Tuesday, January 14, 2020

The Little Bookshop on the Seine

Title:  The Little Bookshop on the Seine
Author:  Rebecca Raisin
Publication Information:  HQN. 2020. 288 pages.
ISBN:  1335050272 / 978-1335050274

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "With a heavy heart I placed the sign in the display window."

Favorite Quote:  "My life is too lonely without fictional people crowding my mind."

Paris and bookshops - I am sold based on the cover and title alone. I love books about books and bookshops. Setting it in Paris makes it all the more charming. That being said, the book has to deliver on character and story otherwise the initial charm wears off fast.

Initially, I am not too sure about this one. The book begins with a woman's physical longing ... and descriptions thereof ... for her boyfriend named Ridge. Boyfriends named Ridge and straight up romances, particularly those with physical descriptions are not my reading material of choice. Fortunately, this book retains the romance without too much physicality and also manages to turn into a story beyond the romance. The book delivers with a sweet story about a woman finding herself, about friendship, and also about love all centered around Once Upon a Time, a bookshop in Paris.

Sarah Smith runs a bookshop in Ashford, Connecticut. The shop is not doing well. Sarah finds herself often alone, as her boyfriend's job as a journalist calls for him to travel around the world. Although surrounded by a loving family and wonderful friends, Sarah longs for something more. "I'm tired of being the same person, half-living, all this waiting for something to happen ... I have to make it happen."

It just so happens that Sarah's friend Sophie owns and runs a bookshop in Paris. For her own reasons, Sophie needs to get away. She proposes a temporary bookshop exchange. Sophie goes to Connecticut and runs Sarah's shop. Sarah's goes to Paris and runs Sophie. Before she has a chance to over think it, Sarah says yes.

The bookshop in Paris brings, of course, the city itself. It also brings its own cast of characters. Each character comes with their own baggage of the past - family attachments, betrayals, career aspirations, hopes, dreams, and fears. Some become instant friends, and some pose more of a challenge.

The biggest challenge for Sarah is finding her own voice - to run the bookshop and establish her authority, to express her feelings on her boyfriend's choices, and, most importantly, to learn for herself that she has the skill and confidence to tackle anything that comes her way. "Paris swept us up, and made us whole, may we never wander alone no matter where we are."

 Of course, there is a romance or two or three in the mix as well. After all, that is to be expected. What is unexpected is that the book and the romances do not quite end up where I expect. Don't get me wrong, the ending still ties everything up in a nice, neat package as you might expect. However, it does not all tie up in the way I expect. No spoilers but the author Q&A below does give a hint. To me, the unexpected adds a depth and dimension to the book that take it beyond just a sweet, feel good story of a woman finding love in Paris.

The Little Bookshop on the Seine
Blog Tour

Author: Rebecca Raisin 

ISBN: 9781335012500
Publication Date: 1/7/2020
Publisher: HQN Books

Author Bio:

Rebecca Raisin is the author of several novels, including the beloved Little Paris series and the Gingerbread Café trilogy, and her short stories have been published in various anthologies and fiction magazines.

Author Q&A:

Q: Have you ever been to Paris? If so, what are some of your favorite Parisian things?
A: I’ve been lucky enough to go Paris four times and do a bit of exploring for the books. It’s my favourite city in the world and if I could up and move I’d do it! I love the bookshops of Paris, particularly the secondhand shops that are dusty and musty and disorderly. You never know what you’ll find and that makes it magical. If you’re in Paris find the Abbey Bookshop, it’s full to bursting with English books and it’s a treasure trove if you have time to hunt! I also love French food - who doesn’t?! My favourite place to eat is the Christian Constant bistros. He has one for every budget and they’re all glorious. If you splurge once, I highly recommend it’s there. 

The Ritz is also a must-see, from Bar Hemingway to Salon Proust, it’s an experience like no other walking in the footsteps of those literary greats. Buly 1803 is the most beautiful perfume shop in all the world, it’s like stepping back in time. My favourite is the rose oil… ooh la la. And holding a special place in my heart is Point Zero Paris, the exact centre of the city and a place where magic happens - you’ll have to read the book to find out more...

Q: What theme or message do you hope readers will take away from your book?
A: I hope you do something reckless, something that scares you, jump out of that comfort zone and do that thing you’ve always dreamed of! What’s stopping you - fear, money, work, life? You can make it happen if only you take the plunge! Open yourself to new experiences and people and don't take the taxi, walk until your feet are numb and find those lost laneways and hidden alleys and see what you find! 

Q: What drew you into this particular genre?
A: I love love, but Little Bookshop is also about another kind of love, the love of a place, or a feeling...writing this genre leaves it open to interpretation and anything goes as long you tie it all up at the end in a satisfying way! 

Q: If you could sit down with any character in your book, what would you ask them and why?
A: I’d sit down with bookworm Sarah and ask her what she really thought of Luiz… I am still conflicted about that thread and what I could have done but didn’t!

Q: What does the future hold in store for you? Any new books/projects on the horizon?
A: I’m currently editing Aria’s Travelling Bookshop, which is about a Van Lifer who sells her wares as she explores France! (Are you detecting a pattern here!?) It’s the follow up to Rosie’s Travelling Tea Shop, which was released last March. Both books are about a different way of living, about having less but gaining more as you go. I’ve loved writing Rosie and Aria!

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

The Starless Sea

Title:  The Starless Sea
Author:  Erin Morgenstern
Publication Information:  Doubleday. 2019. 512 pages.
ISBN:  038554121X / 978-0385541213

Book Source:  I read this book based on how much I enjoyed the author's first book The Night Circus.

Opening Sentence:  "There is a pirate in the basement."

Favorite Quote:  "There is no fixing. There is only moving forward in the brokenness."

Keys. swords. Bees. Ancient books. Books worth stealing and worth protecting. A secret, labyrinth like library with acolytes, guardians, and keepers. A young man who is reader and a gamer. A fable about fate and time. A story of a pirate and a girl. A tale of owl kings. An adventure that may or may not be real and may or may not be happening. The dividing line between reality and fantasy is blurry not just because this is a fiction work but for the characters in the story itself. Who is real? Who is part of an imagined story? Does that line blend? Is it all real?

To some extent, that is what this book is about. Not the most clear of descriptions, but that is absolutely this book.

I love books that define themselves:

"Reading a novel, he supposes, is like playing a game where all the choices have been made for you ahead of time by someone who is much better at this particular game. (Though he sometimes wishes choose-your-own-adventure novels would come back into fashion.)" The choices end up being predetermined, but there are so many threads to be followed that, at times, it appears that you may be choosing after all. The "why" behind the story does come, and it connects all the dots between the stories within the story and reinforces that the choices were predetermined.

"Stories are personal, you relate or you don't." This book is clearly not for everybody. It is a twisting, turning flight of fancy that is at times very, very slow and at times so jumbled that it is hard to keep clear. However, for me it works. Like The Night Circus, the visual writing leaves a complete image of   the starless sea and all the surrounding harbors, even though none of them exist. More than anything else, what makes this book work is the picture it paints. The "where" of the book becomes at least as important if not more so than the "who, what, when". The "why" is the ultimate revelation of the book. The writing builds an entire fantastical world with sights, sounds, and even smells of the starless sea and its harbors.

"Books are always better when read rather than explained." This statement is absolutely true for this book. It is not a linear story. However, I willing follow along all the paths until they do come together, and I am left wondering what happens next. I am not quite ready for the adventure to be over. The ending hints at a new beginning perhaps? I am still not entirely sure what happened or rather if what I understand is what was intended. To me, it does not matter because what I understand becomes my unique experience with this book.

"Sometimes life gets weird. You can try to ignore it or you can see where weird takes you." The book is different from much of what I have read except perhaps for Erin Morgenstern's first book. For both, I follow the weird, and it leads to an enjoyable reading experience.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

The Water Dancer

Title:  The Water Dancer
Author:  Ta-Nehisi Coates
Publication Information:  One World. 2019. 416 pages.
ISBN:  0399590595 / 978-0399590597

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "And I could only have seen her there on the stone bridge, a dancer wreathed in ghostly blue, because that was the way they would have taken her back when I was young, back when the Virginia earth was still red as brick and red with life, and though there were other bridges spanning the river Goose, they would have bound her and brought her across this one, because this was the bridge that fed into the turnpike that twisted its way through the green hills and down the valley before bending in one direction, and that direction was south."

Favorite Quote:  "They knew our names and they knew our parents. But they did not know us. They had no notion of our ultimate aims and desires. They were entranced by our songs, but they could never know the deeper meaning, because not knowing was essential to their power. To see a child right from under its mother, you must only know that mother in the thinnest way possible. To strip a man down, condemn him to be beaten, flayed alive, then anointed with salt-water, you cannot feel him the way you feel your own. You cannot understand him as human.  You cannot see yourself in him, lest your hadn't be stayed, and your hand must never be stayed, because the moment it is, the Tasked will see that you see them and thus see yourself. In that moment of profound understanding, you are all done because you cannot rule as is needed."

Hiram Walker is a slave with extraordinary powers. This book is his journey to freedom - literal freedom, freedom as he reconciles with the memories of his childhood, freedom as he learns to acknowledge and use the gift he has been given, and freedom that comes from enabling and ensuring the freedom of others. From enslaved North Carolina to the North and back again and yet again.

Through Hiram's story, the book tells the story of a time and place and a reckoning of the dark history of our own nation. It is a history that must be remembered and acknowledged and accounted for.

That being said, I am truly torn about this book. I wanted to absolutely love this book. I expected to absolutely love it based on my reaction to Between the World and Me by Mr. Coates.

Quality. Low. Tasked. These are the terms used in this book to describe the roles in this story of slavery. The "quality" include both the enslavers and those dedicated to the abolitionist movement. The "low" are of both races, mercenaries looking to get ahead by any means possible. The "tasked" are the slaves. Slavery is "the task." Why the terms? The terms are memorable because they are so often repeated in the book. Then again, why not call it what it is? So often in real life, history is given a spin based on the terms used. Is there a further meaning? I look for one but do not discover it.

As with Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad, this book also introduces magical realism. The Underground Railroad included a literal railroad. Th book includes the idea of "conduction" in that a person can jump time and place. In both books, the "magic" introduces an element into the story the pulls it far from the history into fiction. I don't really understand why. The history is a brutal one. Why mitigate by suggesting there is magical solution if only the right people can be found.

All historical fiction is just that - fiction. The fiction label allows the history to be massaged into a compelling story. However, this history itself is so compelling that it needs no embellishment especially not one based in magic. The embellishment in many ways diminishes the history by introducing an idea completely unbelievable into a history that must be believed and remembered. I am left wondering why.

These concerns aside, aspects of the writing pull me right into the middle of the story, such that I cry and feel every emotion along with the characters. I find myself highlighting thought after thought because it speaks to me. That is where the history being told is found:
  • "For it is not simply that you are captured by slavery but by a kind of fraud, which paints its executors as guardians at the gate, staving off African savagery, when it is they themselves who are savaged..."
  • "The tree of our family was parted - branches here, roots there - parted for their lumber."
  • "Someone was inspecting me, I had adjusted to it by then, and that alone is the worst of it - that a man could feel his violation as natural."
That is the history that speaks to me in this book and gives it its power - the power of remembrance.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Twenty-one Truths About Love

Title:  Twenty-one Truths About Love
Author:  Matthew Dicks
Publication Information:  St. Martin's Press. 2019. 352 pages.
ISBN:  1250103487 / 978-1250103482
Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Ways to keep Jill from getting pregnant..."

Favorite Quote:  "Wanting to be a better human being and finding a way to become a better human being are two very different things."

Daniel Mayrock writes "lists so I won't stop existing like my father stopped existing for me." It is a way of dealing with anxiety.  I completely understand that, but an entire, over 300 page book written in lists. I don't know. Gimmicky? Yes. Does it work? In this case, yes it does.

Through the lists and no other perspective, the book manages to convey an image of Daniel Mayrock...
  • He has never recovered from the way in which his father left his life.
  • He loves his wife Jill.
  • He fears that he will never live up to the memory of Jill's first husband (he died).
  • He was at one point a teacher but quit his job to start his own business.
  • He runs a bookshop but is unable to quite make it a success.
  • He is terrified of being a father.
His lists range from the mundane to philosophical musings about life...
  • "If the childhood version of yourself would hate the adulthood version of yourself, you suck at life."
  • "Truth is not what you believe in. This is the problem with the f****** world. Truth is no-longer fact-based."
  • "A person is more than a person. A person is the promise of everything that person can be."
  • "To truly love someone, you must love the person you never knew, the person you know today, and the person that will someday be."
The two books I have read by Matthew Dicks both have had unusual perspectives. Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend was told as a first person narrative in the voice of a little boy's imaginary friend. This book is in the form of the lists of a flawed and ordinary man who is trying to chase his dream and get through life the best way he knows how.

The one jarring note in the book is the wild plan Daniel concocts to solve his money problems. Really? Understandably, everyone has wild thoughts at times. Very rarely do people actual research the hare-brained schemes and even less so, act on them. From a story perspective, this component seems like filler and distracts from the main story, which is of this couple who loves each other.

The main reason this book still works for me is that Daniel feels real. I sometimes think I would like to hear his wife Jill's perspective, but that too is a testament to the fact that the entire situation feels real. A set of lists somehow manages to create a cohesive and sweet image of characters and a family I want to know more about.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

The Family Upstairs

Title:  The Family Upstairs
Author:  Lisa Jewell
Publication Information:  Atria Books. 2019. 352 pages.
ISBN:  1501190105 / 978-1501190100
Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "It would be inaccurate to say that my childhood was normal before they came."

Favorite Quote:  "They weren't bad books ... They were books you didn't enjoy. It's not the same thing at all. The only bad books are books that are so badly written that no one will publish them. Any book that has been published is going to be a 'good book' for someone."

Libby Jones turn twenty-five and inherits a house. Not just any house, but a house from her past. The house itself has a disturbing history. Twenty-five years ago, the police arrived at the house. They found three dead bodies and a happy, healthy baby. Four other children known to be living at the house were nowhere to be found.

Two time periods - the story of the present as Libby turns twenty-five and the story of the children twenty-five years ago.

Characters with disturbing tendencies - a man who watches and waits and an entire household locked away from the world.

Adults looking back vs children living a nightmare - the adults who were the children forced to grow up way too soon to survive and who remain forever scarred by their childhood.

Mystery as to which of the children these adults are  - Who is Henry? Who is Lucy? Where does Libby come from?

The book has an intriguing premise. A family of four buys a house. Dad, Mom, a boy, and a girl are the wholesome family next door. Then, Mom lets a couple film at the house. Okay, except they never leave. Mom encourages it; Dad does nothing. Then, Mom invites another family to move in. Odd and even more so as they completely take over the household. Again, Mom is all for it; Dad seems unable to do anything.

This story is about this odd and disturbing combination of people living in the same house. It is about two sets of siblings living in one household. It is about a family that turns into a cult. It is about adults who return to that childhood to perhaps find closure, perhaps move past, or perhaps something else entirely. It is about a dysfunctional family - dysfunctional in the worst possible way. Trigger warning - this book features abuse of all kinds against children. This is the piece that I do not know that I can see past.

This is not really a thriller. It is more disturbing and depressing than thrilling in its twists and turns. There are twists, some predictable, some less so. That and the multiple time periods make this book a very quick read. However, when the "twist" does come, my reaction is not of surprise but of disgust. EEEwwww.

The setup had all the makings of a great and chilling story even without its twist. Unfortunately, with the twist, the image of that young child is what remains.

The ending hints at something beyond, something that may come as a next step. A setup for a sequel? Perhaps. Will I follow along? While the idea is intriguing as it was in this book, given where this one led, I think not.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Death in Kew Gardens

Title:  Death in Kew Gardens
Series:  A Below Stairs Mystery Book 3
Author:  Jennifer Ashley
Publication Information:  Berkley. 2019. 304 pages.
ISBN:  039958790X / 978-0399587900

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "The Chinese gentleman ran from between the carriages that packed the length of Mount Street and straight into my path."

Favorite Quote:  "If we'd been born monkeys or some such animal, there would be no difference between us at all. We'd share a space on a branch without thinking a think about it."

Death in Kew Gardens is the third in the series of Below Stairs Mysteries featuring Kat Holloway. While it is not absolutely necessary to have read the books in order, it is beneficial in this case. Many of the characters from the other books feature in this book. Although the mystery is new, most of the secondary plot lines continue from the previous books.

These books are a little bit of an upstairs downstairs story as Kat is a cook in a wealthy household. She is the hired help but also friend to at least one of the family - Lady Cynthia carries on with her independent ways. This book adds a multicultural element into this very British setting. The mystery centers around Chinese tea, trade between the two regions, and a Chinese gentleman who becomes a murder suspect. Given the time and place of the setting, this is significant.

It is good to know that Kat Holloway's character stays true to form. She continues to speak her mind, take no nonsense, and stand up for what she believes in. In this book, that issue becomes racial prejudice. The Chinese gentleman is the "other". He is the different one. Thus, his actions are automatically deemed more suspect. Fortunately, Kat stands up to that prejudice and for someone she befriends. She makes judgments based on fact not prejudice.

The theme of prejudice spills over into Kat's personal story as well. The household has a new housekeeper who clearly looks down upon Kat, who is only the "cook." She makes it clear that Kat should stay in her place, and that is clearly below the housekeeper's. In a different way, Kat's fear of prejudice and judgment makes her keep her daughter a secret from most of the world. The secret is revealed to Lady Cynthia in this book. She, too, stays true to form and offers acceptance and understanding not judgment.

The mystery and the progress of the book has the same look and feel as the first two books. That, of course, is the charm and the challenge of a series. How to grow the characters and create a unique story and yet keep the recognizable look of the series. That theme of understanding and acceptance to me becomes the lasting message of this book more so than the mystery itself. This is what makes it unique from the first two.

If you are interested in the author's other work, note that she writes under three names. As Jennifer Ashley, she writes historical, paranormal, and contemporary romance. As Ashley Gardner, she authors mysteries. Allyson James is the name for the paranormal romance and urban fantasy books. Worth exploring!

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Things My Son Needs to Know about the World

Title:  Things My Son Needs to Know about the World
Author:  Fredrik Backman
Publication Information:  Atria Books. 2019. 208 pages.
ISBN:  1501196863 / 978-1501196867

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "To my son:  I want to apologize."

Favorite Quote:  "I just want you to know that I love you. Once you're older, you'll realize that I made an endless line of mistakes during your childhood, I know that. I've resigned myself to it. but I just want you to know that I did my very, very best. I left it all on the field. I gave this every ounce of everything I had."

I have read four previous books by Fredrik Backman. A Man Called Ove is still on my to read list I have rated three out of the four with five stars. In other words, I have loved most of the books. This one is no exception even though it is a completely different book.

This is a nonfiction collection of essays written about the same time as A Man Called Ove. The collection was released in Sweden several years ago. It is just this year being released in the United States. The essays, as the title suggests, are lessons for his son who was then very young. It would be interesting now to see what the young man has to say about these lessons. Actually, Fredrik Backman now has two children. It would be wonderful to know if his lessons remain the same.

As a parent myself, I find myself nodding along with many of the stories - laughing, reminiscing, and reflecting on my own parenting adventures. My favorite aspect of this book of lessons to a child from a father is the unequivocal love he displays for his wife - the mother of his children. ".. the reason I don't know much about love is that I've really only ever loved one woman. But every day with her is like being a pirate in a magical land far away full of adventures and treasures. Making her laugh is a bit like wearing rain boots that are a little too big and jumping into the deepest of puddles. I'm blunt and sharp and full of black and white. She's all my color."

It is clear that the love encompasses his wife and his children. "And when you dance, you and she... if I could choose one single moment to live inside for all eternity, it would be that."

The remaining lessons vary from the mundane to statements of love to philosophical lessons about equality and tolerance. At times, the book is corny and cheesy as you might expect in a collection as this one. At times, it is pensive and serious. "So...it's not easy to teach you what a man is. It's different things for different people. With different people." What shines through is the love and the recognition that we as parents may not always know what we are doing, but hopefully, we do the best we can.

In a world where negativity is so prevalent, I will take the positive message of love. "You and your mother are my greatest, most wonderful, scariest adventure. I'm amazed every day that you're still letting me follow along."

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.