Book ReviewsReading plans

Reading Wrap Up — October 2023

October was a month of reading ups and downs. Fortunately there were more ups than there were downs.

Let’s get the downs out of the way first.

My plan to join Karen and Simon for the #1962club reading week took a nosedive because I couldn’t find the book I had earmarked for that week. Silent Spring by Rachel Carson has been on the shelves waiting to be read for at least twenty years. But do you think I could find it? I looked everywhere but to no avail. I did try to get a copy from the library but it would take too long to transfer it from another branch. Since I operate on the basis that once you stop looking for something, it will suddenly re-appear, I didn’t want to buy another copy. It still hasn’t materialised however…… Very odd that since I was sure I saw it only a month or so ago.

Also on the down side, I had multiple DNFs including three of the Booker prize contenders. This year’s longlist didn’t excite me hugely but I was curious why the Booker judges thought these the best books of 2023. So I ordered a few from the library. I’m still waiting for The House of Doors by Tan Twang Eng to arrive but the other four I requested —Study for Obedience by Sarah Bernstein, How To Build a Boat by Elaine Feeney and A Spell of Good Things by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀ — were all returned with barely 50 pages read from each. Was I just unlucky in choosing titles that were not the strongest novels on the list or is this a reflection of a significant discrepancy between my views and those of the judges about what constitutes a really good book.

There were three other books that I abandoned.

  • The Ardent Swarm by Lara Vergnaud: This was my third attempt to read this book (do I get brownie points for perseverance?). It’s an allegory about a North African country whose transition from dictatorship to democracy is being de-stabilised by hostile forces. The parallel between fundamentalists who try to skewer the elections and a killer strain of hornets that besiege and destroy the hives tended lovingly by Sidi, is just too obvious.

  • Katherine of Arragon by Alison Weir: My reading habits have clearly changed since the years when I lapped up every novel about the Tudors that I could lay my hands on. I suspect it’s because Hilary Mantel’s Cromwell trilogy set the bar so high, that everything else, pales by comparison. This — the first in Weir’s six wives of Henry VIII series — is clearly well researched but it just failed to engage my attention.
  • White Spines: Confessions of a Book Collector by Nicholas Doyle: Normally I enjoy books about people who love buying and reading books but this didn’t hit the mark for me at all. It’s a memoir about Doyle’s passion for Picador titles published in the 1970s through to the 1990’s. He’s such an enthusiast that he travels across the UK, always on the hunt for those treasured white-colour spines. Some sections were enjoyable — when he talks about the ephemera he often finds secreted between the pages — but there wasn’t enough in the book to keep me reading

Enough of the downs, let’s talk about all the positives in my October reading journey.

I’m reading far fewer books each month than I have in years gone by, partly because I’m too busy during the day at too tired at night. I could get through more books if I moved the reading speed up a gear but I see little point in doing that. I’d only forget what I was reading. So I’m not going to get stressed about how many/how few books I read each month/year. I prefer to just enjoy what I do manage to read.

Books read in October

  • The Snow Hare by Paula Lichtarowicz: Set in southern Poland Lichtarowicz focuses on a young girl whose ambitions to become a doctor are thwarted by an accident. She’s pushed into a marriage with an army officer she doesn’t love and then into motherhood. As world war 2 breaks out she and her family are forcibly moved to a labour camp where, in this most unlikely of places, she discovers true love. It’s a reasonably interesting novel but takes too long to fully get underway.
  • The Eighth Detective by Alex Pavesi: You don’t have to be a big consumer of crime novels to know they follow certain general “rules”. In Pavesi’s novel a mathematics professor identified all the permutations of the genre — the number of suspects, victims, killers etc. And then wrote a series of detective stories each based on one of his permutations. But suspicions about these stories are aroused when an editor with a London publishing house visits the author in his island retreat. if you’re looking for an enjoyable book that isn’t too taxing (maybe after that large Thanksgiving turkey or Xmas pudding), this would be a good choice
  • The Newspaper of Claremont Street by Elizabeth Jolley: I am fast becoming a dedicated fan of Elizabeth Jolley’s fiction. This is the third novel by her that I’ve read and it’s a gem. Despite the title, it’s not about a newspaper or even a news reporter in the accepted sense of the word. Instead “we meet “The Newspaper” is the name given to an old cleaning lady by her clients in Claremont Street. They also call her “Weekly” because of her habit of spreading gossip and “news” from all the houses she visits. It’s funny but just like in Jolley’s other novels, there is an unsettling side to this humour. Highly recommended!
  • Nada by Carmen Laforet: Apparently, this story of an orphaned young woman and her experience of life with relatives in a squalid house in Barcelona, is loosely based on the author’s own life. It’s bleak yet also has touches of humour mainly because the atmosphere of the house and the antics of the inhabitants are so brilliantly drawn . Absolutely wonderful book.

If I had to pick a favourite from this group it would be the Elizabeth Jolley, closely followed by Nada.

Explore the World

Reading Nada means I can tick off another square (the one for Europe) on my Wanderlust Bingo card. I’ve been reading another which will count for the Polar Regions square (The Land of Snow And Ashes by Petra Rautiainen is set in the Lapland region of Finland) but since I didn’t finish it during October, I’ll include it in my November update. I may even finish the card by the end of this year…….

That’s it for October. November is a busy reading month with both Novellas in November and Non Fiction November. I have two novellas by Hubert Mingarelli, lined up for the first and some reviews of memoirs to write for the second. And there’s the non inconsiderable task of reading the 700 pages of Armadale by Wilkie Collins which is my Classic Club spin. It’s going to be a busy month…..


What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

22 thoughts on “Reading Wrap Up — October 2023

  • Oh I’m so glad I’m not the only one who can’t find a particular book that’s been sitting on the shelves for years. The latest one was Fair Stood the Wind for France, my Classics Club Spin book for December. I looked everywhere I could think of, but not a sign. After I’d read your post I looked again – and there it was, hiding in a pile of books I’m sure I’d checked before.

    Shame about those DNFs. I read Weir’s Katharine of Aragon several years ago and maybe because it is so well researched I found it tedious and drawn out in places, rather like her marriage to Henry.

    You’re really cracking on with Wanderlust Bingo – I started well earlier in the year but haven’t added any books for months.

    • Your reaction to the Weir was the same as mine. I did wonder whether the story was too familiar to me because it went on and on and never seemed to say anything new

  • Of your “ups” The Eighth Detective most interests me as something I might enjoy over the midwinter season. I’m sorry though you had significant “downs” to contend with – variable Booker shortlist titles in particular can’t be easy for someone operating under the alias of ‘Bookertalk’…

    • I’m debating whether to change the name to BookTalk because the Booker lists in recent years have been so uninspiring

      • I’d still follow your posts in whatever guise you appear in!

  • I lose books all the time! It’s so frustrating…I’m reading my way through the Booker shortlist and have been disappointed by two (Prophet Song and Study for Obedience) and enjoyed two (The Bee Sting and Western Lane) with two more to go.

    • I have Western Lane to read – it’s one of the more interesting titles

  • The Elizabeth Jolley sounds just wonderful. Hilary Mantel did spoil us, I recently got over halfway through a historical fiction that has an interesting premise, realized I didn’t much care what happened to the characters, flipped to the end and read that, and then put the book away.

    • The problem I’ve found with a lot of historical fiction is that the author stuffs it too full with history – in other words they’ve done their research and they’re determined to use it.

  • Sorry you’ve had so many DNFs recently. I have read the Katherine of Aragon book, but I agree that most Tudor novels don’t really come close to Hilary Mantel’s. My Classics Club Spin book, Nicholas Nickleby, is even longer than yours, but I’ve made a start on it and will see how far I get by the deadline!

    • Nicholas Nickleby is indeed very long – I skimmed some of the chapters where Dickens goes overboard about the antics of a theatrical group!

  • I felt uninspired by this year’s Bookers list, just following the reviews instead. Sorry about the run of dnfs hope Nov proves better.

    • The list this year was probably one of the least inspiring of recent years

  • PS I like your reading “challenge”!

    • The wanderlust bingo card? I can’t claim credit for the idea however, it originated with Fiction Fan

  • I used to think I owed it to myself, the author, or whatever to finish every book I start. No more. Although I choose my books very carefully (via your site and others), if I don’t like it, I move on. I felt very guilty about abandoning Sally Rooney’s “Beautiful World, Where Are You?” after getting through “Normal People”–which was indeed pretty well done. I did keep it on the shelf as sometimes it’s just timing. But there was a much acclaimed US bestseller (whose title now escapes me) that I just plain disliked and left after just 25 pages.

    • I’ve long ago abandoned the feeling that I am obliged to finish a book – there simply are not enough years left to me to waste it on books I am not enjoying

  • Your DNFs are a disappointment I’m sure! It’s disheartening when they occur in bunches. I hope you find some fabulous reads to make up for it!

  • You have made me interested in Elizabeth Jolley whom I had not heard of. Will search for her book.

    • I hadn’t heard of her either until I began following some bloggers from Australia


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