Book Review: “The Bookseller” by Cynthia Swanson (2.5/5)

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Harper, 2015, 352 pages [hardcover]

I had seen some reviews of this floating around Goodreads and other blogs and I was very intrigued. It was also in the staff picks at my library which definitely made me think that I was in for a treat. I always gravitate towards “books about books” which includes books about bookstores!! Unfortunately, though, I did not love this book as much as I hoped to. Looking again at other reviews I feel I might be in the minority so I hope I can do a good job explaining why it didn’t work for me.

The Bookseller tells the story of Kitty Miller who runs a bookshop in Denver in the early 1960s with her best friend. She’s in her late 30’s and doesn’t have any real romantic prospects but is OK with it and has come to terms with being single. However at night Kitty starts dreaming of another life, where she is Katharyn Andersson, married to handsome architect Lars and the mother of three children. As time goes by and the dreams become more vivid Kitty starts to become quite confused as to what really is a dream and what is reality, and starts to wonder where she truly belongs.

There were honestly some things about this book that I adored. I am a huge fan of mid century modern architecture, decor, and just… stuff (products? housewares?), and Swanson’s descriptions of the Anderssons’ 1960s house were so very on point with this. Her writing is truly transportive (is this a word? it’s late here) in this way; I felt extremely integrated into the politics and society of the time, from the gender roles, attitudes about marriage and parenting, fashion, and even the growth of suburbs.

So why didn’t I love this? As great as many of the descriptions were much of the story was a bit boring. I thought that the Kitty/Katharyn character really lacked a spine and I just couldn’t relate to her at all. I love a good twist as much as anyone could but the twists that the author pulled out here just left me feeling kind of hollow. Also without giving anything more away even though I really did feel transported to the 1960s including the politics and attitudes of that time there were a few comments and insinuations made about parenting that as a hopefully future mother some day (in a few years, Mom, I know you are reading this) just upset and angered me (I would be happy to explain more privately just to avoid spoilers).  These faults and more just overpowered the generally good writing for me. 2.5 stars but would not rule out a future Cynthia Swanson book.

Book Review: “The Boston Girl” by Anita Diamant (4/5)

The Boston Girl by Anita DIamant (1)

Scribner, 2014, 336 pages [hardcover]

I got this book from the library after several recommendations from friends (and my mom, my faithful reading buddy). Anita Diamant is probably most well-known for writing The Red Tent which was adapted into a TV miniseries and which I actually have not read! I do have it now from the library though, and after my experience with The Boston Girl I think I will be reading it sooner rather than later.

The Boston Girl made me feel very nostalgic because my grandmother passed away three years ago, almost to the day, and this book takes the form of an 85-year-old grandmother (Addie Baum) narrating to her granddaughter (Ava), telling her all about her life beginning with her childhood in Boston in the early 1900s. My own grandmother was born just 17 years after Addie and had some similar experiences growing up in terms of being one of the first in her family to go to college and really work hard to make a name and future for herself. It made me miss her a lot and wish that I had spent more time with her finding out more about her past while she was here.

It took me a little while to get used to the second-person interjections that Addie’s character often made to Ava. I feel that second person is pretty uncommon especially in historical fiction, but in general I did think that it worked in this scenario, with an older woman basically recounting specific stories from her past in response to her granddaughter asking: “How did you get to be the woman who you are today?”

I found the greatest strength of this book to be in the characterization. Throughout changing times, cultural adjustments, family, financial, and personal struggles, Addie really remains true to herself which I respected. Other characters are also presented strongly such as Addie’s mother who really struggles with a life in America and finds it highly challenging to let go of the “old ways” of living. Although the plot was slower at times, this was definitely a solid 4-star read for me.

 

Quick Update

I just wanted to write a quick post to say hi to everyone and promise that I am going to get a couple of reviews out this weekend. I started a totally unexpected new job at the end of September, and I am loving it so, so much, but I never expected that I would have a job where I’d be so busy that I didn’t have time to do my blog anymore :\ it is just a totally different style of work than I had before (I finally feel like a real lawyer, which is wonderful) and also commuting to Brooklyn between 3 and 4 hours total each day means that when I get home most nights I just want to sleeeeeeeeep. I am over two months behind on reviews and that makes me so sad because the long commute also means that I’ve been reading a ton!

I really hope that I can catch up with my reviews and also try to set aside a little bit of time every day to interact, too. I promise all of my followers & especially friends I’ve made through blogging that I do not intend to ever stop blogging, just am in the middle of this adjustment period and hopefully can get back into the swing of things soon!

 

xoxo