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Reviews of The Last Library by Freya Sampson, Hide by Nell Pattison, Trick or Treat by Katerina Diamond and The Christmas Bookshop by Jenny Colgan

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Janet Gordon, who lives in Takeley, reviews best-sellers and debut fiction for the Indie...

I wonder why it is that when councils decide on cost-cutting exercises, the libraries and public loos are always first in the firing line.

I guess those officials deciding on stuff do so from the security of their lovely warm offices with coffee on tap, an always-open loo down the corridor and the knowledge that they've made the decision for "the good of the community".

Never mind us getting-older folk, for whom a library is a sanctuary and a loo a necessity. And I wonder why most libraries don't even have a loo for customers.

I can remember one particular library, hell bent on modernising, which installed a coffee bar for patrons. A great idea one would think, but coffee and cake normally means, coffee, cake and a wee. With no toilets available, patrons would wander off to "proper" coffee shops with all the facilities and the library coffee bar closed quite quickly.

I also remember, as a child, the thrill of being taken to the library once or twice a week. The joy in being allowed access to a world of books that I could just take home and read, or sit in a library corner and dip into.

In fact, when my dad bought the complete set of Encyclopaedia Britannica, I was fascinated by and glued to the full-colour page detailing toadstools.

The Last Library by Freya Sampson (Zaffre £14.99)

June is exactly what I used to imagine a library assistant to be. Quiet, self-effacing and blending into the background, only coming to life when asked to recommend a new book to read, whilst happily stamping the return date into your latest borrowing.

Not that library books get stamped any more, so how on earth do you remember when they're due back? My fines alone could keep a library open on its own. But I digress.

June has been working in the library forever and knows all the regulars and their foibles. She is desperately trying to live up to the village's image of her mum who, before her death, was the library. But June is more than quiet and self-effacing – she's positively terrified by the thought of opening her mouth in public, scared of any kind of change.

In fact, the house that she lived in with her beloved mum is still exactly the same years later, crammed with all the bric-a-brac they used to forage for quite happily. Crammed too with beloved read and re-read books, nothing has changed.

June gets up, goes to the library, goes home, eats her ready meal for one and goes to bed. Even Alan Bennett, her mum's cat, doesn't feel the need to change anything.

The Last Library by Freya Sampson ( Zaffre £14.99) (53152172)
The Last Library by Freya Sampson ( Zaffre £14.99) (53152172)

However, life has a way of changing whether you like it or not, and when Marjorie, who fancies herself as head of the library, announces there is to be a public consultation regarding the closure of Chalcot Library, June is totally devastated.

She is so scared of the future and of having to speak out in public that when her beloved regulars demand her help in fighting the closure, June causes massive upset by creeping away home to bed.

Does June manage to get up her courage and fight against the closure? Well of course she does, but it's the way in which she does and what exactly she gets up to that makes this such a wonderfully heart-warming debut novel.

No onto two chilling whodunits.

Hide by Nell Pattison (Avon £7.99, out December 9)

As December draws on and dark time begins earlier and earlier, the thought of a five-mile Boxing Day hike out into the wilds of a nature reserve so a group of disparate people can watch the murmuration of starlings just before dusk is something I just wouldn't undertake.

However this group do set off on the hike, including Lauren, notional head of the group, and her sister Emily, who is profoundly deaf and who wears cochlear implants.

What follows next is horrible and completely frightening. I was scaring myself silly as the plots and twists of this Boxing Day hike unfolded – and I was safely tucked up in bed!

I can only think that author Nell Pattison, who as a teacher taught deaf education and who began losing her hearing in her 20s, has actually wandered around a nature reserve late at night, such is the authenticity of her writing.

All I can say is if half of what goes on at night is even vaguely true, there's no way I'll even set foot in one. Very scary.

Hide by Nell Pattison (Avon £7.99, out December 9) (53152174)
Hide by Nell Pattison (Avon £7.99, out December 9) (53152174)

Trick or Treat by Katerina Diamond (Avon Books £7.99)

When a young lad is dumped by his rich girlfriend, he vows revenge. Knowing said girlfriend is safely on holiday with her parents, he breaks in via the back window and goes upstairs to see just how he can wreak vengeance.

But it's Hallowe'en and what he spots as he peers out of the bedroom window scares him so much that he makes an anonymous call to the police.

Because of the call, detective Imogen Grey calls at the house, only to be told that six-year-old Marcus is fine and it is all a mistake.

Somehow Imogen doesn't agree and eventually persuades the mother to admit that Marcus has disappeared whilst riding his bike outside. And then there's a ransom call.

A tightly written, fast-paced chiller of a read.

Trick or Treat by Katerina Diamond (Avon Books £7.99) (53152170)
Trick or Treat by Katerina Diamond (Avon Books £7.99) (53152170)

The Christmas Bookshop by Jenny Colgan (Sphere Books £14.99)

Somehow I seem to have never read a book by Jenny Colgan before. I can't think how I've missed this author, but, having read her latest, The Christmas Bookshop, I'm going to make up for lost time.

Carmen is happily, or unhappily, working at Dounston's, her local department store, whilst her glamorous sister Sofia, along with her husband and three children, live the high life in Edinburgh.

Not only does Sofia live a magazine-style lifestyle, have high-flying clients and a jet-set husband, she is also pregnant with her fourth child.

Dounston's has been threatened with closure for months. When, a few weeks before Christmas, the inevitable happens, Carmen finds it almost impossible to get another job and spends her enforced time at home moping and railing against fate.

Sofia, who has never managed to make friends with Carmen, nevertheless comes up with a plan to help both Carmen and a client - persuading Carmen that she should go up to Edinburgh, stay with her and turn around the fortunes of McCredie's bookshop.

The bookshop is also threatened with closure as old Mr McCredie has never turned a profit, has no idea how to bring the shop into the current age and seems to live in a hole in the wall at the back of the shop.

Poor Mr McCredie, who wants nothing more than to be left in peace to read his beloved books, has lost all his family estates and money by the simple art of doing nothing.

Jenny Colgan's descriptions of Edinburgh - with its upper and lower streets, it's higgledy-piggledy flights of stairs, Christmas lights and the way its castle suddenly appears - are absolutely lyrical and made me want to book the night sleeper and hot foot it up to Edinburgh post haste.

There's a magical feel to this novel, one that makes you delight in Christmas magic, love and goodwill. It's a simply wonderful read - descriptive and full of humour, fun and pathos.

The Christmas Bookshop by Jenny Colgan (Sphere Books £14.99) (53152176)
The Christmas Bookshop by Jenny Colgan (Sphere Books £14.99) (53152176)

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