I have yet to do an update for my reading challenge, which is on my To-Do list, but my To-Do list is about a mile long so some things have gotten pushed aside. That being said, I have managed to tick a few books off of my 52 book list, including a couple of fairly specialized ones. This one came about when I put a call out on Facebook to my librarian friends for some recommendations. I received some fabulous recommendations, and The Bookshop of Yesterdays caught my attention because it could fit into another category which allowed me to pick one of the others for the recommendation category. So I decided to make this one my Book About Books. And boy, was it a book about books. Among the classic titles dropped in this book are The Tempest, Frankenstein, Bridge to Terabithia, Pride and Prejudice, The Feminine Mystique, Jane Eyre, The Grapes of Wrath, Fear of Flying, and more.
Miranda Brooks hasn’t seen or heard from her uncle Billy in sixteen years. Her memories of Uncle Billy are mostly happy ones. He was the cool uncle with the cool job and the amazing book store that felt like home. He sent her on rambling scavenger hunts with literary clues that always led to something wonderful. Miranda didn’t care that Billy was completely unreliable, always missing special occasions, a fact that irritated Miranda’s parents much more than it irritated her. Then on a fateful night after Billy missed yet another birthday, Miranda witnessed a terrible argument between her mother and Billy. After that fight, she never saw or spoke to Billy again. After sixteen years, Billy is merely the distant memory of a 12 year old Miranda, but news of his death still strikes a hard blow to her. She’s shocked to find out that Billy left her the bookstore, Prospero Books. Additionally, Miranda starts receiving clues to a new mystery. Billy has sent her on one final quest. One final scavenger hunt that will lead her back home on a journey in search of the ultimate treasure: the truth.
This is a very fascinating concept. I think deep down all of us avid readers can appreciate how awesome it would be to have a mysterious relative we haven’t seen for years die and leave us an amazing book store. Not the dying part. That’s sad. But the bookstore would be cool. There are certain aspects of this I love. I loved the literary clues for the scavenger hunt, for example. It’s a treasure trove of literary name drops. And if you’re a really savvy well-read individual, you can figure out a lot of the clues before Miranda does. Most of the clues, additionally, are symbolic in some way of Billy’s feelings and choices throughout his life. It’s still a bit sad, however. It’s a romanticized way of dealing with the fact that Billy is a human completely devoid of the ability to communicate with the people he loves.
As far as plot goes, there’s nothing I found particularly surprising. In the beginning, we open to Miranda far from home, a history teacher at a boring little school. Her boyfriend is an obnoxious idiot. Sadly, I was rooting for her to dump him for the other guy before there even WAS another guy, so he doesn’t even seem like much of a conflict. He’s simply another convenient not-quite-hurdle in her journey toward embracing a new path in life. Even the big reveal in the end feels like something I knew was coming for quite some time. I still rather enjoyed the journey, but it was far from Earth shattering. I kind of hate reviewing books like this, because I always want to talk about specifics but I don’t do spoilers…
My main quibble with this book is Miranda. I found her personality to be a bit grating. Perhaps I should give her the benefit of the doubt, because I do want characters who are flawed. And she’s definitely realistically flawed. I often didn’t understand her motivations. And while she definitely had a reason to be upset about a lot of things, she could be quite callous and stubborn, especially when it came to her mother, who was actually the character in the book I felt to be the most solidly drawn. Even with the idiot boyfriend I just wished Miranda would opt for a little honesty instead of delaying things unnecessarily. I guess I just never really grew very endeared to her. I like to feel close to a character, even if I don’t like them. I want to develop some sense of understanding of who they are, where they came from, and how they got to be the way they are. In this case I feel like I was told what happened but it still didn’t convey the feelings I was meant to be given. I also had sympathy for Uncle Billy, but I still found his character arc to be completely infuriating. I merely didn’t understand how one could make the types of choices he made and never attempt to make things right in life. Other characters on the periphery had their charms, but I don’t believe there’s anyone that will stick with me after I have a few more books under my belt.
One thing I believe to be a positive about this book could also be looked at as a negative if you’re not as strange as I am. I thought this book would wind up being a cozy, fluffy read. In certain respects, it is. But there’s also a profound sadness that permeates the book, which gives it a much greater feeling of authenticity. Life is not perfect. Things go wrong. Sometimes we screw up, and sometimes it’s too late to go back and undo a lifetime of mistakes. So while some people may hate finding a book to be depressing and soul crushing in some ways, I feel like it was a bit of a saving grace for this book. It stopped it from becoming too commonplace, just another cozy fireplace read that you devour in two sittings and then subsequently forget. Overall, I thought this was a solid debut novel.