I’ve seen this book described as a cozy mystery by some, although I’d have to disagree with their label. Does some awful character die by murder and a lovely but bumbling detective solve the mystery of whodunnit? No, in fact it’s a sad book, a little too melancholy to have given me any ‘cozy’ feelings. The Bookshop of Yesterdays by Amy Meyerson is heartfelt for sure, but I’d place it firmly into the ‘coming of age’ category, or even ‘contemporary women’s fiction’ aka chick lit.
Miranda is our protagonist, who we frequently find narrating the story from a first-person perspective (more on that later). She’s a history teacher at a local school, and just moved in with a fellow teacher, her boyfriend Jay. Shortly after the novel begins she receives a strange letter from her recently deceased and estranged Uncle Billy, whom she hasn’t spoken to in almost two decades. We discover that Billy has left Miranda Prospero Books, a bookstore on the west coast that she grew up visiting when she still had a relationship with her uncle. Over the summer Miranda spends her time attempting to bring Prospero back into solvency, while following a literary scavenger hunt Billy had created for her before his death in order to explain a long-held family secret that caused his estrangement.
I can definitely see many people loving this book, in fact, I believe I saw it at my local Costco, and if there’s ever a sign that a publisher/book buyer has high expectations for a book, that is certainly one. It has all the makings of a successful novel; a deep dark family secret, a musty old bookshop full of treasures, and a love story between young people who are terrible communicators. This story is ripe with conflict that readers are dying to follow along with and witness being happily resolved at the end. The element of romance is a minor one, but it is published by a Harlequin imprint, so obviously there had to be some sort of love triangle. As you can probably tell by how I’m shaping this review, I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I hoped I would, but I really do think it’s because I’m too serious of a reader. In fact, I’ve already promised my copy to my best friend, who I know will enjoy reading it, simply because it will take her mind off things for a few weeks while she makes her way through its pages. Unfortunately, I have pretty high standards these days, and this book just didn’t do it for me.
First and foremost, you’ve got to really avoid questioning certain aspects of this plot, the believability of it really wavers as we follow along on Miranda’s scavenger hunt. The big family secret is pretty easy to guess, and although it answers some questions, it really raises quite a few more that serve a pretty devastating blow to the plausibility of the story. Secondly, this is a minor quibble, but the narration perspective would change halfway through a page, with absolutely no warning, and then back again to someone else, and it was difficult to keep track of who was telling the story, or if we were entering some sort of flashback. Is this a big deal to most people? No, of course not, and I understand why the author did it this way, but sometimes small edits or additions are needed to make these transitions seamless for every reader, including the picky people like me. These small errors chip away at my confidence with the author, so I steel myself for other mistakes to come up, even when none may appear. It turns me into a proofreader when I’d prefer to just be a reader.
Again I don’t want to completely dissuade you from reading this book because I think it will appeal to a wide majority of people. Especially because the real strength of this novel is its characterization-the main characters, (especially Miranda) are wonderfully realistic and engaging. The conversations between characters are very believable as well-even if they don’t ‘read’ as nicely, Meyerson captures the everyday ways we talk with our loved ones, and most people will see their own family reflected back at themselves in these pages. This book is Meyerson’s first, so I think she’s got some real promise. Plot development can be improved upon as a writer progresses, but believable characterization is something that good writers just seem to be born with. It’s for this reason that I look forward to reading what Meyerson will come up with next.