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Ask a Bookseller: Sally from Far From the Madding Crowd

Bookshops are the very best places to go for book recommendations – and booksellers are the friendliest, most knowledgeable of readers!

Sally from Far From the Madding Crowd in Linlithgow has joined us to answer your questions and share her favourite picks.

Want a recommendation of your own? Submit a question for our guest booksellers and if it's answered, we'll send you a £15/€20 National Book Token to spend in your local bookshop.

Sally from Far From the Madding Crowd

What makes Far From the Madding Crowd a great place to visit?

"Far From The Madding Crowd is a fantastic bookshop to visit, whether you've got time to browse or are just popping in to pick up a quick read. We're open seven days a week, and our small team of dedicated staff are always on hand to help customers find the perfect book. Upstairs you’ll find our general bookshop, as well as our specialist Scottish section, a good range of OS maps and guides, as well as a personally curated selection of the best nature and travel memoirs, classics, translated fiction, gardening, cookery, music, history and the latest titles we're excited about.

Downstairs is dedicated to children's books, toys and pocket money corner. We have literally thousands of titles from first books to YA. There are baskets of themed picture books on the floor, so they're at a level little people find comfortable to look through, plus we have a huge range of first experiences, early readers, independent readers, reference books, classics and popular series.

Earlier this year, we launched our Fresh Fiction section, which is where you'll find Alice Oseman, Colleen Hoover, Adam Silvera and more – it’s proved a huge hit with older teens and students.

And we run a varied events programme which includes a weekly storytelling session with guinea pigs – who doesn't love a guinea pig? 

And finally of course, we sell and accept National Book Tokens: the best present you can give or receive!" Sally

What book(s) would you recommend for someone who is a fan of John le Carré's novels? – Rachel

I'm a huge fan of John le Carré and I don't believe anyone will ever beat his mastery of storytelling, but there are a few who come close fortunately! Graham Greene's novels and short stories are classics, Brighton Rock, Our Man in Havana and The Third Man are great, but if you're looking for something that packs a real punch, I'd go for The Power and the Glory, or The End of the Affair (tissues required for this one).

Mick Herron is hard to beat for a contemporary spy series – they've got real humour as well as subterfuge and Jackson Lamb is a character who'll stay with you long after you've finished the book, though he's probably not someone you'd like to go for a curry with.

Fiona Erskine is someone I always like to recommend – she's the author behind the Jaq Silver novels, a female James Bond character who takes no prisoners and is very good on skis, they're a real hoot. Finally, I'd go for Philip Kerr's Bernie Gunther series. It spans decades and much of Europe, and tackles many of the deeply human themes that make le Carré's work stand above the rest.

Brighton Rock by Graham Greene

What are the best new Scottish crime books? – Becky

This is such a difficult question to answer as there are LOADS of great new Scottish crime books out at the moment!

For summer reading, you can't beat Lin Anderson's standalone The Party House, or Chris Brookmyre's latest Cliff House – very Agatha Christie. There's also a crime debut from Janey Godley, Nothing Left Unsaid, which is well worth a read.

I'm a huge fan of Robbie Morrison's Edge of the Grave set in 1930s Glasgow, it serves as a brilliant bridge between McIlvanney's Docherty and his Laidlaw series – I can't wait for the second in the series which is set for release next year.

JD Kirk's DCI Logan series is selling really well for us at the moment, as are Marsali Taylor's Shetland-set crime novels – filling a lovely Ann Cleeves shaped hole!

The Party House by Lin Anderson

Can you recommend a rip roaring, unputdownable book for a 10 year old who loves puzzles, comics, and mysteries? – Joanne

I love the Adventures on Trains series by MG Leonard and Sam Sedgwick, and illustrated by Elsa Paganelli – a young mystery solving duo travelling the world on different iconic trains, they're great fun! There's also the Eerie-On-Sea series by Thomas Taylor which is the perfect blend of mystery and magic – and there's a bookshop, which always wins with me! There's a new series, STEALTH by Jason Rohan which is perfect for Alex Rider fans and is definitely high octane, and for the comic side Jamie Smart's Bunny vs Monkey series is hard to beat; it started as a weekly strip in the Phoenix comics – their other bind-ups such as Corpse Talk are also worth a look.

The Highland Falcon Thief by MG Leonard & Sam Sedgman

I like a book that teaches me something but sometimes find just reading about a subject a little 'dry'; I really enjoy fiction that is rooted in history (Victoria Hislop's books The Sunrise and The Island really hit the spot for me) or serious information written in a lighter, humorous style (Bill Bryson is a favourite of mine). Can you recommend something to get my teeth into that would fit the bill, keeping me engaged but widening my experience? – Georgina

A few authors immediately spring to mind here, the first is Kate Mosse – her recent French novels, The Burning Chambers and then City of Tears are epic in scope and packed full of drama, set against the backdrop of the French Religious Wars.

There's also Lucinda Riley's Seven Sisters series which spans the globe and decades of history. I also really enjoy Abir Mukherjee's Wyndham and Banerjee series, set in India towards the end of the Raj, and DV Bishop's Cesare Aldo mysteries, set in Renaissance Florence.

For non-fiction, Robin Ince's The Importance of Being Interested ticked all of my Bill Bryson boxes. I also enjoyed Ben Aitken's Gran Tour which is very funny, as well as being a great travelogue of how Britain has changed. And I really like Roger Morgan-Grenville's writing – he tackles subjects as diverse as bee-keeping and manx shearwaters with a light touch.

The Burning Chambers by Kate Mosse

What can I read to cheer myself up during a nasty bout of COVID? – Carole

I absolutely love the Emmy Lake Chronicles by AJ Pearce: Dear Mrs Bird and Yours Cheerfully. Set in London during the Blitz, the hapless Emmy thinks she's landed a job as a foreign correspondent, only to discover she's become an agony aunt for a woman's magazine. She makes the best of it however and her adventures will warm anyone's cockles. These books are well-researched and have tons of heart, definitely a tonic when you're feeling yuck! The other series that can't fail to raise a smile is Julia Chapman's Dales Mysteries – cosy crime at its absolute best, and there's a Weimaraner. Not enough books have Weimaraners. Finally, I loved The Whalebone Theatre earlier this year, an immensely satisfying debut by Joanna Quinn which I didn't want to end!

Dear Mrs Bird by AJ Pearce

What book do you recommend that you are you surprised has not been more popular? – Kate

I love this question because for about two years, the answer was Normal People! It had been a firm staff favourite which we all raved about and handsold as much as we could, but I wouldn't say it was a bestseller with us until the TV series came out. I'm a huge fan of Tove Jansson's writing for adults. The Summer Book is popular, but I think the lesser known The True Deceiver is my favourite, so I always recommend that. One of my all-time favourite authors is Agnes Owens, her short stories and novellas are so real and true, I defy anyone not to be blown away – seek them out! 

The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson


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