How to Find Love in a Bookshop by Veronica Henry

bookshopIf you’ve ever watched the film Love Actually and enjoyed the multiple romantic story lines, then you will love How to Find Love in a Bookshop.  In this book, we learn the foundations of a little bookshop called Nightingale Books.  Julius Nightingale opened the shop in honor of a dream that he and his wife conceived, along with a little girl named Emilia.  Although Emilia grew up not knowing her mother, she inherited many skills and talents, as well as a love of books that both of her parents harbored.

As an adult, Emilia, due to unfortunate circumstances, returns to the little town of Peasebrook to take over the bookshop and help it thrive.  Although she struggles with the finances, she does her best to help whoever walks through to door to find something that will, in a small or big way, change their lives.  This is true with Thomasina, a talented chef, Jackson, a wearied man longing for his family, the kleptomaniac Bea, and Sarah, a heartbroken woman with secrets.  The bookshop acts as a haven to those who need to find comfort between the stacks with the scent of paper and coffee. 

The author takes the readers through some twists and turns, making us believe in the stereotypes, only to be pleasantly surprised by the outcome.  It is a book that contains real life events, not fairy tales or fantasy.  Love comes in many forms, and it is shown through the lives of the characters. 

I recommend getting a cup of tea and a blanket in a comfy place once you crack open this heartwarming read.

(Amanda Sanson, Central Library)

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Loving Day by Mat Johnson

Middling comics illustrator Warren Duffy comes back home to Philadelphia from aloving day messy divorce in Wales to take on a decrepid mansion that he inherited from his father, and finds that there is more waiting for him back in the states than just a house.

Warren is close to broke, and so for exposure is happy to man a table at a comic book convention.  At the convention, his perceptions of race are questioned by Sunita Habersham, a striking woman who works for the Mélange Center, an organization with a focus on biracial people.  Warren, who has always considered himself black, albeit the son of a black mother and a white father, is at first put off by her militancy, but is also attracted to Sun.

There are bigger things afoot, such as Warren’s unknown daughter, who was the product of a teenage fling with a Jewish girl.  Now a teenager herself, Tal is artsy and smart and too much for her maternal grandfather.  So Warren has to learn how to be Dad – well, fast.

Warren wants his daughter to finish high school.  Fate brings both to the Mélange Center, which operates a charter school of sorts from a collection of trailers set up illegally in a public park.  There Tal thrives and changes all too quickly for her newly found father, who views the Center as verging on a cult, but is still happy to pick up employment there as an art instructor.

When the authorities eventually crack down on the Mélange Center, the group sets up on Warren’s property, and his plans for a future are flung to the far corners of sanity.

Loving Day is a funny, sprawling satire on race and family that asks uncomfortable questions and laughs at itself at the same time.  The character of Warren is kind of a loser, but not.  He has done some idiotic things as an earlier self, but tries valiantly to catch up to fatherhood, to accepting what he is, and to making amends for past deeds.  He’s not entirely sympathetic, but you want him to succeed.

There’s lots of historical tidbits thrown in, including references to Malaga Island in Maine, and the origin of Loving Day itself.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

 

 

That Month in Tuscany by Inglath Cooper

That Month in TuscanyAny book that allows the reader to travel into foreign and faraway places with the main character is always a good choice.  One that lets you fall in love with a rock star as well?  Sure!

That is just what happens to thirty-eight year old Lizzy Harper when she decides to take her 20th anniversary trip to Italy, sans her estranged lawyer husband.  She had planned to spend the month exploring Florence and Rome with her husband to rekindle the love they once had, but decides to go on her own as a means of finding the woman she once was, as well as finding the passion she had for photography.  In the process, she lands into the lap (literally) of Ren Sawyer, the lead vocalist of her daughter’s favorite band, Temporal.  Lizzy soon discovers that Ren, in a strange turn of events, finds a sense of relief from a darkness he harbors within him when he is with her.  The quiet, leisurely vacation she had envisioned is turned upside down when she runs away with Ren through the hills of Italy, hiding from her husband, and trying to mend the heartbreak she and Ren both have.

Personally, I recommend this book because of the tour guide level descriptions of the places that Lizzy visits in Rome.  The author leads her readers by the hand into the cafés, delighting us with the aromas of the wine and cuisine that Lizzy enjoys, as well as well-written descriptions of the views she is fortunate to see through the lens of her camera.  Cooper’s multiple narrative writing style allows the reader to understand the feelings and motives of each main character, from Lizzy, to her husband Ty, to Ren, and even their daughter Kylie.

That Month in Tuscany is a heartwarming read that has its heavy moments, but at the end left me feeling happy at the resolution, and the happiness that Lizzy eventually discovers.

(Amanda Sanson, Central Library)

 

Maggie & Me : Coming Out and Coming of Age in 1980s Scotland by Damian Barr

Revisit the Thatcher years as seen from the eyes of a working class teenager from a smallMaggie & Me town near Glasgow.

In 1984, eight year old Damian views Margaret Thatcher’s televised iconic survival from a bombing on the first night he is living in a stranger’s apartment after his parents split up.

The stranger is his mother’s new boyfriend, who turns out to be highly abusive to Damian and his sister.  It doesn’t help that his mother soon has another child with her boyfriend, and shortly after is hospitalized with a brain hemorrhage.  When his mom comes back home, they eventually leave the abusive boyfriend, but the next living arrangement is far from ideal.

His father still has his children every other weekend, and Damian is remains close to his dad, even though the dad’s girlfriend is a piece of work and tends to dominate things when the kids visit.

Growing up with his peers is not easy.  Damien is always the tallest and geekiest in his class.  He also knows early on that he is gay, and gets a lot of flack from the other kids for it.  He also meets some lasting friends and understanding teachers, finds that he’s good at most academics (math excepted), and has a life amidst the squalor that makes up home.

Damien comes to terms with Margaret Thatcher in his own fashion, alternatively seeing her as enemy or motivator.  That’s one of the things I liked about the book.  He has his issues with Thatcher, being from a working class environment, but doesn’t completely vilify her.  As a slight nod to the Iron Lady, each chapter begins with a Thatcher quote to set the tone.

While Margaret Thatcher’s era is the framework for Maggie & Me, the story is all Damian’s, and he renders his teenage years vividly.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

 

 

Northland : A 4,000-Mile Journey along America’s Forgotten Border by Porter Fox

northlandOur border with Canada is lengthy, and largely not thought of.  As news items go, the border with our southern neighbor gets all the press.  So it’s a shame that our longest frontier is little known.

In Northland, the author mixes history lessons and a grand tour by a variety of methods to enlighten the reader on the amazing variety of peoples and geography of the north.  He begins his journey in Maine, which he dubs “The Dawnland,” where he largely explores the region by boat.  He starts at the farthest eastern point of Maine, and then canoes the interior lakes between the United States and Canada.

In the Sweet -Water Seas section, Fox abandons his beloved canoe to traverse the Great Lakes area by cargo freighter.  This was for me the most interesting part of the book.  During his time on the freighter, the author gets to know the salty types who make a living hauling cargo.  They have rough jobs, made harder from tedium and days on end of trekking the Great Lakes.

In Boundary Waters, Fox explores the vast network of lakes in northern Minnesota, usually by canoe and often guided by locals.  In this part, he marvels at the sheer remoteness of the region, but yet how quickly the modern world intrudes.  A cell phone signal, the sound of a car door, the ordering of a pizza after days of canoe travel and camping – all of these are welcome but jarring after the solitude of the north country.

In the Seven Fires section, history and current events take center stage, specifically the recent Standing Rock protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline.  Fox meets some key figures of the protests there and provides an overview of the Native American tribes that have called the Great Plains home for hundreds of years.

In the final section “The Medicine Line,” Fox ends his journey in the Pacific Northwest.  Even though most of this stretch of boundary is straight along the forty-ninth parallel, mapping and maintaining this part has been difficult, considering the terrain, which is largely mountainous.

Northland is a far-reaching observation of a boundary countries that takes into account a fascinating history, environmental issues, and the immense task of maintaining a border that has been contentious in the past and still an ordeal to patrol today.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

 

The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan

The Bookshop on the Corner is centered around an introverted librarian named Nina bookshop on the cornerRedmond, who has found out some awful news – her library is closing down.  Nina, described by her friends and coworkers as timid, is an avid reader, and great at suggesting novels for even the pickiest of readers.  However, she doesn’t feel like there is a place for her passions in this world centered around technology and television.

In an impulsive act after losing the only job she has ever truly felt at home in, she decides that she wants to have a bookstore where she can share her love of literature with others.  She even finds a van that fits everything she would need in a bookshop on wheels.  The downside is she has to travel from Birmingham, UK to a small town called Kirrinfief, Scotland.

Through a spontaneous move from her cozy life in Birmingham to this small town, a midnight romance with a foreign train driver, a reserved young girl’s interest in books, and a stoic but interesting grumpy landlord farmer, Nina blooms into the an outgoing woman living her dream in a mobile bookshop.

If you are a fan of books like Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen or Love & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch, then I highly recommend reading this selection!  The author has a way of writing that makes you feel as if you are there with her character, feeling the way the character does and traveling along with her.

(Amanda Sanson, Central Library)

Blue Like Jazz : Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality by Donald Miller

blue like jazzMany years ago, while I was a part of a Bible study group, the leader of the group gave all of us a copy of Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller.  Apparently, he was so smitten with the book that he wanted all of us to read it.  I actually read it and fell in love with  Miller’s unconventional journey in his Christian faith.  I wanted an adventure like him too, and to be able to tell the tale in an authentic voice.

After more than ten years of reading the book, with notes scribbled all over the pages and margins, I am revisiting it for a review.  Why did I like Blue Like Jazz so much?  It was refreshing to me after reading many books on Christianity.  Some Christian books feel like books of advice to me, but this one has a narrative, a story to tell, from a different and other perspective.  It has moments that everyone could relate to, for instance:

Believing in God is as much like falling in love as it is making a decision.  Love is both something that happens to you and something you decide upon.

Now that is something I can relate to, much more than an interpretation on Scripture that another book might do instead.  I am not saying that those types of books are bad and irrelevant –  just that someone young and open like me will most likely appreciate Miller’s open and poignant faith journey more.

However, I do not think Blue Like Jazz is a perfect book, as a review from Challies.com stated that “the great failing of this book is the author’s belief that Christianity is a feeling, and is not something that can be rationally explained or understood.”  I believe it may be best to take this book as one man’s experience with Christianity, not the gospel truth, and get the best out of the book with that in mind.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book as a memoir; it inspires me to attempt to write my own.

(Stella Oh, Benjamin Branch Library)