Twenty-One Truths About Love

by Matthew Dicks
First sentence: “Ways to keep Jill from getting pregnant”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: November 19, 2019
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There is swearing, including multiple f-bombs. It will be in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

10 Reasons you should read this book
1. It’s told in lists. Seriously
2. And yet, there’s a plot with character development.
3. Which is really quite brilliant, if you think about it
4. It’s about a not-quite 40-something man stressing about his life.
5. Which sounds boring, but really isn’t because of the lists.
6. They range from “books of the month” — Dan, the main character owns a bookstore — to “Songs you would think have great lyrics but don’t”.
7. It’s charming and sweet and funny but isn’t all happiness and roses.
8. And about being honest with your spouse and how having friends is important.
9. And maybe a little bit about forgiveness.
10. But really, it’s that it’s told through lists that makes it so incredibly unique and worth spending your time on.

I loved it.

The Bookwanderers

by Anna James
First sentence: “
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Content: It’s not long and it doesn’t have a lot of hard words, though it does seem to lean in to bookish kids, even if one of the characters has a hard time reading because he’s dyslexic. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Tilly has grown up in her grandparents’ bookstore, Pages & Co. (a quick real-life interjection here: they have a bakery and a store, but no evidence of customers? How are they paying the bills? I know, I know, it’s a kids’ book…) surrounded by books. She is an avid reader, partially because you can’t grow up in a bookstore and not be and partially because it’s a connection to her mother, who disappeared when Tilly was little.

And now that she’s 11, something unusual has started happening: characters are coming out of books. And she’s been pulled into them, not just metaphorically, but literally. It turns out that her grandparents and mother are part of this group called Bookwanderers, people who can literally travel between the pages of a book. And now, Tilly and her friend Oskar find they can travel in books too, which means, maybe that’s where Tilly’s mother went? And maybe they can find her.

On the one hand, this is super charming. I was charmed by the presentation, by the idea of taking something metaphorical (getting lost in a book) and making it literal. I liked Tilly and her willingness to take chances, even though she had a good support system with her parents. I liked that it wrapped the story up, but also left a thread open for more books in the series.

But. I’m not sure how much kids are going to like it. (Which makes me sad.) Because of copyright issues, James can only use the classics, which makes sense, but I’m sure that kids would much rather read about falling into books they love, and not Alice in Wonderland, Anne of Green Gables, and A Little Princess. It makes sense why she used the classics, but it is a drawback, and one I’m not sure many readers could get past. Which means it’s more for adults who love reading and have a fond memory of reading as a kid, and that’s kind of sad.

Even so, I was happy I read it!

The Starless Sea

by Erin Morgenstern
First sentence: “There is a pirate in the basement.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: November 5, 2019
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There is some violence and some swearing, including a few f-bombs. It will be in the Fiction section (though I think it fits better in science fiction/fantasy), but I bet it’ll have some YA crossover.

I haven’t read The Night Circus since it first came out, though I own it and I was thinking I need to reread it, but I imagine my reaction to The Starless Sea was pretty much the same: Morgenstern may not have a driving plot to her books, but she can write! Oh, she can write. Such lovely sentences, such lovely pages. Such gorgeous, haunting, twisting, lovely words. (And I don’t usually read for words.) There were pages I wanted to highlight and copy and, yes, get tattooed on my body (and I’ve never felt that way about words before, not even Maggie Stiefvater’s words). And, truth be told, the way this book unfolded kept me interested until the end.

The plot is simple: Zachary, a fortune-teller’s son, found a magic door when he was 11, but didn’t go through it. Fourteen years later, he’s at grad school in Vermont and finds — entirely on accident — a book called Sweet Sorrows, that has a tale about a fortune-teller’s son who finds a magic door but doesn’t go through. That piques Zachary’s interest, and he begins a journey — one that starts in Manhattan and ends by the shores of the Starless Sea and involves a reformed hit-man and a painter who may or may not be immortal — to find out what, exactly, was behind that door he didn’t go through all those years ago.

But, really: this book is a book for all of us who love and recognize the power of stories. Who recognize that truths can be found in fiction, that there is a need to tell stories and believe stories and embrace stories. It’s a remarkable book, and one that will stay with me for a long, long time.

Audio book: The Bookshop of Yesterdays

by Amy Meyerson
Read by Ann Marie Gideon
Support your local bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There is some mention of sex, and swearing, including f-bombs. It’s in the fiction section of the bookstore.

Miranda Brooks is happy with her life. She has a good job teaching history to 8th graders in Philadelphia. She has a good boyfriend she just moved in with. She doesn’t want to shake things up.

Then she gets a package in the mail — a copy of the Tempest, her estranged uncle’s favorite play — and a note that said uncle has just passed away. Suddenly, she’s off on a plane to LA, the land of her youth, to follow the clues her uncle laid out, to find out the mystery of her past, and how her once-beloved uncle was pushed out of her life.

In addition, Miranda is left sole ownership of the bookstore, Prospero Books, that she has fond memories of when she was a little girl. Through the quest her uncle set, and through the regulars at the bookshop, Miranda slowly finds meaning in what she assumed was a pretty good life.

Oh I enjoyed this one! The narrator was perfect, the story sufficiently bookish, with a side of mystery and romance. It hit all my happy buttons. Not sure it’s high literature, but it was definitely fun.

The Library Book

by Susan Orlean
First sentence: “Even in Los Angeles, where there is no shortage of remarkable hairdos, Harry Peak attracted attention.”
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Content: There is some mild swearing and a few disturbing moments. It’s in the History section of the bookstore.

In the spring of 1986, in between the Challenger explosion and the Chernobyl disaster, the Central Library in Los Angeles caught fire. It was a huge fire, burning for hours and destroying hundreds of thousands of books. It’s something that people in LA remember, but outside of LA? Who knew? So Orlean, who is a masterful non-fiction writer, tackled the story. It’s not just an investigation into the fire — they suspected someone and arrested him, but they never had enough evidence to charge him, and then he later died from AIDS — but a history of the LA library system and an exploration of what the LA library is now.

It’s probably no surprise, but I loved this one. It’s incredibly well-written and utterly fascinating. I think part of me was hoping that she’d “solve” the arson — though she did have a chapter talking about arson crimes, and how investigating them has changed in the last 30 years, and speculated that maybe the LA fire wasn’t arson — but, really, I was just along for the wonderful ride.

And do pick up a real copy of this book. The package is absolutely beautiful. It’s a reminder why books — and libraries! — are important.

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.

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.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
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.