That Was The Year That Was – part 2…

After a brief pause (for an evening of wine, cheese and Deathly Hallows part 2…) here’s the rest of my highlights of 2017.


51yytgdLxSL._AC_US218_Lots of excitement in Bradford during July as the Literature Festival takes over most of the city’s major venues. I always love working at this festival – the talks cover themes from feminism to cricket and Jane Austen to the Partition of India. There were so many interesting events and books  that I’m still playing catch-up – I still have to read Adelle Stripe’s Black Teeth and a Brilliant Smile – and, because I’m working on bookstalls I hardly get to see any of the talks. I did find time, however, to read a few books during the month including one which definitely makes my top 5 for the year. I began the month with a new Matt Haig (always a joy) and then a new Rachel Joyce. Given the fact that my new favourite place in Halifax is a record shop it should come as no surprise to find that The Music Shop was a 2017 favourite.


51dtYojn65L._SX316_BO1,204,203,200_Another bit of holiday time for me – a regular trip to a folk festival means plenty of time to spend sat in a field with friends, a glass of wine, a good book and great music as a backdrop. I enjoyed some Irish romance, a new twist on psychological thrillers and some good old-fashioned historical fiction but I think my top read for the month was a post-apocalypse narrated in part by a foul-mouthed dog.


35512560September means lots of ‘back to school’ books in the shop and the start of all the big books coming out in time for Christmas. I took the chance to read John O’Farrell’s follow-up to Things Can Only Get Better (after deciding the only way I could react to the politics of 2017 is to laugh at it) and a new history of medieval queens by Alison Weir. Highlight of the month’s reading for me, however, was a warts and all look at the world of secondhand bookselling. I’m not sure if anyone who has never worked in retail would laugh quite so hard at Shaun Bythell’s adventures but I loved it. Personal highlight of the month though was a visit from my Mum – always a joy!


34728079I read a couple more really enjoyable potential Christmas bestsellers in October. I’m a big fan of Sarah Millican as a comedian – I’m even more of a fan now after reading her warm and humane (but slightly filthy) biography/self-help title. During a period when so many famous figures turned out to have feet of clay (that reached their necks in some cases) it was also heartening to hear that Tom Hanks is as nice a guy as he seems – his book of short stories showed that he is also intelligent, thoughtful and a pretty good writer. My favourite book for October, however, was a Japanese novel about a man trying to rehome a cat. It doesn’t sounds much when I describe it like that but it was a beautiful book – another top 5 contender.


9780091956943Christmas is starting to loom. Yes, we put the decorations up and get the cards and gift-wrap out early – but by the end of the month it is all about selling lots of lovely books so we take our chances when we can. There is still time to read a bit too – my highlights for this month were a densely plotted (and occasionally mind-boggling) novel from Nick Harkaway featuring high-finance, sharks and alchemy and an eagerly awaited new book from Andy Weir. For sheer readability and fun though it is Weir’s Moon-based crime caper which makes it onto my 2017 top 5.


Not a big month for new books – more a culmination of the previous eleven really. There are some fun humour titles but not much else. So I have spent much of the last four and a half weeks getting ahead on the new titles coming out in early 2018. Lots of reviews to come there – watch this space I guess. Like many others, however, I would describe my personal December highlights as time spent with my family and friends (with some running achievements – like my 100th parkrun – and an awful lot of chocolate to take into account too.

Here’s hoping you enjoyed some of the books I have reviewed in 2017. I look forward to carrying on in 2018 (but I may try to keep better track of my favourites….)



There’s a story to suit everyone, probably…

9780007504114Quite a lot of the customers we see in the days running up to Christmas are ones we don’t see at any other time of year. Nothing wrong with that – not everyone has the time, inclination or money to read – but it does mean we have to make sure that we stock as wide a range of fiction in December as we can. We can’t just rely on selling people the books that we have loved through the year (although that bit is great fun) we have to make sure we have the books that they will love too. Some authors make this much easier by bringing out a new book towards the end of each year (Bernard Cornwell, Martina Cole, Giovanna Fletcher, Wilbur Smith, Danielle Steel and Clive Cussler, to name a few) and are, in fact, so regular that we all get very confused if they miss a year. Of course this is nothing new: Catherine Cookson was a very prolific writer and seemed to bring out two books every year, perfectly timed for both Christmas and Mother’s Day. Now that’s dedication…

9781447278733This Christmas we also have some treats coming from authors who are slightly more restrained in their output (although just as popular). I’ve already mentioned Philip Pullman in my children’s book round-up but he is, if anything, even more popular with adults – after all, the young teens who read the His Dark Materials novels as they were published are now in their 30s. Dan Brown has produced his first new novel since 2013, Ken Follett has published his first since 2014 (and it marks a ten year gap since the previous book in this series) and Marian Keyes has returned to fiction after a three year break. On the more literary side The Sparsholt Affair ends a six year dry spell for fans of Alan Hollinghurst and, despite producing plenty of non-fiction, there are twenty years between Arundhati Roy’s first novel and this year’s offering.

9780008185213This year, however, as in so many others I am looking forward to helping people choose some of 2017’s debut novels. Some of them have authors everybody has heard of – Tom Hanks’ collection of short stories reads like a series of vignettes from Tom Hanks films – and others are books which have been beloved by every bookseller I know who’ve read them. Some have sprung from Facebook pages and others from goodness know what strange dark depths of the authors heart. Every work of fiction has a customer out there waiting to discover it; every reader is just a step away from finding a new favourite book.*


*That, and lots of chocolate, is what keeps me going through the next few weeks.

Uncommon Type – Tom Hanks

There are many ways to tell stories ranging from the purely visual – painting, photography or even, perhaps, fireworks – to the verbal – novels and poetry. There are ways which blend combinations of images, words and other sounds – film, dance, theatre, songs and graphic novels – but the storytelling is the important thing. A novel, Wuthering Heights, for example, can be adapted into a comic book, a film or a song but we still feel Catherine’s passion and the bleakness of the moorland setting. We do tend, however, to assume that those who help to portray the stories which others have written – actors, singers, dancers – are just interpreters of the creativity of others rather than creators themselves. Skilled interpreters, who can wring realistic emotions from the written word which we, as readers, can only feel echoes of but they need the words of others. Or that is how we think of them. But Hedy Lamarr was an inventor who helped to develop a radio guidance system for torpedoes and Jimmy Stewart trained as an architect, so we shouldn’t be surprised by actors who are able to produce good fiction. Maybe it is the amount of books written by celebrities which make us forget that actors, really good actors, are something very different from celebs…

tomhanksTom Hanks, as an actor, is agreed to be very good. Double Oscar winner, with lots of other awards to his name, and the star of some of the biggest, and best-loved, films of the past three decades he is a household name. He’s a real celebrity but one with talent and, it appears, principles and plenty of human warmth. All this is apparent in this collection of short stories – in fact I could hear Hanks’ voice in my head as I read them (usually a good sign for me and, it seems, Hanks himself as he reads the audio book version…). Some stories connect to the world of Hollywood actors, which Hanks obviously knows well, but also that of immigrant workers, teen surfers and recently divorced mums. Hanks’ strength as an actor has, for me, always been his ability to be an everyman figure – someone we can all easily identify with – so it is interesting that this extends to his more purely verbal storytelling.

I liked these stories because, as well as being well-written, they are very reminiscent of the kind of films Hanks is involved with. Some romance, some laughs, some heartbreak: no explosions. If you prefer something full of high-speed car chases, special effects and blood then this may not be for you: if you spent the whole of Apollo 13 on the edge of your seat (even though you know how it ends) then give it a try.