Book Review #1: The Bookstore
Welcome to the first instalment of Random Book (and Coffee) Reviews. Don’t mind the mess, I haven’t straitened up the Book Cave in a while, and it’s not like I have guests that often. The life of a Book Dragon gets pretty lonely, and more than a little dusty.
What, you think dragons only collect gold and princesses? Hah! Not me, but a few of us do, not so much anymore. Not many knights around and princesses are more protected than usual. Personally, having my cave constantly broken into and taking care of a screaming human is far from enjoyable. Books and coffee are more my thing, and less of a hassle to protect. Besides, the smell is much better.
So, since I have so many books I’ve been hoarding over the years, I thought I’d read some of them and give my opinion in case someone out there is looking for more books to add to their collection, or a fellow book dragon needs another addition to their hoard. Any suggestions to make your visit more comfortable are welcome. However, problem-makers will be incinerated.
So sit back, drink in the scent of pages and coffee, and hope you enjoy your stay.
Today’s review is about The Bookstore by Deborah Meyler. The story is about a twenty-three-year-old working towards an Art History Ph.D. in New York after having moved there from England. Added complications in the shape of a baby and a breakup cause her to work at a bookstore called The Owl in order to stay financially stable. One would expect a book full of interesting characters, odd stories of customers, and hijinks galore. What this reader got can be summed up thusly:
The fact that it took me so long to finish this book should have told me that this wasn’t a keeper. Still, I’m not one to leave a book unfinished, even if it takes a couple of months. Or a few. Sure I was glad when I did finish reading, but it was a faint joy, not something that should happen after reading a good book. However, it’s not the worst thing I’ve ever read and it wasn’t dull enough that I ended up falling asleep. It has its positives and negatives like any novel but not to the point that I end up staining the pages with my tears or threw the book against the wall. Chances are my expectations tainted my enjoyment, but I’ll start with talking about what I parts of the book I liked before getting to the negatives.
The overall idea is what drew me to buying it from my library’s bookstore in the first place. I was glad that the MC, Esme Garland, wasn’t pictured as the Ideal Mother Figure that tends to pop up in media. Her emotions about pregnancy and the baby were realistic, with all the anxiety and messy feelings about what to get for the baby, how she’s going to support the two of them without her boyfriend, and if she will love the baby, making her seem more human. I also admired her tenacity for continuing to continue her work towards her Ph.D. despite the pregnancy. Her coworkers and the customers are supportive in their own way, with the owner George giving her the job at The Owl and the homeless customer Dennis offering his version of sage advice while prying for information about the father of the baby. It was endearing having someone like that care for Esme while being quirky without being annoying.
Having the story set in New York with an English protagonist adds to the setting of Esme having a busy lifestyle and feeling like a fish out of water. Since the story is told from Esme’s perspective the English terms and New York wording can be difficult for some readers to understand, thus making the reading a bit jarring. Since Esme is also getting a degree in Art History and working at a bookstore there are artistic and literary references that will in fact confuse people who haven’t studied those things or have a particular interest in these subjects. I recognized some of the artists like Titian while not getting some of the literary references despite my previous literature courses. Again, it could be jarring for those who don’t understand the references, so if those sort of things bother you then you should pass on this book.
I’ll try my best to convey the things I didn’t care for about the book to as non-spoilery as possible for those of you who might get more interest than me from this book.
The characters themselves are the weakest part of the book for me. Esme’s blind devotion to Mitchell, the father of her baby, is what irritated me the most about her, but I’ll leave that particular mess to another paragraph. I don’t know whether or not the disconnect between her and the other workers at The Owl was due to long breaks between reading or flaws of the book, so I can’t say for sure if it’s an issue or a result of my apathy towards the story in general. Speaking of the workers, there is little about them that I found interesting. The owner George’s defining characteristics are as follows: vegan, against any product that isn’t natural due to dislike of chemicals, obsessed with books, owner of The Owl. Luke reads like the creative character who’s found the meaning of life and is a little pretentious about it as this means the Main Character is outside of this state of completion, and somehow this person changes the M.C. thanks to their disdain for the Perfect Life ideal. There wasn’t anything about him that was memorable save his being a musician and disliking Esme for no apparent reason. There wasn’t much in the way of character development although Esme did improve as a character by the end, however it wasn’t enough to improve the overall story to make it worth a reread.
I’ll start with the rant about the Mitchell here. For the love of the poetry of Keats, what is with this guy? Is he the result of affluenza or what? Gah! Moving on. Mitchell expects Esme to not make a fuss and accept whatever he says as the right thing to do since he’s from a high-class rich family and is older. About ten years, but still. I wouldn’t classify him as a narcissist but he’s pretty close, as his behavior and reactions towards things give that impression as he doesn’t take Esme’s feelings and personal opinions into consideration most of the time. It’s difficult for me to understand what she sees in him and why, other than for the baby’s sake, she wants to be with him.
I mentioned that I try my best to not get into spoilers so I’ll be quick: there’s a significant twist about one hundred pages in. However, I can’t call it a plot twist since as quickly as it’s introduced, it’s forgotten. That’s something that irritated me since the twist could have added to the story as well as the development of Esme and her ex as characters, either having Esme struggle with this new development or have Mitchell’s reaction give him some redeeming qualities to make Esme’s infatuation be more believable.
I’ll be making use of the constant critiques from past Creative Writing classes and talk about what could have made the book better. The relationships between the characters needed to be more than a shallow existence to get the plot going. A way to do that is by having them interact in a friendly setting outside of work, such as George teaching Esme how to make healthy foods for the baby with them talking about their love of books. Another idea would be having Luke have a more believable reason to dislike Esme and end up having them bond over something, whether or not it means they end up being friends or being more amiable. To mention Mitchell again, I wish there was something that made him more redeemable, like rare moments where he shows some concern for her as a person or brief glimpses of humanity that show why Esme fell for him in the first place. Having the story focus less on Esme’s relationship with Mitchell and more on her developing as a person outside of their relationship thanks to the bookstore, the books themselves, her classes, and her fellow students and bibliophiles, becoming more independent and secure in her life despite the changes. It also would have been great to have some stories about the customers, at least more than what exists, as there were few and far between.
The book for me was more of something your read to pass the time rather than for enjoyment. If you’re expecting a great story about a bookstore like I was, you won’t be missing anything by skipping this read. If you like stories that focus more on the main character’s relationships, then you might like it.
Rating: 3 Coffee Mugs out of 5
For Readers Who: Like stories with bookstores in the background, art and book references, New York, and hard-working women
Coffee Recommended for Reading: Something with rich, herbal flavors with notes of sweetness like vanilla or hazelnut. Or whatever makes you think of books.