Newsletter

6 independent booksellers recommend this summer’s page-turners

— by Helen Johnson


 

Last week was independent bookshop week; a campaign which celebrates indie bookshops nationwide and highlights the role that these stores play in their local communities. Hearteningly, the rise of online retailers hasn’t put a dent in the UK’s flourishing bricks-and-mortar book stores. According to the Booksellers Association, the number of independent bookshops has reached its highest point in ten years. Excellent news for a bibliophile like me, who enjoys nothing more than whiling away the hours browsing the shelves, savouring that ‘new paper smell’ and getting lost in the pages of a good book.

‘All hail independent bookshops, without which our bookshelves and our high streets would be so much the poorer,’ says acclaimed author Maggie O’Farrell. ‘Everyone who can, should visit their local bookshop, to celebrate these temples to reading, and perhaps discover something new to read.’ Taking her advice, we asked some of our favourite female bookshop owners, up and down the country, to share which titles they’ve recently enjoyed reading. Their recommendations for our summer reading include a tear-jerking tale about heart-break, an unputdownable thriller and a game-changing guide to the way we eat.

 

Sevenoaks bookshop. Image: Claire Pepper

 

Ink@84 is the love-child of author Betsy Tobin and artist Tessa Shaw, who teamed up to open a bookstore in Highbury, North London, in 2015. The lively bookshop stocks an enticing collection of new releases and classics, including a wide range of small press titles. It doubles as a local cultural hub with bookclubs, literary events, film nights and writing workshops regularly taking place well into the evening. Betsy and Tessa from Ink@84 recommend:

Tessa recommends:

The Guest by Emma Cline (Fiction)
Follow-up to her cult hit The Girls, Emma Cline’s The Guest is an exploration of just how far a young woman can sink to keep herself alive. Seen through the prism of the super wealthy in Long Island, it follows the downward spiral of a young woman without conscience. Chilling and extremely readable. Has a strange ending I’m not quite sure about.

Birnam Wood by Eleanor Catton (Fiction)
Catton’s Birnam Wood is a beautifully written eco-thriller. Set in a wilderness in New Zealand it examines climate, how we choose to live, exceptional wealth (and its dangers) and the struggles to live in a counter culture. Pacy and scary, there is food-for-thought in this narrative-driven book.

Betsy recommends:

Yellowface by Rebecca F Kuang (Fiction)
Nicely pitched tale of literary rivalry that is part thriller, part satire, part ghost story. Kuang effectively skewers the publishing industry, dancing around the vexing issue of cultural appropriation, and perfectly capturing the envy that thrives like bacteria in writerly circles. Eminently readable, this is a novel to gulp in one sitting.

Ultra-Processed People by Chris Van Tulleken (Non-Fiction)
Doctor Van Tulleken does a deep dive into the underbelly of the food industry to show us just how scary food can be – making a guinea-pig of himself and jeopardising his own health in the process. He’s a born storyteller: Ultra-Processed People reads more like memoir than popular science. Yet its breezy tone takes a serious look at how industrial food giants have not only conquered our kitchens and shopping trolleys, but are systematically destroying both our health and the environments we live in – all in the name of profit. The verdict: rigorously interrogate the labels of what you buy and eat. This book might just save your life.

 

Edinburgh-based bookshop, Rare Birds Books, is dedicated to celebrating and promoting women’s writing in a way that shows respect for the craft and the reader. Founder Rachel Wood first launched the business as a book subscription service five years ago, then went on to open a thriving bookstore in 2021. Louisa Newbigging, from Rare Birds Books, recommends:

You Made a Fool of Death with your Beauty by Akwaeke Emezi (Fiction)
A sticky, sultry tale of grief and desire. A young artist, working through the ultimate heartbreak, finds herself falling for love in all the wrong places.

Bad Summer People by Emma Rosenblum (Fiction)
Every summer, Manhattan elites flee the city to enjoy the spoils of Fire Island. Two best friends hold court as their husbands bear grudges. Their best friend is looking to find her match, single or not. When a body is found on the beach, the fingers start to point at one another.

 

 

Both a bookstore and a publisher, Persephone Books in Bath publishes out-of-print women writers (mostly from the 19th and 20th centuries) that otherwise might have been lost to history. Founded by Nicola Beauman in 1999, the original concept was to re-print a handful of ‘lost’ novels, short stories, diaries, memoirs, poetry, gardening and cookery books every year. Its breakthrough title was Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson, which went on to become a successful film. Francesca Beauman from Persephone Books recommends:

One Afternoon by Siân James (Fiction)
Our latest release. A 1975 love story by Welsh writer Siân James who sadly died last year, this is a comfortable, easy read, ideal for (in Eva Ibbotson’s phrase) “highly intelligent women who have the flu”. The writing is phenomenal – perceptive and clever, marvellous about children, and path-breaking, for example when the heroine’s lover leaves her and she is pregnant, she has no qualms about bringing up a new baby as well as the three children she already has by her first husband.

High Wages by Dorothy Whipple (Fiction)
A 1930 novel set in Lancashire by our best-selling author Dorothy Whipple about a girl called Jane who gets a badly-paid job in a draper’s shop in the early twentieth century. Yet the title of the book is based on a Carlyle quotation – ‘Experience doth take dreadfully high wages, but she teacheth like none other’ – and Jane, having saved some money and been lent some by a friend, opens her own dress-shop. Fascinating about women in business and there’s a bit of romance in there too.

 

Named 2023’s Independent Bookshop Of The Year, Griffin Books is Penarth’s only independent bookshop (and the smallest shop ever to claim the top spot!) Founder Mel Tuke Griffin, took over the bookshop in 2014 after leaving a corporate career to follow her dream of running her own store. Griffin Books has a strong community focus and is well-known for its author events, book signings, story-time sessions and bookclubs for readers of all ages. Mel Tuke Griffin from Griffin Books recommends: 

Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng (Fiction)
This is a gripping and moving account of an alternative present USA where the Chinese-American community is targeted as a potential danger to ‘American values’. Twelve-year-old Bird’s mother, a Chinese American poet, has disappeared without trace and her books are banned. One day he receives a cryptic message from her in the form of a drawing. This leads him on a quest to uncover the truth of what happened to her and the reality of what is going on in the society around him.  The novel really left me thinking about how policies and laws ostensibly designed to protect us can so easily become warped and used to oppress – a warning for all supposedly civilised societies.

Consumed by Aja Barber (Non-Fiction)
The subtitle of this well argued attack on the fast fashion industry is The Need For Collective Change: Colonialism, Climate Change & Consumerism, and it certainly left me convinced of that need.  Inspired by the author’s own experience of working within the industry, the book clearly explains what’s wrong with the kind of consumerism we’re constantly encouraged to indulge in, its roots in colonialism, and what we can personally do to change things.  I put the book down determined to address my own behaviour and wanting to press it into others’ hands.

 

First opened in 1948, the Sevenoaks Bookshop is a black-owned, truly independent haven for book lovers of all ages run by Fleur Sinclair and her brilliant team. Stocking new books in every genre, together with a selection of true classics, the shop is a haven for bookworms of all ages. The dedicated team hosts regular book clubs, writers groups and author events hoping to create a lively hub on Sevenoaks High Street. Fleur Sinclair from Sevenoaks Bookshop recommends:


Trespasses by Louise Kennedy (Fiction)
An incredibly crafted novel of love against a fractured and dangerous backdrop. It will steal your heart, break it, and remind you to live as best as you can, embrace all that’s good, and keep your loved ones close.

Honey & Spice by Bolu Babalola (Fiction)
I enjoyed this so much. A satisfyingly traditional romance but with sparkling and wonderful contemporary characters. The dialogue is just so good. Quick-witted and razor sharp – perfectly articulated observations and comebacks we mortals can only dream of saying (hours, days, years later!). It really is a treat of a read.

(P.S If I were packing for a holiday I’d definitely like to include some classic summer reads, books that deserve to be read and re-read: Tove Jansson’s Summer Book, Benjamin Myer’s The Offing, Francois Sagan’s Bonjour Tristesse, Roger Deakin’s Waterlog)

 

 

Post a comment about what you’ve enjoyed reading recently and the bookshops that you love to visit. And don’t forget we have a brilliant online store set up with Bookshop (HERE) which supports independent bookshops in the UK.

Keep Reading

Shirt dresses to set you up for summer

  Last week was independent bookshop week; a campaign which celebrates indie bookshops nationwide and highlights the role that these stores play in their local communities. Hearteningly, the rise…