What’s on my bookshelf #20

Another month, another look at what has been on my, and other’s bookshelves.  The what’s on your bookshelf challenge is hosted by fellow bloggers DebSueDonna and Jo. The idea is to share what you’re reading, what you’ve enjoyed lately share – why they resonated with you, how they made you feel, who are your favourite authors and what you recommend.

We are having internet issues at home, so no apologies for putting in links to other reviews rather than elaborating a lot about plot or content. It is just very frustrating at the moment as you can imagine.

With lots of things happening these past few weeks, it hasn’t been a great reading month at all. To be honest, I wasn’t much in the mood. However, before my ‘reading mojo’ left me I read what may well be my favourite book of the year, Eleanor Catton’s latest work, Birnam Wood. Set in a fictional part of the South Island of New Zealand, this is a gripping thriller, brilliantly told. It tells the tale of a group of guerrilla gardeners, known as Birnam Wood, who head over to an area of a national park that has been cut off by a landslide. There they meet an American billionaire who they are not sure they can trust. I won’t reveal the plot, which is multi-layered, but the end comes as a shock and almost made me shout out in surprise. You can read this review here or just pick up the work itself.

A book that could not be further from Catton’s new work was Barbara Pym’s Civil to Strangers. The volume contains one full-length novel (Civil to Strangers written in 1936), three incomplete novellas, a transcript of a radio talk, and four short stories. The pieces are mixed, but if you are a Pym fan, you will thoroughly enjoy this volume. You can read more here.

On the recommendation of Jo over at And Anyways, I listened to Sally Andrew Recipes for Love and Murder. It made a change to pick up a detective novel set in South Africa. This is the first of the Tannie Marie mysteries, and I really enjoyed it. The main character is highly engaging (she uses food to solve all problems) and the descriptions of the food…well, don’t listen or read if you are hungry!

In the non-fiction corner there was the amusing collection of essays by Ludvig Bemelmans about his experience as a waiter in a big hotel in New York, known in the book as Hotel Splendide. First published in 1941, his descriptions of people and the things that happened are quite over the top and very funny. The author is perhaps best known for his Madeline children’s books.

I finally finished The Restaurant A History of Eating by William Sitwell. It has been sitting by the sofa since my birthday in July, and I have been dipping in and out of it since. It is an interesting read, tracing such things as the first appearance of the table cloth (the Middle Ages) and Roman dining experiences.

And so the ratings..out of three, with a symbol relevant to the book as per the book club I am part of (we have moved to grades out of 5 instead of 3 for 2023).

  • Eleanor Catton Birnam Wood 5 trees
  • Barbara Pym Civil to Strangers 4 Hungarians (based on a key character)
  • Sally Andrew Recipes for Love and Murder 4 chocolate cakes
  • Ludwig Bemelmans Hotel Splendide 4 waiters
  • William Sitwell The Restaurant A History of Eating Out 4 restaurants

That is me for this month – what have you been reading? #whatsonyourbookshelf

Thistles and Kiwis is a Wellington, New Zealand based blog written by Barbara, who likes cats, summer, good food and pretends to garden.

You can find Thistles and Kiwis on Facebook, and also on Instagram @thistlesandkiwis.  As for Twitter….am totally inactive these days.  If you want to get in touch, email me on thistlesandkiwis@gmail.com


  1. Hi, Barbara – Thank you for being a regular at What’s On Your Bookshelf. It is greatly appreciated. Internet issues are always so painful (seriously, what did we ever do without it?). I hope your wifi is up and running soon. Thank you for sharing your reads, especially what you believe will be your best read of the year. How can a recommendation get any better than that?! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sally Andrew’s first story about Tannie Marie was a real hit in South Africa: she reflects particular characteristics of a small town and its population very well. Her second was brilliant too. She lost her way in political correctness in the next, but has thankfully found her way to the rightly blended track again.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I read The Luminaries and struggled with the length and complex plot, only persevering because it was for book group. Your enthusiasm has overcome my reluctance to put Birnam Wood on my tbr list. Mind you, that is so long I might never get round to it! I read a lot of Barbara Pym at one time: she’s on my list of ‘oldies to go back to’ along with the likes of Mollie Keane, Anita Brookner and Muriel Spark.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m so glad you enjoyed Recipes For Love And Murder! It’s Destination South Africa in our place this weekend so I’ll be raiding Tannie Maria’s ideas. I’ve heard good things about Birnam Wood and might just give it a go.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I haven’t read any of these but really intrigued by Catton and Pym (have read some of their other works) so will look out for them! I have a small NZ blog and I have recently started some book review posts, would love to join the #whatsonmybookshelf challenge – are there any rules about participating? Zofia

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What: What’s On Your Bookshelf #whatsonyourbookshelfchallenge
      When: Third Thursday PM (Northern Hemisphere)/ Third Friday AM (Southern Hemisphere).
      Why: Share a love of reading.

      Where: Blog, Blog Comments, Instagram or other Social Media.
      Who: This linkup is open to everyone.
      How: You can share in the comments, with a blog post, or on other social media of your choice. Include the hashtag #Whatsonyourbookshelfchallenge so that we can find you and include your link in our posts.

      The hosts are Deb at Deb’s World
      Jo at And Anyways
      Sue at Women Living Well After 50
      Donna at Retirement Reflections.

      The links are at the top of my post.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I wasn’t sure if I should add Birnam Wood to my reading list, because while I loved the first three-quarters of The Luminaries, I really didn’t like the ending and was left feeling quite frustrated by it. But you’ve piqued my interest in Birnam Wood, so I may well give it a go.


  7. Despite losing your reading mojo, you’ve done well and with internet issues too! Thanks so much for joining us with all this going on, it’s great to have your reviews Barbara 🙂


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