A Bookshop in Algiers

A Bookshop in AlgiersA Bookshop in Algiers
by Kaouther Adimi
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781788164696
Publication Date: June 1, 2020
Pages: 146
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Allen & Unwin

A Bookshop in Algiers celebrates quixotic devotion and the love of books in the person of Edmond Charlot, who at the age of twenty founded Les Vraies Richesses (Our True Wealth), the famous Algerian bookstore/publishing house/lending library. He more than fulfilled its motto 'by the young, for the young', discovering the twenty-four-year-old Albert Camus in 1937. His entire archive was twice destroyed by the French colonial forces, but despite financial difficulties and the vicissitudes of wars and revolutions, Charlot carried forward Les Vraies Richesses as a cultural hub of Algiers.

A Bookshop in Algiers interweaves Charlot's story with that of another twenty-year-old, Ryad, who is dispatched to the old shop in 2017 to empty it of books and repaint it. Ryad's no booklover, but old Abdallah, the bookshop's self-appointed, nearly illiterate guardian, opens the young man's mind.

Cutting brilliantly from Charlot to Ryad, from the 1930s to current times, from WWII to the bloody 1961 Free Algeria demonstrations in Paris, Adimi delicately packs a monumental history of intense political drama into her swift and poignant novel. But most of all, it's a hymn to the book and to the love of books.


 

Apparently I was in the mood to challenge myself when I went to the library.  I’ve moved now from South Africa to North, to Algeria, and again find myself waffling between 4. and 4.5 stars.

Translated from the French, the writing via translation is beautiful, or, at least, beautifully engaging.  The story is divided into flashbacks in the form of journal entries, written by the Edmund Charlot, the original owner of the Les Vraies Richesses (the Bookstore at the center of the story), a present-day timeline told in the third person, and a third that I don’t know how to describe; something akin to a transitional voice-over; NPR calls it a communal third person.

Over the course of this small book, the reader travels with Algeria and the bookstore through pre-war French colonialism, WWII, and Algeria’s war for independence, coming out into the present day in a city that feels like it’s in stasis (although there are early references to the economy suffering because Algeria’s oil reserves have dried up), and the people are holding their breath, waiting to see what happens next. Edmund Charlot comes across and a wonderful man; kind, generous, and someone who followed a vocation rather than a profession, and  while I worried about his naiveté at the start of his career, and felt for him when things were so impossible in post-war Paris, I mourned with him at the senseless destruction that ultimately took him out of Algeria.

I ended up going with 4 stars because the ending did my head in.  I really feel like I got a taste of Algiers, and I definitely felt Abdallah’s pain as the bookstore was slowly dismantled with so little feeling by the young intern, Ryad, sent to “throw everything away”.  But the end … the end left me flipping pages and saying “what the hell?” to myself.  I really want to be able to ask the author to explain herself.  What was her motivation with this ending?  Or perhaps I missed some nuance, some metaphor; perhaps I took then ending to literally.  Either way, it was abrupt.

In spite of this, the book is the kind that will stay with me for some time to come, and I’ll “see” it in my memory as if it was something I experienced, rather than just read.  I just have to forget about that ending.

The Lost and Found Bookshop

The Lost and Found BookshopThe Lost and Found Bookshop
by Susan Wiggs
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9780008358754
Publication Date: September 16, 2020
Pages: 359
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: HarperCollins

Heartbroken Natalie Harper inherits her mother’s charming, cash-strapped bookshop and finds herself the carer for her ailing grandfather Andrew. She thinks it’s best to move him to an assisted-living home to ensure his care, but to pay for it, Natalie will have to sell up the bookshop. However, Grandpa Andrew owns the building and refuses to budge.

Moving into the studio apartment above the shop, Natalie hires a contractor, Peach Gallagher, to do some repairs. His young daughter becomes a regular at the shop, and she and Natalie begin reading together while Peach works. Slowly, Natalie’s sorrow begins to dissipate as her life becomes an unexpected journey of new friendships. From unearthing hidden artifacts in the bookshop’s walls, to learning the truth about her family, the bookshop is full of surprises. Can Natalie reveal her own heart’s desire and turn a new page…?


 

I’m in a general fiction sort of reading mood, and this book, my second attempt, was much better than the first (The Last Bookshop in London).  Although, it didn’t start out that way; this book is broken down into 6 parts and the first part is absolutely wretched.  The writing is solid, but the story is wretched.

Once the story moves into part 2, it becomes a more enjoyable read.  Natalie starts moving forward, Peach (sorry, I don’t care if you do look like a pirate, that nickname is ridiculous) starts working on the building and things move forward, albeit slowly.  This is a sedately paced story, though there are intermittent moments that are fun, like when they find stuff hidden in a wall, or out in an old shed.  The history of families, and of San Francisco, are threads that run through the book, woven through the plot, becoming pivotal to the resolution.  I’ve only ever spent a day in San Francisco, but I swear the bookstore in this story was smack in the middle of our self-created walking tour, as I kept recognising landmarks and places the author dropped into the text, an occurrence I always enjoy.

Overall, an enjoyable read if you can get past the first part and like a general fiction sort of book.  It has a happy ending and there’s a very small but potent romance that takes almost the entire book to develop.  I’m not altogether sure Andrew’s altruism is entirely realistic; I’d like to believe it’s possible but given the pressure the author puts him and Natalie under, it’s sadly improbable.  Still, I like books that show us our best possible selves (penchant for murder mysteries aside), so it didn’t really hinder my ability to buy into the story, although it did occur to me that by the end, around the clock security would probably be necessary to ward off the treasure hunters.

 

The Ex Hex

The Ex HexThe Ex Hex
by Erin Sterling
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9780063027473
Publication Date: September 28, 2021
Pages: 320
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction, Romance
Publisher: HarperCollins

 

A departure for me, as this book is all about the romance, not a mystery plot that masks a little romance on the side.  But Whiskey in the Jar’s review made it sound cute and a lot of fun, so I grabbed it from my library.

It was fun, and it was cute.  I liked the N. Georgia setting and the brand of witchiness the story relied upon (think more Bewitched, less later-seasons-Charmed).  It was a nice change to read about a romantic hero that was Welsh instead of the tried and true Scottish or Irish male.

I mostly liked the relationships; the dynamic between Vivienne and her aunt and cousin, and especially the relationship between Rhys and his brothers.  The dynamic between Rhys and Simon, the father, felt forced and, the way it’s written here, kind of useless, as it really goes nowhere.

The narrative banter was the most enjoyable part of the book for me (that and the fact that the cat got a voice).  The banter kept me reading, even though I skimmed the romance and the angst, but that’s not the book, that’s just me.

Overall exactly what I was hoping for.

 

I read this for Halloween Bingo 2021, and I read it at night, with my little book light for ambiance, making it work for Read by Candlelight or Flashlight; I was all ready to do the candle light, but I remember Easter-cats first confrontation with a candle flame, and her singed whiskers.  Pikachu has insanely long whiskers and an insatiable curiosity that didn’t bode well for the candlelit reading.

Wild Ride

Wild RideWild Ride
by Bob Mayer, Jennifer Crusie
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9780312533779
Publication Date: March 15, 2010
Pages: 351
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction
Publisher: St. Martin's Press

 

This was the last book Jennifer Crusie wrote that I hadn’t yet read (except for the Temptation books; I started Welcome to Temptation  and something turned me off and I never finished it).  It’s a co-wriiten book with Bob Meyer, and their previous effort Agnes and the Hitman is one of my all time favourite good-time reads.

But I avoided this one for years because I’m not a fan of carnivals and amusement parks as story settings.  Stephen King might have ruined this for me, but there’s just something WAY too creepy and seedy about them in books.  Nevertheless, I had bought this and after years of languishing in a forgotten corner of the TBR, I found it just in time for Halloween Bingo, and the setting was perfect.

Mary Alice (Mab) is just finishing up a massive restoration of an early 1920’s amusement park, putting on one of the last touches, when she’s attacked by a giant iron clown that calls her by name.  The owners of the park seen unsurprised, though they pass it off as a hallucination.  Soon, however, there’s no escaping the truth:  the park is the prison for 5 untouchable demons (all from the Etruscan mythology, it seems) and two have escaped.  It’s up to Mab and her fellow Guardia to re-capture them and keep the other three from escaping.

Believe me when I say there is nothing deep or philosophical about this book.  It’s pure silliness and funnel cake fun.  It’s not nearly as well plotted or written as Agnes and the Hitman, but it’s well written enough that it kept me reading and the eye rolling only happened a few times.

I doubt I’ll ever re-read this again, though it did make me want to climb that ladder to grab Agnes for a re-read.

 

I read this for Halloween Bingo 2021.  It’s a perfect fit for the Creepy Carnivals square, which is really my Stone Cold Horror square – I used my Transfiguration Spell card,  as it’s chock full of demons (including minions that possess teddy bears and characters ripped completely from Small World) and it takes place entirely within the grounds of the Fun Fun Amusement Park.

The Once and Future Witches

The Once and Future WitchesThe Once and Future Witches
by Alix E. Harrow
Rating: ★★★
isbn: 9780356512471
Publication Date: October 15, 2001
Pages: 517
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Orbit

In 1893, there's no such thing as witches. There used to be, in the wild, dark days before the burnings began, but now witching is nothing but tidy charms and nursery rhymes. If the modern woman wants any measure of power, she must find it at the ballot box.

But when the three Eastwood sisters join the suffragists of New Salem, they begin to pursue the forgotten ways that might turn the women's movement into the witch's movement. Stalked by shadows and sickness, hunted by forces who will not suffer a witch to vote - and perhaps not even to live - the sisters must delve into the oldest magics, draw new alliances, and heal the bond between them if they want to survive.

There's no such thing as witches. But there will be.


 

I loved The Ten Thousand Doors of January and bought this off the back of that love, looking to re-capture the magical writing and story telling.

It both did and it didn’t.  The writing is just as magical, and I have not a doubt that many others will find the story just as captivating, but unfortunately I didn’t.  Not because it wasn’t good – it was.  It’s theme just didn’t ring my bell.  I had decided to DNF it after 200 pages or so, but instead I decided to skim-read the rest, knowing I’d be disappointed and always wondering if I didn’t.

I dislike stories that pit women against men, that reduce history down to all women are down-trodden and abused and all men are evil, and this story does almost exactly that.  One woman in this book was against suffrage, except she wasn’t, and exactly two male characters were anything more than drunken, abusive and evil.

If I could subtract that dynamic from the story, while keeping the story itself, somehow (impossible, really), I’d have found the story magical.  I couldn’t help but like Bella, Agnes and James Juniper, and the sense of place was astonishingly vivid.  The magical workings and the ties to fairy tales and nursery rhymes works beautifully.  Ultimately, there are not a lot of fellow readers I’d not recommend this book to.  Except me.  And that’s ok; while I’m certain it won’t be a book I’ll ever pick up again, I’m not sorry that I persevered rather than DNF’ing it.

 

I read this for Halloween Bingo 2021’s Spellbound square.  It’s a perfect fit for the square: books containing witches, warlocks, sorcerers and witchcraft.

Naked Brunch

Naked BrunchNaked Brunch
by Sparkle Hayter
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781842430422
Publication Date: May 1, 2002
Pages: 288
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: No Exit Press

Annie Engel hasn’t been feeling herself lately. With good reason. A mousy secretary by day, she’s been morphing into a werewolf at night. In the morning, she’s not quite sure what she’s been up to, but she knows she’d like to do it again. She soon discovers that her odd dreams and strange hangovers are actually the remnants of a night out on the prowl.

But Annie’s predatory activities have not gone unnoticed, and soon she is being pursued by one hapless reporter, a psychiatrist who wants to save her from her beastly impulses, and another (guy) werewolf who captures her heart. Who is a nice werewolf to trust? Get ready for a manic, madcap chase through the dank underbelly of the big city, a place where no one seems to sleep and the scents of fear and desire are always in the air.


 

Years ago, I read Sparkle Hayter’s mystery series featuring Robin Hudson, and enjoyed it tremendously.  Years pass and I’m digging through a local used bookstore and stumbled across this completely different style of book, but the author’s name is not one that’s easily forgotten, so I grabbed it.  It sounded funny.

I finally got around to reading it this year and it was every bit as good as I’d hoped it would be, and in fact, better, since I was wary over the different narrative style and genre.  It’s also told in the third person, which can be tricky for me.

The story revolves primarily around Annie, the last nice girl in the big city (which, while never named explicitly, is NYC).  She’s a secretary during the day and normally a door-mat for her two ‘best friends’ at night, being dragged from vapid party to vapid party while her two friends kill themselves to become famous.  But lately, she’s been having weird dreams, and waking up in the morning covered in blood, to find broken bedroom windows, and the need to vomit up whatever she ate the night before, which seems to be meat, which is odd, as she’s a vegetarian.

Then there’s Jim – he’s a werewolf and he’s come back to the city after a self-imposed exile, the kind of exile where everybody thinks you’re dead.  He runs into Annie one night when she’s not herself and they hit if off in a love-at-first-sight kind of way – if only he knew who she was or what she looked like in her less hirsute form…

Dr. Marco knows there’s a werewolf running around uncontrolled in the city and is frantic to find it, bring it into the center, and reform it using a tried and true method of drugs, restraints, and group therapy.  If he can’t find it, his family will and they’ll put it down rather than risk exposure.

And then there’s Sam, the hapless, truly kind, incredibly lucky, has-been reporter, desperate to hold on to his wife and his career.  He hears about the ‘vicious dog attacks’ that are leaving dead bodies all over the city and turns it into the career comeback he’d been hoping for, while the rest of the station’s crew, against their better judgement, turn themselves inside out to help him.  Because he’s just no nice.

Annie has to choose between the chance at a normal life by submitting to Dr. Marco’s rehabilitation center, or being on the run, in love, and having hot animal (literally) sex.  It’s a hard choice – especially amidst a city wide armed hunt for the mad-dog killers leaving dead bodies all over the place.

There’s a lot going on here, and I’m not even going to touch on all the ‘secondary’ characters from whom the reader occasionally hears from.  The narrative starts off a little slowly, as it takes awhile to figure out who all the players are and what’s going on.  But once everybody’s found their place, the story is fun, and a very different kind of morality tale.  I love that the good guys get good stuff and the bad guys get … eaten.  Or at least, what they deserve.

I thoroughly enjoyed this and I’ll likely read it again.  I won’t call it speculative fiction, but it’s very different from the garden variety werewolf stories I’ve read before, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone who is looking for a different take on a common theme, done with a cynical sort of humor.

I read this for Halloween Bingo, and it easily qualifies for at least three squares: Shifters, Mad Scientists and Evil Geniuses, and Gallows Humor, which allows me to invoke my first Spell Pack card: the all-new Double Trouble.  I’m choosing to use it for the first two squares: Shifters and Mad Scientists and Evil Geniuses.

   

The Toll-Gate

The Toll-GateThe Toll-Gate
by Georgette Heyer
Rating: ★★★
Publication Date: January 1, 1954
Pages: 283
Genre: Fiction, Historical, Suspense
Publisher: Heinemann

 

Well, that was a fun, funny, and tedious read.  I was both entertained and exasperated, and not a little impatient, the entire time I read it.  I’m not quite sure how that works; it’s a first for me.

The book starts off at a house party to celebrate the 6th Earl of Saltash’s engagement.  Other than the fact that Captain Staple is at the party, it and all the details and characters involved have absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the book and never again come into play.  So the first chapter and half of the second are entirely irrelevant.  It’s only once Captain Staple leaves the house party that the story really begins.

Staple gets a late start, and gets caught in a storm that leaves him lost in the moors, until he finds himself at a toll-gate, late at night, being run by a terrified 10 year old boy.  Looking for a place to shelter, Staple stops, and learns that the boy’s father, the real toll-keeper, was only supposed to be gone an hour but never came back.  The next morning, Staple experiences love at first sight when he lays eyes on a woman, the squire’s daughter, passing through the gate on her way to church.  Needing an excuse to stay, Staple tells the boy he’ll stick around to figure out what happened to his father, intending to woo the squire’s daughter at the same time.

What unfolds is a bit of a rollicking adventure that was almost entirely ruined by Heyer’s heavy use of obscure British slang and vernacular.

“Prigged his tattler, too, but I sold that.  I’m a great one for a pinch o’ merry-go-up, and this little box just happened to take my fancy, and I’ve kept it.  I daresay I’d get a double finnup for it, too,” he added.”

In context, I can ascertain the speaker is referencing a theft, but the entire book is written like this, which is what makes this well-plotted adventure so damn tedious.  By midway through the book, I got the impression that Heyer was purposefully laying it on as thickly as possible, either to prove something to herself, or torture her editors and readers.  Perhaps at the time of publication, readers wouldn’t have struggled with the senseless dialog, but I’d have appreciated a glossary – or perhaps just a great deal less verisimilitude.

Fortune and Glory – Tantalizing Twenty-seven (Stephanie Plum, #27)

Fortune and Glory: Tantalising Twenty-SevenFortune and Glory: Tantalising Twenty-Seven
by Janet Evanovich
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781472246196
Series: Stephanie Plum #27
Publication Date: November 10, 2020
Pages: 304
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Headline Review

When Stephanie's beloved Grandma Mazur's new husband died on their wedding night, the only thing he left her was a beat-up old easy chair... and the keys to a life-changing fortune.

But as Stephanie and Grandma Mazur search for Jimmy Rosolli's treasure, they discover that they're not the only ones on the hunt. Two dangerous enemies from the past stand in their way-along with Gabriela Rose, a dark-eyed beauty with a taste for designer clothes.

Stephanie may be in over her head, but she's got two things that Gabriela doesn't: an unbreakable bond with her family and a stubborn streak that will never let her quit.

She'll need both to survive because this search for "fortune and glory" will turn into a desperate race against time with more on the line than ever before.


Let’s take it as read that this 27th instalment is in most ways exactly like the first 26th.  Nowadays, there’s something comforting in a series being an ‘old reliable’ and the Plum series can always be counted on for Grandma Mazur defying her age, Lulu doing something outrageous, and at least one FTA that’s a total nut-job.

But I especially enjoyed this one because there was 100% more Ranger than there have been the past however many books, and while I like both of the male characters, I especially like Ranger and his ability to allow Stephanie to fly her flag of tenacious ineptitude with an astonishing degree of equanimity.  He never tries to change her or thwart her and he supplies her with an endless number of cars to destroy in new and creative ways.  You have to like that in a man.

I also enjoyed the treasure hunt, though it often got lost in the larger scheme of Stephanie’s what-am-I-doing-with-my-life rift, which if anything in this series is getting old, it’s this.  I’m not one that insists she chose one man over the other, or that she even choose at all, but I would be exceedingly happy if she’d just come to terms with who she is and own it.  I have faith that Evanovich could make this happen without altering the foundation of the series.

I enjoyed the ending quite a bit and I enjoyed the parallels to Indiana Jones, even though realistically they were weak; I love that Stephanie chose Indiana Jones over Lara Croft, though I can’t exactly say why, as I like and admire both characters.  Probably the academic bent is what puts IJ in the lead, though I’m digressing.

Anyway – another fun book in a series that’s dependable in the best ways; I have other series to read when I want to be surprised, or challenged, but I love Plum because I can count on a laugh or three, endearing characters, and a rollicking fun adventure.

The Bright and Breaking Sea (Kit Brightling, #1)

The Bright And Breaking SeaThe Bright And Breaking Sea
by Chloe Neill
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781984806680
Series: Captain Kit Brightling #1
Publication Date: November 19, 2020
Pages: 369
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Berkley

Chloe Neill brings her trademark wit and wild sense of adventure to a stunning seafaring fantasy starring a dauntless heroine in a world of magic and treachery.

Kit Brightling, rescued as a foundling and raised in a home for talented girls, has worked hard to rise through the ranks of the Isles’ Crown Command and become one of the few female captains in Queen Charlotte's fleet. Her ship is small, but she's fast—in part because of Kit’s magical affinity to the sea. But the waters become perilous when the queen sends Kit on a special mission with a partner she never asked for.

Rian Grant, Viscount Queenscliffe, may be a veteran of the Continental war, but Kit doesn’t know him or his motives—and she’s dealt with one too many members of the Beau Monde. But Kit has her orders, and the queen has commanded they journey to a dangerous pirate quay and rescue a spy who's been gathering intelligence on the exiled emperor of Gallia.

Kit can lead her ship and clever crew on her own, but with the fate of queen and country at stake, Kit and Rian must learn to trust each other, or else the Isles will fall....


I’m wavering between 3.5 and 4 stars.  This first in a new series reads like it could almost be a middle grade story, except for one romantic scene which I know my niece, at least, would wrinkle her nose at.  It’s still a great story, just rather more bright and optimistic than is usually offered to us jaded adults.  It also lacks the snark Neill is generally known for, but then again, her Devil’s Isle series wasn’t snarky either.

Chloe Neill walks a fine line between imagining a world where women are common in historically male roles, and acknowledging the gender bias that exists in this one.  I’m not convinced she pulled it off; I’d have rather she stick to one truth or the other, but it wasn’t problematic and didn’t affect my enjoyment of the book.

Mostly, it’s a new concept, and a new series, so I’d imagine there some growing pains and adjustments ahead, but it was a nice escape and I’m interested in seeing where future books take me and the characters.

Ladies’ Night

Ladies' NightLadies' Night
by Mary Kay Andrews
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781250019677
Publication Date: June 24, 2013
Pages: 456
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: St. Martin's Press

Grace Stanton's life as a rising media star and beloved lifestyle blogger takes a surprising turn when she catches her husband cheating and torpedoes his pricey sports car straight into the family swimming pool. Grace suddenly finds herself locked out of her palatial home, checking account, and even the blog she has worked so hard to develop in her signature style. Moving in with her widowed mother, who owns and lives above a rundown beach bar called The Sandbox, is less than ideal. So is attending court-mandated weekly "divorce recovery" therapy sessions with three other women and one man for whom betrayal seems to be the only commonality. When their "divorce coach" starts to act suspiciously, they decide to start having their own Wednesday "Ladies' Night" sessions at The Sandbox, and the unanticipated bonds that develop lead the members of the group to try and find closure in ways they never imagined. Can Grace figure out a new way home and discover how strong she needs to be to get there?

Heartache, humor, and a little bit of mystery come together in a story about life's unpredictable twists and turns. Mary Kay Andrews' Ladies' Night will have you raising a glass and cheering these characters on.


 

Definitely not one of her best books, but not nearly as poor as I was led to believe.  Admittedly, it’s set in my home town, which never fails to delight me as my home town only read made it on to the map in the last 15 years or so.  But I enjoyed following the main character’s vision and her hard work on restoring the Cracker house, and I thoroughly enjoyed the romantic interest’s background of owning Jungle Jerry’s, a fictional but entirely accurate take on Sarasota Jungle Gardens, right down to the parrot that rides a bike.

Nostalgia definitely bumped the rating on this book at least a star; the villains were too villainous to be real – although in Florida non of them were impossible – and the plots were superficial at best.  I always hold up her non detective fiction against her an early work of hers, Hissy Fit, and this falls far short of that incredibly readable story, but it’s not, as I said, her worst.  Living as far from home as one can get and still be on the planet, I thoroughly enjoyed the virtual trip home, so, 4 stars.