The Bookshop, by Penelope Fitzgerald. The year is 1959, and Florence Green, a widow, decides to use the small amount of money she inherits to open a bookshop in a small village. She finds a location that - though not in perfect condition - suits her needs and her budget just fine.
Many in the village are a little bit surprised that she even thinks a bookshop is a necessary thing, but they patronize it for a while. Unfortunately, Mrs. Gamart, a local patroness of the arts (and genteel bully) thinks that Florence's bookshop location would make more sense as the spot for a local arts center. When Florence doesn't back down, she has made an enemy with friends/relatives in important positions.
Soon, Florence's bookshop sees the few customers it had, diminish. And eventually she throws in the towel and decides to close.
I listened to an audiobook of this title, and enjoyed it immensely. I felt for Florence, from the beginning, when it already seemed the her bookshop had a tenuous existence. Once she crossed Mrs. Gamart, it was clear that things would not work out.
I really liked this story, and the image it painted of a particular time and place. I felt that I could see the characters and the village clearly in my mind.
Espresso Shot, by Cleo Coyle. Another installment in the Coffeehouse Mysteries, in which Clare Cosi has to figure out who is trying to kill her ex-husband's fiance only a couple of days before the wedding. And as the person who is providing the coffee and specialty beverages for the reception, along with her friend who has started a pastry bakery, Clare has plenty to do without having to investigate anything.
This was the usual fun, light read that these books usually are. With one exception. And that is, that the person who was killed at the beginning of the book because she was mistaken for the bride-to-be, is supposedly from Wheeling, West Virginia. Clare suspects this when she first talks to the girl, because of her "twang."
I spent the bulk of my life in Wheeling, and still have family and friends who live there. The only time I ever met anyone with a "twang" at all was when I met someone from someplace else. If people have a speech pattern at all there, it's closer to the way people in Pittsburgh speak than any other "accent."
This may seem like a small detail to most readers, but having spent my whole life explaining that a) I am not from the South, and b) why I don't have a Southern accent, means that I am especially sensitive to this kind of thing.
Having said all of that, as I said, this is - like the others in this series - entertaining enough, and especially good to read when you are in the mood for a book that doesn't have to be, or claims to be, great literature.
The Anatomist's Apprentice, by Tessa Harris. Dr. Thomas Silkstone is a young doctor who has studied the very new/theoretical field of anatomy in the American colonies (Philadelphia, to be exact). He is in London continuing his studies, when he becomes involved in the investigation into how young Sir Edward Crick died. Though Crick was not popular, his sister, Lady Lydia Farrell, witnessed his mysterious and gruesome death and wants to know what happened.
At the time the book takes place, doctors had very little knowledge that helped them determine other than obvious causes of death, and bodies were buried quickly due to rapid decomposition. Dr. Silkstone has read and learned of other methods to determine ailments and causes of death, and although he has a hard time getting the local coroner to help him, he manages to uncover not just what/who killed Crick, but other devious dealings among the upper crust.
The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green. This is a lovely book. I know a lot of people who have read this and thought it was one of the most amazing books ever. I wouldn't go that far, but I feel it was well-written and a book that made me want to keep reading.
Hazel and Augustus meet at a support group meeting for children/young people with cancer. They are drawn to one another because they see through a lot of the "special"-ness of cancer, and those who have cancer. Though they do not have a lot in common on the surface, they know how life works, and that cancer is - for those who have it - as much a fact of life as their eye color, height, etc. Both of them have experienced the uncomfortable friends, the worried parents, and the people who see it as their raison-d'etre to help cancer patients, even when their help can be misguided.
The story is sad, but hopeful. A lot of people thought it was depressing, but I didn't feel that way at all. I found it to be a very true accounting of how it can feel to be ca cancer patient and/or survivor. There were some really funny parts, often gallows humor, but that too is realistic.
I like that it "explained" (at least from Augustus' and Hazel's viewpoints) how unwelcome the good intentions of others can be. The story is a strong reminder to notice and live in the here and now, which I think is the most valuable thing it could have told the reader.
I would recommend this book, unless reading about people with cancer really upsets you. It's worth a try, in any case.
The Blessings, by Elise Juska. I really liked this book.
The Blessings of the title are a close-knit, Irish-Catholic family who live in Northeast Philadelphia. The book is the story of their family, but not necessarily told in a regular, linear fashion. Each chapter is "told" from the standpoint of one of the characters, outlining their feelings about their families, themselves, and where they do or do not fit in. They have all been part of so many of the same experiences, both good and bad, and they have been exposed to so many family events and rituals. And yet, each person feels something different. Each person is both one and part of the larger whole.
The thing I really liked about this book was the fact that each character felt there was some watershed moment in their lives, but not necessarily the same one. So often, you assume that your siblings felt the same and experienced things the same way that you did, only to learn differently. And even though of course that makes sense, it still seems surprising.
It was also a story about a family that may have looked pretty perfect to outsiders, but was not that much different from anyone else's family. Happiness, sadness, conflict, ambivalence, frustration, annoyance, pride, embarrassment - just a few of the things that make families what they are. And probably keeps them going.
I would recommend this book. It is well-written, and the characters are not necessarily stereotypical, though like all of us, they have aspects of their personalities that are.
I love reading. :-)