The Lost for Words Bookshop

by Stephanie Butland
First sentence: “A book is a match in the smoking second between strike and flame.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There is some off-screen sex, some difficult themes, and a lot of swearing, including multiple f-bombs. It’s in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

Loveday (pronounced love-DEE) Cardew works in a used bookshop, and would rather not deal with anyone she doesn’t have to. Archie, the owner, is okay — he’s been informally looking out for her since she walked into his office at 15 and tried to steal a book and he offered her a job instead — but everyone else? Loveday is fine on her own, thank you very much.

But then two things happen: Nathan, a magician and a poet, accidentally walks into Loveday’s life, and books from her past start appearing at the bookshop. These two things combined force Loveday to rethink her relationship to her past, as well as to others around her. And maybe — just maybe — it’s time for a change.

It’s rare for me to find an adult book I like, even rarer to find one that I find completely charming. But this one hit all my buttons: it’s basically about book-lovers, and it’s a smart love story with a depth to it. I adored Loveday and her gruffness; as her backstory unfolds, you understand why she is the way she is, and you feel for her. And I loved Archie; he was definitely a personality that takes up the room. It was populated with all sorts of characters I wanted to get to know and loved spending time with. I also liked the format; Butland titled sections “Poetry” and “History” and “Memoir” among others, and I thought it was clever and fitting in a book set in a bookshop.

In short: this one was incredibly sweet and I adored it.

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Words in Deep Blue

by Cath Crowley
First sentence: “I open my eyes at midnight to the sound of the ocean and my brother’s breathing.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: June 6, 2017
Content: There’s some inferences to sex, some teenage drinking (it’s legal in Australia) and some swearing (I don’t remember there being any f-bombs, but don’t quote me on that). It will be in the Teen (grades 9+) section of the bookstore.

Rachel realized, three years ago, that she was in love with her best friend, Henry. So, she told him, via a letter in his family’s bookstore’s “Letter Library” (the coolest idea ever: leaving notes in books for strangers and/or friends). He never responded, having eyes only for another girl. And then she moved to the coast, so she figured (even though he wrote) they were over.

But, three years later, Rachel’s younger brother has drowned, and neither Rachel nor her mother are dealing with it well. Rachel’s flunked out of Grade 12, and it seems like perhaps the best thing would be to go back to the city and live with her aunt Rose and figure out what the next step should be. She ends up working at Henry’s family’s bookstore, and comes back into Henry’s orbit, again. Rachel’s dealing with too much to get into a relationship right now. But being back with Henry is comfortable, and maybe Rachel can figure out how to heal from her brother’s death. And maybe, this time, it’ll be different with Henry.

I loved this book, mostly because it hit all my sweet spots. Summer romance, bookish characters, second chances at love. I thought Crowley managed both grief and the healing process realistically. And I loved the letters that were scattered throughout the book, how the characters used the books to communicate with each other. I liked that the grief gave it an edge, and I really liked how it resolved.

An excellent summer romance.

Voracious

voraciousby Cara Nicoletti
First sentence: “Growing up in a family of butchers and food lovers, I was surrounded by the sights and sounds and smells of cooking from an early age.”
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Content: There’s nothing. Hand it to anyone who loves books and food. It’s in the cooking reference section of the bookstore.

The premise of this book is simple: Nicoletti, who studied English and Latin in college but whose professional life has been as a chef (and currently a butcher), has a passion for food scenes in books.  This is something she’s always enjoyed in books, especially since she grew up in a house surrounded by both books and food. So, pairing them both — first a blog, and then in this book — is a natural thing for her.

The book itself is a series of short vignettes, each about a particular book, followed by a recipe that, for her, fits each book. It’s a delightful read; she writes about experiences in her life, about where she is when she reads each book, and about what the books mean to her. I haven’t read a lot of the books (especially as Nicoletti moves into her adult years), but it didn’t seem to matter. She doesn’t go through plots and she doesn’t make you feel on the outside if you haven’t read them. This is what these particular books mean to her, and hopefully, it will resonate with you. (It did me.) And the recipes sound delicious! From donuts and cakes to soups and blinis and caviar, it all sounds delicious, and I will probably get around to making at least a few of them (hopefully). Even if I don’t, I thoroughly enjoyed reading the recipes. (Is that just me?)

An excellent read for those of us who prefer a little food with our books.

The Little Paris Bookshop

by Nina George
First sentence: “How on earth could i have let them talk me into it?”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s a few sex scenes, mostly tasteful, though it gets somewhat crude once. There are also several instances of mild swearing. It’s in the adult section for thematic reasons.

Jean Perdu (which is French for lost) owns a small bookshop on a barge floating in the Seine in Paris. His specialty is figuring out what a person needs to read and then “prescribing” the Right Book for the malady. He calls his store the Literary Apothecary and has had some measure of success.

With everyone but himself.

His great love, Manon, left him 22 years ago, and Jean’s life has basically frozen since then. Sure, he’s lived — he’s in his 50s now — but he’s not Lived. And then he meets Catherine, and his life starts unthawing (but not in the way you think at first). He ends up on a boat trip (river trip?) down to the south of France to find Manon’s memory (she died soon after she left him) and to properly grieve.

This book is being billed as a bookish book, and it is in a way. It’s about the power of stories and narrative to help us through all times — both the good and the bad. But, it’s more about the healing power of grief. How, if you don’t let yourself grieve for what is lost then you can never move on, never really live again.

It’s very French, as well.  (A co-worker, who is very knowledgeable in All Things French, mentioned that this is a homage to Jean de Flourette and Manon of the Spring, both of which I saw when I was at BYU and probably should hunt down again.) There’s is a slight magical realism thread through it, in the way Jean could find the right book, to the power of food and company. It gets bogged down in the middle, during the river trip, and Manon’s travel journals, while providing some interesting insight to her and Jean’s relationship, interrupt the flow of the book.

That said, it was enjoyable, though it’s not my favorite bookish book about books.

How to Be a Heroine

by Samantha Eliis
First sentence: “A couple of summers ago, I was on the Yorkshire moors, arguing (over the wuthering) with my best friend about whether we’d rather be Jane Eyre or Cathy Ernshaw.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s a handful — not more than six — of f-bombs and some mentions of sex, but nothing graphic. It’s in the adult creative nonfiction section of the bookstore, but I’d give this to anyone in high school and up.

Somehow, I ended up with a complimentary copy of this book. I really have no idea how it ended up on my pile. I do know the idea of it (and the subtitle: “Or, What I’ve Learned from Reading Too Much”) appealed to me. Any book that is about books or the love of reading has to be good, right?

And it was.

The book is nominally a reflection of Ellis’s life. She’s an Iraqi Jew, living in London, with all the cultural and religious implications you’d think that entails. She struggled against expectations, she struggled with faith, she struggled to find her own path. And, on its own that would be a fascinating story. But she framed the book with an analysis, heavily feminist, of classic heroines. From familiar to me ones like Jo March and Anne Shirley and Jane Eyre to ones I’ve never heard of, like Franny Glass and Esther Greenwood. She explored their narrative arcs, and what she took away from their stories. Both when she was younger and then, as an adult, how she feels the held up. Some did. A lot didn’t. And many she got something different out of the book than what she got when she was younger. She discovered new things along the way, and made me want to revisit books I’d loved when I was younger and read ones I’ve not read before.

And for all the literary criticism, it wasn’t a stuffy book. Ellis has a way of drawing the reader in, of making the characters pop to life. Perhaps that’s because she’s a playwright and has a way with words as it is. But whatever the reason, this one won my heart over.

The Island of Dr. Libris

by Chris Grabenstein
First sentence: “Billy Gillfoyle’s dad shifted gears and gunned the engine.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: It has a few big works, but there’s a lot of white space, short chapters, and quick pacing. Good for reluctant readers as well as the middle grade crowd. I’d give it to anyone 8 and up who’s interested. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

I really REALLY loved Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library a couple of summers back. And so, I was really REALLY excited that Grabenstein was returning to a similar idea in this one. Anything that celebrates books and bookishness for kids (while making it kind of techy cool) is a win in my world.

Billy Gillfoyle’s parents are having issues and so he’s spending the summer out at a cabin by a lake with his mother that she has rented from a university colleague of hers. She’s going to write her dissertation, and he’s going to… explore the woods? Ugh. There’s no TV, no internet, and the next-door neighbor is a Mean Kid. This is going to be the Worst Summer Ever. Especially since there’s no cool books in the library of Dr. Libris (the colleague, whose first name is Xiang, so he can be X. Libris. Ha!), only old Classics. BORING.

But, when Billy begins reading, he hears weird things off in the distance, at the island in the middle of the lake. And when he goes to investigate, he discovers that the characters in the books have come to life! Not actors, not holograms, but real, live people who are interacting.

Cool so far, even though the “technology” behind the island is a bit squidgy and feels more like magic. (It’s supposed to be technology, but the science was so vague, I just considered it magic. I’ll be interested to see where it ends up during Cybils season.) I really liked seeing the classic characters come to life and I thought Grabenstein made them fresh and interesting for a new crowd. If I hadn’t already read The Three Musketeers or Robin Hood, I’d be tempted to pick them up.

But I didn’t utterly love the book, for one reason: there were no girls. Seriously. Maid Marion was there, a little tiny bit, being Robin Hood’s sidekick, but she really didn’t do anything. And Pollyanna was there, but she was mostly annoyingly cheerful (well, that’s to be expected) and served as a love interest. And Billy made a friend with his other next door neighbor (not the Mean Kid) and he had a younger sister, but her role was to 1) introduce Billy to her brother and 2) be annoying and mess up the island. And, yeah, there’s Billy’s mom, but she was barely there. It was a glaring hole. (As was the lack of diversity: all the classic characters were white, and the other characters were never really given physical features,  so I suppose they could have been diverse, but it was never really defined as such.) I wish there had been more girls, stronger girls, more interesting girls.

I’ll still recommend it to kids, but I do wish it had been… more.

I Kill the Mockingbird

by Paul Acampora
First sentence: “My mother’s wheelchair does not fit through the bathroom door, and I don’t know what to do about it.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s nothing objectionable, but it feels a bit old for the section it’s in (middle grade, grades 3-5) but it’s not really quite old enough for the YA section (grades 6-8). It’s kind of one of those in-between books.

It’s the summer before high school, and Michael, Lucy, and Elena have a summer reading list they’re assigned. None of them really wants to do it, partially because they’re the sort of precocious readers who read Dickens in 8th grade, and partially because, well, no one like summer reading.

One of the novels on the list is To Kill a Mockingbird, and Lucy comes up with a brilliant (or so they think) idea to get people reading and talking about this classic: what if we made the novel scarce. Not steal it from libraries or bookstore, but just reshelve it so no one can find it. (As a bookseller: *grumble*) And then start a web campaign — iKILLtheMOCKINGBIRD.com — to feed it.

What they’re surprised at (and I don’t know why they would be), is how well it works. It goes viral (thanks to Wil Wheaton) and To Kill a Mockingbird starts disappearing from shelves all over the country.

It’s not just all about their viral marketing scheme (which I doubt would work. It’s plausible, if improbable), though. Lucy’s mother is in remission from her bout with cancer, which stresses Lucy out. And she and Michael might be going from friends to more-than-friends, which is awkward for both of them.

On the one hand, this was a sweet little book. There were some funny bits — the scene near the beginning where Lucy and Elena are doing a Nativity shoot for Lucy’s mom had me laughing — and some sweet bits. I liked that it was religious without being preachy (which will go over well in my heavily Catholic town). My problem is that I really didn’t feel it had a specific audience. It’s a bit old for my 5th grader, who won’t understand the whole viral bit or even the discussion about the novel. But it feels a bit… young… for an 8th grader, who would understand those things.

Even with that qualm, it was a good, quick read.