Five Recent Reads

The Bookshop of Yesterdays by Amy Meyerson

A nice surprise. "Bookshop" titles are popular right now and I'm as vulnerable to their appeal as anyone else, even knowing they often don't live up to their promise. This one happily did, with enough depth to make it interesting and a mystery to keep you turning the pages. 

Miranda's uncle Billy was fun and always surprising her. He designed intricate scavenger hunts for her as a child, but when she turned twelve he dropped out of her life. She heard nothing about him until she received the news years later that he had died and left her his bookshop in California, Prospero Books. He also left her one last scavenger hunt, with a book and a cryptic letter as a starting point. The hunt will reveal the answers to her questions about her beloved uncle, and will lead her to reconsider her own life. Should she go back to her boyfriend and job in Pennsylvania, or should she stay and run the bookshop? Ok, so the ending's a little bit predictable, but the journey to get there makes up for that. 

Summer Hours at the Robber's Library by Sue Halpern

It took me a while to get into this but once I did I enjoyed it. It's about a small town librarian recovering from a bad marriage, a young girl doing community service for stealing a dictionary, the young girl's secretive, hippie parents, and a down on his luck ex-Wall St. broker trying to cash in on an old account his mother once kept at the local bank. Also important to the story are a group of retirees fondly referred to as "The Four" who meet regularly at the library, and a few peripheral characters. It's a good-hearted story with enough of an edge to keep it from being too sweet. My only complaint is that the ending is hurried, something I've found in too many contemporary novels lately. All the loose ends get tied up, but in a matter-of-fact, have-to-get-this-finished sort of way. In spite of that, it's a pretty good read.   

Dashbury Park by Susan Tweedsmuir

Well, it didn't quite live up to it's hype, but it wasn't bad. Reviewers gushed and compared it to Jane Austen but it lacks her brilliance: her wit, her insight into human nature, and that edge, that bite that makes her books such fun to read. In this story, Lucy, whose vicar father has passed away, has been given a home with her Tayton relatives at their large country estate. The family are distant but not mean - mostly - and Lucy does find a friend in Jane, the family matriarch, who is there to recover from an illness. But then Ludovic, the heir to the Tayton family fortune, arrives from Italy to stir things up. Other visitors come and go: Violet, the family flirt before whom all men swoon, especially Ludovic; Katherine, the neighbour's daughter, who befriends Lucy and is attracted to Ludovic; and George Maxell, Ludovic's Oxford professor friend, who is smitten, in his quiet, bookish way, with Lucy. As these and other entanglements come to light, drama ensues but it all works out in the end with various weddings and happiness all around. So, a little like Jane Austen. Only it's all wrapped up too quickly. So many things fall easily and conveniently into place leaving the conclusion feeling anti-climatic. Another chapter or two might have provided a more satisfying ending.

Midwinter Murder by Agatha Christie

This is a collection of short stories, some of which take place during the Christmas season. They are not holiday stories as such, just short mysteries with a holiday reference or two that could have been set any time of year without it affecting the plots. I was slightly disappointed by that, but I find Agatha Christie's writing an absolute delight to read anytime so I did enjoy it. She has a light touch, even with murder and mayhem at hand, that I find irresistible. I'm not a short story fan, but I'd read more of hers.    

The Time Keeper by Mitch Albom 

In an ancient time, Dor becomes fascinated with the passage of time and sets out to find a way to measure it. He invents the first clock, for which he is banished to a cave where he must listen through long ages to the complaints of humanity as they plead for more time or less depending on their circumstances. Once his exile is completed, he is sent to help a terminally-ill man and a despairing young girl come to terms with time issues, and in the process he learns some truths about himself. I'm on the fence about this one. The time aspect was what drew me to it and that was fun to read, and I did get caught up in the young girl's story, but the author was trying way too hard to be profound on every page. Sure there's some wisdom in his words, but it stopped being inspiring and became simply tedious.


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