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