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.

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 Bookshop of Yesterdays

The Bookshop of YesterdaysThe Bookshop of Yesterdays
by Amy Meyerson
Rating: ★★★
isbn: 0778369080
Publication Date: May 21, 2018
Pages: 384
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Park Row

I didn’t much like this book, although the story itself isn’t bad.  I’m assuming the author was going for a massive plot reveal, built up from the scavenger hunt the main character is sent on after the death of her uncle.  But that plot twist was obvious to me from the very first part of the book, which made the rest rather anti-climatic, although I still enjoyed the scavenger hunt aspect.

The characters themselves didn’t much work for me either; Meyerson’s attempt to build complicated, layered characters just resulted in an attitude of indifference; the main character’s waffling over the confrontation with her mother; her mother’s complete indifference to her daughter’s obvious distress; the father’s complete check-out of the whole thing; the romantic interest … totally uninterested in romance.

It just didn’t work for me.

The Book Charmer

The Book CharmerThe Book Charmer
by Karen Hawkins
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 1982105542
Publication Date: July 30, 2019
Pages: 344
Publisher: Gallery Books

I’m still fighting a book slump, and I need fluff.  Industrial grade fluff.  This fit the bill pretty perfectly.

Small town America, seventh daughter of the town’s founding family, all of whom have ‘gifts’, is the town librarian and the books talk to her.  And nobody tries to medicate her, because it’s magical realism.  A newcomer with a boulder on her shoulder comes to town and the books tell Sarah that miss-cranky pants is going to save the town.

I’m being a little snarky, which isn’t fair to the book.  Even though the story is entirely predictable, it’s well written.  Once I started it I was sucked into the magical little town of Dove Pond, and the characters all felt more real and well-adjusted than most of reality at the moment, so while it wasn’t high literature, it was an absolutely perfect antidote to current events.

An Inquiry Into Love and Death

An Inquiry into Love and DeathAn Inquiry into Love and Death
by Simone St. James
Rating: ★★★★★
isbn: 9780451239259
Publication Date: March 5, 2013
Pages: 355
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction, Historical
Publisher: NAL / New American Library

Boy howdy can St. James write a ghost story!  I love this book; I woke up at 6.30 this morning and did nothing until I finished it and then I re-read a few passages just to make it last longer.

In 1920’s England, Oxford student Jillian Leigh’s uncle Toby, a renowned ghost hunter, is killed in a fall off a cliff, and she must drive to the seaside village of Rothewell to pack up his belongings.

Almost immediately, unsettling incidents—a book left in a cold stove, a gate swinging open on its own—escalate into terrifying events that convince Jillian an angry spirit is trying to enter the house. Is it Walking John, the two-hundred-year-old ghost who haunts Blood Moon Bay? Was Toby’s death an accident?

The arrival of handsome Scotland Yard inspector Drew Merriken leaves Jillian with more questions than answers. Even as she suspects someone will do anything to hide the truth, she begins to discover spine-chilling secrets that lie deep within Rothewell… 

If you’re a horror or psychological horror lover, pass this review right on by; this book is a cream puff in comparison to your regular fare, but for the rest of us, this is truly an old-school, spooky ghost story with a mystery and a romance (oh the romance…).  There’s nothing gothic about the story, but I keep thinking of the old gothics anyway, for lack of any better comparison.

I probably should have gone 4.5 stars because Jillian goes through an improbable – neigh, impossible – number of physical calamities to still be standing upright.  Or breathing, really.  But the story was just so good; I was sucked in so thoroughly that I was willing to overlook her superhuman regenerative powers.  Inspector Merriken was incentive enough to spur on a rapid recovery.

Ok, anything else I say beyond this point would just be repetitive gushing.  I loved this book; it gave me exactly the experience I hope for every time I start a new story and I’ll be looking for more of this author’s work.

Persuasion

PersuasionPersuasion
by Jane Austen
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781435127432
Publication Date: January 1, 2012
Pages: 228
Genre: Fiction, Literature
Publisher: Barnes and Noble

 

Well, this is where I wish I paid more attention in my English Lit. classes.  Then I could use this review to wax lyrical (or at least literate) about the exposition, the rising action, the climax and the ultimate resolution of Anne Elliot’s story in Persuasion.  Unfortunately, I didn’t pay attention in class (or attend class very often) so here I am floundering for a way to adequately discuss one of Jane Austen’s finest.  (Does this make me a cautionary tale?)

I’m going to start by saying I still like Pride & Prejudice better.  I’ve heard many people describe Persuasion as Austen’s most mature work – which makes sense because it was also her last – and I can definitely see the truth in that.  But Persuasion lacks the humour, the lightness, of her earlier works, although it still retains all of the bite.

If Miss Austen wrote from life she lacked any positive parental role models.  In every book of hers I’ve read, at least one parent was vapid, shallow, vain, neurotic, dyspeptic, a hypochondriac or a combination of any of the aforementioned.  I’d argue it’s the single uniting factor in all her work (although I’ve yet to read her juvenilia or Sanditon).  Anne Elliot gets the rawest deal of all of JA’s MC’s – her family has no affection for her at all.  She is the Cinderella in their lives: useful only for propping them up when they’re down, being the person applied to for attentiveness, while never receiving any attention or affection in return.

Thank goodness for Lady Russell; only Lady Russell persuaded Anne to cut off her engagement to the man she loved 8 1/2 years ago because his prospects were not guaranteed.  Now that man is back and he’s rich.  He might also be a tiny bit bitter about having his heart broken all those years ago.

I enjoyed the story; I definitely liked it more than Emma (sorry mom) and probably more than Northanger Abbey.  Maybe.  It’s a more staid, more serious work than the others.  What little frivolity there is ends in disaster and is used to illustrate a defect in character.  As I prefer characters who ‘dearly love to laugh’, Elizabeth Bennett holds pride of place on my favorite Austen list – but Persuasion and Anne Elliot aren’t far behind.

 

(NB: While the edition information is correct for this review, the cover is not.  And I hate not having the correct cover on my reviews.)