The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern


cover165880-mediumFrom the Publisher: Zachary Ezra Rawlins is a graduate student in Vermont when he discovers a mysterious book hidden in the stacks. As he turns the pages, entranced by tales of lovelorn prisoners, key collectors, and nameless acolytes, he reads something strange: a story from his own childhood. Bewildered by this inexplicable book and desperate to make sense of how his own life came to be recorded, Zachary uncovers a series of clues–a bee, a key, and a sword–that lead him to a masquerade party in New York, to a secret club, and through a doorway to an ancient library hidden far below the surface of the earth.

What Zachary finds in this curious place is more than just a buried home for books and their guardians–it is a place of lost cities and seas, lovers who pass notes under doors and across time, and of stories whispered by the dead. Zachary learns of those who have sacrificed much to protect this realm, relinquishing their sight and their tongues to preserve this archive, and also of those who are intent on its destruction. Together with Mirabel, a fierce, pink-haired protector of the place, and Dorian, a handsome, barefoot man with shifting alliances, Zachary travels the twisting tunnels, darkened stairwells, crowded ballrooms, and sweetly soaked shores of this magical world, discovering his purpose–in both the mysterious book and in his own life.

This is a tough one for me. I confess, I did not love this book. I *liked* it well enough, but found the structure disconcerting. I sometimes struggle with focusing on books that alternate stories with each chapter, which is why this did not fully resonate with me. I kept wanting to read the Zachary Ezra Rawlins narrative and got annoyed that it kept being interrupted by the alternating fairytale chapters. Yes, it all comes together in the end, but the format kept me disconnected and made the narrative drag. It didn’t help that I was reading this in e-format. If I’d hard a print copy, I would have totally skipped around the chapters to satisfy my curiosity.

At the same time, this is a book filled with gorgeous language and description, the fairyland of my childhood dreams where one can get lost for centuries among all the stories in the world. Could there be a better place? I think not. I did enjoy the DungeonMaster/RPG approach to telling Zachary’s story, which at times made me feel as those I was inside the story, and I really enjoyed the characters.

I am 100% certain that fans of The Night Circus will eat this up. Morgenstern’s writing gets ALL the adjectives – lovely, luminous, lyrical, etc. and I predict this will appear on all the “Best of 2019” lists.

Publication Date: November 5, 2019
Published By: Doubleday
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman

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cover155614-mediumFrom the Publisher: The author of Other People’s Houses and The Garden of Small Beginnings delivers a quirky and charming novel chronicling the life of confirmed introvert Nina Hill as she does her best to fly under everyone’s radar.

Meet Nina Hill: A young woman supremely confident in her own…shell. The only child of a single mother, Nina has her life just as she wants it: a job in a bookstore, a kick-butt trivia team, a world-class planner and a cat named Phil. If she sometimes suspects there might be more to life than reading, she just shrugs and picks up a new book.

When the father Nina never knew existed suddenly dies, leaving behind innumerable sisters, brothers, nieces, and nephews, Nina is horrified. They all live close by! They’re all—or mostly all—excited to meet her! She’ll have to Speak. To. Strangers. It’s a disaster! And as if that wasn’t enough, Tom, her trivia nemesis, has turned out to be cute, funny, and deeply interested in getting to know her. Doesn’t he realize what a terrible idea that is?

Chick Lit is one of my least favorite genres, but a friend just recently raved to me about Abbi Waxman, so I thought I’d give this one a try. The writing is chatty and colloquial, with frequent bits of some biting wit tossed in for good measure. The story is a cute modern fairy tale where shy girl born to outgoing, world-traveling single Mom discovers family she never knew she had at the same time her trivia team loses, her bookstore is bought out, she finds love and, you guys! IT’S ALL TOO MUCH FOR HER!

Snark aside, I really enjoyed this and am 100% certain this will be a hit with women looking for a light summer read. It’s great fun.

Publication Date: July 9, 2019
Published By: Berkley
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

The Book Supremacy by Kate Carlisle


Book supremacySynopsis: Newlyweds Brooklyn and Derek are enjoying the final days of their honeymoon in Paris. As they’re browsing the book stalls along the Seine, Brooklyn finds the perfect gift for Derek, a first edition James Bond novel, The Spy Who Loved Me. When they bump into Ned, an old friend from Derek’s spy days, Brooklyn shows him her latest treasure.

Once they’re back home in San Francisco, they visit a spy shop Ned mentioned. The owner begs them to let him display the book Brooklyn found in Paris as part of the shop’s first anniversary celebration. Before they agree, Derek makes sure the security is up to snuff—turns out, the unassuming book is worth a great deal more than sentimental value. Soon after, Derek is dismayed when he receives a mysterious letter from Paris announcing Ned’s death. Then late one night, someone is killed inside the spy shop. Are the murders connected to Brooklyn’s rare, pricey book? Is there something even more sinister afoot? Brooklyn and the spy who loves her will have to delve into the darkest parts of Derek’s past to unmask an enemy who’s been waiting for the chance to destroy everything they hold dear.

I have a soft spot for this bookish series from Kate Carlisle, mostly because I so enjoy the occupation of main character Brooklyn Wainwright, who is a book restorer. Set in San Francisco, the series follows Brooklyn and her ex-spy husband as they solve murder mysteries. While it’s helpful to have some knowledge of the series’ characters, each entry features a stand-alone mystery that is always well-executed. All are light, cozy mysteries that will entertain you for a couple of hours.  Be warned, though. If you read this one, you’ll want to go back and read the rest of the Bibliophile books.

Publication Date: June 4, 2019
Published By: Berkley Publishing Group
Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy

For the Love of Books by Graham Tarrant

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cover160804-mediumPeople who love books and reading and authors will enjoy this book. It’s like a compilation of People magazine stories, but focusing solely on authors. There is information galore on famous feuds, who drank what and when, how and where certain authors liked to write, muses and obsessions, and just plain gossip. However, buried under the 21st century, short attention span sections is some real, solid information about authors, writing, and reading. This would be an interesting companion text in a World Literature course – teach the serious stuff but temper it with the messy, human side of the authors. Recommended for people who enjoy trivia and unusual takes on traditional literature and authors.

Publication Date: June 4, 2019
Published By: Skyhorse Publishing
Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy

The Book Charmer by Karen Hawkins


book charmerI have a fondness for books about books, so the description of The Book Charmer drew me in. Every once in awhile a book comes along that is a just a gentle affirmation on the goodness of neighbors, and this is one of them. The concept of a town librarian hearing books talk and giving the right book to the right person at the right time is the stuff of magic for people who love books. Pair that with a small town full of down to earth people who love each other despite their differences, and a set of main characters so appealing that it’s impossible not to like this book.

Comparisons will inevitably be drawn to Sarah Addison Allen’s Waverley novels and I’d be lying if I said the similarities didn’t occur to me. Like Allen’s stories, Karen Hawkins has imbued her characters and the town of Dove Pond with a certain kind of magic, which creates a modern day fairy tale for people who are searching for the right place to be in life, despite often rough beginnings. In Book Charmer, Hawkins offers a wrenching but hopeful looks into the foster system, but also into the decline of a loved one with Alzheimer’s. Mama G’s illness is handled with sensitivity and honesty, while Grace’s experiences as a foster child inform her adult life in ways she never expected.

Dove Pond is one of those places that you dream of, and you are left wanting to know these people in real life. That is the mark of a good story, and Hawkins fully succeeds here. Recommended.

Publication Date: July 30, 2019
Published By: Gallery/Pocket Books
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield


E115714F-DA04-4765-B6FD-6B4265B78092There are few authors who can take a common archetype like water and use it to deliver a fresh, wholly original tale that ensnares the reader from start to finish. Diane Setterfield does that in Once Upon a River. She uses the River to create the spine upon which she builds multiple stories that eventually meet to join the main narrative, just as tributaries meet the river.

Setterfield’s debut, The Thirteenth Tale, was as brilliant a novel as I’ve ever read and has become one that I re-read occasionally and recommend constantly. Her sophomore effort, Bellman & Black, didn’t appeal to me in the same way, but this one…oh, this one…is a story that I will remember for a long time. The characters are engaging and cleverly written, and the stories are joyful and heartbreaking…at the same time. I especially admire how sensitively Setterfield writes about differences. Jonathan, son of the innkeepers and born with Down Syndrome, is portrayed as a valuable and much-loved member of the family and contributor to the community. Armstrong, the bastard son of an Earl and a Black servant, is portrayed as a powerful, just, and loving man in the English countryside of long ago. And finally there is my favorite character Rita, the village “wise woman” who is really just a woman with common sense who loves to read and learn and who is trusted and loved by the villagers.

These are just three of the characters who people the pages of Once Upon a River, but there are more who will undoubtedly appeal to other readers. Part of Setterfield’s appeal for me is her attention to detail and character-building. Every single character could step out of this book and be a real person.

The multiple stories built throughout this book could stand alone, but here, Setterfield ties them all to the story of a small, mute girl rescued from the river. Who is she and where did she come from? That’s the question that drives all the action forward and leaves you guessing to the very end.

Looked at in a larger context, Once Upon a River is a story about stories and the importance (and danger) of telling tales. Setterfield masterfully shows how stories spread and grow into new things, just as small streams eventually become big rivers. Highly recommended.

Publication Date: December 4, 2018
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy

I’d Rather Be Reading by Guinevere de la Mare


12E9413C-CB5C-4D22-BE60-5E1584801C69Here’s an unusual factoid about Readers: not only do we love to read, we love to read about reading. There’s all sorts of books about books and reading, but Guinevere de la Mare has produced one of the loveliest little books-about-books I’ve seen in quite some time. She alternates a luscious variety of images – drawn, painted, collaged, photographed – with three heartfelt and earnest essays by Maura Kelly, Gretchen Rubin, and Ann Patchett. The images and essays blend into one delightful little book (and it is small enough to slip into a pocket or purse).

Maura Kelly writes about her “Slow Books Manifesto” in which she posits that we should all turn to literature, to books that take some time to read and will become our companions for weeks at a time. Books we savor and think about when we’re not reading. Books that we remember and books that change our way of thinking. I like it….

Ann Patchett writes a short essay explaining how she answered when asked to name her 25 favorite books. She gave it a lot of thought, and produced an eclectic list ranging from Jane Austen to John le Carre to Alice Munro to John Updike. After giving us her list, she went on to answer questions similar to those I pose in the Reader Profiles I feature in this blog. All in all, an intriguing insight into one of our most prolific and successful contemporary authors.

Gretchen Rubin writes about how she tries to organize her time so she can read more. She gives advice such as “Quit Books” – don’t force yourself to finish a book you’re not enjoying, There are too many other things to read out there! Other tips include watch recorded TV, skim, keep a big stack of books to be read, plan time to read more difficult books, and always have something to read.

The art here is engaging and lovely, and includes a colored rendering of a shelf of books that looks very much like it came from the Ideal Bookshelf, one of my favorite bookish artists. There are memes here, along with simple drawings of books, detailed renderings of books and readers, and some nice photography.

This would make a sweet gift for the Reader (with a capital R) in your life. It’s a quick read, but could become a book your favorite Reader goes back to again and again. Highly recommended.

Publisher: Chronicle Books
Publication Date: August 15, 2017