Camino Island by John Grisham
Perfect for vacation reading, this entertaining thriller has a devilishly clever plot that keeps the pages turning. A well-planned heist of five rare manuscripts by F. Scott Fitzgerald from Princeton University opens the story. Months later, with the FBI still investigating, a private company contacts Mercer Mann, a young English instructor, with an intriguing offer. If she spends a few months on Camino Island mingling with the literary community, her college loans will be paid off and she’ll have the time to work on her long overdue second novel. Mercer spent several summers on the Florida island, but hasn’t returned since her grandmother’s sudden death. Mercer is asked to get close to island bookseller Bruce Cable, and to try to get a look at his rare book vault in the basement. The local and visiting writers get together often for drinks and to talk about writing and publishing. Mercer spends much of her time walking and sunning on the beach, and is still struggling to find a book plot. Soon enough, the thieves and book dealers connect. The FBI wants to arrest the thieves, while Princeton’s insurance company is focused on getting the manuscripts returned, and Mercer struggles to do the right thing.
Plaid & Plagiarism by Molly MacRae
This book is an appealing beginning to a new cozy mystery series set in the Scottish Highlands. Librarian Janet, her daughter Tallie, and two of their friends buy a bookshop in Inversgail with plans to open a tearoom next door and a B & B upstairs. Making a quick visit to Janet’s house to see why her move has been delayed, Christine finds the kitchen full of trash while Summer, a reporter, finds a dead body in the garden shed. Later they find a biscuit tin full of threatening letters at the bookshop, which were probably written by the victim, advice columnist Una Graham. I found the four women a bit difficult to tell apart at first, but it was interesting having four amateur sleuths working together on the same case. There are plenty of descriptions of learning to run a bookshop, remodel a tearoom, and plenty of local colour, although sadly no scone recipes. A good start to the Highland Bookshop series, with some room for improvement.
The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald
Sara Lindqvist arrives in Hope, Iowa for a long visit with her pen pal, Amy. Amy never shows up to drive her to Broken Wheel, and Sara arrives at her home just in time for Amy’s wake. Oddly, the residents of the tiny town in Southern Iowa want her to stay in Amy’s house, eat up all the casseroles, and get driven wherever she wants to go by lonely George. She is invited to the local bar to meet the town’s only eligible bachelor, Tom. No one will let her pay for her meals, drinks, or groceries. Once she gets to know Amy’s friends, Sara wants to give back to the town, and opens a small bookstore in a vacant storefront, stocking it mostly with Amy’s large collection of books. Sara generally prefers books to people, having worked in a bookstore in Sweden for years, but that could change. When a newsletter promotes the bookstore, the shop and the local bar fill up with tourists from Hope. The residents of Broken Wheel hope that maybe Sara will stay. Charming, quirky, and endearing, this is already popular with staff here at the library. I listened to the audiobook, with Sara’s part read by Fiona Hardingham, and the Iowans given a southern accent by Lorelei King, which only added to my reading enjoyment. This is a first novel by a Swedish writer who had only visited Iowa in books before this book was published.
Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good, by Jan Karon
It’s been nine years since there’s been a new book by Jan Karon set in the small town of Mitford, North Carolina, but I think it’s been worth the wait. Father Tim, an Episcopal priest, first appeared in At Home in Mitford in 1994. The two most recent books featuring Father Tim and his wife Cynthia have been set in Mississippi and Ireland. Cynthia is still writing and illustrating children’s books, and Father Tim is struggling with how to find meaning in retirement. When he is asked to preach again at the Episcopal church in Mitford, it’s a tough decision. Adopted son Dooley is in college and has given a friendship ring to Lace. Dooley’s younger brother Sammy lives next door, and Tim wonders how he can reach out to the troubled teen. An unexpected opportunity to volunteer at the local bookstore one or two days per week while the pregnant owner is on bed rest gives Tim the chance to re-connect with his friends and neighbors as Christmas approaches. All of Mitford’s quirky characters make an appearance, with plenty of laughter and some tears in this heartwarming novel.
The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry: A Novel by Gabrielle Zevin
This isn’t the charming, feel-good book I was expecting from the publicity. The writing style is engaging and I found the book difficult to put down, but the tone is bittersweet with occasionally very funny sections. This is not a predictable book, and has more depth than I expected. Definitely a memorable read with wide appeal.
A. J. Fikry is a curmudgeon, although still in his 30s. Mourning his wife’s death in an accident, he has retreated from life. As he owns a bookstore on an island near Nantucket that is a problem, especially after the rare book he was saving to fund his retirement goes missing. He is very particular about the kind of books he will stock, and new publisher sales rep Amelia Loman finds him a tough sell. Then Maya, a little girl, unlocks the key to his heart, and the bookstore gradually becomes a community gathering place. I especially enjoyed the transformation of local police chief Lambiase from an infrequent reader to a passionate reader who leads a book discussion group. Eventually A.J. even finds love, as does Lambiase. Suggested for readers of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and fans of bookstores everywhere.
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
Do you love books? Did you ever play Dungeons and Dragons or watch Star Wars? Would you like to read about code breaking, a quest, or Google? Then welcome to the three-story-tall independent bookstore in San Francisco where Clay Jannon gets a job as the night clerk. The recession ended his job as web designer at NewBagel after only a year. Mr. Penumbra asks Clay three questions when he applies for the job. One is to describe a book he loves (the made-up Dragon-Song Chronicles by Clark Moffat) and another is if he can climb the ladders up three stories to retrieve books. The bookstore has only a small selection of books for sale. Most of the books are written in code, and are checked out by regular customers. Clay tries to market the bookstore, reads the log describing all the customers, and decides to map the entire bookstore on his laptop. Kat Potente from Google visits the bookstore, and helps Clay and his roommate scan one of the log books to try and solve the mystery that is the bookstore. Clay’s quest involves friends old and new and takes him to a museum for knitting, the Google campus, a storehouse for unwanted museum artifacts, and a secret reading room in a New York City cave, supported by sales of an ancient type font known as Gerritszoon. Many book lovers are trying to crack the code of one of the first book printers, Manutius. Google staff help, also, but the answer is most unexpected. A real pleasure for fans of both old knowledge and new technology. The author’s website has more about Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.
Prisoner of Heaven, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (Translated from Spanish by Lucia Graves)
This is the third in a cycle of novels that began with The Shadow of the Wind and The Angels Game. I would recommend that you read the first two books before reading this one.
This novel is set like the others in Barcelona, Spain. The main character is Daniel Sempere, who, together with his father runs Sempere and Sons Bookshop. There is also another fascinating place, “The Cemetery of Lost Books” a huge library of old forgotten books protected by an elite of old bookkeepers. According to tradition initiates are allowed to select one book from the collection and must protect it for life.
The saga starts with The Shadow of the Wind and then is continued in The Angels Game which is actually a prequel. There are a lot of doings and plots and run ins with the Fascist authorities under General Francisco Franco.
Prisoner of Heaven recounts the imprisonment of Fermin Romero de Torres in a notorious political prison run by the Franco regime during the Spanish Civil War. Fermin is a character in the first two books, but not the main character. He is something of a rogue, a bon-vivant, and protector of Daniel. He escapes from the wretched prison using a technique gleaned from The Count of Monte Cristo.
There is romance, intrigue and shadowy forces in these books. I highly recommend them.