After the death of her bookstore owner father, Emilia has returned to her tiny English town to run the family business. While Nightingale Books is a book lover’s haven, it’s also struggling financially. Determined to keep her father’s dream alive, Emilia must find a way to reinvigorate the business while also dealing with the regular customers, whose lives intersect with Emilia’s own.
Very light, very frothy, and a bit romantic, Henry’s novel about a tiny English town and the book lovers who live there is a sweet little gem of a novel. With a robust cast of characters (who are hard to keep track of at times) and an interesting (if not totally riveting) plot, this is a book that will find fans, especially when put in the hands of total bibliophiles. As much about the characters as it is about the love of reading, Henry’s novel is a quiet little distraction from the chaos of everyday life.
There’s certainly not a whole lot of substance here, but there is a great deal of heart, which makes for a delightful read. Henry’s book has a very specific sense of place, and she loves her characters. The plot moves along at a good pace, making the turning of the pages quite easy, and while there’s definitely a happy ending for the book’s characters, the journey to get there is at times a bit bittersweet. There are perhaps too many characters for the book’s own good, and some of these characters are total stereotypes, but on the whole the book is a lot of fun.
How to Find Love in a Bookshop by Veronica Henry. Viking: 2017. Library copy.
Cass takes the road through the woods to get home one night, and she sees a car on the side of the road. It’s raining and dark, so Cass doesn’t stop, but the next day, the news reports that a woman was brutally murdered on that same road. Filled with guilt over what she could have done, Cass also starts to forget things, like where she put her keys and plans she made with friends. Fearful that she’s developing early onset dementia like her late mother, Cass tries to hide her fears from her husband, Matthew.
Paris’s thriller Behind Closed Doors was a hit last year, and her latest offering takes a different take, providing readers with an unreliable narrator who can’t seem to remember simple things in her life. But there’s so little character development across the board here that Paris’s novel doesn’t ramp up the tension so much as provide a very shallow account of what appears to be the stereotypical “hysterical” woman. It’s boring.
Nothing about the story is all that compelling, even in its best moments when it’s a bit claustrophobic. There’s not enough development of characters to care about their motivations, and there’s something very generic about the dialogue so that it often doesn’t feel very authentic. By the time Paris reveals all the (improbable) answers that savvy readers will have already figured out, it’s too little too late. It’s also an unsatisfying conclusion.
This one is kind of a snore. I’d give it a pass, and recommend her first to readers looking for a suspenseful story.
The Breakdown by B.A. Paris. St. Martins: 2017. Library copy.
I’m going to hit my unofficial goal of 365 books read this year thanks to the sheer number of picture books I read, but everything else is still a pretty slow grind for me. Here’s what I read this week:
There’s Someone Inside Your House by Stephanie Perkins: The students at Osborne High School are being brutally murdered. One by one, they’re dying in increasingly gross and macabre ways. But who is the killer, and what is their motive? Time is running out, and secrets are going to be spilled like blood.
Fun, fast-paced, and genuinely scary. Perkins is well-known for her romantic comedies, and here she does something completely different: writes a very compelling horror novel. There are shades of Scream here, and it will keep readers reading until the last few pages. I enjoyed it quite a bit.
Enchanted Islands by Allison Amend: Frances Frankowski was born in Duluth in 1882, and runs away with her best friend Rosalie when they’re just teenagers. After a betrayal in Chicago, Frances ends up on her own in San Francisco, working for the Office of Naval Intelligence. Then she’s asked to marry an intelligence officer and move to the Galapagos Islands, and Frances’s ordinary life becomes a bit more extraordinary. But both Frances and her husband harbor secrets of their own.
I read this for book club. It wasn’t my pick. It wasn’t for me. It’s historical fiction, based on real-life people (and the subsequent memoir by the real-life Frances), and it suffers from a lack of compelling plotting or even compelling characters. It feels much like a retread of what the memoir must have been, and there’s very little new stuff here to warrant a fictionalized take on it. I was disappointed. And very, very bored.
My Life Has Been Marked by Sexual Harassment: Just Like All Women (The Guardian)
A short, powerful piece about how sexual harassment permeates every part of our culture:
Actually, though, life is good. I work on a magazine where men think feminism is talking to you for hours about problems with their sperm count. I have a flat and a baby, and then I get a job on a newspaper. Now surely I am in the safety of a middle-class world where women are taken seriously. However, there is inevitably one guy who touches up women as they bend over the photocopier.
I start writing about some of the big sexual harassment cases, such as Anita Hill. It’s a concern. The editor calls us all together. “Dreadful business, this sexual harassment,” he says. “I am glad it doesn’t happen here.”
Rebecca Solnit on Harvey Weinstein, Hillary Clinton, and Blaming the Acts of Men on Women (LitHub)
This should be required reading:
Remember that every time a man commits a violent act it only takes one or two steps to figure out how it’s a woman’s fault, and that these dance steps are widely known and practiced and quite a bit of fun. There are things men do that are the fault of women who are too sexy, and other things men do that are the fault of women who are not sexy enough, but women only come in those two flavors: not enough, too much, and it is the fate of heterosexual men to endure this affliction. Wives are responsible for their husbands, especially if their husbands are supremely powerful and terrifying figures leading double lives and accountable to no one. But women are now also in the workforce, where they have so many opportunities to be responsible for other men as well.
The YA Dystopia Boom is Over. It’s Been Replaced by Stories of Teen Suicide (Vox)
A very interesting piece that attempts to explain the rise and fall (and rise?) of YA dystopias, and the current (?) spate of books and movies about teen suicides. It’s definitely a piece for people who like to read about the underlying ideas surrounding pop culture phenomenons, but I liked it a lot:
If pop culture is America’s subconscious, then pop culture that’s aimed at teens is the purest distillation of that subconscious. Pop culture aimed at teens is simultaneously didactic and escapist:We want to pass good moral lessons to our youth, but we alsooften equate teen with trashy, and use the media we ostensibly create for teens as a way for adults to escape the pressures of post-teen life. On any given cultural issue, a look at the pop culture we make for teens will tell you both how we as a society think we should feel about the world and how we actually feel about the world.
What did you read this week that got you thinking?
These are the books I finished this week. Without further ado:
The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare: The Duke of Ashbury was badly injured in the war. Half of his body covered by scars, he needs an heir, but he’s convinced no woman could ever love him. So he arranges for a marriage of convenience with Emma Gladstone, a seamstress and vicar’s daughter. His terms are simple: no kissing, and once she gives him a male heir, she’ll live in the country house apart from him. But neither one counted on actually liking the other.
A classic beauty and the beast retelling, this was so smart and funny. I devoured it in a few days, and found it to be wholly charming. The first in a new series by Dare, I’ll definitely be checking out future installments.
Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips: It’s nearly closing time at the zoo as Joan and her four-year-old son Lincoln are getting ready to leave. But as they reach the parking lot, Joan all of a sudden turns around and sprints back inside the zoo, looking for cover. Over the next three hours, Joan will try to keep herself and her son alive as she uses her knowledge of the zoo and her son to keep them both safe from the danger that is literally hunting them.
A tense, gripping novel about a mass shooting, I couldn’t put this one down. I think on the whole it’s exceedingly well done, and Phillips particularly writes about mothers and children well. This will be a popular title this fall.
What did you read this week?
These are the articles that caught my attention this week:
From Aggressive Overtures to Sexual Assault: Harvey Weinstein’s Accusers Tell their Stories (The New Yorker)
This is a really long piece, but I read the entire thing in one sitting, unable to take my eyes away from the horrors the piece reports. It’s absolutely upsetting, and absolutely worth your time. If you read one piece this week, make it this one about the women who are coming forward about the sexual harassment, assault, and rapes they experienced at the hands of Harvey Weinstein:
Weinstein’s use of such settlements was reported by the Times and confirmed to me by numerous sources. A former employee with firsthand knowledge of two settlement negotiations that took place in London in the nineteen-nineties recalled, “It felt like David versus Goliath . . . the guy with all the money and the power flexing his muscle and quashing the allegations and getting rid of them.”
Here’s How Not to Critique Romance Novels (Jezebel)
I’ve been reading a lot of romance lately in an attempt to expand my reading horizons, and this piece at Jezebel about a very misguided piece in the NYT about the genre is super great:
Gottlieb writes in the tone of affable authoritative critic willing to entertain an unexpected interest, but to somebody who reads a lot in the genre, he comes off as a dilettante, failing to serve both romance fans who might be looking for an informed review of new titles and non-readers interested in educating themselves about a phenomenon with which they’re unfamiliar.
How Essential Oils Became The Cure for Our Age of Anxiety (The New Yorker)
I should be clear: I think essential oils are at best an annoying white-lady-wellness thing and at worst part of a very dangerous anti-science cult, but this article about how they’ve permeated the mainstream is very very good:
Multilevel-marketing companies are structured in such a way that a large base of distributors generally spend more than they make, while a small number on top reap most of the benefits. It is often expensive to invest in an initial stock of products, as well as to make required minimum monthly purchases—around a hundred dollars for Young Living members who want to receive a commission check. According to a public income statement, more than ninety-four per cent of Young Living’s two million active members made less than a dollar in 2016, while less than one-tenth of one per cent—that is, about a thousand Royal Crown Diamonds—earned more than a million dollars.
Julia gets kicked out of her deaf school after her best friend turns her in for graffiti she did on school property. Julia can’t believe it, especially because she was covering up a slur about said best friend. Her moms send her to a “mainstream” school all the way out in the suburbs and forbid her from engaging in any street art. But it’s Julia’s only outlet, and when she realizes that another artist is tagging her stuff, she sees it as a challenge. Determined to figure out who is changing her art, she ends up embroiled in a graffiti war.
Gardner’s novel is smart, compelling, and features a heroine who is prickly, angry, and realistic. The novel presents Deaf culture well, allowing Julia to narrate the book with an authentic voice, and allowing the reader to experience the frustrations Julia faces in the hearing world. Spoken dialogue is punctuated with blank lines, representing the words that Julia wouldn’t be able to lip read. Throughout the book, Julia’s art offers additional insight into her world.
A varied cast of characters, including an at-times patronizing interpreter, teachers who have no idea how to best meet Julia’s needs, and an eager white girl Julia refers to as Yoga Pants, help round out the novel. There are moments where it feels as though there’s too much going on in the narrative, but Gardner’s strong grasp of Julia as a character helps readers wade through the myriad issues that pop up. The ending isn’t as tight as it could be, but it’s still a fun read all the same, offering readers insight into Deaf culture as well as the world of street art. Put this in the hands of people who liked the TV show Switched at Birth, because there are a lot of similarities to be found.
You’re Welcome, Universe by Whitney Gardner. Knopf, 2017. Library copy.