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Ask a Bookseller: Jo from Red Lion Books

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

Jo from Red Lion Books in Colchester 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.

Jo Caldwell at Red Lion Books

What makes Red Lion Books a great place to visit?

"Our bookshop is a good bookshop because of the people, and by that I mean the staff who curate the shelves and the customers and who browse them." Jo

I love really funny books – proper laugh-out-loud stories like PG Wodehouse and early Sue Townsend (before it all got a bit tragic for Adrian Mole). However, I find genuinely humorous books hard to find. Please can you help me find some cheerful reads? – Kate

Yes Kate, I also think humorous books are hard to find but when they come along they are like precious gems aren’t they? The best fitting recommendation I can give, to suit your remit, has to be Reasons to be Cheerful by Nina Stibbe... for the title alone it deserves to be picked up! Stibbe is a joyful and comedic writer who is often regarded as the natural heir to Sue Townsend. If you want to try something darker, with a wry rather than cheerful wit, may I suggest French Exit by Patrick de Witt. If this venture proves too dark, then head back to some short and razor sharp essays from Caitlin Moran. Moranifesto is a non-fiction collection of her imitable writing style and will guarantee laughter – my cheeks hurt from her describing malfunctioning printers. Yes, really!

Reasons to be Cheerful by Nina Stibbe

I've been really busy at school lately and after studying, my concentration's a bit down, so I'm having trouble getting really hooked on a book. Any really gripping books to recommend that you can lose yourself in? – Sinead

Hi Sinead, I'm not sure how old you are but I'm going to go straight in with a book called Showstopper by Hayley Barker. I have recommended this to children as young as Year 6 through to late teens. It has a gorgeous cover, which will grab your attention and entice you in. It also has really short chapters, which are appealing when you are short on concentration. It's a thrilling story, so I'm confident you will want to keep turning the pages. It's fast paced and it’s a good story at showing good people on the 'bad' side and bad people on the 'good' side. This recommendation comes with a warning: You WILL want to buy the follow-up, Show Stealer.

Show Stopper by Hayley Barker

I want my son to love all the same books I loved as a child, but how can I encourage him without being pushy? – Jamila

Hi Jamila, you're not being pushy – you are being passionate! However... asking him to read the books you loved as a child is one thing but asking him to love them is another and comes with no guarantee. If you want him to have a genuine and lifelong love for reading, you can only give him the tools and trust that he will use them to make good choices. This means allowing him to make mistakes along the way as well. Of course, you should offer the books you loved but bear in mind some of the classics may feel dated to him (not to mention racist and sexist!). Perhaps you could reverse your wish and let him suggest books to you and find a shared love that way. Let him find his own reading habits in the knowledge that as he matures he will value your opinion... eventually! Mothers always know best after all.

Ask a Bookseller

I’ve just started reading crime and murder mystery novels, but I’m finding that they often have predictable endings. Can you recommend any that keep the reader surprised throughout? – Jess

Hello Jess. I'm the same and it can be very frustrating. I can, however, recommend one that is highly original and that is The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton. It is a closed room murder like no other. Only one person, Aiden, can solve the case and reminiscent of the film Groundhog Day, he has to keep repeating the day of the murder except for each time the day begins again, he wakes in the body of a different houseguest. Complex, intelligent and not in the least bit predictable. You need to keep concentrating until the end.

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

I really want to read more international fiction and am interested to try something by Murakami, but I don’t know where to start! Can you recommend a good one to try first? – Rebecca

Norwegian Wood is the classic one so perhaps you could start there? The first one I read was South of the Border, West of the Sun but the one I want to read is The Wind Up Bird Chronicle – I have seen customers' eyes light up when they talk about it. My tip would be to decide if you want a long or a short read – this will help narrow it down because Murakami seems to have two types of book: HUGE and SHORT! Going into a bookshop enables you to get a literal feel for a book if weight is an issue!

Norwegian Wood by Murakami

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