What Library Staff are Reading – January

L’Arlesienne by Vincent van Gogh

The Diary of a Bookseller is the diary of Shaun Bythell, owner of Scotland’s largest second-hand bookshop. The life of “The Bookshop” in Wigtown is fascinating in its ebbs and flows. Bythell is not shy of making scathing comments about anyone who displeases him, from customers to staff to Amazon. Even librarians come in for a serve. I thoroughly enjoyed his observations.

The Library has The Diary of a Bookselller in print, as an ebook and as an eaudiobook. I listened to the eaudiobook on the RBDigital app – Bythell would probably roll his eyes at my laziness. 4/5 stars

Becoming by Michelle Obama –  She is a great writer, lots of great descriptions. It was fascinating reading about what life is like living in the White House and particularly the constant security issues. She is honest and straight-talking but maintains optimism and hope. 4/5 stars

One hundred years of dirt by Rick Morton – After hearing Annabel Crabb and Leigh Sales rave about this book on their podcast and hearing the author speak on Richard Fidler’s Conversations I felt I had to read it. It was a fascinating glimpse into the lives of a family living in crippling poverty in Ipswich, Queensland. Morton includes research about the effects of poverty and stress on the brain and the fledgling field of epigenetics. It was hard to read in parts simply because of the constant desperation and struggle but it is well written and really a must read if we care at all about understanding the lives of others. – 3/5 stars

The writer’s map: an atlas of imaginary lands edited by Huw Lewis-Jones – I love maps.  Don’t listen to the howls of derision from my book group, it’s only the maps in the front of fantasy fiction books that I hate.  This is a beautiful book and should be savoured slowly and frequently. What a shame Christmas is over because a)it would make the perfect gift for the bibliophile in your life and b) I could have asked for it for myself. There’s always birthdays . . . 5 stars

The Princess Bitchface syndrome 2.0 by Michale Carr-Gregg and Elly Robinson – I have a teenage daughter and it’s a struggle at times.  That’s all I’m going to say.  4 Stars

Now we shall be entirely free by Andrew Miller – It’s 1809 and Capt John Lacroix is back from fighting the war with France in Spain. He’s not very well and, in order to avoid having to go back to his regiment, he embarks on a trip to the Hebrides to collect the music of the islands.  Meanwhile, two men have been despatched from Spain to bring him to book for an atrocity committed there.  Beautifully written, this book is getting good reviews and I enjoyed it although I probably didn’t give it justice and took a week’s break from reading it so the momentum was broken.  The only bugbear is that we never get to know who is behind the order to do away with Lacroix, or why (or maybe I’m too obtuse)  4 stars

Henry VIII & the men who made him by Tracy Borman – I’m a Tudor nut and have enjoyed books by the learned Dr Borman but this one was a bit too dense even for me.  Perhaps it was the huge pile of other reading on my bedside table that had me distracted?  Maybe it’s one to dip in to, read a chapter and leave for a couple of days before giving another chapter a go?  I hadn’t finished before I had to bring it back to the library.  Maybe I should buy my own copy and take my time over it.  2.5 stars

Shadow and Light by Mark Colvin – Mark Colvin had one of the most glorious voices on ABC radio and a long and distinguished career as a journalist and foreign correspondent for UK and Australian media.  This is his memoir.  It’s a little more interesting than some as it’s also about his father who, ostensibly a British diplomat, was actually an MI6 spy. 3.5 stars

A spark of light by Jodi Picoult – in this book we start at the beginning of a hostage situation. A man has taken the staff, patients, protestors and visitors of an abortion clinic hostage.  In chapters alternating between the man, the Police negotiator, staff, patients and protestors, we work back in time to the circumstances which bring these disparate people together. It was an interesting premise and quite a page turner.  The backwards facing plot maybe didn’t work as well as I’ve experienced in other novels.  There was a twist I didn’t see coming so kudos for that. 3.5 stars

The wages of sin by Kaite Welsh – This is the first in a series to feature Sarah Gilchrist who is one of the pioneering group of female medical students admitted to Edinburgh University in 1892.  As well as attending to her studies, Sarah volunteers at a hospital for poor women.  One of the patients, a young prostitute is subsequently found dead and Sarah begins to investigate. As well as the obstacles Sarah needs to face to track down the possible murderer, we learn about the obstacles the first female students faced – mostly the abuse and condescension of their male lecturers and fellow students. It was a good story that fairly carried the reader along but I found Sarah a bit annoying.  She is by turns naïve and meddling and comes to some silly conclusions and I often wanted to take her by the shoulders and tell her to get a grip. 3 stars

Lethal white by Robert Galbraith – the long-awaited 4th novel in the Cormoran Strike series now being televised.  This time Strike and his side-kick Riobin Ellacott are investigating the possible blackmailing of a government minister.  As with all good detective novels there are plenty of suspects, sub-plots and red herrings.  The niggle in this book is the personal lives of Strike and Ellacott which intrude too much on the detecting for my liking.  Robin gets married at the beginning of the book and from there on the author goes on ad nauseum about how that might have been a mistake and about the attraction Strike and Ellacott have for each other.  A little bit of romantic/sexual tension, as in the previous novels, is OK but it was just annoying here. I still give it 4 stars though.

Scrublands by Chris Hammer – a detective mystery set in Australia in the middle of a very hot summer – very difficult to read this summer! Another novel where you know what the crime is from the start – a priest has shot 5 men after church one Sunday.  Journalist Martin Scarsden arrives in the tiny town out the back of nowhere a year later to write a story on how the town is doing.  Of course Martin finds that things were not exactly as they were painted a year ago and starts to investigate what actually happened.  More red herrings, suspects and sub-plots!  Hammer has written a gripping tale and his descriptions of drought and bush-fire are very vivid and it lives up to the hype and long- Hold list for library books.  I alternated between reading the book and listening to the audiobook on RBDigital which is narrated by Dorje Swallow.  This time it was the names of the characters which annoyed and then distracted me (it’s been hot and I get cranky easily) – the priest is called Byron Swift, Martin’s love interest is a young woman called Mandalay Blonde and other characters revel in names like Codger Harris and Harley Snouch. Really?  That aside I’ll be waiting eagerly for his next novel.  If you enjoy Jane Harper or Peter Temple you’ll enjoy this one too. 4 stars

Convenience Store Woman, by Sayaka Murata – Translated from the Japanese, this story looks at the world from the point of view of Keiko, a 36 year old woman who works in a convenience store.  But Keiko is a little odd.  She sees the world as an outsider, someone who doesn’t really belong, but has learnt to mimic others in order to blend in and get by.  When she becomes aware that she is not living up to society’s expectations, she finds a unique way to meet the expectations of family and friends.  A sometimes dark, sometimes funny novel.  I had trouble putting this one down. 4/5 stars

But you did not come back by Marceline Loridan-Ivens.  It is a book about the holocaust but even so is a delight to read.  It’s autobiographical.  I won’t say any more because I don’t want to spoil things.  I give it 4/5 stars.

I’ve also just opened a book that was a return and I’m hooked so I’ve borrowed it – Katie Hickman The Aviary Gate.  It is set in Oxford ‘In the present day’ and Constantinople in 1599.  I’ve only read the first page so it’s too soon to give it a score.

What do our scores mean?

1 star – I hated it / Don’t bother / It felt more like homework than reading for pleasure
2 stars – I didn’t like it / Not for me but worth trying / This book needed something different to make me like it
3 stars – I liked it / Recommended / This book was good. It wasn’t great but it wasn’t bad.
4 stars – I really liked it / One of the best books I’ve read this year / I’m glad I read it
5 stars – I loved it / One of the best books I’ve ever read / I will probably read it again


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