How to Find Love in a Bookshop
Julius Nightingale is a beloved staple in his small Peasebrook community outside of Oxford, England. He found his life’s calling when he set up a book shop, Nightingale Books. When Julius dies, his daughter, Emilia, comes home with fond memories of the shop and the weight of a deathbed promise to keep it going. What her ailing father had failed to mention was the enormous debt the shop had accrued. Emilia doesn’t know how she’s going to fulfill her promise to her father after all.
This book is as warm and cozy as the beloved bookstore it portrays. There is a lively cast of characters who are each trying to find themselves, and love, along the way. Although there are several different storylines, each character is fun and compelling in their own way. The author is a good storyteller, and each of the characters intersect in a satisfying and heartwarming way. This is the perfect book to escape into and relax. Things will turn out right within the pages of this story, which is sometimes just what the soul needs. For a quick, pleasant read, you can’t go wrong with How to Find Love in a Bookshop.
Pamela Dorman Books
Sighing Woman Tea
Sighing Woman Tea opens as Thomas Figas Burke is returning to his mystical island home of Viridis or Green Island off of Canton after he left to pursue his education in mathematics. Figas is a descendent of Thomas Burke, one of the passengers on a trading ship which discovered and inhabited the island in the 12th century. Over time, that small, muticultural band learned to live in harmony with each other and the island and to carefully cultivate the Sighing Woman Tea, which is currently more expensive per ounce than gold in the international tea markets. Now, Figas returns home with a warning: multinational corporations will sweep in and destroy their idyllic paradise to wrest away control of the tea. The aunties and uncles who lead the Green Islanders seem right to ignore Figas concerns as he reintegrates into this close-knit society, until the 125th Expeditionary Force sails into port, occupies the island, and attempts to impose military law on the islanders. Can this traditional, peaceful society survive this invasion? Are the Green Islanders as simple as some of the occupying forces believe? Can the islanders find a way to live the values their ancestors learned from the island, repel their invaders, and save their tea?
Mark Daniel Seiler has written a wonderful novel. He takes his readers halfway around the globe on a trading ship traveling from Sicily to a fictional Green Island and then across several centuries. Despite its breadth of scope, the novel had real depth that makes it hard to put aside. The main characters are multidimensional. From the 12th century crusader Burke, who loves learning and refuses to kill innocent Muslim women and children, to his descendant, Figas, who understands numbers better than emotions and must face an almost paralyzing childhood trauma in addition to an occupying force, Seiler gives each of his main characters a unique persona. Furthermore, Seiler writes excellent dialogue with wit and insight. In particular, he demonstrates a real understanding of Eastern culture and its ability to obscure with the obvious. Finally, this novels plot is refreshingly new and unpredictable, especially in the islanders tactics, but closes in a wholly satisfying way. A Pacific Rim Book Festival winner, Sighing Woman Tea is an excellent debut novel and a delight to read.
Hot Box in the Pizza District
At the beginning of Hot Box in the Pizza District, we encounter Tim, a weight-lifting, insecure young community college student who has received a box — presumably a birthday gift — from his estranged father. Tim needs someone to return the box, unopened, to his father. He encounters the beautiful Eileen. Eileen is older than Tim, she’s visiting from the state college, and it’s clear that she’s out of his league. Hot Box, thus, presents the reader with a two-prong story: what will happen in terms of Tim’s relationship with his father, and does he have any chance of developing a relationship with Eileen?
Thomas Keech can write, and he often reflects the type of personal perspective seen in women’s fiction:
“My mother loved to chat up any new person who came to her house. Soft-spoken and gracious, she allowed them to believe they were interesting, the things they were doing (or even thinking of doing) fascinating. She talked about books, current events, politics. You could tell she had strong opinions, but would never explicitly say what they were. Nothing could be said in her house that might possibly offend anyone. You could talk to her for an hour – or a lifetime – and still not have a clear picture of what she really liked, what she really regretted, and what she really feared.”
Tim is a bright guy, a straight A student, but he’s an awkward fish swimming in a small pond: “I used to be self-conscious around any group other than my old friends, thinking I would screw things up somehow, spill a drink, insult someone by accident, throw up on a rug.” Tim never actually matures, and he reminded me more than a bit of the character Pookie (played by Liza Minelli) in the film The Sterile Cuckoo. He has big needs and little capacity to fill them.
“All 8,746 women on (the state college) campus could intuitively sense there was something wrong with me.”
Hot Box is interesting and engaging, and generally portrays people in a realistic way (except, no spoiler, at its conclusion). There’s some confusion as to when the events take place. People use cell phones, but, at one point, Tim makes a call from a pay phone at a gas station. The biggest issue with this novel is that it could have run through a few more gears. I felt the story began in first gear, slowly shifted into second, and remained there until the last 50 or so pages. A few additional tone and rhythm changes would have enhanced the story. There is a good amount of action and a few surprising occurrences as the story reaches its conclusion.
Hot Box is recommended for those readers who do not demand that their protagonists constitute perfect and perfectly strong characters. Tim may be a reflection of more people in the world than the usual main figure.
The Lame Duck
Dr. Bob Cassidy, a caring selfless physician in a small rural Pennsylvania town, seems doomed for failure. During his two-and-a-half-year practice, Bob has been riddled with three mysteriously unsubstantiated malpractice suits. To add insult to injury, he is also surrounded by a group of powerful miscreants who wouldn’t love anything more than to see his career destroyed. Although Bob feels that he’s being set up when the attractive Angela Fratellobetter known as the Angel of Death malpractice lawyerseeks his medical expertise regarding her infected toe, the two, ironically, fall in love. Yet the plot only thickens when Bob decides to stand up to his enemies, instead of following Angela’s advice to get professional help.
Internist and author Bernard Leo Remakus offers his reading audience a view into the darker side of the medical world in his fourth novel. Remakus includes a host of carefully crafted characters that range from simple town folk to downright depraved individuals. In fact, many of Remakus’ well-developed cast will undoubtedly rub readers the wrong way, especially when they take jabs at meek Dr. Bob, who is clearly an underdog. Remakus’ lowlife cast serves another purpose in building the good doc’s personaso much more than readers could ever possibly imagine.
While his audience wonders about Dr. Bob ultimate destiny, Remakus amuses them by providing hefty amounts of information besides background on Dr. Bob’s life, his father, and his adversariesall punctuated with periodic romantic scenes. Remakus fills whole chapters in his third person narrative with apt medically-related information in connection with Dr. Bob’s patients, Angela’s physical conditions, other patient situations, and most importantly the real picture behind medical malpractice. Although the information may appear to slow down the plot a bit, Remakus’ purpose behind the information is to better define Dr. Bob’s worldindeed a foreign one, especially to those outside the medical profession. Besides all of the above-mentioned literary elements, Remakus also throws in random twists and turns along the way to keep his narrative moving. Closing unexpectedly, The Lame Duck is one fascinating read!
Two young friends embark on distinctly different life journeys in this emotionally moving story, Windfall Nights by William Claypool. An interesting assortment of characters comes together in this tale where both fate and freewill prevail.
Thomas and Julian meet as youngsters, one a young working man, the other a college student. Through the usual twists and turns of life, they navigate their lives and ultimately diverge not too long after they meet. Each with his own stories of woe, the two are challenged to move ever forward, endeavoring to find purpose and meaning for themselves.
Emotional connection with the key characters is remarkably well achieved. The people in the story are flawed and real, and their struggles are poignant, thus creating authenticity and believability. It is easy to feel what they are feeling and to strongly invest in their happiness. Through detail and dialogue, the author brings these fictional characters to life.
The story is presented as an impressively cohesive whole. For as much detail as there is, all loose ends are resolved at some point in the narrative. From providing sufficient backstory regarding the important relationship between Thomas mother and Julian, to explaining why Julian felt that he recognized Thomas before they had actually officially met, all otherwise stray story pieces are well-connected.
The chronology of the story does become a little difficult to wade through, particularly at a critical point when flashback wants to merge back into the present, but in a later chapter, this transition is clarified. For a brief period, it isnt entirely clear where along the storys continuum we are. It becomes necessary to suspend confusion until the timeline resurfaces a short time later.
For a touching story of two people trying to make their way in the world, look no further than Windfall Nights. Through the fictional accounts of the two key characters, Thomas and Julian, we are reminded that, regardless of who we are or where we go in our lives, everyone makes his/her mark on the world, even as the world unfolds around us in seemingly random fashion.
A near-death experience causes Allan “Vic” Vickery to reassess what’s going on in his life. When he’s hit in the head with a golf ball that causes him to go into a coma for a month, Vic travels to a place in his mind where he plays a round of golf with others who are in a vegetative state. When he awakens, the book chronicles the antihero’s midlife crisis in having an affair, leaving his wife and playing high-stakes golf with a syndicate.
Before his accident, Vic is making an effort to patch up his failing marriage with his wife, Angie. After he wakes up, and Angie hasn’t made an effort to fawn over him and “realize what she almost lost,” Vic doesn’t bother. His behavior with Angie, the affair with his neighbor Roxanne, and the negligence he shows in his stable career as an art teacher makes Vic a difficult main character to like. His near-death experience just enhances his greed, entitlement and selfishness.
Sometimes selfishness isn’t a bad thing. It is important to look inward and take steps toward better self-care. But Vic’s selfishness went a step beyond a life overhaul. When he begins his affair with Roxanne and floats the idea of leaving Angie by her, he makes it clear that his leaving Angie has everything to do with his attempts at his own happiness and nothing to do with Roxanne. Roxanne makes it clear that she does not want to leave her husband. However, triumphant from his first golf winnings, he asks Roxanne to move into his cramped, dirty one-bedroom apartment with him. When she refuses, he becomes angry, accusing her of not wanting to leave her husband because of her secure lifestyle and possessions. While Roxanne doesn’t refute his accusations, she doesn’t confirm them either. Her reasons for staying with her drunk husband were her own, and instead of respecting her choices and her agency, Vic lashes out. He does the same thing with Angie, selfishly projecting his own assumptions about her feelings onto her to justify his affair and him leaving her. Then he becomes sullen when she moves on with someone else. If anything could have taught Vic the value of his own life and that others’ actions were beyond his control, it would have been a near-death experience. But it didn’t. Vic’s story is rife with similar scenarios, and the “difficult lies” in the book point to not only his farcical behavior while he’s still married and cheating on his wife, but to the lies he tells his mother when the marriage ends, the lies about his coma experience he tells his doctor to get out of the hospital, and most importantly, the lies he tells himself to convince himself that his chosen life path makes him truly happy.
Vic is the perfect antihero, and while readers might not like him, they’ll find his story interesting. Anyone who plays golf will get a thrill out of the high-stakes golf games. Contrary to other brush-with-death scenarios, Difficult Lies depicts the story of a man who doesn’t do good with his second chance at life. Instead, Vic makes a mess of his life, and the ending is a patched-up laundry list of things he wants to accomplish to be a better person. But like his cleaning lady, Olivia, and her inability to quit smoking, I didn’t have much faith in Vic to break his cycle of midlife-crisis-level behavior.