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

HISTORICALFICTIONRECOMMENDATIONS (1)

 

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.

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.

Mid-Year Reading Stats 2017

As we’ve just finished June, and I’m well underway with this year’s reading challenge (upped to 60 books from 50 because I had an unbelievably quick start to the year with some shorter books) I thought I’d share a breakdown of what I’ve been reading so far, what I’ve loved, and what I’ve hated.

 

Books Read

36

 

Top 5 Books so Far

The Good Immigrant, ed.

The Essex Serpent, Sarah Perry

A Monster Calls, Patrick Ness

The Power, Naomi Alderman

Girls Will Be Girls, Emer O’Toole

 

Books DNFed

The Melody of You and Me, M. Hollis

The Inexplicable Logic of My Life, Benjamin

Prep, Curtis Sittenfeld

Carry On, Rainbow Rowell

 

Fiction vs. Non-Fiction

64% fiction, 36% non-fiction

 

Fiction Genres

Fantasy 6

Contemporary 6

Dystopian 2

Romance 2

Historical 2

Graphic Novel 2

Children’s 2

Poetry 1

 

How are your reading years going so far? Are there any surprising stats from your year so far?

Review: Coffee Boy, Austin Chant

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After graduation, Kieran expected to go straight into a career of flipping burgers—only to be offered the internship of his dreams at a political campaign. But the pressure of being an out trans man in the workplace quickly sucks the joy out of things, as does Seth, the humorless campaign strategist who watches his every move.

Soon, the only upside to the job is that Seth has a painful crush on their painfully straight boss, and Kieran has a front row seat to the drama. But when Seth proves to be as respectful and supportive as he is prickly, Kieran develops an awkward crush of his own—one which Seth is far too prim and proper to ever reciprocate.

CONTENT WARNING: scenes of a graphic sexual nature, mild transphobia

Why I picked this book up:

I was in the mood for something quick, fun, and fluffy, and I thought this romance would be perfect.

The bad:

At 90 pages, I only wish this book could have been longer. I loved Kieran and his self-assured sarcastic personality and could have read a full book about his internship and about him getting into politics.

The good:

Funny and warm, this book was a beautifully constructed mini romance. The characters were flawed and believable, and did a great job of illustrating older and younger members of the queer community and their reactions to labels, and also showed how even straight liberals can be accidentally homophobic or transphobic without the correct knowledge. The sex scenes were also well written without resorting to cliches or overly euphemistic language, which was refreshing. I’m excited to read some more of Chant’s other novellas, and hope he goes on to write more full length fiction in the future.

Overall rating: 4/5

Review: 1984, George Orwell

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✮✮✮✮☆

The year 1984 has come and gone, but George Orwell’s prophetic, nightmarish vision in 1949 of the world we were becoming is timelier than ever. 1984 is still the great modern classic of “negative utopia” -a startlingly original and haunting novel that creates an imaginary world that is completely convincing, from the first sentence to the last four words. No one can deny the novel’s hold on the imaginations of whole generations, or the power of its admonitions -a power that seems to grow, not lessen, with the passage of time.

 

Why I picked this book up:

I’d read this book a good few years ago, but as it climbed higher up the bestsellers list over the last few weeks (three guesses as to why) I realised that I hardly remembered anything about the book itself, or even the majority of the characters. Luckily this classic is fairly short one that I could dip in and out of during a hectic week of job interviews and class presentations.

 

The bad:

As you can probably tell from the 4 star rating, I did thoroughly enjoy this book – that being said, I don’t think it was anywhere near perfect in its construction. The first hundred pages, until the character of Julia comes into play, is almost entirely exposition told through the quite boring day to day activities of Winston. I also felt that when Orwell included passages from the book, these 5 page excerpts were quickly condensed by Winston’s internal monologue immediately after, so felt very unnecessary and clunky in what was a very fast paced section of the book. If I’m really being picky, in places the political messages felt a little over-stated, with some passages, such as that on the creation of newspeak, extremely intelligent and deftly handled, whereas others, such as when Winston discovers a photograph of some inner circle members, were a little overdramatic and lacked the nuance so much of the book contained.

 

The good:

Despite my few small problems with the narrative, this reread really cemented how excellent and relevant this novel still is. Orwell’s exploration of intellectual freedom, language, and different forms of rebellion is like nothing else I’ve read, and so clearly defined a genre that is continuously replicated today. The dark and menacing ending acts as a warning and stark reminder of political powers that go unchecked, and how rebelling can be as large as standing up to corrupt leaders, or simply finding the beauty in life that those in power would have you forget.

 

Favourite quote:

“Being in a minority, even a minority of one, did not make you mad. There was truth and there was untruth, and if you clung to the truth even against the whole world, you were not mad.”

 

Overall rating: 4/5

February ’17 Wrap-Up

Books Bought:

  • The Year of Living Danishly – Helen Russell
  • The Ashes of London – Andrew Taylor
  • How to be Both – Ali Smith
  • White Teeth – Zadie Smith
  • On Beauty – Zadie Smith

 

Books Read:

  • The Year of Living Danishly – Helen Russell
  • The Ashes of London – Andrew Taylor
  • Ballet Shoes – Noel Streatfeild
  • 1984 – George Orwell

 

This month was a bit of a slow burner, with a few deadlines hovering at the start of the month meaning two weeks passed by with hardly any reading at all. It’s one of the main reasons why, unusually, I read a children’s book, a memoir, and a piece of historical fiction, rather than my usual mix of fantasy and literary fiction.

In terms of buying books, The Year of Living Danishly and The Ashes of London were books I bought specifically to try and force my way out of a reading slump, so unlike the majority of my other purchases which are slung unceremoniously onto my growing TBR, I ended up reading straight away. The other three I picked up at a sale in a charity shop, where I managed to get the three of them for £2. After everything I’ve heard over the last few months about Zadie’s Swing Time and Ali’s Autumn, I took the opportunity to get my hands on some of their backlist titles before I spend money on their new releases, which in the UK are only available in hardback.

 

Reviews:

The Year of Living Danishly – Helen Russell     4/5

The Ashes of London – Andrew Taylor    3/5

Ballet Shoes – Noel Streatfeild    4/5    (coming soon)

1984 – George Orwell    4/5    (coming soon)