The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell

bookseller3.5 stars. I’m going to be in the minority on this one, my heart wanted me to love this, especially after hearing an interview with the author recently, but I’m stuck firmly at the 3.5 mark.

Those of us who dream of one day owning a bookshop would probably feel the same way about the general public as Shaun Bythell does, that we are irritating, we don’t know what we want, or we do know but we can’t describe it. However, I’d hope that I could be slightly more tolerant towards people like me than Shaun Bythell is. I understand his shop is cold, that he has limited choice of staff in a small town, that he has chosen to live in a place where the weather isn’t ideal all the time, that bookish people are often painful. I however, thought that he was a bit of a pain himself. His constant whining about how kindle is killing the book industry was very wearing. He might even be right about it, but his snobbish attitude is not at all helpful.

This book is fun. It is incredibly readable. It wasn’t my favourite though.

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The Shepherd’s Hut by Tim Winton

timI finished this ages ago but haven’t been up to writing a review, this book left me feeling bereft and empty when it was finished. I’ve had a long and loving relationship with Tim Winton. I hereby admit my love of his beautiful sentences and his descriptions of place and feelings. I love the way he thinks about the tiniest of things, how he notices the sounds and nuances of the land, the birds and the skies. He makes you see the world in a different way and he makes your heart ache for the characters he makes, they are flawed, very bad things happen to them, they do very bad things to other people and yet they are loveable and real.

Jaxie is a hard boy, he is on the run and he heads out into the bush. He is ill prepared for a long stretch in the wilds and suffers terrible thirst and hunger, he has to make decisions about how he will manage his survival. While he travels he mulls over his life, the awful illness and death of his much loved mother, his angry and now dead father. The fact that Jaxie is going to get the blame for his death. He thinks about the love of his life and tries to make his way to her in a town a long distance away. Eventually he comes across a hut with signs of life, living in there is a disgraced priest, Finton MacGillis someone Jaxie cannot trust and who leads a lonely existence in the middle of nowhere. These two will build a relationship based on mutual distrust. They will come to mean something to each other.

This is not for the faint hearted. It is sweary in the extreme, it is tough, brutal and wincingly extreme at times, but it is beautiful. I didn’t want it to end

The Choke by Sophie Laguna

chokeJustine has to be one of my favourite heroines this year. Her sad and miserable life on the outside belies the wonders going on in her lovely mind on the inside. She is one of lifes victims, being bought up by her Grandfather in abject poverty, in a small Australian town, she is so very alone. Her Grandfather is unwell and he was a soldier involved in the building of the Burma Railway and he carries this around with him every day. He suffers terribly. Her Dad, Ray, occasionally comes home to drink with the male relatives and to do unspeakable things to the women of the town. He is a bad man, and unstable man. Justine sees her half-brothers and sisters, at The Choke, the swimming hole but there is a falling out and then she is so lonely. Leaving her with just the chooks, who are quite the characters, and Grandad. Grandad loves her and the chickens, but his son Justine’s father and his daughter is banished due to her love for a woman. Justine is unable to decipher the words at school, she is dirty, unkempt, has nothing to wear and mostly lives on eggs from the beloved chickens. All this grimness, and Justine goes on, getting along with her life. It is so unfair, you want so much more for Justine.

Then she is made to sit beside Michael Hooper at school. Michael who cannot speak, who is very disabled, whom the other kids mercilessly make fun of. This is the beginning of a friendship which will be transformative for Justine, until Michael leaves for Sydney and she is alone again. And then it all starts to get worse. So much worse.

I loved Justine, I loved the way she thought, the way she was so brave. I love that the story was told from her point of view. This really is a gem of a book. One I will remember for a long time, Justine made me laugh and cry and gasp with horror at what she witnessed and what happened to her. I count myself a freshly minted Sophie Laguna fan!

Listen to her here on a podcast.

A Tragic Kind of Wonderful by Eric Lindstrom

tragicI’m way behind on catching up with this author, lots of my friends have discovered his wonderful way with teenage characters and here and I only just getting to it. Now that I have read this one I need to get going on the other book by this author that we have in the library.

Mel has secrets that she holds close in order to protect the new life she has built in a new place, away from where a tragic event took the life of her brother, which she witnessed. This is more than enough tragedy to bear but there is also the fact that Mel has crippling mental health issues and holds them in check, but just barely. Oh it is hard. It is hard to read of her coping, hard to read of her not coping.

This book wouldn’t be for everyone, Mel can be a character who seems hard, who isn’t always nice to her friends, who hurts people, but you have to understand how tense she is and how hard it is to tell anybody her stuff. Most of the time she can manage to keep it together and hold everything in with coping strategies, but then that just isn’t enough. When the crisis comes it is going to be huge, and all you can do is stand by and wait for the peak and hope nobody gets hurt.

This is a sad story, well written but the style is unusual and that may irritate some people too. A solid 4 star read for me.
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Herding Cats by Sarah Andersen

herding catsIf you were a young person who was interested in making your way in the illustration or comic world, I think this book would be a great asset.  There is a section at the end of the book which will give you handy heads-ups and ideas to make your quest become easier.

Sarah Anderson’s cartoons are gentle, sweet and self-depreciating. The cutsie style belies the depth of the cartoons, they are utterly sweet and at the same time often utterly disarming and poignant. I’ve been following her work on Facebook for some time and have thoroughly enjoyed reading her work.  To have this lovely book full of them is great.

I love the way she ties the love of animals with loneliness and often, wouldn’t we just want the uncomplicated company of a furry being for all the things we need, this is what she does, she harnesses this feeling and draws it perfectly in simple but sharp squares.  Sarah describes the feelings of growing older in a world with expectations perfectly, she could be one of my kids! It is tough out there in the world, having all those grown up expectations, of yourself but also other people expecting certain behaviours from you. I love that Sarah’s musings are in comic form, so accessible and so perfect for how we all feel some of the time.  A lovely treasure of a book.

 

 

Gnomon by Nick Harkaway

gnomonYou need to be match fit for a Nick Harkaway, you need to prepare for massive vocabulary, difficult concepts, layer upon layer of story and get yourself ready to be taken on a trip where you don’t have a map and you just have to surrender yourself to the captain of the journey and trust you will get there in the end. Usually this works really well for me, but sadly not this time. I just couldn’t get into it. I did love the complicated words, I liked the main character, but I got horribly confused. I wound myself in knots trying to get through this, then I walked away. I have loved all the other books I’ve read by this author, I knew what I was getting into, but I just couldn’t make it to the end.

La Belle Sauvage, The Book of Dust, book 1, by Philip Pullman

dustAfter reading this I’m ready to forgive Philip Pullman for all the books he has written that I didn’t want to read. This one made the wait worthwhile. It takes you into Oxford where His Dark Materials began and we meet Lyra as a baby, but this story isn’t really about Lyra it is about Malcolm Polstead, the son of the publican of the Trout. The pub is close to a convent and in the convent there is a baby, a baby who needs to be protected from dangerous forces who are out to get her. Malcolm and the kitchen maid Alice rescue baby Lyra in Malcolm’s canoe and begin a journey which will be terrifying and deeply fulfilling.

I knew from the first page that this was going to be wonderful. The fact that the peacocks were called Barry and Norman was enough for me, I felt that I was in safe hands, that Philip Pullman was going to make me smile and fear and worry about the characters who were coming along as the chapter progressed.

The presentation of the book is lush and gorgeous, the cover alone is a thing of beauty. The illustrations at the beginnings of the chapters are simple and perfect. The print is large and friendly and makes the book seem like a giant, but it isn’t really. It is a manageable size and best of all, it never talks down to it’s reader, it understands that it is for a reader of all ages. I just loved it.