The Empty House & Discovering Rosamunde Pilcher


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Thrift stores are exciting; one never knows what they will find. I’ve brought home things such as a teacup from Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation to a stuffed kangaroo. The clothes at thrift stores, at least in my experience, tend to be cozier; I’ve found my favorite sweaters there.

But what I find most enchanting about thrift shops are their books.

In thrift shops we find hardcover copies, most of them characterised by age and use. I have found poetry books in which passages were marked by the previous owner, little notes in the margins; it is a lovely sense of not reading alone. Also, thrift stores let us find novels that aren’t well-known; we rediscover the bestsellers of yesteryear.

I have felt tempted to weep at the books that exist but I will not have time to read. I am glad, though, that I discovered Rosamunde Pilcher in time to revel in her heartwarming stories. I will read as many of her books as I can; perhaps some brilliance will rub off on me. They have the feel of a warm cup of tea on an autumn afternoon.

The first book of Pilcher’s that I read was The Empty House. A powerful, clean romance, it gave me hope to follow Virginia’s journey as, after a tragedy, she found her own identity. She built herself from scratch, took back what was hers (including her children), and chose at last to live the life she’d dreamed of. She discovered what love is, and what it is not.

If you want a story that will make you feel good, The Empty House is a short read, and you will remember it. Not all books need to be long in order to make an impact.

It’s a lesson I learned this year: often the best stories are the ones that can be finished in a day. However, it will not be an ordinary day. If a story is good, if it has the author’s heart in it, the reader will never forget the day the book was read.

Book Review: The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson


The Bookseller follows a woman named Kitty who lives in Denver, where she runs a bookstore with her best friend, Frieda. In 1962 it’s not usual for her to be unmarried at the age of thirty-eight, but she tells herself she’s content. Having gone through a failed courtship and several dates that led nowhere, she’s come to terms with life at home with her cat.

Things aren’t as stable as she’d like them to be. The bookstore is losing business as customers flock to big shopping centers in town. She and Frieda are struggling to pay the rent, contemplating the idea of moving to a location that’ll attract more business.

In the midst of this uncertainty, Kitty begins to have strange dreams. Each night when she drifts off, she finds herself in an alternate universe where everything is different.

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Kitty’s married with children in this universe. Her husband, Lars, is a man she spoke to once in the waking world, on the phone; they never met, but in the dream they are married. They have started a family; he built a lovely house for her and the children.

In this dream universe, Kitty is wealthy and has plenty of friends. She has a closet of elegant clothing, even a maid. The world she visits in her sleep is full of contradictions to her real life; it’s like the flip side of a coin.

As the dreams become more vivid, readers are left wondering which of the two universes is actually a dream? It becomes hard to decide. Cynthia Swanson has done a good job of taking two outcomes and making both of them plausible.

The Bookseller addresses the timeless question “What if?” We’ve all wondered how our lives could be different if we made that choice differently, or took the left road instead of the right. How would the universe change if we embraced a different hobby? How would it change the future, how would it change us?

This novel drew me in with its poignant writing and powerful scenes, making me question my own life. As the story progressed and fog cleared, I marveled at Swanson’s genius: She took a concept difficult to pull off, writing each reality with grace and elegance. Both of them have their pros and cons. Neither is complete.

But life is never truly complete. This truth doesn’t escape the pages of books. The Bookseller is wonderful because it makes us ponder our own choices, compelling us to ask “What if?” the way we did when we were children.

Life might look better in an alternate universe, but we’d find ourselves missing things we don’t notice now. The Bookseller helps us appreciate what we have, not envying others’ lives or wishing away our truths.

Like Kitty does in both realities, we’ll wake up and realize these little things are gone. But they only seemed little when we took them for granted, because they will leave great voids.

The Bookseller is a beautiful piece of literary fiction, one I can rate five stars without thinking twice. Give it a try and let it change your perspective on life.

Book Review: The Paris Winter by Imogen Robertson


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The Paris Winter leaves a proper chill in your soul after you finish reading it. It is the haunting story of Maud Heighton, an English painter who takes art classes in Paris, all the while struggling to get her daily meal.

Her situation doesn’t go unnoticed at the academy, especially when she starts to lose weight and ration meals. A fellow student from Russia named Tanya has sources; she takes Maud to find a job that’ll help her survive the winter.

Maud is employed as companion to the sister of wealthy, mysterious Mr. Morel. She is to teach Sylvie to draw, something she can do easily. It seems she’s finally found stability—she’s eating proper meals and sleeping in a warm room.

It was all too good to be true, however. The Morels had a sinister fate planned for her all along. They did not count on her surviving it, but she wakes with anger in her heart and a desire for revenge.

She’s been used in a scheme the Morels planned for months. When Christian Morel blames her for stealing the Countess’s tiara, she becomes a thief to society. He throws her in the river and claims she committed suicide, so she wakes up not only a thief but dead.

They could not have done more to destroy her reputation.

From childhood, Maud has learned to fight. They might have killed her in the eyes of society, but desire for revenge leaves her very much alive. With the help of her friends, she plans a comeback.

She works with the help of both Tanya and Yvette. A model from the academy, it was Yvette who noticed how thin she’d been getting. Roughened by a life on the streets, she’s courageous enough to stand by Maud to battle injustice.

Friendship is important in this novel. There’s no romance for Maud; as a main character, her strong relationships are with friends. They stand by her when she becomes the ghost of herself in pursuit of revenge.

This emphasis on friendship made the book unique. These women are there for each other in the face of horrific things. I wish more books focused on the strength one can in find a good friend.

Though Maud gets her justice, the ordeal changes her for life. She returns to England with Yvette, hard of heart and angry with life—but driven to start anew as an artist, respected and alive.

This will join my collection of Paris books as a favorite, having caught my attention from the start. Not only does it have a beautiful cover, it’s got an intense plot and strong relationships.

I recommend The Paris Winter to people who, like me, devour any book set in the City of Light. It is also great for fans of historical novels and thrillers. You will be satisfied by the ending; I am sure you’ll find a new favorite in it, as well.