January 2019 Round-Up

Some really nice reads in the first month of 2019!

Seanan McGuire Every Heart a Doorway and Down Among the Sticks and Bones I loved these first two in McGuire’s series about the children who come back from Fairyland and are unable to go back – Narnia, the moors of Wuthering Heights and Frankenstein etc etc. I wouldn’t classify this as children’s or YA lit, simply because the themes, especially in Down Among the Sticks and Bones are so adult and imbued with loss and longing, but the premise does come from children’s lit.

Shaun Bythell The Diary of a Bookseller I found this memoir by a Scottish second-hand bookseller amusing and crochety and it confirmed all my suspicions about the thoughts of book retailers when you wander into their stores. A handy guide for when I open my own bookstore! Hew hew.

Angela Saini Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong – and the new research that’s rewriting the story This patient elucidation of how science has excluded and been used against women over the last century and a half was really really good. I particularly liked the chapter on menopause.

Kiersten White The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein Retelling of one of literature’s most narcissistic heroes from the POV of his childhood companion and later wife? Yes.

Katherine Arden The Winter of the Witch The final in the trilogy about 14th century Russia, folklore, mythology and orthodox religion clashing in the form of a strong, complex female heroine who is brave and ambitious and so so loveable. I loved this trilogy and can’t wait to read more from Arden.

Caroline Kepnes You I really liked the Netflix series, and so I wanted to read the book it was based on. I’m happy to say the series was such a clever and great adaptation of the novel – the cuts and changes they made work for a book-to-TV series adaptation.

Jan 2019: 12 books read, 272.8BND spent.

(Jan 2018): 12 books read, 227.4BND spent

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Annual Round Up: 2018

Three years of recording my reads! It looks so satisfying.


ahh my Elizabeth Hoyt and Sherry Thomas binge in 2016

Some Numbers

I did not, regretfully, hit my goal of 150 books this year – I really tried, but came in at 148, 2 books short. To reframe: I read 148 books this year! I’m going to celebrate that.

2016-2018 bar chart

This is the breakdown of my book reading by month. September is my most consistent month, apparently. This year, I read the fewest books in July (7)! and the most books in March and December (17). July makes sense to me – I was travelling for quite a chunk of June and July, and there were significant family events happening. As I was reminded recently – people are more important, and more joyous, than paper.

2016-2018 line graph

I wanted to chart my overall reading as a pattern, but while 2016 and 2017 sort of mapped quite nicely onto each other, I don’t see that corresponding picture in 2018, other than in November, where book reading dips only to climb back up in December. That might be all iterations of Past Kat trying to hit book reading goals. High five to all of us!

Some Themes

readin by gender 2018

I continued to read mostly female-authored books. I did not read any poetry anthologies in 2018! I did read 2-3 graphic novels, and about 27 “world” texts, including Bruneian and other Southeast Asian novels.

Following the Money

book expenditure 2018

In 2018, I spent about 2500BND on 193 books, an average of approx 200BND a month and ~12-13BND per book. I thought this might be a little inflated because of March expenditure, when I bought some (expensive) academic texts – but when I took that month and those texts out of the equation, it worked out – to almost exactly the same, actually. So statistics works.

Takeaway: Books are expensive, there was a steady downward expenditure towards the end of the year (I’m not sure why, maybe I was working through the backlog of books I’d already bought rather than buying new ones), and this will be helpful for understanding my budget going forward.

where i buy books 2018

I also tracked where I was buying books: no surprise that almost half of my money in 2018 went to Amazon UK and Kindle ebooks. I spent a lot of money at overseas bookstores and on book depository, and very little, relatively, at Bruneian bookstores.

Books I’m Still Thinking About

Taylor Jenkins Reid The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo – I read this towards the end of the year, and I totally get the hype. An Old Hollywood superstar finally chooses a journalist to reveal all her secrets to, and it was wonderful. Wise and pragmatic, glamorous and dramatic, and very compassionate. Would recommend!

Pat Barker The Silence of the Girls – This wonderful review calls it a feminist retelling of Homer’s Iliad, and “a version of the story that shifts our attention from the angry, des-tructive, quick-footed, short-lived boys to the raped, enslaved, widowed women, who watch their city burn and, if they are lucky, get a moment to bury their slaughtered children and grandchildren before they are taken far away”. I loved this book and it broke my heart.

Julia Alvarez In the Time of the Butterflies – this was a Feminist Book Club read, and we had a fantastic time discussing which of the four revolutionary Mirabal sisters we would have been. I didn’t expect to like this because revolutionary novels set in dictatorships (in this case, the Dominican Republic during Trujillo’s time) are not my leisure jam, but this was the most female one I’ve ever read, and a lovely counterpoint to the only other Dominican (-American) writing I know – Junot Diaz’s.

Mary Robinette Kowal The Calculating Stars and its sequels – The Lady Astronaut of Mars series…wow. Fantastic world-building of an alternate Space Race (involving more women) after a post-WW2 meteor renders Earth predicted as uninhabitable in a slow-burn matter of decades. I read it shortly after reading Hidden Figures, and they were wonderful companion books.

Alfian Sa’at Malay Sketches – vignettes of Singaporean Malay life. This was poignant, far-reaching, and told the truth with tenderness and precision.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman Herland – I don’t know if this was objectively good, but it’s a book I keep turning over in my head. Three men stumble across a female society in the deeps of the Amazon, which has been populated exclusively by women (divine births) for generations and generations, and the way the ideas of religion, education, development and family are developed is amazing.

Naomi Novik Spinning Silver – I had been looking forward to this meaty fairytale since Uprooted, and it didn’t disappoint. Fairytale logic – cruel and arbitrary and sharp – is spun relentlessly around this retelling of Rumpelstiltskin imbued with Jewish mythology.

Meena Kandasarry When I Hit You – This memoir-non-memoir was unforgiving and unflinching.

Cheryl Lu-lienTan Sarong Party Girls – Jazzy, the exuberant, headstrong protagonist, wants what she wants and the way she begins to question what she wants throws a hard light on ang mohs, social class and mobility, and Singaporean culture, Funny, fast, Singlish.

Zen Cho Spirits Abroad – This was the collection of short stories that I wish I was gifted and wise enough to be able to write. Malaysian spirits, Malaysian humans, at home and abroad. Whimsical, warm hearted, just a delight.

Imogen Hermes Gowar The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock – I read this at the beginning of the year and still remember it, this story of class and struggle and choices in Victorian England.

Special mention to Phillip Pullman’s The Book of Dust (yesss back in Lyra’s Oxford, with an equally wonderful protagonist), Margot Lee Shetterly’s Hidden Figures (just a phenomenal piece of determined history-making), Alice Hoffman’s The Rules of Magic (like Zen Cho, I wish I could write this kind of magic).


In 2019 I would like to keep to about 144-150 books (12 books a month-ish). I don’t think I can feasibly do more, and I marvel at readers I’ve seen who do! I think this amount works for me and my lifestyle, and gives me time and space to read longer texts at my own pace.

So far in 2019 I’ve read two books and am working through The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (I have thoughts)…and Katherine Arden’s The Winter of the Witch, which I pre-ordered, just downloaded itself neatly into my Kindle. Yay! Here’s to many many more books to love in 2019.

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Mid-December 2018 Round Up

7 books so far in December, and 12 to go if I’m to reach my 150 goal in 2018! There are basically 12 days left in the month, so if I read a book a day, I can do it (haha). We’ll see, I’ll try!

So far in December, some books of note:

Sherry Thomas The Hollow of Fear The third in this Lady Sherlock series, it is romantic and bittersweet, and perfect for me, a romance reader who likes a cozy mystery (not too many twists and turns, not too much intrigue to remember, human element at the forefront). The OTP is winding their way slowly to one another, which I’m grateful for, given the slowness of the second novel in the series. I can’t wait for the next one. And one of the secondary stories, with Treadles the police officer who grapples with the revelation that his wife might want more out of life than marriage and kids, is lovely.

Shirley Jackson The Lottery and Other Stories The Lottery, like Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, is one of those stories that I am never quite sure if I’ve read or not. I found it underwhelming, but maybe I need to go back and read it again. It was an interesting companion to Guy du Maupassant’s The Necklace, which I also encountered for the first time this month (and which still haunts me).

Finally, not a book of note, but a podcast I’ve really been enjoying: Public Domain Theatre, hosted by Kelly Nugent and Lindsay Katai -“high brow literature, low brow commentary”. Absolutely my jam.

Final two weeks of December! I am so excited for 2019, and working towards closing 2018 out strong. I’ve already chosen my word for 2019! Sending all good wishes out your way.

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November 2018 Round-Up

11 books altogether in November, which is pretty good, given it was exam season (for my students and for me! I took and passed (found out yesterday!) a piano exam, for which I was practising fairly hard).

Total Expenses in Nov: ~127BND (my book expenses really ramp down towards the end of the year, which is great)

And two more notable books:

Julia Alvarez In the Time of the Butterflies Historical fiction based on the true story of the Mirabel sisters, three of whom died as revolutionaries in the fight for freedom in the Dominican Republic. It was the most female revolutionary novel I’ve ever read, and a wonderful counterpart to the writings of Junot Diaz. We had a good talk at Feminist Book Club about which of the sisters we would have been, which is to say we talked about the kind of person we hoped we would be if it ever came to crisis point, and the kind of person we thought we actually would be. I really liked this novel, it was very readable and – aspirational.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie The Thing Around Your Neck A collection of short stories from the acclaimed Adichie – to be frank, I have not loved her novels, but I did really like this collection (ala my feelings about Jhumpa Lahiri). Precise, firm, generous. I liked this very much.

To hit my 150 target for the year, I have to zoom through 19 books in December. So far I’ve read 1, haha and I’ve been drawn to Christopher Pike re-reads, which I don’t count. Well, what will be will be. Onwards!

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November 2018: mid-month round-up

I have read 8 books so far in November, and am barrelling through a 9th (Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls, a re-telling of the Iliad through the POV of Queen Briseis – caveat: I’m not very well-versed on the events of the Odyssey and Iliad, I sort of know the major events but not the difference between canon and retelling, but this book is great so far; and a welcome companion to Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad, which I read last month)

Of note:

Alice Hoffman The Rules of Magic The prequel to Practical Magic, which I absolutely came to first through the movie (Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman!) before the book, which I remember loving. This prequel was lovely, Alice Hoffman is underrated as a magical realist, and I wish I could write something like this.

Josie Guillory One Day in December A British missed-connections novel, about a girl who falls in love at first sight, meets the guy again when he ends up dating her best friend, and gets married herself after. What I loved about this book was that it treats all kinds of love – best-friend love, platonic love, temporary love, love that makes us want to be better – with kindness, respect, and understanding. I really, really liked this book.

Tara Westover Educated The memoir of a girl raised by survivalist fanatics in Idaho, who makes the difficult decision to strike out on her own, get a formal education, and has learn to see the world through other lenses. It’s amazing, she’s clearly and enviably brilliant and strong, and I…really want a sequel in ten years, because she deserves all good things. This book has been appearing on my IG feed all over the place, shoutout to my book-recommending friends!

Kevin Kwan Rich People Problems The ending to the Crazy Rich Asians trilogy starts out bananas with rich people problems, and ends in a surprisingly pragmatic, puncturing way. I enjoyed it.

Honorable mentions: Michael Uslan’s Archie Marries… story arc (because Betty and Veronica!), Caitlin Kunkel et al.’s New Erotica for Feminists which is absolutely a great gift for feminists in your life. It’s quick and bite-sized and thought provoking.

22 books to go to hit my 150 target for 2018!

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Belated October 2018 Round-Up

Quickest numbers post since I’m so late on this!

Number of books read in October: 13

Number of books left to reach 150 goal for 2018: 30

Amount of money spent on books in October: BND286.1 (Amazon UK and Kinokuniya Singapore)

Other noteworthy books in October after the mid-month round-up:

ed. Kate Mosse I am Heathcliff Collection of short stories influenced by Wuthering Heights – I’m a sucker for this glorified fanfic stuff

Mira Grant Feed A smart, meaty zombie novel told by bloggers, an indictment and defense of the media

Stella Gibbons Cold Comfort Farm This one is a re-read (the only re-read I’m putting on my list!) because it’s one of my favourite books ever. Flora is a fantastic, cocky, clear-headed and pragmatic heroine; the premise is hilarious (that woodshed doe), and Aunt Ada and that ending in the end-of-summer field is still one of the most romantic scenes I’ve ever read.


12 days and 4 books into November. 26 books to go to the end of the year!

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October Mid-month Round-Up 2018

Mid-way through October, with 2.5 months left to 2018. Definitely ready for a break (from 2018? From the semester? From writing and reading and washing and repeating? Who knows).

books  so far in October. Of note:

Ling Ma Severance Zombie novel, but the zombies don’t really pose a threat. So it was more like a meditation on what’s left when everything is gone. Sort of The Road with shades of Dawn of the Dead (extended mall section). This wasn’t amazing, but sometimes you just want a good zombie novel. A friend has recommended Mira Grant’s Feed to me, so that’s what I’ll be tapping next time I want some good mindless zombie fun.

Mary Robinette Kowal The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky The Lady Astronaut series! A meteor hits the earth post WWII. This is an extinction event – a slow one. In x number of years, the earth will be uninhabitable. Mankind looks to the stars. Amazing amazing take on the Space Race, with insights into race and politics. A little like World War Z in global scope. The protagonist, the Jewish Elma York, who flew planes during the WW, is so so human and wonderful, and her relationship with her husband and the other astronauts is fleshed beautifully out in the second book, The Fated Sky. (The first was good but slower than the second, which I really loved, even with a mildly abrupt ending.) I had to stop every so often so I wouldn’t cry.

Aisha Malik Finding You The third halal romance from this Bruneian writer. It’s worth reading – the prose is getting better and more fluid with each novel, although the ending here is a little too abrupt also and I think sometimes the plots are constrained by the need to fit in the “this is how we do romance the halal way” exposition.

Kevin Kwan China Rich Girlfriend Much more enjoyable than Crazy Rich Asians! Smaller, more humanized cast. The prose isn’t amazing; especially the shifts in POV, and the characters’ inner thoughts are pure exposition, but I really did enjoy this one because it delved more into the details of social climbing, the meanings of certain brands – it mapped out affluence more rather than just putting the affluence on the page. (Two Brunei mentions in this one!)

36 more books if I’m going to hit my target of 150 this year. Not sure I can make it, but am powering on.


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