nerdy girl reads: first impressions

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife…” … is really the only line in Pride and Prejudice I care to remember. I know, I KNOW, I am pretty much the only romance-loving woman who is not seriously into Jane Austen. I don’t get it either. So I kind of rolled my eyes a little when I realized Charlie Lovett’s new book was a mystery about good old P&P. I was SO looking forward to it because his debut, The Bookman’s Tale, was so wonderful. But I shouldn’t have despaired because in the hands of a good writer, even a Jane Austen-hater can be convinced.

first-impressions

As in The Bookman’s Tale, the narrative follows two story lines, one present and one past. In the present, we meet Sophie Collingwood, a recent Literature grad who (like most Literature grads) has no idea what she wants to do with her life. Her beloved uncle dies in a suspicious “fall,” and while attempting to restore his library (sold off to pay for the family estate, naturally — there had to be SOME British stereotypes!), she begins to work at an antiquarian bookshop in London. In the span of a day or so, two different customers request the same obscure book: the second edition of Little Book of Allegories by Richard Mansfield. Her search for the title leads her into a mystery that questions the author of her favorite book, Pride & Prejudice. In the meantime, we follow a young Jane Austen and her friendship with Richard Mansfield, an aging cleric who encourages her writing and is a deep influence in her life. It is during their friendship that she gets the idea for an epistolary novel about a young man and woman named Darcy and Bennett who make disastrous “first impressions”…or was it really his?

As a book and mystery lover, I was pretty much already going to love this book, despite my anti-P&P bias. The mystery was well-paced and suspenseful, the reader is left guessing whether Sophie can save Jane Austen’s reputation and who is really coming after her and the book until the end. While I liked Sophie, my main critique of the novel is that she felt very one-note throughout the book and as a whole, the character development was a bit shallow. Her love triangle is entertaining, if not predictable. Just how does one choose between the hot smooth-talking book publisher who wines and dines you and the confident and attractive American literary scholar who writes you funny and romantic letters from his travels? Of course, you’d have to believe her “first impressions” of these suitors…

Under the mystery, the book is all about love…romantic love, familial love, the love between close friends, and the love of books and the worlds they transport us to. Reading the book is as pleasant a journey as a stroll around the English countryside, perfect for spring. Bibliophiles rejoice, if Charlie Lovett keeps writing beautiful love letters to literature like First Impressions, we’ll all be very happy indeed.

Rating: 7, Darn good (Highly recommended book that is well paced and enjoyable with a few flaws.)

 

nerdy girl reads: the bookman’s tale

Oh The Bookman’s Tale. You might be my second favorite book I read all year (The Language of Flowers still holds a special place in my heart for some reason). You know the movie National Treasure? Hey, don’t mock me. You know you also secretly adore it and watch it every single time it’s on TV. So picture National Treasure, but instead of crazy Nicolas Cage as the lead, Riley the hapless but super hot nerd is our hero trying to solve a mystery about books.

That’s The Bookman’s Tale.

The-Bookmans-Tale-book-cover

The story centers around Peter Byerly, the aforementioned nerd. You don’t really know if he’s super hot, I just chose to picture him this way. Made it much more fun and in the movie (should they choose to make one), you know he definitely will be. Anyway, Peter is an antiquarian bookseller who finds himself in Hay-on-Wye, a Welsh town known for its awesome bookshops, browsing a random shop trying to rekindle his passion and feel like working again after losing his wife. He opens a book about Shakespeare and out tumbles a portrait of his late wife, Amanda. Except that, well, she’s dead. And the painting is Victorian (he knows this because conveniently enough, Amanda used to love Victorian art). He steals the watercolor and out story begins.

The subtitle of The Bookman’s Tale is “A novel of obsession,” so naturally, obsession is a main theme of the book. Peter becomes obsessed with finding out who is in this painting and starts to branch out of his one-man comfort zone, going to lectures and meeting people in his town. He is called to look at one of his wealthy neighbor’s book collection and stumbles on a copy of an old play said to be the basis for one of Shakespeare’s works. When he uncovers Shakespeare’s notes in the margins, he quickly realizes the obsession that has lasted centuries around this very important document, and how important it is to determine is originality. And of course, there is Peter’s obsession with Amanda.

The storyline is told through three different plot lines that Charlie Lovett expertly weaves together. One is obviously the modern-day events, what happens to Peter after he finds the portrait and begins his quest to find out who is in the painting and figure out if the Shakespeare marginalia/The Pandosto is legitimate. The second is the story of the Shakespeare document, from the Elizabethan era through the Victorian times to present day, following the list of names on the inside cover. The third is Peter and Amanda’s love story. By now, I think I’ve written that I’m a sucker for love stories about 75 times, but you guys, this one just got to me. I was captivated. True, he’s a little obsessive and stalker-y in the beginning of their courtship and they are both a little strange, but their relationship was so sweet and heart-wrenching. You could see how through their relationship, Peter learned to overcome his flaws and recognize his worth and strength. The plots are well-paced and dynamic with an ending that is suspenseful and action-packed.

I truly loved this book. How could I not love a book that so obviously loves books?!? Despite turning into a true library girl (why buy books when I work in a place that gives you books for free?), I find myself wanting to buy it because I know I would read it again. Actually, I think The Bookman’s Tale is perfect for rereading because you would pick up on more clues and emotional depth the second time around when you’re not racing through the story. Please, please, please do yourself a favor and pick up The Bookman’s Tale by Charlie Lovett.

And watch National Treasure. You know you want to!