Review: The Diary of a Bookseller, Shaun Bythell

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Star rating: 4/5

Synopsis: This is, as the title suggests, the diary of a bookseller at The Book Shop, Scotland’s largest second hand bookshop. Bythell refers to himself as the real-life Bernard Black, and his diaries reflect the customers, staff, and general life of a second hand bookshop.

Review: Despite being simple diary entries discussing the events of the day in the shop, I absolutely could not put this book down. Bythell is cutting in his wit and paints a completely un-glamorous picture of the life of a bookseller, stuffed with characters so bizzare they could be nothing but real. Between rants about Kindles and Amazon, the escapades of the Captain (an increasingly fat cat), book deals, and quips about particularly annoying customers, Bythell reminds us that bookshops, although still very much alive, are something worth fighting to save.

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Mystery & Thriller Recommendations

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It’s finally Halloween season, so to celebrate the nights getting darker and people’s book recommendations getting spookier, here are six mystery/thriller books that I’d recommend for your autumn TBR.

 

After the Funeral, Agatha Christie

No mystery list is complete without an Agatha Christie, but I thought I’d share one of my favourites that you may not have heard of before. This is a Poirot story, and he is called in to investigate the suspicious  sequential deaths of a brother and sister. Full of family mysteries, memorable characters and atmospheric settings, in her usual style Christie keeps you guessing until the end.\

 

Misery, Stephen King

Similarly, no list of thrillers is without a Stephen King novel. I read Misery while sat on a beach in Greece, and still managed to get the chills. A famous writer is recused by his biggest fan from a crippling car accident, but he quickly realises that she is not nursing him back to health, but keeping him captive in her house. Part psychological thriller and part horror, this book is heart-stopping and spine-chilling, with intelligent writing and horrifyingly believable characters.

 

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore, Matthew J. Sullivan

I recently published a full review of this book, but in a nutshell this book is the story of a suicide, a code, a murderer, and family secrets, and if that weren’t enough to tempt you, it’s seemingly cosy bookshop setting might.

 

This is Where it Ends, Marieke Nijkamp

This is a multiple perspective YA novel set during a high school shooting. Nijkamp manages to capture the fear an horror of the situation as well as the personalities and stories of all the main characters, along with heart-stopping action sequences and a cry for gun control. I had to read this in one sitting because I couldn’t bear to put it down.

 

We Were Liars, E. Lockhart

Another YA pick, but rather than a thriller this is a fairly short mystery that slowly unravels into a huge plot twist at the end. It follows a girl through her summers on her families island, as well as the evolution of her friendships with three friends, the ‘liars’. This little novel is dark and atmospheric, exploring the secrets kept in rich families and how isolation and selfishness backfires with shocking consequences.

 

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle

Although everyone has heard of Sherlock Holmes, a surprising number of people have never read the original stories, which despite their age are extremely easy to read and are delightfully clever. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is a volume of short stories, meaning they’re easy to work your way through and still manage to build tension and rich plots within less than 100 pages apiece.

Review: Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan

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Star rating: 4/5

Synopsis: Lydia, a bookseller at the Bright Ideas Bookstore, finds one of her favouritebut troubled patrons dead in the shop. After finding a photo of herself at her 10th birthday party on his body, Lydia has to revisit a horrifying event in her past, as well as try to solve the riddles Joey left for her between the pages of his books.

Review: A thriller set around a bookshop. Who knew? This book is fast paced and filled with suspense, but still has substance – with a great cast of characters, an intricate plot that slowly comes together, this book is both gripping and heartbreaking in the best possible way. Aside from one character (which, honestly, the book could have done without and the entire plot would have stayed the same) this was a near faultless book and a great blend of genres that I haven’t encountered before.

 

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

6 Historical Fiction Recommendations

After several months of lukewarm reading, I may finally be breaking through to the other side of my gigantic reading slump. To celebrate, I thought I would share some recommendations from a genre that doesn’t always get a lot of love – historical fiction! I’ve tried to pick books from different times in history, with varying levels of complexity and characters, so hopefully there will be something mixed in that will appeal to you.

 

The Miniaturist, Jessie Burton

This novel follows a young woman called Nella shortly after she marries a wealthy merchant she barely knows in late 17th century Amsterdam. Her husband is cold and her sister in law, who lives with them, hates her, and she can’t figure out why. Not long after settling in to her new home, she begins receiving miniatures for her dollhouse – ones that she never ordered, and which eerily reflect her home and the people around her. This book is a page-turning, character-driven novel with little mysteries being revealed all the way through the book, with descriptions of Amsterdam so beautiful you’ll wish you could book a weekend away in 1682.

 

The Boston Girl, Anita Diamant

The narrator of this book is 85-year-old Addie, who is asked by her granddaughter how she became the woman she is today. The novel is a coming-of-age retrospective as Addie relives her upbringing in a Jewish immigrant household in Boston, her friends, education, and personal strifes in a way that is relatable and wise. There is a huge emphasis on the role of family and chosen family and how they shape you as a person, and brings to light the plight of immigrants in America in the early 20th century.

 

The Book Thief, Markus Zusak

Although I think at this point almost everyone has heard of The Book Thief, for those of you who don’t know this is a novel set in Nazi occupied Germany, following Liesel, a 9-year-old girl, and the books that she steals, narrated by death. This book has a winning combination of stunning narrative voice, believable characters, tension, heartbreak, and poignancy that has made is resonate with so many people all over the world.

 

The Song of Achilles, Madeline Miller

This book is a retelling of the story of Achilles and Patroclus and the Trojan War, following the boys from childhood into lovers, and finally into battle. Miller brilliantly takes a story set thousands of years ago with characters from Greek mythology and makes it to tangible and heartbreaking, with beautiful prose and wonderfully flawed characters, and writes romance so beautifully it would sway any cynic.

 

The Essex Serpent, Sarah Perry

The Essex Serpent follows Cora, a budding naturalist and science enthusiast, who when her controlling husband dies moves her and her somewhat odd son to Essex, on the hunt for the mysterious Essex Serpent which has said to have surfaced. Cora strikes up an unlikely but intense friendship with a Vicar, Will, and despite their completely opposite views on almost everything are drawn together in a town shaken by the supernatural. It’s a gripping but character focused story that somehow manages to be cosy and creepy all at once.

 

Our Spoons Came From Woolworths, Barbara Comyns

This is a very short but very impactful book, following a woman who rushes into an unfortunate marriage and straddles the poverty line in bohemian 1930s London, with a messy flat and an odd collection of pets. The novel follows her through babies, affairs, hunger and illness, with a very honest and straight-forward narrator, giving a unique perspective on life in the UK between the wars.

Books & Brains: 5 Steps to A Killer Essay

Today I’m trying out something a little different – I’m starting a series on the blog about university and academic subjects, starting with some help on writing a great essay. It should be said that I study humanities, and specifics of what you need to include in different essays vary by subject, so although I have tried to keep this advice as generalised as possible there may be some parts that won’t apply to the kind of work you’re doing.

 

1. Plan it out.

Probably the most obvious tip is plan the damn thing out. Dump all of your points, reference material, and ideas down on one big page, then start rearranging things until it flows well and you know you won’t have to start repeating yourself. Always refer back to the actual essay title if it’s been set, or if you wrote the title yourself, know that you can adapt it if you find yourself planning something that doesn’t quite fit.

 

2. Reference as you go along. 

Especially with shorter essays, it’s really easy to think that you’ll be able to power through and find the sources you quoted once you’re finished. Do not do this. This is a very bad idea. I can’t count how many times in my first year of university I was scrambling to finish hours before the deadline because I couldn’t find the one crucial article in the depths of JSTOR to put in my footnotes. I’m not saying you have to do all of the formatting at once, but definitely jot down the name of the author, the title, and the page number as you go along.

 

3. Cut the fat.

It’s so tempting to want to show the person marking your essay how much you know, but unless its completely relevant, they won’t care. It’s great that you remember everything you read during your week on feminism, but if your essay is looking at ideas of Marxism you’re just eating up space that could be used to explore your topic better. Same goes for facts, figures, and anecdotes about the thing you’re writing on – if it’s not helping you make a point, it’s a waste of your word count.

 

4. Be critical of the people you’re referencing.

This is probably one of the most difficult things to do, especially if you’ve just started studying, but it’s what’s going to get you those high marks. If you can quote from a source, that’s fine, but if you can also talk about why it might be biased (or in some cases has since been proven to be incorrect) it shows that you’re not just taking everything for granted, but actually thinking outside of someone else’s ideas and capable of coming up with your own.

 

5. Show your work in a research context.

The most valuable piece of advice I ever got about writing essays was given to me during the very last module of my degree, and I was so annoyed I didn’t get chance to use it earlier, and that was to make sure your essay talks about why it’s important that you wrote it. In your introduction, discuss what other scholarship there is around your essay topic (just to prove you’ve read it and demonstrate that you’re doing something new), and in your conclusion discuss how your work could be taken further. Obviously the latter might not always work, especially in your first few academic essays, but anything where you’ve done a good amount of research should have something that closely resembles this in the conclusion.

 

Do you guys have any other tips for essay writing?

Taking a break from the bookish community.

Hi guys, today I wanted to talk a little bit about why I’m making the decision to step back from bookish social media.

I love books. They’re in every room in my house, I wax lyrical about recent reads to anyone who will listen, and obviously, love them enough to run two blogs around them. The issue is that recently I’ve been feeling a lot of pressure and a lot of FOMO from different streams of the community.

I’m not saying that the community is toxic or bad or detrimental in anyway. Hell, discovering the bookish side of Tumblr five years ago is what made me rediscover my love of reading and introduced me to YA and a loving community of other readers. If wasn’t for booklr and booktube, I don’t think I ever would have kept up reading in the same way I have during my degree. I’ve met some amazing friends, discovered books I never would have picked up, and read more than I ever have before.

The issue, if you can call it one, is that the community is so vast, so diverse, and so varied that I’m finding myself constantly feeling under pressure. I watch booktubers who read more than ten books a month, which is just staggering to me, and people hauling upwards of twenty books in one go, talking about how exciting they all are, and all of them somehow find their way onto my Want To Read list on Goodreads. Having this giant, overwhelming TBR at all times that just keeps getting bigger has turned from something amazing to something terrifying, and not being able to read every recent release or recommendation makes me feel like I’m being left in the dust of other readers.

Goodreads itself has become stressful too – although I love having a record of everything I’ve read in any given year, and a place where I can check what other people thought of a book I’ve just finished, feeling like I can’t fall behind with my reading challenge is really affecting the way I read. I avoid long, difficult books, not because I don’t want to read them but because I’m worried I’ll fall behind. Being ‘ahead of schedule’ makes me feel like I’m winning, whereas being ‘behind schedule’ makes me feel like I’m losing – losing what? Reading and enjoying books has never been a competition, but with so many other people to compare myself to, it’s turned into one for me.

Also, because I’m getting so many recommendations at all times, I feel like I’m not discovering anything myself anymore. I go into a bookshop or onto a website with a specific list of things that I want, carefully curated based on other people’s thoughts, and checked against reviews. It’s been years since I’ve wondered into a shop and only bought books I’ve found by chance, going off nothing other than the blurb.

I want to spend some time to reset to zero, as it were, to enjoy reading a book not because it will put me towards my Goodreads goal or so I can post about it on my blog, but because I’m actually enjoying it. I want to feel like I can take the time, unrushed, to work my way through a tough classic, or not worry if I find an obscure antiquarian book that can’t be logged and shared with starred review. I want to get back to reading without obligation, and without stress.

 

Review: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

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Star rating: 5/5

Synopsis: A young woman falls quickly for a widower she meets in Monte Carlo, and accompanies him back to his estate in the west country, Manderley. There she struggles to fit into his world and feels constantly shadowed by the ghost of his first wife, Rebecca.

Review: This book is hands down a new favourite. The writing is very gothic in style and extremely atmospheric, with du Maurier’s use of repetition descriptive passages making it seem as though Manderley somewhere that I’ve visited many times. There’s excellents twists and turns in the plot, and the journey of the shy and awkward narrator is crushingly relatable. Definitely the kind of book best read under a blanket with a glass of whiskey.