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BLOG TOUR!! Big Sister by Gunnar Staalesen

BIG_SISTER_AW.inddPI Varg Veum receives a surprise visit from a woman who introduces herself as his half-sister, and she has a job for him. Her god-daughter, a nineteen-year old trainee nurse from Haugesund, moved from her bedsit in Bergen two weeks ago. Since then no one has heard anything from her. She didn’t leave an address. She doesn’t answer her phone. And the police refuse to take the case seriously.

Veum’s investigation uncovers a series of carefully covered-up crimes and pent-up hatreds, and the trail leads to a gang of extreme bikers and to a shadowy group, whose dark intent is hidden by the anonymity of the internet. And then things get personal…

One of the nicest things about being a book blogger is discovering new voices. But all the focus on the new can sometimes drown out established masters and I do feel that sometimes we overlook the ‘new to me’ books and authors that are out there and awaiting discovery.

I say this because Gunnar Staalesen most definitely isn’t a ‘new’ author – he has written over twenty titles, been published in 24 countries and there have been twelve film adaptations of his novels in his native Norway. By any standards he’s incredibly popular and successful but, despite reading a lot of crime fiction, not a name I would have recognised before being invited onto the blog tour for his latest Varg Veum novel, Big Sister.

So on realising this was the twentieth book in the Varg Veum series I did feel a little behind the times and was worried there would just be too much backstory from the series to allow me to engage with the book. Those fears proved groundless however as Big Sister easily reads as a standalone and, whilst some of Varg’s earlier cases are referenced in passing, there are no spoilers (quite the achievement!) and the glimpses of them that we get serve only to encourage the reader to go back and read about some of Varg’s earlier cases.

Varg himself is also very easy to get to know as a character. A PI of the old-school, his world-weary attitude and sarcastic humour chime with Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe. Unlike Marlowe however, Veum’s background is in social work; an interesting history that I felt added a compassionate edge to his character, something that isn’t always seen in PI fiction. He does however have the PI’s classic unflappability. Whether it’s having his unknown half-sister walk into his office with a case, having a series of doors slammed in his face during the course of a single afternoon, or being physically threatened by a biker gang, Varg’s stoicism and personal morality see him in a dogged pursuit of his goal.

And that goal takes Varg to some very dark places. From a seemingly simple missing person’s case, the narrative of Big Sister reaches back into the past and to a single, horrifying act, the repercussions of which now threaten a new generation. It’s a masterful use of the butterfly effect, with Staalesen pulling each character into the orbit of this one resonating event without ever tipping the balance of plausibility. Not a novel that relies on set-pieces, the tone is muted, filled with claustrophobic menace and slow-build suspense. I didn’t find it a page-turner in the traditional sense but there’s definitely a compulsion there – a slow inter-weaving of Staalesen’s various strands that pulled me into the narrative until the final, heart-stopping conclusion.

Chandler-esque PI novels aren’t always my cup of tea – I often find the detectives too sardonic and the plots too convoluted – but Big Sister was an enjoyable read, in as much as a dark Nordic crime thriller ever can be! An accomplished and confident novel that has been ably translated by Don Bartlett, Big Sister combines a suspenseful, finely-tuned narrative with a social conscience and a empathetic, strong-willed protagonist. The end result is a sharp and intelligent thriller that will delight noir fans and no doubt introduce many new readers to the name Gunnar Staalesen.

Big Sister by Gunnar Staalesen, translated by Don Bartlett, is published by Orenda Books and is available now as a paperback and ebook from all good booksellers and online retailers including HiveAmazon and Waterstones. My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review, as well as to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for organising and inviting me to take part in this tour. The tour continues until 30 June so please do check out the other stops along the way! 

Big Sister blog poster 2018



5 Star TBR Predictions

I’ve recently watched a few videos on Booktube that use this tag and I thought it was a really fun idea for a blog post.

Basically the idea is to look at your shelves (because, let’s face it, who has just one shelf) of unread books and select some books that you think will be 5 star reads and that you intend to tackle and report back on in the coming months. I think the tag originated with Mercedes over at MercysBookishMusings and you can watch her original video here.

This seems like a great idea to me, not only as a way of busting through reading slumps but also as a way of thinning a large pile of unread books into a more manageable TBR. So, without further ado, here are my 5 star book predictions!

The Good People by Hannah Kent

I adored Kent’s first novel, ‘Burial Rites’, and had the pleasure of meeting her at an author event over at Booka Bookshop in Oswestry earlier this year. She was a fascinating speaker and it’s clear that she puts a great deal of time and energy into researching her books. That said, ‘Burial Rites’ always put the story first and never allowed the history to get in the way of a good tale.

Her second novel, ‘The Good People’, is set in rural Ireland, 1825, and looks at three women who are forced together to try and save a child that they believe has been made a changeling by the faerie folk. Kent is brilliant at portraying the everyday struggles of people’s lives and so I’m looking forward to seeing how she tackles this tale of folklore and ritual.

I’m about 50 pages into this at the moment and it’s building up to be a fabulous read so I have high hopes and will report back when I’m done!

To The Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey

I mentioned this in my Autumn Reading post but ended up putting the book down as my chunky hardback copy was just too big to pack in the suitcase for my recent holidays.

I do really want to get back to this novel, set in Alaska in 1885, which follows Lieutenant Colonel Allan Forrester as he attempts to navigate Alaska’s Wolverine River with a small band of men. Alternating between Allan’s diaries and that of his young wife Sophie, left behind as her husband goes exploring, it promises to be a fascinating tale of discovery and adventure as well as a portrait of a marriage placed under unexpected strain.

Ivey’s ‘The Snow Child’ was one of my favourite winter reads a couple of years ago and she has such a talent for realising place so I’m just waiting for a chilly weekend to dive back in to this.

The Resurrection of Joan Ashby by Cherise Wolas 

I’ve recently added this to my stack after hearing about it on the All The Books podcast. I don’t know much about it other than the blurb which is as follows:

‘Aged 13, Joan Ashby drew up a list ‘How to Become a Successful Writer’. With tenets such as ‘write every day’, ‘do not entertain any offer of marriage’ and ‘do not allow anyone to get in my way’, it is no surprise that, less than a decade later, her short stories took the literary world by story. But, with her failure to abide by her own rules followed by a marriage and two children, Joan finds herself living a life very different from the one she had envisioned. Now she wants to get back on track and complete her much-anticipated first novel but a betrayal of Shakesperian proportions is lurking around the corner.’

This debut sounded fantastic to me when I first heard about it and it ticks a lot of my reading joy boxes – female protagonist, book about books and authors, Shakespearean style drama and betrayal. I’m hoping for something along the lines of Donna Tartt’s ‘The Secret History’ or Diane Settenfield’s ‘The Thirteenth Tale’, both past favourites.

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig 

Another book that’s had loads of love on Twitter and Booktube (and has also been optioned by Benedict Cumberbatch for TV), this novel sounds like it’s going to scratch my ‘Time Traveller’s Wife’ itch. From the blurb:

‘Tom Hazard looks like an ordinary 41 year old. But a rare genetic condition means he’s been alive for centuries. Always changing his identity and staying on the move, Tom’s seen a lot but he craves an ordinary life. Now, working as a history teacher in London, he can teach kids about wars and witch hunts as if he never saw them first-hand – and he can try to come to terms with a past that is fast catching up with him. What he cannot do – what he must never do – is fall in love.’

I adored Matt’s non-fiction book ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’ but I’ve never read any of his novels so I’m really hoping that this one lives up the hype.

If We Were Villains by M L Rio

Again, I haven’t started this one and I don’t know that much about it so I’m going to let the blurb do the talking regarding the plot:

‘Oliver Marks has just served ten years for a murder he may or may not have committed. Years earlier, as a young actor at an elite conservatory, he noticed that his talented classmates seemed to play the same characters onstage and off. But when the teachers change the casting, good-natured rivalry turns ugly and the plays spill dangerously over into real life. When one of the seven friends is found dead, the rest face their greatest acting challenge yet – convincing the police, and themselves, that they are blameless.’

Doesn’t that just sound like Donna Tartt’s ‘The Secret History’?!?! That is one of my favourite books so I’m really hoping that this debut will have similarly gothic, Shakespearean tragedy vibes whilst adding something new and original.

So those are my 5 star book predictions! I’m really looking forward to starting each of these books and hope to report back with my verdict on each when I’ve finished them. Have you read any? If so, do let me know in the comments or over on Twitter. And, until the next time, Happy Reading! x


Summer #CosyReadingNight Wrap Up

Just a quick post today to follow on from my #CosyReadingNight TBR yesterday to let you know how the evening went and what reading I got done.

When the evening kicked off at 7pm I was still in the kitchen cooking tea – Toad in the Hole with mash and baked beans on the side. For those non-Brits who maybe don’t know what Toad in the Hole is (it’s one of those curiously British dishes that doesn’t seem to have migrated from our shores), it’s essentially sausages in a delicious Yorkshire pudding batter and is pure comfort food – perfect for a cosy night in! There’s a super easy recipe here for anyone wanting to try it out.

Being in the kitchen didn’t put me off reading though and, with the Toad in the oven and a glass of rioja at my side, I kicked off hour one with Sarah Ward’s ‘A Patient Fury‘, the forthcoming third book in her DC Connie Childs series. I’m going to be part of Sarah’s blog tour (details below) in September so I won’t say too much here about the plot but this is definitely shaping up to be Sarah’s strongest book to date and it kept me gripped throughout the first hour.


Having scoffed a substantial portion of Toad in the Hole and poured myself a large cup of tea, I settled down onto the sofa to head into hour two with a short story from the forthcoming P D James’ collection ‘Sleep No More: Six Murderous Tales‘. Again, I’m part of a blog tour later in the year for the collection so I won’t go into specifics but the two tales that I read had James’ trademark psychological insight and packed a punch in the shorter form.

Having been joined by my cat Lexi, I headed into the final hour of cosy reading night with a dip into Yuval Noah Harari’s ‘Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind‘. In hindsight, I possibly should have started with this one as my increasingly relaxed and sleepy brain did struggle to keep up with all the scientific insights and I made slow progress. I hasten to add that this isn’t because the book isn’t good – it’s fascinating – but because the combination of being full of food and tea, a warm cat, a cosy sofa and a very relaxed brain meant that I was nodding off and kept having to re-read paragraphs!

Overall, #CosyReadingNight was a real success. I read about 50 pages of ‘A Patient Fury’, two short stories from ‘Sleep No More’ and a chapter of ‘Sapiens’ but, more importantly, I had a much needed evening of self-care and relaxation. Lauren has already said she’ll be back in the Autumn with another #CosyReadingNight so do go subscribe to her channel on Youtube to get notified when this happening and make sure you can join in!


Summer #CosyReadingNight TBR

Tonight is summer #cosyreadingnight, as created and hosted by Lauren over at Lauren and the Books. What is a cosy reading night? Well, it’s exactly what it says on the tin – a night dedicated to getting some snacks in, getting your PJs on, shutting the world away and snuggling up with a good book. Lauren has done a great video introducing the video which you can watch here, as well as another with her personal TBR for the night. It starts at 7pm British Summer Time and runs for three hours until 10pm. I’ll be tweeting throughout the evening over @amyinstaffs but, before it starts, I thought I’d pop a quick TBR up so you can see what I’ll be reading over the course of the evening.

I’m currently preparing to take part in two blog tours that I’m super excited about. The first is for Sarah Ward’s upcoming ‘A Patient Fury‘ (published 07 September) which is the third in her DC Connie Childs’ series set in Derbyshire. I’m about 150 pages in to the book and it’s certainly shaping up to be the twistiest and darkest yet so I’m going to crack on with that for at least part of the night.

I’m also taking part in the blog tour for the upcoming second collection of P D James’ short stories, ‘Sleep No More: Six Murderous Tales‘ (published 05 October). A companion to last year’s successful collection ‘The Mistletoe Murder: And Other Stories‘, this latest collection features six more stories with revenge at their heart. I’ve always enjoyed James’ Adam Dalgleish series of crime novels – I can highly recommend them on audio in particular – so I’m looking forward to diving in to some of her shorter fiction and hope to read the first story this evening.

Finally, I have ‘Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind‘ by Yuval Noah Harari to dip into as a change of pace from the fiction. I’ve had this on my shelf for an absolute age but the sheer density of it (just shy of 500 pages of anthropological study) has been a bit daunting. Having started it a couple of evenings ago though, it’s proving to be both fascinating and very accessible.

So that is my #cosyreadingnight TBR. And for snacks and drinks? Well, I currently have a Toad in the Hole cooking in the oven to devour with mash and baked beans. If there’s any room left after that, I’ve got some NOMNOM Honeycomb chocolate leftover from my recent foray back to Wales. For drinks, I have a glass of rioja (my favourite) on the go then I’ll stick to that British favourite, a nice cup of tea. Perfect for snuggling up in the PJs on a Saturday night!

If you’re joining in with #cosyreadingnight, come say hi over on Twitter throughout the evening and let me know what you’re reading. All being well, I’ll be posting a short wrap up of the evening on here tomorrow. Keep an eye on Lauren’s channel for future Cosy Reading Night announcements and, if you’re taking part, have a great night! x





Non-Stop Non-Fiction

I recently took a glance over my ‘Read’ shelf on Goodreads and was surprised to see how many non-fiction titles I’ve been reading of late. Whilst I’ve never been adverse to reading non-fiction, I’ve always considered myself  primarily a fiction reader. Yet out of the last ten books I’ve read, five have been non-fiction and my only recent 5* Goodreads review went to a non-fiction title. So why the sudden change in my reading habits?

I think primarily it’s because I’ve been super busy  recently so most of my reading has taken place in snatched bites of time. 5 minutes over my morning cup of tea, 15 minutes before bed, 10 minutes whilst waiting for an appointment. A whole day to sit and read – or even a few uninterrupted hours – sounds like a complete luxury to me at the moment. Reading in small doses means its hard to settle into a plot-heavy novel where it’s important to recall who all the characters are, what happened in the last chapter and what person A said about person B ten pages ago.


The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child MurdererThis coincided with my discover that the true crime genre – something I’d always worried would be sensational and tacky – has become home to some thought-provoking, genre-blending books that scratch the itch left by ‘Serial’ and ‘S-Town’: two of my favourite podcasts in recent years.

First up, I listened to the audiobook of Kate Summerscale’s ‘The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer‘. Although not actually as focused on the ‘sensational’ murder as the blurb and advertising would have you believe, this was a fascinating piece of narrative non-fiction covering such varied topics as early mental health treatment in Victorian England (surprisingly progressive) and the role of bandsmen in the trenches of WWI (much larger than they’ve been given credit for). Complete with the narrative drive that Summerscale is known for, this was a great audio – although the ‘mockney’ accent the narrator used for some of the characters nearly drove me to distraction!

Killers of the Flower Moon: Oil, Money, Murder and the Birth of the FBIDavid Grann’s ‘Killers of the Flower Moon‘, subtitled ‘Oil, Money, Murder and the Birth of the FBI’, is ostensibly a book about the murders of a number of Osage Indians throughout the 1920s, but opens up into a discourse on power, money, land rights, injustice and racism. It was a sensitively written, fascinating and powerful examination of a largely forgotten piece of  American history. Grann’s writing is a brilliant blend of journalistic drive (he knows how to work a cliffhanger!) and stylised reportage and I was keen to check out more of his work so also read ‘The Devil & Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness and Obsession‘, which is a collection of his shorter essays and articles. I didn’t enjoy this as much as ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ – as with all essay collections, some pieces held my interest more than others – but it confirmed my opinion of his writing style and I’m looking forward to starting ‘The Lost City of Z‘ soon.

The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a MemoirAlexandria Marzano-Lesnevich’s ‘The Fact of a Body‘ is a slower-paced combination of narrative true crime with memoir resulting in an emotionally raw yet moving examination of the lasting effects of historic abuse. Juxtaposing the 1992 molestation and murder of a young boy by a paedophile with the author’s own repressed feelings about abuse within her own family. Not an easy read by any means, and with subject matter that will undoubtedly have triggers for some readers, but a skillful and intimate blending of two genres that really pushed the boundaries of what I thought a ‘true crime’ book could be.

Most recently, I’ve read ‘True Crime Addict: How I Lost Myself in the Disappearance of Maura Murray‘ by James Renner. This is written in short, snappy chapters – often only one or two pages each – and is also a blend of personal memoir and true crime. Less literary in style than ‘The Fact of a Body’ and with more of the narrative drive found in Grann or Summerscale’s work, this is a dual investigation of the strange disappearance of a young woman from rural New Hampshire and of Renner’s own complicated true-crime addiction. It definitely had that page-turning quality although, because the focus is less on a historic case and on an open, unsolved investigation, I did experience a level of unease about some of the speculative elements of Renner’s investigation. It’s a compelling narrative to be sure – and Renner does a good job of keeping the primary focus on his own mentality and raison d’etre – but there are some leaps into the dark corners of the internet and  toying with outlandish amateur theories that left me feeling a cold.

So do I intend to carry on with this non-stop slew of non-fiction? More than likely. I’ve got a short break planned this coming weekend which is a much needed chance to get absorbed into a nice chunky novel. But I have become more aware of how my reading habits need to change to fit around my lifestyle in order to avoid a slump. When I’m busy, non-fiction is just easier to read in short doses. So maybe I need to use non-fiction as my weekday reading and make fiction my weekend choice, when I can indulge in a lazy morning sipping tea and curling up with a good book? If it stops me from entering those hideous periods when I just don’t read at all, it’s certainly worth a try!

I’d be interested to know if anyone else finds their reading habits have changed with their lifestyle and if you find yourself reading differently at different times? Drop me a comment down below or send me a message over on Twitter. And, until next time, whether it’s fiction, non-fiction or something in between, Happy Reading! x





I Heart Jane: A Reader’s Tribute to Jane Austen

Pride and PrejudiceToday marks 200 years since the death of Jane Austen. As a longtime Austen fan, it seems only fitting to mark the occasion with a tribute to her writing.

I’ve mentioned before how much I enjoy Austen’s work. Her wry observances of character are as relevant today as they were when she first put them on the page. Surely we have most of us known a Mrs Bennett or a Mr Collins in our time? From the moment that my mother first handed me her treasured paperback of Pride and Prejudice – given to me on holiday to alleviate my teenage boredom when all my own books had been finished or cast aside – I found her ready wit and perceptive characterisation captivating. Plus I was head over heels in love with Mr Darcy, of course.

Sense and SensibilityIt wasn’t long before I read the remainder of Austen’s major works. Sense & Sensibility quickly became another favourite, my teenage self desperately wishing I was more like tempestuous Marianne than dutiful Elinor. Emma was sparkling and witty – although Mr Knightly was a bit of a downer I thought. Mansfield Park was….long. And I enjoyed Persuasion although I completely failed to understand why Anne hadn’t just ignored her odious family and married Frederick Wentworth when she had the chance first time around.

Looking back, I think a lot of Austen’s subtleties were lost on the teenage me. I liked her books for their spark and romance but a lot of the subtle tensions were lost to me. Austen, like many great authors, reveals her art gradually as one re-reads. And, with each round of re-reading as I get older (although not necessarily wiser), another layer of her books is revealed to me.

Northanger AbbeyAt university I had the pleasure of studying Northanger Abbey, a book that becomes infinitely more enjoyable, in my mind at least, when put into context. Finally I was able to appreciate Austen’s satirical asides on the nature of books and reading and contextualise the book amongst it’s contemporaries. Northanger is often seen as one of Austen’s more juvenile novels – and arguably the romance and plot have less structure than her later works – but I love it for its vitality and it’s sharp skewering of those who would malign the novel as an artform.

PersuasionAs I’ve entered my thirties, Persuasion has also taken on new meaning and become a novel that’s easier for me to appreciate. Odd isn’t it how someone’s reserve and dutifulness, so annoying when you’re a teenager, becomes so much more relatable when you’re an adult and have made the same mistakes? Austen was rather brave I feel to write about the predicament of so many older women and about having a second chance at love and Anne is now one of my favourite Austen heroines as a result.

I still love Pride and Prejudice of course – who doesn’t – and, in my adulthood, have decided being an Elinor is no bad thing (I mean, you’d just want to slap Marianne if you met her wouldn’t you?!).  I still debate whether Emma and Mr Knightly are well matched Mansfield Park  but I think Austen’s skill is so well displayed in that novel – her characterisation is spot on throughout and in Emma she creates one of the first unlikable narrators who, by the end, the reader cannot help but root for.

And as for Mansfield Park? I confess, we still have issues. Maybe I’m still not quite old enough to appreciate Fanny Price’s endless forbearance. Which just means I’ll have to keep giving them all a re-read until I am doesn’t it!

EmmaIf you’ve never read Austen before, I really would urge you to give her a go. She’s so often deemed a romance author – and, indeed, her romances are excellent with all the sweeping drama and petty misunderstandings that a reader would want from a love story – but there’s so much more to her as well. Wry humour, satire, family drama. She captures so much of day to day life on the page. I’d recommend Northanger Abbey to start with – anyone who loves books and reading will appreciate Catherine Morland’s dangerous descent into her fantasy world!

If you’re already an Austen fan, I’d love to know your favourite of her works. And why do you think she’s stood the test of time so well? Drop me a comment down below or over on Twitter.

And for anyone interested in finding out more, click here to be taken to the website marking the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death which is filled with links to events across the country about Jane, her life and her books.


A New Home

Welcome to the new home of The Shelf of Unread Books! After some deliberation (and a lot of putting it off through sheer laziness), I finally decided to give The Shelf a new home here at WordPress.

Blogger has served me well over the last couple of years but I want to start developing and customising the blog in ways that Blogger just can’t offer and, having heard good things about WordPress from fellow bloggers, the time seemed right.

The migration of old posts from Blogger was a pretty painless process so all the old content is still here. As for the new stuff – bear with me! It might take me a little while to work out all the shiny new things that WordPress can do but I’m hoping to be able to develop the blog to include more content as well as links other interesting bookish pages and some of my favourite book blogs.

In the last couple of months, I’ll admit that I haven’t been giving The Shelf the love that it deserves. That old chestnut, Real Life, has been getting in the way of both my reading and writing. Yeah, Adulting sucks. I’m still in the process of sorting that out but I very much don’t want the blog to fall by the wayside in the meantime so think of this as a mid-year re-fresh and a re-commitment from me to bringing you bookish joy, chat and reviews from here on out.

I’ll be back soon with some bookish content but, for now and as always…

Happy Reading! x



At Home in Slumpsville

Firstly, an apology. It’s been a while since my last blog post I know. Partly this has been to do with having had a busy few weeks in my real life including a very pleasant but very busy weekend away in Cornwall (it involved mead, good times were had by all). But, if I’m being completely honest, it’s also because I’ve been a fully paid up resident of Slumpsville for the last month or so. 
Yes, the reading slump has paid a visit. For some reason – and I’m never entirely sure why – I’ve been really struggling to get into anything, fiction or non-fiction. I’ve tried all of my usual tricks – reading something really pacy, re-reading an old favorite etc etc – and nothing has managed to get my reading mojo back.
For anyone who doesn’t read regularly (so, probably not people who are reading this blog, right?!), a reading slump might not seem like a big deal. So what if you’ve not got a book on the go? But reading is a really important part of my day to day life and not reading majorly messes up my routine. The nature of my day job means a regular lunch break during which to read isn’t, alas, a thing in my life any more but I do enjoy reading in the bath (for those of you appalled by the thought of this, see my post of Bookish Confessions!) at the end of a long day and I have, for as long as I can remember, always read immediately before turning out the bedside light and heading off to the land of nod. So not reading really messes with my equilibrium – late night YouTube, computer games and podcasts do not for a good nights sleep make.
The good news is that, fingers crossed, I seem to be breaking the back of the slump a little. I took the drastic step of taking a couple of weeks off reading and all things reading related (hence no recent blog posts!). As a result the sense that I should be reading has lifted a little. It’s odd but sometimes I feel so pressured to read (either because I want to have something to blog about, because my TBR has reached mountainous proportions or because I’m reading to a deadline for review or for book club) that it takes the joy out of doing it. Instead I’ve been playing my PS4, listening to music, writing a bitand listening to podcasts – just giving myself permission to have a bit of a reading break basically. And you know what? I miss reading. I miss that moment when I settle down with my book at the end of the day and cosy up for the evening. Some time away is drawing me back and I’ve begun to look at my bookshelves again with excitement.
My plan now is to capitalise on this. I usually have an immediate TBR next to my bed – books that are due back to the library, books that I need to read for some purpose or deadline, or recently purchased books. And sometimes, just sometimes, I feel that pile traps me into reading the books I think I have to as opposed to what takes my fancy. So I’ve got rid of the pile and gone back to my shelves to pull out some titles that just appeal. My plan is to curl up with them and read the first few pages of each then read the book that most appeals after that. It’s an idea called ‘Try A Chapter‘ that I first saw on Simon Savidge’s YouTube channel that seems just perfect for narrowing down a TBR and deciding on your next book. Hopefully it’ll mean I’m on the next train out of Slumpsville at any rate. 
I’ll let you know how I get on in the next post – which will hopefully be soon! In the meantime, if you have any tips to help me finish off this reading slump, I’d very much appreciate them. You can tweet me @amyinstaffs, leave me a comment down below or come say hi over on Goodreads. And, until the next time…
Happy Reading! x

REVIEW: Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller

Our Endless Numbered DaysSome books I can review straight after I finish reading them – whether that’s because they left me flatter than the average pancake or because we clicked from the off and I’ve been left with all of the feels. With others however, I feel that I need a little distance before I can comment. Our Endless Numbered Days was one such book and it’s taken a couple of weeks for me to feel certain enough in my thoughts to be comfortable putting finger to keyboard to review it. 

The premise of the novel is, I have to say, fantastic. Peggy is eight years old when her father takes her to ‘die hütte’, a ramshackle cabin in a remote European forest, and tells her that her mother and the rest of the world are gone. Forced to survive on whatever they can find in the forest, Peggy’s fairy-tale cabin holiday becomes a nightmarish fight for survival. And, as she grows up and starts to discern fairy tales from reality, the veracity of her father’s tale becomes harder  and harder to believe. Blending tropes from mythology and folklore with a taut psychological thriller and a gentle commentary on consumerism, the story is certainly original and the effect is haunting. 

It’s no spoiler to say that Peggy survives her time in the forest. From the outset it is evident that the novel is being told as a recollection by a now seventeen year old Peggy, recently back in London with her mother Ute and Oskar, the nine year old brother she never knew existed. As Peggy, or Punzel as she has come to call herself in the forest, struggles to re-adapt to everyday life, she sifts through her memories of her time in die hütte, leaving the reader to filter out the imagined from the real. It’s a very clever technique but not one that I felt worked as well as it could have, with a number of key points left unresolved at the novel’s close. This may well have been Fuller’s intention but, as a reader, it was immensely frustrating as the truths about the dream-like world of die hütte and the reality of Peggy’s childhood remain blurred, deadening the impact of the ending. I don’t do spoilers in my reviews but there is one key mystery surrounding the entire existence of one character which is left maddeningly unresolved – either outcome has disturbing implications for Peggy/Punzel but the irresolution resulted, for me anyway, in a decreased sense of impact in these final revelations.

My other major issue was with Peggy’s father, James. Although Fuller tries hard to paint a picture of a complex man who clearly suffers from some form of mood disorder, I found it hard to empathise or sympathise with him. He’s just too selfish. Even before the revelation that brings his world crashing down and leads to his decision to take Peggy off to the woods and tell her the world has ending (not exactly A-star parenting), he’s all me, me, me. From making his young daughter carry out practice drills in the fallout shelter to allowing her to skip school and live in the garden for a week, James is one jumbled up mess of bad choices and poor decisions. And one they are on their journey, his alternating fits of rage and crushing bouts of depression endanger Peggy’s life on more than one occasion. Which, for me, made Peggy’s devotion to him seem almost unbelievable. Yes, he’s her Dad. And yes, he is definitely the more laid-back and ‘fun’ parent (Peggy’s mother Ute is, to put it mildly, a bit of a cold fish). But at times it’s really hard to buy into his love for Peggy and I never quite bought their relationship – a bit of an issue as a lot of the plot revolves around the parent/child relationship and the impact of James’ lie on Peggy’s life and world view. 

So does this mean that I don’t think ‘Our Endless Numbered Days’ is a good book? Well, no. I’m really glad that I read it. Fuller has packed a lot into this novel – probably a little too much for a comparatively slender 300 pages – and she does a lot of it very well. Her descriptions of Peggy and James’ woodland world are wonderful, filled with all of the senses and creating a dreamlike world whilst retaining the gritty reality of what a life of survival really means (acorn soup and eating lots of squirrel, in case any of you were wondering). I also adored the fairytale allegories. I could wax lyrical about all the ways Peggy’s story mirrors themes of childhood versus adolescence in Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and, of course, Rapunzel but then this review would turn into an essay and we’d have disappeared down tangent alley. Needless to say however, if you dig fairytales then you’ll probably dig ‘Our Endless Numbered Days’. 

All in all, ‘Our Endless Numbered Days’ is a book with a lot to offer to a lot of different readers. Fans of books such as ‘Room’ will enjoy another tale of a difficult situation told from a child’s perspective, fairytale fans will enjoy sifting through the symbolism and thriller fans will get a kick out a dark tale of abduction and lies where the main fighting is that which takes place inside the characters heads. And there is plenty to discuss which makes it an ideal choice for book clubs. Personally I didn’t love it. Didn’t hate it either. It’s a pretty good book. Which sounds like damning with faint praise but certainly isn’t intended to be. Fuller is a good writer and I’ll be interested to read her next novel, ‘Swimming Lessons‘, which has just been released. If she can keep the accomplished style whilst tightening her plotting, it should be a damn fine read.

Our Endless Numbered Days‘ by Claire Fuller is published by Penguin Books and is out now in paperback, ebook and on audio from all good retailers. Go make a bookseller happy and buy it from your local independent or high street bookstore – if you need any more incentive, they probably do coffee and cake too. 

Bookish Confessions

We all do it. We try to be good little readers – to always use bookmarks, to never crack the spine, to read the classics or the latest ‘hot’ novel. But we know in our hearts that something has to give – even the best book lover can’t be perfect all the time. So here, for your amusement, are my Bookish Confessions. You’ll never get me to admit to them out loud but that doesn’t stop them being true!
I Break The Spines
Yes, I admit it, I like cracking the spines of my paperback books. There will, I know, be some readers of this post who will gasp in horror and never let me darken their web browser again. I can’t offer any defence – I just find them more comfortable to hold once I’ve done it, especially when I’m around the halfway point. Plus, I like my books to look a little read when I’m done – we’ve been on a journey together, that book and I so we might both be a bit weather-beaten when we’re done. I don’t crack the spines on hardbacks though – I’m not a monster.
I ‘Tent’ Books

Another sin for quite a few readers of my acquaintance. For the most part, I do use bookmarks – bookmark collecting being second only to the acquisition of the books themselves as a retail activity that brings me pleasure. But sometimes you just want to pop a book down for a few moments while you grab a fresh cup of tea or a shawl to snuggle up in. And then…well, then I’ll probably just pop the book upside down on the coffee table or the sofa for a bit. Usually only for five minutes or so. It’s not like it’s book neglect after all – for longer non-reading intervals, a bookmark (or train ticket/receipt/piece of paper randomly grabbed from my handbag) is always in use.
 I Read In The Bath
Water and books do not a good mix make but nothing beats a hot fluffy bubble bath (complete with Lush bath bomb, obviously), a mug of tea and a really good book. Write off the evening because that is me done. I’ve only dropped a book once or twice – a rapid trip to the airing cupboard followed by a couple of days in close proximity to the radiator whilst being weighted down with hardbacks (to combat wrinkly pages) usually rescues them enough to remain readable. I do (whisper it) sometimes take library books in to the bath though and also my Kindle. Yes, I like to live life on the edge…

For Every Book I Read, I’ve Probably Buy About Five
I don’t keep a lot of read books – just a few favourites and reference books, along with signed editions and presents from friends & family. Which means the majority of the books in my office/library are unread. This has no impact upon my buying and borrowing habits whatsoever. I have a problem. I have accepted this. I believe there is no known cure.
I Have An Overambitious TBR

This is especially true when I take out multiple library books (current stack pictured). Only three weeks to read them? Huge hold list of eager readers waiting for me to finish? No problem, it’ll be a cinch – I’ll have them read in a weekend. My brain clearly thinks I’m still in uni with endless days ready to be filled with books, games and larking about. Instead I have a full-time job, a house to clean, clothes that need washing and ironing and a husband who occasionally wants to talk to me instead of my book cover. Renewals are my friend and library fines my old nemesis.
I Will Judge A Book By It’s Cover
I mean, they’re the first thing you see right? Publishers have been putting considerably more effort into cover design in recent years, with foiling and gorgeous artwork abound. But there’s still the occasional dullard out there. All book lovers know them – there are memes and Buzzfeed posts filled with images of covers featuring stereotypical tropes; women turned slight away from the reader (often to be found on female centred historical fiction), sinister looking woodland in the fog (crime/thrillers), pastel line drawings of wine, cakes and svelte women in stylish clothing (chick lit) etc. Covers are supposed to be something of a guide to what’s inside a book and, as such, I’ll freely admit to judging them as a result. Yes, I know I might be missing out but a girl has to have some way of thinning out the crowd of books calling for attention right? Also, film tie-in covers are just a no, always.
Do you do any (or all!) or the above? Have I committed crimes against books and you’ll never read my blog again? And what are your bookish confessions – don’t try to pretend you don’t have any! As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts and have a natter so do come and say hi over on Twitter (@amyinstaffs), drop me a comment down below or find me on Litsy, Goodreads and Instagram. This is a slightly more irreverent post than normal so if you like it (or even if you don’t!) do let me know – I want to vary the blog content a bit so thought it might be nice to do something different. And, as always, until the next time…
Happy Reading! x