Libraries Week 8th-13th October

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This week is National Libraries Week in the UK.  The theme this year is to promote wellbeing and is being promoted with the tagline “My Time.  My Space.  My Library”

Being a discerning and intelligent bunch reading this I hope I don’t have to tell you the key thing about libraries is use them or lose them.  With local councils continuing to make cutbacks library services  continue to be vulnerable.  If you haven’t visited your local library for a while this week would be an excellent time to put that right.

Before you go check out your local council’s websites as there may very well be special events going on to celebrate the week.  Libraries are no longer just about books and you may discover a whole range of activities which will get you socialising and lift spirits.  Here on the Isle of Wight, where, as I’ve mentioned many times before I am employed as a relief library assistant in a number of the libraries ,  this week we are offering activities such as talks about the history of libraries, art courses, Scrabble Club, initiatives to make poppies to commemorate the fallen of World War I in visual displays, reading , dancing, colouring, music and knitting groups as well as special rhyme times, story times, art activities, Lego and Minecraft challenges for children.  We will be running sessions to get people to use library resources online.  Many areas now offer an on-line book, magazine and audio books facilities free to use for library card holders (here we have recently moved over to Borrowbox and Press Reader which are proving very popular).

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On Saturday at Sandown Library I will be doing something which proved to be very successful last year.  I am holding a Readers Advisory Day.  Hopefully, people will be coming in for advice as what to read next and I’m planning to introduce them to their next favourite author.  I will let you know how I get on.  Those near enough to the Isle Of Wight can find information about the events I have just mentioned by following this link.

The rest of you will just have to look up your local council website to find out up-to-date information on events throughout the week.  Even if your area is not celebrating National Libraries Week why not visit your nearest library sometime during the week for your own celebration.  You might just find what you are looking for.

We have been provided with some fact around the use of libraries from the good people at http://www.librariesweek.org/facts.

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Be good to yourself.  Visit a library this week.  Let me know how you get on………………..

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The Perfect Murder- Peter James (2010) -A Murder They Wrote Review

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My second Peter James novel I’ve read this year is a much slighter affair than “Dead Man’s Grip” which will be in contention for my Book of The Year this year.  “The Perfect Murder” takes my tally of James’ novels to eight which eases him into the anchor position of my Top 10 most read authors alongside Martina Cole and John Steinbeck.  This was because I selected “A Quick Read Novel” from the Sandown Library Russian Roulette Reading Challenge.  This was published for World Book Day in 2010 and can be polished off quite easily in an hour.  The whole Quick Reads enterprise is to tempt people back into reading primarily but it can also provide a cheap, easy read for fans of the author.  Last year I read Minette Walters’ “Chickenfeed” from the same series.  You are not going to get the very best work from an author but hopefully a sampler of what they do in order to tempt you into finding out more.

“The Perfect Murder” is a stand-alone novel set like James’ Roy Grace series in Brighton, although on this occasion it could have been set anywhere.  Victor and Joan Smiley, a rather elderly-seeming pair of forty-somethings are so stuck in the rut of their marriage that the only way out seems to be murder and both are planning to bump the other one off.

Characterisation is broadly drawn yet effective and there are twists to the tale, some of which I didn’t see coming, some I did.  There is a danger when writing these Quick Reads to order that the more limited vocabulary and length these demand can mean that the actual defining style of the author does not come through.  I think this is, to an extent, a valid point in both the James and Walters novellas I’ve read but the Brighton location and very Peter James front cover goes some way to rectifying this.

I know that Peter James has produced at least one collection of short stories and here he displays that he has the knack of conveying a sinister involving tale in a succinct fashion.

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The Perfect Murder was published by Pan Books in 2010.

The Pure In Heart- Susan Hill (Vintage 2005) – A Murder They Wrote Review

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The third Susan Hill novel I’ve read this year came about when I pulled “Read a Crime or Thriller novel” from the box for my third book in the year long Russian Roulette Reading Challenge that I am taking part in at Sandown Library.  I’d always thought Hill was most celebrated for her sparse, short horror tinged works of which “The Printer’s Devil Court” was an example but I am much preferring her crime series featuring Detective Chief Inspector Simon Serrailler of which this is the second out of nine full length works. 

 Here, Hill feels like a very different novelist as she writes at length and allows the plot considerable time to unfold.  “The Various Haunts Of Men” had Serrailler pretty much in the background and I felt he was one of the least interesting characters but he’s pushed centre stage for this follow-up published a year later.

 This is a very readable novel but I can’t help but feel that the author is toying with her readership.  Last time round the crime was a long time coming, here, it happens quicker but is far from the only thing going on, which makes it unusual compared to most other police procedurals where the solving of the crime dominates.  There are momentous events happening in the Serrailler family and Hill is prepared to devote as much time to these as the unfolding of the case, but, and here’s the thing, it doesn’t frustrate, it doesn’t feel purposely slowed down and it all feels relevant.  The odd crime reader may feel a little cheated but I personally think her style has enriched her characterisation and her feel of Lafferton, the small town where these novels are set which has already endured in just two books a serial killer and this time the disappearance of a nine year old boy on his way to school.

 I’m enjoying the family stuff and look forward to seeing how plot seeds sown here will develop in subsequent novels.  However, I’m still not buying into the main character’s love life, his hot and cold emotions are being developed as a flaw but it feels a little tacked  on, as it did in the last novel, and as a result a little unconvincing.

 Susan Hill likes to provide surprises along the way and has once again achieved this.  She takes risks, not so much with characters, as in the debut (if you have read it you will know what I mean) but here with the actual case.  Things may not go exactly the way the reader expects it to and I like that.

 I’m also liking that it feels like a traditional police procedural and yet it’s not a traditional police procedural.  I can see the parallels with her horror writing as it is what is under the surface which most unsettles.  I’m fascinated to see how this series continues.

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 The Pure In Heart was published by Vintage in 2005

The Young Victoria – Alison Plowden (1981) – A Real Life Review

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Like many people my knowledge of the early years of Queen Victoria’s reign has been based upon what I have seen in the ITV drama series “Victoria”.  There were still things that I was unsure about, namely, how the line of succession played out so that she came to the throne in the first place.  For my second book in the Russian Roulette Reading Challenge at Sandown Library I pulled out of the hat “a book with a green cover” and I chose Alison Plowden’s non-fiction work because a) it had a green cover and b) I wanted to know more about the young Victoria.

 Plowden’s book was written in 1981 although I read a paperback reprint from The History Press which was published in 2016.  It falls firmly into the category of popular history, there are no references to get you leafing through to the back of the book, a shorter bibliography than one might imagine and an author’s note which credits especially two biographies, one from 1972 and one from back in 1964.  Plowden has synthesized this information into her very readable work which suited my purposes but may frustrate the more serious historian. 

 It does read like a novel, especially with its characters that we know from the TV series here being fleshed out and it was a little surprising to find that the ITV drama does not deviate too far from the facts as presented here. 

 The characters who feature strongly in Victoria’s early years and are brought to life well by Plowden are her mother, the Duchess of Kent, whose relationship with her daughter became strained during the teenage years largely because of the influence of Sir John Conroy, who placed himself and his family close to Victoria and her mother and who the Princess came to hate.  Victoria had the most time for her beloved governess Baroness Lehzen and for Dash her dog.  The book ends with Victoria’s marriage to Albert but the most fascinating relationship here (as it was in the early episodes of the ITV series) is the one between the young Queen and Prime Minister and mentor Lord Melbourne with Victoria demonstrating anti-Tory tendencies in her desire to keep him in power.

 I still haven’t totally got the succession to the throne bit as her grandfather had so many children that it all gets a little confusing and I could have really done with a family tree appendix to sort this all out in my head.  Inexplicably, the edition I read devoted two pages at the back to completely the wrong tree, that of the House of Tudor, which has no relevance whatsoever to Victoria’s time.  That is a bad mistake from The History Press that I hope was put right in subsequent editions. 

 Alison Plowden was best known for her non-fiction on the Tudor period so that suggests that the family tree here was intended for another of her publications.  She wrote around 25 books mainly on female historical figures.   She died in 2007.

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Young Victoria was first published in 1981.  I read the 2016 History Press edition.  The History Press have republished a number of her books.

The Various Haunts Of Men – Susan Hill (2004) – A Murder They Wrote Review

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It’s very unusual for me to read two unrelated books in succession by the same author.  Susan Hill has benefited by producing the short “Printer’s Devil Court” which I chose as a successful reintroduction to the world of audio books- a format I’d struggled with on previous attempts and there’s also a story behind my selection of this book. 

At Sandown Library, one of the libraries I work at on the Isle Of Wight there is a year long initiative going on.  It’s the Russian Roulette Reading Challenge which involves pulling from a hat a reading theme or suggestion.  It is running throughout 2018 (new participants welcome) and will culminate in a prize draw for those open-minded and determined towards their reading choices who manage to complete 20 of these challenges.  It’s a little like the Book Bingo which I set up and which is still running at Shanklin Library, but without the bingo card and the route to success cannot be planned in quite the same way, adding a randomness which has led to the Russian Roulette title.  My initial challenge was to read a book which is first in a series.  I’d heard good things about Susan Hill’s Simon Serrailler crime series and this instantly sprung to mind, with the first book being conveniently on the shelves.

 The most surprising thing about this series starter is the rather low- key presence of the Chief Inspector of Lafferton Police, Simon Serrailler.  He does not play much of a role in the solving of the crime here.  That falls more to members of his team, namely recent arrival from the Metropolitan Police, DS Freya Graffham and the man described as having a face only a mother could love, the enthusiastic DC Nathan Coates.  Serrailler has an in-charge role to play.  He is good-looking and known as a heart-breaker due to his playing hot and cold with female emotions.  It is intriguing that he is the character the series is built around because on this showing I found him to be one of the least interesting characters.  Probably the author is allowing him to develop over the ten more novels to date rather than having him shine too brightly in the opener with us losing interest in him.

 Also, unusually for a twenty-first century crime novel this takes quite a while to get going.  There’s a disappearance quite early on and then we are drawn into a series of characters who are using alternative medical practitioners as well as us finding out how newbie to Lafferton, Freya, is establishing herself socially in the town whilst getting the hots for her new Chief Inspector.  At one point I was concerned that the novel might be a little too pedestrian for me.

 But then, events began happening and the groundwork had been so cleverly laid by the author that it really drew me in, and, perfect reaction for a crime novel, I sped up as the book progressed.  There were twists I didn’t see coming and it ends up as a highly satisfactory read and a great introduction to a series.  I’m still not sure of the relevance of such an evocative title though.

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The Various Haunts Of Men was published in 2004 by Chatto and Windus.  I read the 2009 paperback edition.

Printer’s Devil Court- Susan Hill (2014) – A What I’ve Been Listening To Review

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I tend to steer clear of short novels.  They often feel a little sketchy for my taste, lacking in the depth of characterisation and plot which are probably the two things I seek out the most in my book choices.  I have though, often found myself attracted by the slim volumes by Susan Hill, most famous for her short novel “The Woman In Black” boosted by a long-running West End adaptation and a so-so 2012 film starring Daniel Radcliffe.  Up to now I hadn’t read any of Hill’s books.

 That changed because the Isle Of Wight Library Service where I live and for whom I work have recently moved their platform of E-Books and Audio Books to Borrowbox, run by Bolinda, a major audio books publisher.  After training to show how much easier it was than our previous system I thought I’d do something I’d never done before and borrow an audio book.  As I know that my listening skills are fairly rudimentary I looked for something that would both appeal to me and be short and at 1 hour 40 this seemed to perfectly fit the bill.

 The joy of this new system is you can stop mid-track, easily rewind and set a sleep timer for it to switch off.  I have listened to most of this in bed in 15 minute chunks over the last few nights, long enough to stay awake and short enough to keep me following the story.  And it has worked.  I have listened to it all and have actually slept better once I’ve switched off the light.

This all may seem rather obvious to the audio book listener but my experience with this format up to now has not been great.  I did have concerns.  If I’m just listening can I actually class “Printer Devil’s Court” as a book I have read?  If I can then what about my compulsion to review everything I read?  Would I even be able to produce a review without having the book to consult?  This one was more of a problem (I knew I wouldn’t be able to remember characters’ names without seeing them written down) so I borrowed a copy off the library shelves.  This I’ve done before with my only other experience of a spoken word novel when I took out a bulky set of CD’s of Robert Galbraith’s “The Silkworm” in addition to the book.  On first listen, I fell asleep, woke with no idea as to what was going on, checked the book to discover it was only a few pages in, which seemed such a ludicrously slow pace that I abandoned the CDs and read the book instead.  This time I told myself I couldn’t even open the book until I finished listening and I did manage to do this.

 As an audiobook it kept me entertained, it didn’t get too bogged down in detail and I wanted to know what was going to happen.  I actually feel that on this occasion I would have been less drawn in had I just read the book, as the tale is slight.  It’s a ghost story of a group of young medics who experiment with bringing a woman back from the dead.  It is rich in atmosphere but not much happens and it’s not at all scary. The horror is largely psychological as main character Hugh Meredith (thanks, book!) comes to terms over his lifetime with what he witnessed one evening.  Listening to it I was misled as to time setting.  I was in Victorian London mode until a mention of Blitz-damaged buildings made me think again.  Looking at the book I would have been even more misled by the attractive yet distinctly nineteenth-century illustrations.  I suppose it is part of the skill of the suspense writer to unsettle the reader.

stevenpaceyPrinter’s Devil Court is read by Steven Pacey

 The audiobook is narrated by Steven Pacey, whose rich tones lends it the authority and gravitas the story needs and has enough of an Alan Bennett feel to his voice to keep me listening.  I know how important the choice of voice artist is and this works well here.  All in all “Printer’s Devil Court” provided an experience I would certainly repeat and even thought I wasn’t blown away by Susan Hill’s tale I was motivated enough by it to pick up her first in her crime series featuring Simon Serrailler, a far more substantial novel, which I am currently reading.

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Printer’s Devil Court was published by Profile Books in 2014.

National Libraries Week – Isle Of Wight Libraries

Like most areas, the Isle Of Wight had a planned week of activities to celebrate National Libraries Week.  We wanted to use the occasion to highlight the good work that is going on in the libraries.  On the island we have a mixture of council-run and community libraries and both, despite what the powers that be might want us to think, continue to thrive.

One of the libraries I work at wanted to offer something completely new for the week and we got to racking our brains.  I had mentioned a bookshop I had been into in Bath where a customer was sat with a member of staff who was talking to them about their reading interests and acting as a personal shopper for them.  I mentioned how this would be a perfect job and an idea was formed.

We decided to hold a Reader’s Advisory Day.  A quick visit to the internet suggested that this is something which happens in libraries in less cash-strapped areas than ourselves and that some people in certain areas (although we didn’t find any evidence of this in the UK) have this as their job title.  There were some basic resources on the internet to ensure that you got the best out of making recommendations, but these largely involved listening to what the person you were advising was telling you!  And who was deemed the most appropriate person to be the said Reading Advisor.  How about someone who spends their time reviewing and blogging and writing about books?  So that’s how I  became the Sandown Library Reading Advisor for a day (or the Book Doctor as colleagues have termed me, or the Book Guru, which is probably worse!).

Here’s how we advertised it.

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To be honest, people didn’t flock to make appointments as they were unsure what it was all about.  Nevertheless, we made cakes and in a fit of getting carried away by the idea decided to pitch a mini-marquee in the middle of the library for me to work from.

On the day you couldn’t help but notice something was going on in the library and I had people in my tent with me talking about books for the whole of the time the thing was running.  Basically, we chatted about what it was they liked about their favourites and saw if that rang any bells in my head (sometimes it didn’t sometimes it did).  When it didn’t there are loads of online resources out there (including Amazon and I’m pleased to say New Books magazine and the Nudge website where many of my reviews and interviews can be found).  We ate cake and had a very nice day.  The whole thing was deemed a success- although it took us a while to remember how to take the marquee down!

 

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It was great fun but all that concentration did leave me a little tired by the end of the afternoon.  We are certainly going to do it again in the future and my line manager wants me to work the idea for other libraries on the island.

Some of the authors I recommended during the day:   Chris Cleave, Ann Patchett, Frederick Backman, Robert Harris (more than once actually), Bernard Cornwell, Steve Berry, C J Sansom, Frances Hardinge, Ann Tyler, Rachel Joyce, Nina George, Stephen King, Joe Hill, David Gemell, Rory Clemens.

Book Bingo – The End!

Well, I did it.  Once again it was right up to the line but I managed to get all of my stickers on my Book Bingo card.  Here is the proof!

IMG_20170828_0001It did mean in the last month I had to make some slightly odd reading choices, which might explain the randomness of some of the last few reviews.  At the end of my last update my card was looking like this;

IMG_20170727_0001 (2)It looked possible, but I wasn’t convinced because the Man Booker longlist had been announced and I was itching to get started on those and couldn’t find any place for those titles in my remaining categories.  I had six books to read and this is how I did it:

On the top line I still had “A book with five words or more in the title”.  I first pulled from the shelf French crime best-seller “Murder On The Eiffel Tower” (2003) by those fascinating Parisian book-seller sisters Lilianne Korb and Laurence LeFevre who write together as Claude Izner with their series about a nineteenth century bookselling sleuth.  I have the first three of these waiting to be read and I thought this would be my chance until I was seduced by a copy of “The Wolves Of Willoughby Chase” by Joan Aiken (1962) which I really wanted to get my teeth into and which I knew would be a quicker read.  Time was at a premium by this point and so Izner has temporarily returned to the great un-read.

From the second row I needed a book that was “Shorter than 200 pages” so I went for the Quick Read “Chickenfeed” (2006) by Minette Walters.  Considering the third row I’d thought about polishing some worthy tome of poetry but went instead for children’s poetry collection (Well, it did suggest children’s poems in the square) “How To Embarrass Teachers” (2006) which, had I still been teaching Junior School Children, I would have added to my Essential Classroom Books list because I think there was a lot of fun to be had with this selection by Paul Cookson.

I needed to buy a book from the “For Sale” shelves at my local library and I was pleased to discover “Eeny Meeny” by M J Arlidge.  I know why the previous reader donated it, because although it looked in very good condition and had only probably been read once it was badly bound and fell apart as I was reading it.  I didn’t let that put me off too much and really got into Arlidge’s dark debut.  (This also happened when I read “The Night Circus” (2012) by Erin Morgenstern a couple of years back which, together with me being in bed with flu whilst reading  most of it and its self-destructing tendency did prejudice me against the book).  Arlidge’s novels have been getting really good reader-feedback in the libraries where I work from a real range of readers.

There were two squares for me to complete on the bottom line of the card and these were probably the two I was least enamoured by.  I don’t often read “Family Sagas” and find the look of those mob-capped mill girls of this genres stalwarts Catherine Cookson, Dilly Court etc all rather depressing.  I did discover something a lot lighter and more recent in Wendy Robertson’s “Sandie Shaw And The Millionth Marvell Cooker” (2008).  To be honest it wasn’t really a family saga at all but I think it had been categorised as such to fit in with a number of Robertson’s other novels which are more obviously family sagas, but it came from the right section, had the right sticker stuck on the spine and so it fitted the bill (and actually I really rather enjoyed it),

A book set before 1700 remained my final  square to cover.  This had caused a bit of panic amongst other Book Bingo participants who had this as some misinterpreted the category to be a book written before 1700, which caused blank looks around the library to find the medieval scripts section.  The correct interpretation opened the reader up to a whole range of highly readable historical and historical crime novels.  I went with the twelfth century and the introductory book to Bernard Knight’s Crowner John series “The Sanctuary Seeker” (1998) which gave me my last “Well Done!” sticker and finished off the card.

Once again the Book Bingo has been popular and successful and people are already talking about next year (maybe starting it earlier in the year).  I very much enjoy setting it up and doing it, but I’m glad I can move onto the pile of books waiting for me that I couldn’t fit in the categories as the squares began filling up.

 

Book Bingo – A Monthly Update

Let’s start this monthly update on my local library’s Book Bingo fund-raising initiative by showing you what my card looked like last month.

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And here is how it is looking today:

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I did say last month I needed to crack on a bit to get those stickers and there are seven squares filled and with one month to go it’s looking a bit more do-able.  What did I read to achieve win these stickers?  Proof I’ve read these can be found in my reviews which you can get to by clicking on the titles………….

Firstly, two of the squares were “Questions”- with a little less time to play with this year we threw in a few random Question squares and I devised a book related quiz.  When someone brings back a book they can opt to be asked a question from this list- get it right and there’s a sticker, get it wrong and they’ll have to try next time.  As I thought up the questions and my memory is not so bad that I’ve forgotten the answers this bit has meant I’ve had to have rapidly made up questions asked me.  I will let you know the questions on my list which have been causing the most problems for the participants.

What kind of author would not have been eligible to win the Bailey’s Prize for Fiction or the Orange Prize?

Which crime writer almost won the Grand National on “Devon Loch”?

I’m sure I wouldn’t be able to catch out any reviewsrevues.com readers with those two…….

Onto my books read.  The top line (flower sticker) was for a book I found in the teenage/young adult section of the library.  This one was also recommended to me.  Patrick Ness’ The Knife Of Never Letting Go – the first part in his Chaos Walking trilogy (could also have been “first in a series” but I had another one lined up for that).  Reginald Hill’s “A Clubbable Woman” is the first in the Dalziel and Pascoe series.  You may recall I had reservations about this particular title but readers have been urging me on, it seems I have just touched on one of the great British crime writers.  FictionFan kindly wished that;  “I hope you get as much enjoyment from the series as it has given me over many decades and many re-reads…”This book got me the flower sticker on the third row.

The tulip (?) on the second row covers an author whose names begin with consecutive letters.  We allow this to go in either direction so Charlotte Bronte is as valid as Charles Dickens (but not Jane Austen).  Feels like a literary party game when I describe it like this. Rupert Smith was my preferred author here and I read his “Man’s World.”

The piggy sticker covers “With a family member in the title”.  Perfect for this would be a couple of titles by David Walliams.  I chose “Awful Auntie.”  (Gangsta Granny would have done just as well, but someone had already borrowed that from the library).  Lastly I had to have a book lent to me by someone so thank you to my friend Penny for passing on her copy of Robert Seethaler’s “The Tobacconist“.

I felt more confident about finishing yesterday but I can see I am going to be distracted by the announcement today of the Man Booker Longlist – of which I have read just one, “Swing Time” by Zadie Smith.  Unfortunately none of the longlisted titles have five words or more in the title, nor can be found in the library’s saga section nor are they poetry and almost certainly all longer than 200 pages.  I suppose if I researched them a little more I might discover that at least one is set before 1700, but I already had something lined up for that category.

So seven squares down this month and six to go before the closing date…………….

 

Book Bingo – A monthly update

It’s already month number three on my local community library’s Book Bingo fund-raiser and I feel that I’m just pootling along a little and will need to crank up to a higher gear if I’m going to finish within the next couple of months.  It’s not that I’m not reading, it’s just that what I’m reading for review purposes does not always fit in with the categories on my Bingo card.  I’m not griping because I love having a stack of books to read!  (Publishers take note!!)

Last month my Bingo card looked like this:

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And this month

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So let’s see what is newly covered………..

On the top line to get the bunny I had to purchase a book from the local charity shop.  That was certainly no hardship with a local hospice charity shop, The Earl Mountbatten charity shop having a good selection of books at three for £1.  From this I purchased Michael Crichton’s “Next” alongside two other books which will sit on my shelves for  a while longer.  I’ve had to stop buying books from this particular shop as sometimes I can come out with 6 or 9 so it was great to have the opportunity to go back in there and put my book-buying to a worthy cause.

Underneath the bunny sticker there’s “written under a pseudonym” and one of the most famous pseudonyms of the last few years helped out here.  When JK Rowling began writing as Robert Galbraith I bet she never dreamed that one day she would help me get a dog sticker on a Book Bingo card, but she has with “The Silkworm“.

When I started reading this I had it lined up for the top left hand corner which needed a book with “an animal in the title” and then a copy of “The Mayfly” by James Hazel turned up on the doorstep, which meant I could use Robert Galbraith for other purposes and got me the chicken sticker.  I also answered a question this month which was on the author of “Black Beauty”- not going to catch me out with that one!

Right, concerted effort to get more stickers covered starts here but I’m lacking a little in confidence as I know that the books I have lined up will not help out.  I’m just going to have to read more…………shame………..!