A Love-Note to Secondhand Bookshops…and a Fi50 Reminder…

4

imageBefore we crack on with an OzYA ode to bookstores and bookishness, allow me to gently remind you that Fiction in 50 for August kicks off on Monday with the prompt…

squeaky wheel

To participate, just create a piece of prose or poetry in fewer than 51 words, post it somewhere and then link it up to the linky in my post on Monday.  For more information on how to play and for future prompts, just click here.


words in deep blue

Today’s book is a bit of an unusual choice for we shelf denizens, given its high lovey-dovey content, but we absolutely enjoyed diving into its unusual format and premise.  We received Words in Deep Blue by Cat Crowley from the publisher via Netgalley and here is the blurb from Goodreads:

This is a love story.
It’s the story of Howling Books, where readers write letters to strangers, to lovers, to poets.
It’s the story of Henry Jones and Rachel Sweetie. They were best friends once, before Rachel moved to the sea.
Now, she’s back, working at the bookstore, grieving for her brother Cal and looking for the future in the books people love, and the words they leave behind.

You would be forgiven for assuming that a first-line like that one would cause me to immediately roll my eyes, gnash my teeth and run in the opposite direction, but I will admit to being caught by the second line.  The reference to readers writing letters drew me in and I’m glad it did because this really is a coming-of-age story worth getting stuck in to.

The story is told from the alternating perspectives of Rachel and Henry, ex-best friends who have drifted apart amidst deliberation (Rachel) and confusion (Henry).  Rachel has spent a recent stint away from the town in which she and Henry grew up, nursing grief for the sudden death of her brother and enmity towards Henry, for falling in love with a someone who isn’t Rachel.  Henry, meanwhile, has remained working at his parents’ quirky, failing secondhand bookstore, Howling Books, being tossed on the winds of love by his on-again, off-again girlfriend Amy, and wondering why Rachel is shunning him so completely.  In an unexpected turn of events, Rachel finds herself back in her home town and back facing Henry over a gulf of grief that she can’t put into words.  Henry finds Rachel just as Amy seems to have finally called it quits for good, and his parents mull over whether or not to sell their beloved bookstore, and with it, it would seem, the family’s one safe port in a stormy world.

There’s a real sense of warmth and innocence underpinning Henry’s parts of the novel.  While obviously a bit of a homebody who still needs the security of family and stability, Henry is thrust into some major life changes that are out of his control.  Rachel on the other hand, is prickly, standoffish, and bizarrely protective of her grief, to the point that she won’t reveal the fact of her brother’s recent death to anyone from her hometown.  Both the main characters (and all the others!) are gently flawed and I found a great appeal in seeing how they slowly move toward embracing or rejecting the new opportunities opening up.

The most fantastic non-human character in the story is, of course, Henry’s family’s bookstore, Howling Books.  The descriptions of it make it sound like the most comfortable, lived-in (both figuratively and literally), enticing little book nook that could ever be, and so the thought of losing it struck me almost as hard as it strikes Henry.  I absolutely adored the idea of the Letter Library – a section in the shop where customers can write letters to friends, lovers, strangers – whoever! – and leave them to be found within the pages of the Letter Library tomes.  There is a clever sub-plot relating to Henry’s sister George that utilises this method, and other characters’ stories are fleshed out through glimpses into the letters left within the pages of the books.

I would highly recommend this to anyone who loves books about bookshops, readers and literature changing lives.  The romance stuff isn’t rammed down your throat, even though it is a main focus of the book, because it feels like an authentic coming-of-age tale rather than a typical YA love triangle type story.  Despite the difficult themes of grief and growing up within the book there is an undeniable charm and geniality that exudes, I suspect, mostly from Howling Books, and keeps the overall reading experience buoyant.  I will think back on this one with fondness and make the startling (for me!) claim that if you only read one book featuring broken hearts this year, you could do a damn sight worse than this one.

Until next time,

Bruce

Mondays are for Murder: A Death at the University

0

image

Ah, Murderous Mondays, you roll around so fast!

This time around I have the first book in The Bookshop Mysteries, set in Canada: Death at the University by Richard King.  We received a copy from Netgalley for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

For fans of Agatha Christie and Midsomer Murders, A Death at the University is the first book in a new cosy crime series, introducing Sam Wiseman. Sam Wiseman runs an independent bookshop in the heart of Montreal. He leads a simple life – until the day he apprehends a shoplifter and strikes up an unlikely friendship with Gaston Lemieux, the investigating officer in the case. Later, when Sam discovers the body of professor Harold Hilliard – a long-time customer of the store – dead in his office at nearby McGill University, clutching a special order form from the bookshop, he is implicated in the murder. With the help of Lemieux, Sam must investigate the murder, and clear his name.

a death at the university

Plot Summary:

Sam is an unassuming, laid back kind of a guy – so much so that he is happy to leave the business he owns for hours at a time in order to help the police investigate the murder of one of his clients. While detective Gaston Lemieux does the official business, Sam potters around trying to sniff out leads and find that extra bit of information that may prove crucial to the whole operation. While Sam’s involvement in the murder is dismissed quickly, the body count begins to rise (slightly) and as unsavoury rumours about the deceased circulate, it’s up to Sam and Gaston to unravel the threads and find the killer.

The Usual Suspects:

This one has the quirky aspect of featuring Sam as a suspect early on, but this is put aside almost immediately, which I thought was unfortunate because it could have added some much needed suspense to the plot. Apart from Sam, the murder victim’s colleagues, students and multiple lovers are in the firing line.

The Hunt for the Murderer/s:

Unfortunately, I found this to be tedium itself. There is very little in the way of danger in the investigation and Sam seems to be able to wander into any suspects circle of awareness, ask some questions, get some reasonable answers and report them back to Gaston. The ending is also a bit lacklustre, with only the most minor of minor twists, which I imagine will be pretty disappointing to avid murder mystery fans.

Overall Rating:

 

poison clip art

 One poison bottle for the friendly warmth and hospitality of a bookshop run by Canadians

This book was a disappointing read. I would say “bitterly” disappointing, but I can’t even muster up enough emotion about it to be bothered being bitter. I was initially excited to read a murder mystery set partly in a bookshop in Canada, as I felt this was an interesting variation from my usual British cosy mysteries. The writing, and, it must be said, the main character, are as bland as the Americans would have us believe Canadians were born to be. There was far too much “telling” instead of showing in the narrative style and while Sam obviously has to have a big part in the investigation, being the protagonist, it beggars belief that a detective would let some ordinary Joe (or Sam, as the case may be), go around doing police work. One would think that this would prejudice the case somewhat.

I can’t really recommend this book simply because there are far more engaging examples of the genre floating around. If you have a specific interest in Canadian murder mysteries however, you might find something to enjoy here.

Until next time,

Bruce