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Ask a Bookseller: Jack, Joe, Alice and Vanessa from The Portobello Bookshop

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

Jack, Joe, Alice and Vanessa from The Portobello Bookshop in Edinburgh have joined us to answer your questions and share their 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.

The Portobello Bookshop in Edinburgh

What makes The Portobello Bookshop a great place to visit?

"Our bookshop is by the seaside; the space is bright, airy and fully accessible. We’re a group of passionate booksellers who put a lot of love and time into curating our stock, arranging book displays and recommending our favourite books. We offer what we think is an original, exciting and diverse selection of books across most genres, from large publishers to small indie presses. You can pop by for a browse and settle in one of our cosy nooks, and we have a great children's section too (kids and families love our teepee!). Finally, we are dog-friendly! The bookshop is located on a buzzing high street a stone's throw from the promenade – Portobello is the perfect neighbourhood for a day excursion!" Alice

I would love to read a really good ghost story, but I don't want anything really gory. Can you recommend anything? – Trudi

Joe Hill (Stephen King's son) had a superbly atmospheric and genuinely creepy ghost story with his debut, Heart Shaped Box. I enjoy horror but rarely find tales which really scare me, and his depiction of a late night spectral encounter genuinely chilled me. You also can't go wrong with Shirley Jackson's classic The Haunting of Hill House, or a collection of M.R. James, whose short stories are one of the great fonts of British ghost stories and ideal for reading by the fireside on the darker nights. – Joe

Heart-shaped Box by Joe Hill

How do I get my husband to take the kids out so I can read all day? – Joanne

How to find time and space to read all day is the ultimate life dilemma. I'd recommend trying to get them all along to a great local bookshop, locating the nearest bookseller, and trying to find them all books that help them understand why you need some alone time to read. This way, which granted is a long shot, you won't have to come up with ways to have a little peace and alone time as they’ll all understand. Obviously also plaster A Room of One's Own all around the house for good measure. – Jack

Ask a Bookseller

I read a lot to my 7-year-old daughter. Can you recommend any up-and-coming authors that we could try? We read a wide variety of books, from classics (e.g. Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl) to David Walliams and Sophie Kinsella's Mummy Fairy and Me series, but I’m running out of ideas! – Melanie

Gabrielle Kent's Knights and Bikes and its follow-up The Rebel Bicycle Club are wonderfully funny and exciting. The adventures of best friends Nemelza and Nessa are sure to capture your daughter's (and your) imagination. I'd also recommend Marie Basting's debut, Princess BMX, perfect for ages 7+ and a joyful read that turns fairy tales upside down. These are bike-heavy recommendations – I hope your daughter is ready for the ride! – Alice

Nights and Bikes by Gabrielle Kent

After the passing of my Dad recently, I started to read to escape from the pain and hurt of losing someone close to my heart. It helped lift my spirits in the beginning – a way of escapism – but now after a few months, I am finding it hard to leave the house. Please help to motivate me back into reading and escaping this rut I have got into. – Nicki

Robert Macfarlane's work is a wonderful way to reconnect with the reality of our world, our countryside and our folk heritage. He doesn’t just describe the places he visits, he talks about the local folklore, he references songs, poetry and novels about those areas, illustrating how natural places echo in our shared culture. His poetic writing style will draw you back into experiencing natural beauty and inspire you to get out, walk and explore. - Joe

Underland by Robert Macfarlane

I love Terry Pratchett and could not wait for the next Discworld book every time I’d devoured the latest one. I miss how immersed I got in the stories and wondered if you had a recommendation for another series? – Donna

In terms of a very long fantasy series, I have recently started tackling Robin Hobb's novels, which come in sets of three or four, and are all set in chronological order within the same world, although they don't always have the same protagonists. A lot of fantasy lovers have assured me the quality remains excellent throughout. The first stop is Assassin's Apprentice! If you are willing to consider a (currently) shorter sci-fi series, I am absolutely obsessed with Becky Chamber's Wayfarers series. The world building is outstanding, and the characters are very well developed (and some of them are awesome aliens!) There are currently three books, but more are coming. Each novel can be read individually, although they are loosely linked. The first one is The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. – Vanessa

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

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