the things that I worried about was that I might feel overwhelmed by this stream of consciousness, that I’d get left behind, but really it wasn’t as bad as all that; in some ways it almost feels like a lazy read because once you’re into it you can almost lay back and let the words flow over you. There’s something effortless and graceful about the way Woolf can do this. It drives home a strange sense of how fragile everything is and how quickly, how unnoticeably, time can pass. It’s been two weeks since I turned the last page and I’m still marvelling over this, still keenly reading Goodreads reviews to see if other readers wonder at the same things.

I haven’t bumped To The Lighthouse immediately to the top of my To Read list but it has leapfrogged several places up off the back of Mrs Dalloway. I feel much more prepared for it now, and much more eager to read other works by Woolf. I think this might be the start of my latest literary obsession.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog (2006) by Muriel Barbery


I was so determined to love this book but now that I think about it I really can’t remember why. What first convinced me that this might be something I’d enjoy? Because it’s French? Because it’s got hedgehogs* in the title? Because it has a pretty cover? I’m really not sure. Sadly, I was pretty certain that it wasn’t going to be my cup of tea within a few pages of starting but I persevered and although I soon found that I wasn’t having as bad a time as expected, nevertheless, I was quite glad to finish and move on to something more to my usual tastes.

I should stress that it’s not the fault of the book that I misjudged it, nor is it a bad book (if there is such a thing). In fact, there were plenty of things for me to enjoy here. After a while I grew to quite like the book’s main protagonist, Madame Renee, the downtrodden, middle aged concierge with a secret she keeps hidden from the snooty inhabitants of her apartment building: she is, in fact, a genius and an avid reader of Tolstoy and Kant in her spare time. Of course, it doesn’t stay secret for long when a charming Japanese businessman moves in and joins forces with Paloma, the angsty pre-teen on the third floor (another self-proclaimed genius who hides her talents) to break down Madame’s barriers. Her gradual thawing and blossoming friendships are kind of touching to watch unfold.

In some ways I guess it’s a celebration of the quiet, seemingly unremarkable people – the hedgehogs of this world – who spend their lives ignored and living on the side-lines. And that would be all well and good if there wasn’t a certain snootiness to Madame Renee and the young Paloma too. You see, in order to prove that they are worthy, noble intellectuals Barbary shoehorns into this novel some lengthy musings on philosophy, history, high and low culture. Sometimes these asides are interesting and sometimes they’re not but they’re often sparked by a need to prove how shallow, tedious and stupid some of the other characters are. It’s hard to feel sympathetic to those poor, oppressed hedgehogs when they’re nurturing such indignant superiority in their hearts.

Things get a little better when Ozu arrives and encourages them both to chill a bit but the book remains a little pretentious all the way through to the end. And I’m not entirely comfortable with the stereotypical, fetishized portrayal of the Japanese Mr Ozu. Surely we’re above this kind of nonsense by now?

Plus, why is it even necessary for Renee to hide the fact that she’s clever simply because she works as a concierge? It makes no sense.

Anyhow, I didn’t hate this novel but I did think it was a little trite and a little pompous at times.



* There are precisely 0 hedgehogs in this book.

Top Ten Tuesday: Books that have been on my TBR longest…


Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme and these days it’s hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. 

If all Top Ten Tuesdays were about books I haven’t read yet then it’d be easy. Here are some of the ones that have been on my shelves for an embarrassingly long time:

1. To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf. I’m not sure how many times I’ve started this and given up but I’m hopeful I might actually get through it soon. I recently read Mrs Dalloway and loved it to bits so fingers crossed.

2. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. Ok. That’s it. I have to read this in 2018.

3. The Master & Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. I started this and gave up quite quickly about ten years ago but I’ve always intended to go back to it.

4. Stormbird (Wars of the Roses #1) by Conn Iggulden. This was a birthday present from P about four years ago. To be honest, I totally forgot I had it and I feel pretty bad about it. Soon, Stormbird, soon.

5. Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott. I bought this at an airport with the intention of reading it on my upcoming flight. One trip to Amsterdam and eleven years later it remains unopened. Is it any good? That’s what I’d like to know.

6. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell. This is a relic from my BBC Big Read days. I started it twice and gave up both times. I

7. For Whom The Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway. I just never seem to be in the mood for Ernest Hemingway.

8. Life of Pi by Yann Martel. I had the book sitting on my shelf for a few years before the film came out and now I’ve seen the film I’m not sure I want to read it.

9. Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey. I seem to have gone off the idea of reading this book almost immediately after I bought it. Maybe this year.

10. A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel. If only this wasn’t so huge!

That’s it for this time, folks. Thanks for reading!

Do Not Say We Have Nothing (2016) by Madeleine Thien


I took the first week of the New Year off work to give myself time to recuperate from all the usual Christmas excesses. It didn’t go exactly to plan because, in between catching up on sleep and reading my new books, I took it in to my head to paint the bedroom and this inevitably took longer, and involved more effort, than I had expected. As these things always do. It meant I ended up reading much of Do Not Say We Have Nothing, a gift from P, while sitting on the cold floor of our empty bedroom waiting for paint to dry, although I also snatched a few minutes of reading time in the café at Ikea and in the waiting area of Argos. Ordinarily I’d probably have put the book aside until I had more time but in this case I was enjoying it so much that it wasn’t really an option I was willing to consider.

I don’t know very much about China’s Cultural Revolution although I did take a course on the subject in my second year of university; the module seminar was first thing on a Friday, the morning after the weekly two-for-one deal on drinks at the Student Union, and, I’m embarrassed to say, I very rarely made it to class. I feel pretty bad about it now. Still, I seem to have gleaned enough to know that the characters in this book might have a rough ride ahead of them. And I was certainly right about that. In Do Not Say We Have Nothing Thien takes three generations of one extended family of musicians through more than sixty years of Chinese history, from the early days of the Maoist revolution through resettlement, famine, denunciation, imprisonment and protest. The story begins with Big Mother Knife and her sister Swirl, tea house singers in the days before the war, but focuses most of all on their children, Sparrow and Zhuli, whose lives are changed forever when the government decides that they and their music are undesirable in the new China.  It’s the third generation – two young women who meet in Canada following the Tiananmen Square protests – who piece together their complicated shared family history and try to make sense of all that has gone before them.

I assumed that when the story finished, life would continue and I would go back to being myself. But it wasn’t true. The stories got longer and longer and I got smaller and smaller. When I told Big Mother this she laughed her head off. “But that’s how the world is, isn’t it?” 

It would be quite easy for me to do a standard review post here where I list all the things I like (Wen the Dreamer, the Book of Records, Zhuli, the music and the way Thien explains the subtle differences between Chinese characters….) and dislike (nothing much – maybe the slow build up to Tiananmen?) about this novel but that doesn’t seem quite right here because I don’t think these are necessarily the things that stayed with me afterwards. Instead, I think what I will remember most is my emotional response to this novel, or at least to certain scenes. Do Not Say We Have Nothing is powerful, relentless stuff and (oh the cliché) I really found it hard to put it down. Moreover, on one occasion about midway through, when the hysterical denunciations of Conservatory students were reaching their peak, I decided it’d be best to just put the book down and walk away for an hour or two. I think I was starting to feel a bit hysterical myself. It says something about the way Thien sweeps you up into this tale; she weaves its various threads together beautifully and keeps them taut almost to the end so you’re fully entangled in everything you read. I found it very difficult to shake this story off after I turned the last page and I was still wondering about Ai-Ming several days later.

Since finishing this I’ve read a couple more books but I’ve once again fallen way behind on my posts. Expect a quick flurry of reviews very soon!

My bookish year in numbers


It’s become a bit of a tradition now for me to do a final stats post to mark the end of each year. I like it; it’s only when I write these posts that I really think about what I’ve read and what it says about my reading habits.

I had a sneaking suspicion that I hadn’t read as much as usual this year but it’s nice to see that really the damage isn’t as bad as expected. Here is my reading year in numbers:

In 2017 I read 25 novels and 2 short stories.

Before cancelling my Audible subscription I listened to 2 audio books (Charlotte Bronte: A Life by Claire Harman and Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain – both unblogged).

I failed to finish 1 book (Doctor Zhivago).

The oldest novel I read was published in 1848 (The Tenant of Wildfell Hall) but the two short stories I read were published in 1837 and 1838.

The newest book I read was published in 2016 (The Essex Serpent).

Only 8% of the books I read this year were published before 1900.

56% were published in the 20th century.

36% were published this century.

Just over half – 52% to be precise – were by British authors but in total I read books by authors of 12 different nationalities from 5 different continents.

I visited 8 new places on my Around The World in 80 Books tour.

15 books were written by women and 10 by men.

The longest novel I read contained over 800 pages (The Luminaries – I’ve now lent it to a friend so I can’t give you an exact figure on the page numbers).

The shortest had 190 pages (4.50 From Paddington).

I read 2 more books from the BBC’s Big Read (Midnight’s Children and Katherine).

My most popular blog post of this year – based on hits received – was this post on the books I’ve struggled to finish. Since it was published last month it’s been viewed 55 times which, for this quiet little blog, is loads.

One of the things I like about these posts is being able to compare to previous years and I’m reassured to see I’ve only read one book less than last year. I read more books by women this year (a conscious effort) and far fewer classic Victorian novels (completely unintentional, I had no idea). For some reason my choices seem to be shifting back towards modern literature but I think that’s because I’m still trying really hard to read books by a more diverse range of authors. That’s going pretty well all in all; I read slightly fewer non-English authors this year but I did read books by authors from Algeria, America, Finland, India, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Romania, Scotland and the West Indies. I’m pretty happy with that.

I just realised I didn’t read any French or Russian authors this year. How strange.

Anyhoo, before I go I’ll leave you with an entirely smug and gratuitous photograph of all the books I received over the holidays from my lovely family and friends. I’m a lucky girl.


They are currently piled up in an armchair while I work out where the hell I’m going to put them all. Ho hum….

Happy new year all 🙂