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)

 

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)

What My Body Remembers by Agnete Friis

A young mother with PTSD symptoms comes to terms with past memories when shewhat my body remembers revisits the town in coastal Denmark where she witnessed her father kill her mother.

Ella is a real mess of a person.  She’s on the governmental dole and lives in a slummy project in Copenhagen.  Highly anti-social and prone to brutal panic attacks that render her laid-up, Ella drinks her demons away and tries to provide a home life for her eleven year old son Alex, who is basically all she has.  Social service does not look kindly on Ella’s lifestyle, and places Alex in a foster home during one of her more lengthy panic attacks.

With one last-ditch idea, Ella takes her son from foster care with the intent of going to live in her grandmother’s vacated home on the coast of northern Jutland.  As her finances are limited (her government check is a pittance), the promise of free lodging, however ramshackle, is a good thing.

The seaside setting is a real boon to Alex – he easily makes friends with the surfers that frequent the beaches there.  Companionship also comes to Ella in the person of Barbara, a strange but affable woman who moves herself in and “helps” Ella – mainly with the acquisition of alcohol.  There’s also Thomas, a well-meaning young man in the neighborhood who remembers Ella as a childhood friend.  She does not, or cannot, reciprocate.

After a few run ins with an older man who insists Ella visit her grandmother, Ella does eventually, and starts to take a real interest in the events that led up to her mother’s death.  Her grandmother insists that Ella’s father was innocent.  Ella doesn’t believe her at first, but as she doesn’t remember much of anything previous to the night of her mother’s murder, what really happened is open to speculation.

What My Body Remembers features a main character that is unreliable, snarly, and not really sympathetic.  Ella is all too human, somebody who witnessed something horrific in childhood, so much that she hasn’t had a life since.  As unlikable as she is, she’s also pitiful.  Nobody really wants anything to do with her, and her attitude doesn’t help her.  However, there’s still room for redemption here, and you want to root for Ella even as you might grit your teeth at the things she does.

Ella reminds me of Libby Day, the main character of Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places, who also goes through a similar childhood trauma, and as an adult, is not particularly appealing.  Read both books if you like your protagonists raw and damaged.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

Presidio by Randy Kennedy

presidioTroy Falconer is an habitual car thief.  What was once a profession for him is now a lifestyle, with Troy relieving a succession of hapless auto owners in the early 1970s Texas panhandle.  His places of business are the motels and motor courts of the area, where Troy revels in the lack of possessions; the only things sustaining him are the air-conditioned motel rooms and the identities of his victims, that are oh-so-easily transferred and discarded.  He owns nothing, and likes it.

Troy explains himself and his background in a series of italicized journal entries interspersed throughout the narrative.  He elaborates on his choice of lifestyle and his growing up years with his younger brother Harlan, who couldn’t be more different from Troy.

It takes some time to figure out where the narrative is going, as we’re not really sure why Troy has hovered over this corner of Texas so diligently.  You’d figure, as a semi-wanted man, that he’d move around more.  But Troy has his reasons, and in his years lifting more lucrative models for others, he’s learned things about covering up tracks.

As Presidio clicks along, you’ll find that Harlan has had some problems with marriage – namely that of a disappearing wife with a tidy sum of money.   And Troy has been hovering to pick the right time to help his brother, but it’ll require Harlan to travel, a hard proposition for someone who has never moved from their hometown.  They’ll also have to rotate through a few car model changes, and encounter an unknown passenger in the person of a young Mennonite girl, who sees her accidental kidnapping as a way of getting back to her father, from whom she was taken when he was jailed by authorities across the border.

Presidio is a well-written, slow simmer of a book.  You have to immerse yourself in the descriptions and the broad expanse of Texas, but the landscape comes alive in its own time and manner, and becomes almost a character in itself.  Plus, the interactions between the two brothers is hilarious and Martha Zacharias, the stowaway/kidnapped child, who more than holds her own against her reluctant detainers.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

 

Allie and Bea by Catherine Ryan Hyde

Of late, widowhood has not been kind to Bea.  She’s been coasting on her modest Socialallie and bea Security check and a dwindling savings account.  Then Bea is scammed by a purported IRS caller who cleans her last savings out; she has nothing else other than her cat, an aged van, and her favorite recliner, and she heads up the California coast for some scamming of her own.

To her credit, one can’t call Bea greedy.  Her lifestyle, bare-boned to begin with, becomes even more basic; she learns the joys of rest area sponge baths, cheap meals, and the occasional hocking of stolen cell phones.

Allie is a privileged teenager.  She doesn’t lack for much, but I wouldn’t call her completely spoiled.  She has some amazing convictions for someone of fifteen years, but her outlook is still cushioned by her parents’ income.

Her idyllic life comes an abrupt end when tax fraud charges are brought on both her parents, and Social Services places Allie in a group home.  This doesn’t work out too well, as her roommate is the home’s tough girl who threatens Allie.  Allie leaves with another girl, but this gets her in even worse straits – bad enough to run in front of Bea’s aged van.

So begins an unlikely friendship of sorts.

At first, they don’t like each other very much.  Bea, barely hanging on until her next Social Security check (wisely started in a different account), sees Allie as another hindrance.  Allie views Bea as stodgy and calls her out for her petty scams.  As the two gradually work out an alliance, the charms of the west coast work their magic and they finally meet some genuinely kind people.  The trip changes them both – Bea gets to be more open-minded, and Allie, mature to a point, learns the finer points of patience and resourcefulness.

Allie and Bea looked to fall in the “Sweet Little Book” category, but the author holds back on the sentimentality.  Her approach to character development is quiet and gradual, and as such, the narrative takes a little awhile to get moving, but move it does, and you will cheer on the two with each new curve of the road.

Would I recommend Allie and Bea?  Yes!  For those who like books about hard knocks and hard travelling, cross-generational communications, and the fabulous coastal highways out west, keep reading.  The book is a fairly quick read (excellent for a beach vacation) and is feel-good without being syrupy.

(William Hicks, Information Services)