A Man’s Head by Georges Simenon (Review)

A Man’s Head by Georges Simenon

Blurb

A new translation of Georges Simenon’s atmospheric novel set in the bustling streets of Paris, book nine in the new Penguin Maigret series. 

Slowly the Czech was becoming animated, but in a muted way, so typical of the man. Maigret now noticed his hands, which were long, surprisingly white and dotted with freckles. They seemed to reach out and take part in the conversation. ‘Let’s be clear that it’s not your professionalism which I question. If you understand nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, it’s because from the very start you’ve been working with facts which had been falsified.’

Maigret sets out to prove the innocence of a man condemned to death for a brutal murder. As his audacious plan to uncover the truth unfolds, he encounters rich American expatriates, some truly dangerous characters and their hidden motives. 

Review

This is definitely my favourite Maigret book so far although I still have a lot to read yet. I really was hooked with this book and could not put it down, I just found the story fascinating. 

The book begins with an unusual scene but we soon realise that this is Maigret trying to prove the innocence of a man because Maigret’s gut is telling him things are not right. As Maigret starts to reinvestigate he comes upon the mysterious Czech. The Czech is a strange character who seems quite contrary. Other people would be mystified by the Czech’s actions and behaviour but Maigret clearly isn’t. 

As the story goes on Maigret starts to work it all out and starts to unweave the web that has been spun around the double murder he is investigating. I really liked the character Janvier who Maigret puts on the job of tailing the Czech. Janvier is young and inexperienced but he is dedicated to the job and lives to prove himself to Maigret. 

I love the character of Maigret he is such a formidable character and very eccentric. His love of warmth is hilarious but yet again I feel sorry for his wife who he never goes home to when he is on a case. The poor woman must have the patience of a saint. 

I really enjoyed this book and could have easily read it in one sitting but sadly work had to come first. I give this book a big 5 out of 5 Dragons. 

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About the author

Georges Simenon (1903-1989) was a Belgian writer who published nearly 500 novels and many short stories. Simenon is best known as the creator of the Maigret stories.

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Artificial Condition by Martha Wells (Review)

Artificial Condition by Martha Wells

Blurb

It has a dark past – one in which a number of humans were killed. A past that caused it to christen itself “Murderbot”. But it has only vague memories of the massacre that spawned that title, and it wants to know more.

Teaming up with a Research Transport vessel named ART (you don’t want to know what the “A” stands for), Murderbot heads to the mining facility where it went rogue.

What it discovers will forever change the way it thinks…

Review

Murderbot needs answers, it knows it has a dark past and wants to know why the horrors happened. More importantly Murderbot wants to know whether the deaths were its fault or because of another reason. To find the answers, Murderbot needs to get to the place where the massacre happened and this is why Murderbot is on a ship travelling through space. 

The spaceship transport that Murderbot is on, is an artificial intelligence that Murderbot nicknames ART, which is short for something far ruder. Murderbot does not trust ART straightaway and they definitely have a few issues when they first really meet but gradually you can see how their friendship develops and they start to trust each other. This leads to ART helping Murderbot to act and behave more human and less like a sec unit. 

Once they get to their destination ART suggests that Murderbot takes a job as a security consultant for a group of humans. This way Murderbot has the perfect excuse to investigate from his past which has been hidden from the public. But as we discovered in All Systems Red, when humans need help Murderbot can’t help but help. 

I really enjoyed following Murderbot’s investigation and found it rather sad at times. Murderbot clearly has feelings even though it tries to hide the fact and it is because of these feelings it wants to find out about its past. I also loved the interaction between Murderbot and ART. They don’t realise it and would both deny it if somebody pointed it out but they learn from each other and have a really good friendship. 

For such a short read this book really packs a punch and I read it in one sitting. I am absolutely loving this series so far and can’t wait to read the next book in the series. I give this book 5 out of 5 Dragons. 

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About the author

Martha Wells has been an SF/F writer since her first fantasy novel was published in 1993, and her work includes The Books of the Raksura series, The Death of the Necromancer, the Fall of Ile-Rien trilogy, The Murderbot Diaries series, media tie-ins for Star Wars, Stargate: Atlantis, and Magic: the Gathering, as well as short fiction, YA novels, and non-fiction. She has won a Nebula Award, two Hugo Awards, two Locus Awards, and her work has appeared on the Philip K. Dick Award ballot, the BSFA Award ballot, the USA Today Bestseller List, and the New York Times Bestseller List. Her books have been published in eighteen languages.

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The Woolworths Girls by Elaine Everest (Review)

The Woolworths Girls by Elaine Everest

Blurb

It’s 1938 and as the threat of war hangs over the country, Sarah Caselton is preparing for her new job at Woolworths. Before long, she forms a tight bond with two of her colleagues: the glamorous Maisie and shy Freda. The trio couldn’t be more different, but they immediately form a close-knit friendship, sharing their hopes and dreams for the future.

Sarah soon falls into the rhythm of her new position, enjoying the social events hosted by Woolies and her blossoming romance with young assistant manager, Alan. But with the threat of war clouding the horizon, the young men and women of Woolworths realize that there are bigger battles ahead. It’s a dangerous time for the nation, and an even more perilous time to fall in love . . .

Review

This is my third Elaine Everest read and the first one that I haven’t read at Christmas. I read Christmas at Woolworths last Christmas which is actually the second in the series so I thought I would start at the beginning and read the full Woolworths series. 

I love Everest’s writing because I always find it so comforting, it gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling which is always a good thing with a book. This book introduces the characters of the series, focusing on Sarah Caselton. Sarah gets a job working for Woolworths and makes two firm friends, the glamorous and feisty Maisie and the shy Freda. The three women are all so different but together they are unstoppable and best friends. 

As Sarah, Maisie and Freda start to enjoy their working lives at Woolworths and meeting and making new friends they also have to deal with the threat of impending war. As romances blossom the girls begin to realise that the men they love will be sent to war and this leads to uncertain times. 

My favourite character in this book was Ruby who is Sarah’s grandmother. Ruby is a widow and her home is at the heart of this book, everyone is welcome. Ruby takes anyone who needs help under her wing. There is always a hot meal and a shoulder to cry on where Ruby is concerned. Ruby works hard and goes above and beyond to help people, she really is a treasure. 

Everest’s clever writing makes you want to know more about all the characters in this book and not just the details of the main characters. I felt immersed in the story desperately wanting to know more about the characters which also meant I found it hard to put the book down. 

This story is so beautifully written and the characters Everest has created are just so easy to love that I will definitely be continuing with the series and reading other books by Everest. Everest is definitely a new comfort author for me. I give this book 5 out of 5 Dragons.

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Purchase Links

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(All purchases made using one of the above affiliate links gives a small percentage of money to myself with no extra cost to yourself. All proceeds go towards the upkeep of this blog. Thank you ever so much, your support is gratefully received.)

About the author

Elaine Everest was born and brought up in northwest Kent and has written widely – both short stories and features – for women’s magazines. When she isn’t writing, Everest runs The Write Place creative writing school in Dartford Kent, and the blog for Romantic Novelists’ Association. 

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The Black Mountain by Kate Mosse (Review)

The Black Mountain by Kate Mosse

Blurb

It is May, 1706. Ana, a young Spanish woman, lives in a small town on the north-west coast of Tenerife with her mother and twin younger brothers. The town is in the shadow of a mighty volcano, which legend says has the devil living inside it. However, there has been no eruption for thousands of years and no one believes it is a threat.

One day, Ana notices that the air feels strange and heavy, that the birds have stopped singing. Tending the family vineyard, a sudden strange tremor in the earth frightens her. Very soon it will be a race against time for Ana to help persuade the town that they are in danger and should flee before the volcano erupts and destroys their world. Will they listen? And Ana herself faces another danger . . .

Review

I will be honest I have a quite a collection of unread Kate Mosse books. I see one of her books and think that looks good and buy it but never read it. However, after reading this book I will be rectifying that situation. This is definitely my favourite Quick Reads book that I have read so far. 

The story is fast paced and although predictable I still really enjoyed it. The main character Ana has a lot on her shoulders for someone so young, she tends the family vineyard, tries to keep an eye on her younger twin brothers and helps and looks after her mom. If life wasn’t hard enough for Ana now there are strange things happening with the mountain her family’s vineyard and home is on but that is not the only danger. 

Thankfully, Ana has some remarkable friends in the form of Widow Silva, Antonio and Rudi. Antonio is a mysterious man who nobody knows much about but Ana knows she can trust him because her father trusted him. Widow Silva makes her living smoking fish on the beach but she also keeps an eye on Rudi who is a young boy sadly crippled because he was born too early. Rudi is my favourite character and is truly adorable, he starts off so shy and vulnerable but slowly you see his true nature and you can’t help but smile every time he is mentioned. 

I loved this book and read it one sitting and yes I know there could have been more character development but it is deliberately a short novel so lacks the space for the extra development. In a way I think that helped because it kept the novel fast paced. I loved Kate Mosse’s writing and will definitely be reading more of her books soon, although I realise a lot of her books are a lot longer than this one which is only 136 pages. I give this book 5 out of 5 Dragons. 

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Purchase Links

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(All purchases made using one of the above affiliate links gives a small percentage of money to myself with no extra cost to yourself. All proceeds go towards the upkeep of this blog. Thank you ever so much, your support is gratefully received.)

About the author

Kate Mosse is an international bestselling author with sales of more than five million copies in 42 languages. Her fiction includes the novels Labyrinth (2005), Sepulchre (2007), The Winter Ghosts (2009), and Citadel (2012), as well as an acclaimed collection of short stories, The Mistletoe Bride & Other Haunting Tales (2013). Kate’s new novel, The Taxidermist’s Daughter is out now.

Kate is the Co-Founder and Chair of the Board of the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction (previously the Orange Prize) and in June 2013, was awarded an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List for services to literature. She lives in Sussex.

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The Empty House by Rosamunde Pilcher (Review)

The Empty House by Rosamunde Pilcher

Blurb

Virginia Keile has a secret dream. To have a second chance at loving the tall, handsome Cornish farmer she met – and foolishly lost – the heady summer she was a debutante. Life has taught Virginia a great deal in twenty-seven years – about wedding a titled bachelor picked out by her mother, about a lonely marriage that ended in her husband’s accidental death, and about nearly losing her children to her husband’s mother and bossy Nanny. Now she has come back to picturesque Cornwall to rent a battered seaside cottage. For herself and for the children. And to discover if this time she can fill an empty house with love.

Review

Pilcher is one of my all time favourite authors but I still haven’t read all of her books. This one was on offer on the Kindle so I bought it for my holiday. 

I enjoyed this book but sadly I didn’t gel with the main character Virginia. Virginia has spent her entire life so far being pushed around and told what to do, either by her mother, her husband, her mother in law and the family Nanny. Virginia is very good at making excuses, she has a lot of excuses for why she didn’t try to get back into touch with Eustace, she has excuses for why she doesn’t look after her own children and many more besides. To be honest I really disliked Virginia because she was such a weak character. 

Virginia really made her mother out as a baddie but actually I can see some of the reasons behind her mothers actions. Yes, she was also a bit of nightmare but overall she wanted the best for her daughter and wanted to protect her from a man who was a good deal older than her daughter. But Virginia as usual made it out as all her mothers fault rather than taking the blame herself. 

The book really paints Virginia as a victim but to be honest I have little sympathy for her. I also didn’t really like Eustace as he was rude and a bit of a bully. The thing that saved this story for me was Pilcher’s amazing descriptions and nobody can create an atmosphere like Pilcher. Pilcher’s writing is excellent but sadly I just didn’t get along with her characters. Overall, my rating is 3 out of 5 Dragons. 

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About the author

Rosamunde Pilcher was born on the 22nd September 1924 in Cornwall. She began writing when she was 7 and published her first short story at the age of 15. From 1943 to 1946 she served with the Women’s Royal Naval Service. In 1946 she married her Graham Hope Pilcher and they moved to Dundee, Scotland together. In 1949 Pilcher’s first novel was published under the pseudonym Jane Fraser, she went on to publish a further ten novels under that name. In 1955 she published her first novel under her own name, by 1965 she had dropped the pseudonym entirely. Pilcher retired from writing in 2000, two years later she received her OBE.

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Gallant by V. E. Schwab (Review)

Gallant by V. E. Schwab

Blub

Sixteen-year-old Olivia Prior is missing three things: a mother, a father, and a voice. Her mother vanished all at once, and her father by degrees, and her voice was a thing she never had to start with. 

She grew up at Merilance School for Girls. Now, nearing the end of her time there, Olivia receives a letter from an uncle she’s never met, her father’s older brother, summoning her to his estate, a place called Gallant. But when she arrives, she discovers that the letter she received was several years old. Her uncle is dead. The estate is empty, save for the servants. Olivia is permitted to remain, but must follow two rules: don’t go out after dusk, and always stay on the right side of a wall that runs along the estate’s western edge. 

Beyond it is another realm, ancient and magical, which calls to Olivia through her blood…

Review

This book was purchased because of all the hype I saw on Bookstagram about it and I couldn’t resist any longer. I was intrigued by the blurb of this book and was looking forward to reading it. 

I loved the beginning of this book and it hooked me in straight away. Olivia Prior is such an intriguing character and one I wanted to know more about especially her parents. Olivia has not had an easy life she has never known her father and can’t remember her mother. Olivia has spent her life at Merilance School for Girls and it has not been easy but she is a survivor and she has found ways to make life a little more comfortable for herself. 

Then Olivia has an opportunity to escape the school and hopefully find her family. Gallant is a mysterious place but Olivia’s family home and one she would like to stay in. Within Gallant there lives Olivia’s cousin, and two servants who are also more like family. 

I loved the character of Olivia, she is resourceful, brave, stubborn and has a never-ending thirst for knowledge. In fact it was only because of Olivia that I stuck with this book because quite frankly once Olivia got to Gallant the story got very boring and seemed never-ending. Nothing really happened which is such a shame as Olivia is such an excellent character and the descriptions in the book were beautiful, especially the description of Gallant. It was because of this that I decided to give the book 3 out of 5 Dragons instead of a lower rating. 

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About the author

Victoria Elizabeth Schwab (1987) is an American writer. She publishes children’s, young adults and adult fiction books. 

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Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens (Review)

Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens

Blurb

Dombey and Son, Charles Dickens’s story of a powerful man whose callous neglect of his family triggers his professional and personal downfall, showcases the author’s gift for vivid characterization and unfailingly realistic description. As Jonathan Lethem contends in his Introduction, Dickens’s “genius . . . is at one with the genius of the form of the novel itself: Dickens willed into existence the most capacious and elastic and versatile kind of novel that could be, one big enough for his vast sentimental yearnings and for every impulse and fear and hesitation in him that countervailed those yearnings too. Never parsimonious and frequently contradictory, he always gives us everything he can, everything he’s planned to give, and then more.”

Review

This was my next classic for my Classics Club challenge and I was so happy that I had decided to include it on my list. This isn’t my favourite Dickens novel as that is A Tale of Two Cities but it is definitely a very close second. I could not put the book down. 

There is so much going on within this book which is all linked with Dombey, so many lives all touch even if just briefly. Though the real reason all these lives connect is because of Dombey’s children, Paul and Florence. Paul Dombey is the wanted son whose father has so many big plans for and Florence is the daughter who is not wanted and ignored. But Florence still loves and worships her father and tries to do everything in her power to make him love her. In a way this book is Florence’s story rather than her father’s story. 

This book focuses on the Dombey household mainly which after the death of the mother becomes a very sad household which starts to become dysfunctional. This is put into stark contrast with the other two households we encounter in the book which are so full of love and happiness although they are poorer financially than the Dombey household but they are richer in so many other ways. 

There are so many interesting characters within this novel. The forever smiling James Carker who is always compared to a grinning cat. The adorable Captain Cuttle who is terrified of his landlady but will do anything and give anything to those he loves. The wonderfully strong Susan Nipper who protects Florence and loves Florence with every fibre of her being. The faithful Walter whose faith never wavers. The loving Uncle Sol who will do anything for his nephew. Then there is one of my favourite characters the devoted Mr Toots, who is funny without meaning to be and gets into some interesting scrapes and friendships. Then there is Edith, who I felt sorry for but who I also disliked greatly because of the pain she caused. 

Dickens addresses so many things in this novel; pride, deceit, the value of love, child and parent relationships, unrequited love, revenge and much more. Dickens is such an expert in exploring and writing about the human condition and even though he was writing in the Victorian times so many of his themes are as relevant today as they were today. I laughed out loud whilst reading this book, I cried, I got angry, I went through so many emotions whilst reading this book. I loved this book so much and easily give it 5 out of 5 Dragons and it is definitely one of my favourite books this year. 

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Purchase Links

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About the author

Charles John Huffam Dickens (1812-1870) was a writer and social critic who created some of the world’s best-known fictional characters and is regarded as the greatest novelist of the Victorian era. His works enjoyed unprecedented popularity during his lifetime, and by the twentieth century critics and scholars had recognised him as a literary genius. His novels and short stories enjoy lasting popularity.

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All Systems Red by Martha Wells (Review)

All Systems Red by Martha Wells

Blurb

“As a heartless killing machine, I was a complete failure.”

In a corporate-dominated spacefaring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. Exploratory teams are accompanied by Company-supplied security androids, for their own safety.

But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn’t a primary concern.

On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied ‘droid — a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as “Murderbot.” Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is.

But when a neighbouring mission goes dark, it’s up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth.

Review

I had seen so many good reviews of this book and the series that I decided I had to read it so I downloaded the first book onto my Kindle ready for my summer holidays and devoured it in one sitting. 

I found Murderbot such an endearing character in this book. Murderbot was designed and built for a purpose and that purpose is a security unit for whoever needs it. Muderbot is part machine and part organic and is built sexless so has no chosen pronoun. SecUnits which is what Murderbot is, have choice in where they go or what they do, they just have to follow orders from the humans and most importantly protect the humans. However, Murderbot is special because it has become self aware, it has hacked its governor module and now it needs to work out exactly what it is and what it is going to do. It has also downloaded a lot of media and become somewhat of a TV addict. 

Even though Murderbot is rather scornful of the humans it is there to protect, it still does anything it can to protect the humans and as the story goes on it becomes quite clear that Murderbot becomes quite attached to its humans and the humans become quite attached to Murderbot. 

When the neighbouring mission goes dark it soon becomes clear a rescue mission must take place and this worries Murderbot who knows there could be trouble but the humans say a rescue mission is needed so Murderbot follows orders. 

Murderbot is uncomfortable around humans and quite shy so it only feels comfortable when hidden behind its helmet in full armour. Without the armour and helmet Murderbot feels vulnerable around the humans. Murderbot even uses cameras to look at the humans rather than face them directly. 

I loved this story and although it is really only the length of a novella the action kicks off straight away on page 2. I loved the characters but my favourite was Murderbot, I loved seeing it grow and develop and start to work out what exactly it is and what it wants to do with its existence. As soon as I finished this book I downloaded and started to read the next book because I just could not leave Murderbot behind. I give this book 5 out of 5 Dragons. 

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About the author

Martha Wells has been an SF/F writer since her first fantasy novel was published in 1993, and her work includes The Books of the Raksura series, The Death of the Necromancer, the Fall of Ile-Rien trilogy, The Murderbot Diaries series, media tie-ins for Star Wars, Stargate: Atlantis, and Magic: the Gathering, as well as short fiction, YA novels, and non-fiction. She has won a Nebula Award, two Hugo Awards, two Locus Awards, and her work has appeared on the Philip K. Dick Award ballot, the BSFA Award ballot, the USA Today Bestseller List, and the New York Times Bestseller List. Her books have been published in eighteen languages.

Purchase Links

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Witness by Alex Wheatle (Review)

Witness by Alex Wheatle

Blurb

Cornell is having a bad time. Kicked out of secondary school for a fight he didn’t start, he finds himself in a Pupil Referral Unit. Here he makes friends with one of the Sinclair family. You don’t mess with the Sinclairs, and when Ryan Sinclair demands Cornell comes with him to teach another student some respect, Ryan witnesses something that will change his life.

Torn between protecting his family and himself, Cornell has one hell of a decision to make.

Review

Wheatle is another new author for me and one I decided to read because I really like the Quick Reads series. 

I struggled to get into this book at first because it took me a bit to get used to reading the gang slang but once I got used to it I soon got into the book and it took me about an hour to read. 

This book deals with some very real issues and issues you don’t often read about in books but which should be highlighted more. The story was quite emotional in places and you couldn’t help feeling sympathy for all the characters because in a way Cornell and both his parents have good reasons for what they want to do. 

I will be honest the book didn’t wow me but I suspect this was due to the short length of the book. The book was excellently written though and a good read. I will definitely be checking out Wheatle’s full length books because he is a very good writer. I give this book 3 out of 5 Dragons. 

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Purchase Links

Book Depository | Bookshop | Waterstones | Wordery

(All purchases made using one of the above affiliate links gives a small percentage of money to myself with no extra cost to yourself. All proceeds go towards the upkeep of this blog. Thank you ever so much, your support is gratefully received.)

About the author

Alex Alphonoso Wheatle MBE (born 3 January 1963) is a British novelist, whose notable works include Brixton Rock, Crongton Knights and Cane Warriors.

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The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell (Review)

The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell

Blurb

Meet Shaun Bythell, bookshop owner, bibliophile, and misanthrope extraordinaire. He lives and works in The Bookshop, Wigtown, whose crooked shelves contain anything from a sixteenth-century Bible to a first-edition Agatha Christie. A booklover’s paradise? Well, almost…

In Shaun’s honest and wryly hilarious diaries, he reveals the highs and lows of life in the book trade, as he contends with eccentric customers, bin-foraging employees, and a perennially empty till. Along the way, he’ll take you on buying trips to old estates and auction houses, recommend lost classics – and introduce you to the thrill of the unexpected find.

Review

I will be honest I have always rather fancied owning and running a bookshop, even though I know it would be hard work and I would probably be constantly worried about finances. However, I would be very happy to be surrounded by books all day. 

I must admit I was rather surprised by this book. I picked it up at my church which has many second hand books for sale and thought it looked good fun. What I wasn’t expecting was the wit, humour and sometimes sadness within this book. 

Bythell’s diary of his book shop adventures for one year was a real eye opener and very funny. Bythell’s shop seems to attract some very weird employees with the most eccentric being Nicky. I’m not entirely sure why Bythell put up with Nicky as she seemed more of hindrance to business rather than a help. I would not have had the patience Bythell has with Nicky or in fact half of his staff. Bythell at times seems to be the only sane one at the shop and that is saying something. 

One of the things I really liked with the diary entries was the daily updates of takings and customers. It was really interesting to see how the time of year affected the amount of customers and takings. I also really enjoyed seeing how there are certain returning customers who are clearly returning regularly and ordering random books because they are loyal to the shop and don’t want to see it go under. 

As the diary entries go on we see what a witty and humorous character Bythell is and how he clearly uses humour as his coping mechanism because without it he would clearly either cry or completely lose it with certain members of public. The element I found sad was seeing how the book trade had changed so much over the years and the damage Amazon was having on the second hand book shops. It was sad to see how the life of the second hand book shop was having to adapt to survive and even that adapting might not save it. 

Wigtown has been on my list of places to go since I was a teenager and I very nearly went with my parents but ill health had to shorten our trip sadly so Wigtown was saved for another day. After reading this book I want to go even more and will be pestering my husband for a holiday there very soon. I will definitely be reading more of Bythell’s book and I give this book 5 out of 5 Dragons. 

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Purchase Links

Book Depository | Bookshop.orgFoyles | Waterstones | Wordery

(All purchases made using one of the above affiliate links gives a small percentage of money to myself with no extra cost to yourself. All proceeds go towards the upkeep of this blog. Thank you ever so much, your support is gratefully received.)

About the author 

Shaun Bythell is the owner of The Bookshop in Wigtown, Scotland’s National Book Town, and also one of the organisers of the Wigtown Festival.

When not working amongst The Bookshop’s mile of shelving, Shaun’s hobbies include eavesdropping on customers, uploading book-themed re-workings of Sugarhill Gang songs to YouTube and shooting Amazon Kindles in the wild.

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