What’s on your bookshelf #21

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. It’s been a good – and as usual – mixed month of books, with the long Easter weekend offering up more opportunities for grabbing some reading time.

Detective fiction

I’m a big fan of detective fiction, especially when the plot line grabs you from the first chapter and you can’t put the book down. Paper Cage is the prize winning debut novel from Kiwi author Tom Baragwanath was one of those books for me at least. Set in Masterton (100km north of Wellington), it is a story of child kidnapping (with a twist), a police records clark whose nephew is one of the children who disappears, drugs, gangs and a whole cast of characters that fill the book. You can listen to an interview with the author here.

The latest Donna Leon, So Shall You Reap, shows the author back on form, after a slightly disappointing last couple of books. This is the thirty-second book in the series would you believe, and sees Brunetti solve the crime behind a dead body in a canal. The plot had me guessing until quite near the end, so essential in this sort of book, and of course the wonderful descriptions of the meals eaten always add a little something.

I also listened to what must be one of the silliest books I have come across in ages, Death and Croissants by Ian Moore, Set in France, it is an improbable story involving the Mafia, an out of place English man, a glamorous mysterious French woman and other over the top characters. I am not sure I would read the book, but for a fun thing to have on while cooking and cleaning.


So to three very different books. It is one hundred years since the New Zealand born author Katherine Mansfield died, so I thought I should really re-read some of her work. I have two volumes of her short stories, so started with this early collection, published after her death, In a German Pension. There are some very sharp observations about people, and the characters certainly come to life on the pages, however there are some elements that might make you wince a bit with their stereotypical characterisations. Apparently, she didn’t like these pieces, feeling they were immature. I will let you judge for yourself.

So to another book published posthumously, Barbara Pym’s Crampton Hodnet, first published in 1985 but written in 1940. I had read this before years ago, so another second reading for me. If you like Pym, you will like this, even though it is perhaps not her best book. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who hasn’t read her other work first, but all the well known Pym characters are there, and she paints a wonderful picture of a certain group in society in Oxford before World War II.

This month’s theme for the book club I am in was ‘your desert island book’, a tough one I am sure you agree. I decided to go for an old favourite, and after much humming and hawing and going back and forth, I finally decided on George and Weedon Grossmith’s classic work The Diary of a Nobody, after a close competition with E.M. Delafield’s The Diary of a Provincial Lady. Originally published in the magazine Punch, the fictional diaries were first published as a book in 1892. It is an hilarious chronicle of late Victorian suburban London life through the eyes of Charles Pooter. We meet his wife, Carrie, son Lupin, friends Cummings and Gowing, and may other characters. It is a book I have read, well, since I first read it when I was 10 years old and must read it it every two years or so, you can guess how many times I have picked this book up. The illustrations, by Weedon Grossmith really make the book, and I still laugh out loud at certain bits (the straw hat, the enamel paint saga…) even after all these years.

Food related reading

In the food related reading corner this month are two very different books. First up is chef and restaurant owner Erin French’s memoirs Finding Freedom in the Lost Kitchen, which I found quite gripping. French grew up in Maine, and after working in her father’s diner, finds her calling as a professional chef, and now owns The Lost Kitchen, a restaurant in Maine. Her life took many ups and downs – an abusive first husband, being a single mother, time spent in rehab – a real rollercoaster of a journey. I’ve only given it a 4/5 rating as it could have been much better edited to avoid some repetition.

Finally, M.F.K. Fisher’s How to Cook a Wolf, written in 1942, and published in a revised edition in 1954, with additional comments on things she wrote during the war during times of scarcity. She has a wonderful way of writing about food and her way with words is to be admired as this extract shows.

There are many ways to love a vegetable, The most sensible way is to love it well-treated. Then you can eat it with the comfortable knowledge that you will be a better man for it, in your spirit and body too, and will never had to worry about your own love being vegetable. (page 176 in the Daunt Books edition I have).

One of the most bizarre recipes is for a tomato soup cake using, yes, a tin of tomato soup. I am so tempted to try it…but also recoil from the thought. What do you think?

So to the ratings for this month:

  • Tom Baragwanath Paper Cage – 5 people
  • MFK Fisher How to Cook a Wolf – 4 tomato soup cakes
  • Donna Leon So Shall You Reap – 5 gondolas
  • Erin French Finding Freedom in the Lost Kitchen – 4 restaurants
  • Barbara Pym Crampton Hodnet – 5 curates
  • Katherine Mansfield In a German Pension – 4 spa towns
  • George and Weedon Grossmith Diary of a Nobody – 5+ diaries

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. Our reading overlaps. Barbara Pym, whom I really like, but not Crampton Hodnet. The Diary of a Provincial Lady, which I adored. And the excellent How to Cook a Wolf. Fischer was such a wonderful writer. Although I live in Maine, I have never been to The Lost Kitchen. And I have not read the book. Finally, go ahead and try that tomato soup cake. And let us know how it all turns out.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I enjoyed Crampton Hodnet but it definitely isn’t the best of her books. Like you I adore The Diary of a Provincial Lady – such a fun book. I think I really have to try the tomato soup cake. That soup is quite sweet, and I doubt you taste the tomato but who knows!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Do try the tomato soup cake! I made one years ago and only after it was eaten did I ask my family what they thought the ‘secret ingredient’ was – nobody guessed, so don’t think you will end up with a tomato-tasting cake. After all, people use beetroots and carrots in cakes too 🙂 As you might have seen from one of my earlier posts, A stack of Lee Child’s ‘Jack Reacher’ novels saw me through a rather anxious period the week before my son left to work in Scotland. I have had my fill of him and yesterday read a very satisfying novel,’Saving Missy’ by Beth Morrey – beautifully written.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think you are right about the cake – with spices and other good things I agree it shouldn’t taste of tomato, and after l did make a parsnip and lemon loaf a few months ago. That ‘Saving Missy’ sounds delightful. I must look for it in the library.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. What a rich post – with so many books to consider – so thank you for sharing

    The one htat stood out was Barbara Pym’s Crampton Hodnet- because she must be good (even if the book wasnt her best) to have it publsihed 45 years after it was written – and that pre-war time must be interesting in the book.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for all the book reviews, now all I need is more ”sitting down” time!
    I noticed a biography of Barbara Pym was recently published …I might try that one.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I haven’t ready Diary of a Nobody, but like you love Diary of a Provincial Lady – which probably is due a reread. As for tomato soup cake? Ummmm yeah and nah?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Plenty of great suggestions here. I love your ratings system! I always enjoyed Barbara Pym and Katherine Mansfield. The thriller Paper Cage sounds right up my street.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I grew up eating tomato soup cake. It’s actually really good. I still have my mom’s recipe if you want a tried and true one! I make all our tomato soup and so haven’t made this cake in decades as I never have a tin of soup. It’s always interesting to read old books like that. One can see how the culture has changed so much. An island book for me “Anne of Green Gables”. I can’t count the times and look forward to reading it to my granddaughter.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I feel I now have to have a go at making that cake. It sounds like something for winter, maybe a slice after a bowl of soup.

      I loved Anne of Green Gables too. That would be a great desert island book.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. My (step) grandmother used to talk about a tomato soup cake she used to make using a can of tomato soup and she swore up and down that it was absolutely delicious!! If you try it; I’d love to know what you think. As much as “gram” talked about it she never did get around to baking one up for us and I have no idea what her recipe entailed but I’ve always been curious.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. So many interesting books! I too like when a book grabs me from the beginning so I’d love to read Paper Cage too. And I’m with the others about the cake with tomato soup. But then I remember having doubts about zucchini bread way back when and nope, doesn’t taste like zucchini at all. You just don’t know until you try it, right?

    Liked by 1 person

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