Heart breaking and heart warming: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

When a very good friend in Glasgow texted me especially but urgently to recommend a book, I took note. “This needs to be on your shortlist”, Susan wrote, “I’m half way through. Great book… sad and hilarious”. Susan was right: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman is beautifully sad and touchingly hilarious. It’s also compelling and heartwarming. What’s more, it works brilliantly as an audiobook.

Scottish and snide and highly entertaining: The Diary of a Bookseller

Sometimes when I’m at the library, a book will literally leap from the shelf into my arms and shout ‘take me home with you!’ Not always, just sometimes.

So it was with The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell. One minute the book was sitting on the shelf, the next it was in my custody, despite having no previous inclination to read it. The randomness of this book coming home with me meant I had no expectations for it. Low expectations + a pretty good book = delighted reader.

A spark of genius: The Driver’s Seat

Muriel Spark has been one of those literary icons that has for a while been orbiting the periphery of my brain, but until recently I knew only two concrete things about her: that she wrote The Prime of Miss Brodie and that she was Scottish. Thankfully there are lots of well-read people out there who want to expand the minds of people like me – and to do this they’re capitalising on the fact that this year Muriel would have turned 100.

As a way of raising the profile of Dame Muriel, Scotland is celebrating this centenary with its #murielspark100 fiesta, as is Heavenali with her #readingmuriel2018 event. It was Madamebibliophile‘s review of The Driver’s Seat in particular that propelled me to read this novella …. and wow, what a book.

‘Ali Smith is just the best’: A fire-side chat about Winter

In the heady days immediately before Christmas, Jan@whatIthinkwhenIthinkaboutreading (one of my favourite bloggers but whom I’ve never actually met) and I decided to do a joint review of Ali Smith’s most recent book Winter.  We read the first of her seasonal quartet, Autumn, at around the same time (see here for that review), both loved it and through instant messaging found ourselves having something akin to a fire-side chat about Winter.

As a result of the time it took to get the internet connected in my new house (think of light years), I’m only now able to post this.

As you’ll read, at the time we chatted I was knee-deep in moving house, starting a new job, living in a new town for half the week, with patchy internet. As a consequence my thoughts are sketchy and superficial. Meanwhile, Jan poured forth insight after insight about Winter.  She puts me to shame.

The fact that I was in Melbourne and Jan was in her native Manchester added an interesting layer to how we each appreciated Winter. We also chatted about A Christmas Carol, Christmas shopping strategies, Brexit (of course), summer storms, SI units and whether Smith is a ‘plotter’ or a ‘pantser’. And we both come to a similar conclusion about whether Winter lives up to Autumn

Best books of 2017

Sneaking in with only hours left of this year, I’ve complied my ‘best of 2017 list’.  It was a great year for books (and audiobooks); whispers and snippets of many of them are still rattling around in my head.

I’ve actually surprised myself with this list, and in particular with the ranking of the books. On any given day the list could’ve looked different (how did Sarah Waters not end up in the top spot? Where is Pachinko? Anything Is Possible?).

However, given 2017 is ebbing away as I type, without further prevarication I give you my favourite four audiobooks and my best ten books of 2017.