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.

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Book Review: “The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster” by Scott Wilbanks

“What a fascinating turn of events for her rather ordinary life. She’d found a friend — an unexpected treasure. She waved at the door self-consciously before dropping her hand to her side, then placed the letter in the mailbox and slowly made her way home.”

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Sourcebooks, 2015, 392 pages.

I bought this book without really knowing anything about it, but the cover called out to me. The yellow is a lot nicer in person than this picture, and the flowers are raised up slightly from the cover – it’s really pretty. I was also intrigued by the book’s description, which promised me a time-travel adventure with some charming characters. Annie Aster buys a mysterious door in an antique shop in San Francisco, puts it in her backyard, and the next day amidst tons of roses that have appeared there, she finds a wheat field in her yard with a small cabin. The cabin belongs to Elsbeth Grundy who is an elderly retired schoolteacher in 1895. They can now communicate through letters in a brass letter box that has now also appeared on their newly shared property, trying to figure out why this happened, how they’re connected, and how they’re able to correspond with each other which of course ends up getting each of them into some serious trouble. You *know* I’m into that!

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I unfortunately was not blown away by The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster. I think that the premise of the book was really great and had a ton of potential, but there were a LOT of characters here with a LOT of story lines that detracted from the main focus of the book. This can work sometimes but I just kept getting confused and having to go back to remember exactly where we were and what was happening. I wanted to know so much more about the essentials of time travel and how it worked in this book and did not need the side stories in place of that.

I also felt like a lot of the characters’ personalities and characteristics were a little overused – our heroine Annie loves Jane Austen, dresses in period clothing even though it’s 1995, and has a “rather obscure talent” of keeping her china set in flawless condition. This to me could have been any girl in any book and I felt like I had read it many times before. The same thing happened with almost every character that I encountered and it made things a little bit predictable for me.

I’m giving The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster 2.5 stars. I felt like there were so many wonderful ideas in this book that would have been better served as separate works rather than trying to fit everything into one. I would be interested to see what Wilbanks will choose to write about next.