The Little Paris Bookshop, by Nina George (2013, 2015)

Literary Romance
The Little Paris BookshopWhat a wonderfully multicultural novel this turns out to be! Originally written in German by Nina George and published in 2013, it has been translated into English by Simon Pare. The novel is set in France, and features mostly French characters, as well as a wonderfully earthy Italian lover and cook. Jean Perdu is our protagonist, who has been mourning the loss of his great love Manon, who left him two decades ago. Now 50, he lives in an unadorned Paris apartment and operates a book barge, The Literary Apothecary, moored on the banks of the Seine. From the barge he dispenses books as therapy for emotional ailments. Until he meets Catherine, a neighbour who is in deep emotional pain after being discarded by her husband. Read more of this post


The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules, by Catharina Ingelman Sundberg (2012, 2014)

LittleOldLadyA group of five elderly folk rebel against the restrictions and cost-cutting measures imposed on them in the retirement home, and decide to embark on a life of crime. This book opens with such promise – 79-year-old Martha Andersson grips the handles of her walker and makes her way into the bank, checking out security as she waits her turn. Much fitter than she used to be as a result of illicit time in the gym, she makes an effort to seem feeble and nonthreatening. Little does the teller know what is about to unfold. This book, an international bestseller originally published in Swedish, caught my attention on the bookshelves at a nearby store, and I patiently waited for its arrival from my public library. Read more of this post

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy, by Rachel Joyce (2015, 2014)

Contemporary Fiction
Adult (middle aged and up)
Love Song of Miss Queenie HennessyRemember the amazing 600-mile trek across England we followed in The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry? A letter arrives from his former colleague Queenie Hennessy letting him know she is dying. With little thought and no planning, Harold heads off to see her one last time. On foot. He writes to let her know and asks her to wait for him. In this companion novel, Queenie is in the hospice, living out her last days. She gets Harold’s first note, asking her to wait. Wait? She’s dying! Sister Mary Inconnu convinces her to make her own journey while she waits, writing out the story she wishes she had told Harold all those years ago. It’s not easy – Queenie has difficulty speaking and holding a pencil, and she is losing her words. Read more of this post

The Rosie Effect, by Graeme Simsion (2014)

Romance (but quirky)
The Rosie EffectAs mentioned at the end of my review of The Rosie Project, author Graeme Simsion is again focusing his sharp storytelling skills on Don Tillman, the genetics professor with Asperger’s whose problem-solving approach to life has led him to marriage with Rosie, despite her clear unsuitability as a partner. This second novel opens in New York City, where the couple has moved so Rosie can pursue both PhD and MD studies at Columbia, where Don has been hired as a faculty member. They eventually settle into a lovely apartment thanks to Don’s inimitable approach to life. It has a great view, lots of space, but it’s also a rich guy’s beer cellar, and Don is the beerkeeper. Read more of this post

Landline, by Rainbow Rowell (2014)

LandlineRainbow Rowell uses the universal human lament – if only I knew then what I know now – and spins a new adult tale of true love nearly gone wrong. Georgie McCool (yup, that’s her real name – so awesome that when she marries Neal insists she keeps it) is a comedy script writer in Hollywood whose star is on the rise. The promise of a new show forces her to choose between working on four scripts to nail the offer or spending Christmas with hubby and daughters at the in-laws. She chooses wrong. When Neal takes the girls to Nebraska without her, Georgie is stunned but shakes it off and buckles down with colleagues, staying at her mother’s for the interim. Georgie insists nothing is wrong with her marriage. Read more of this post

Walking on Trampolines, by Frances Whiting (2013, 2015)

16 to Adult
Walking on TrampolinesThis book opens with an awesome premise. Lulu wakes up, remembering yesterday’s wedding: the guests, her father’s assurance everything would be okay. She looks at the groom sleeping beside her, a bit of confetti in his tousled hair. Except she is not the bride. She’s the bride’s best friend. Whammo! Quickly dubbed the Wedding Night Shagger, Lulu slinks to her parents’ home in shame. The story shifts back about 10 years, when Annabelle Andrews strides into the Australian schoolroom and chooses the empty seat next to 12-year-old Lulu: “‘Tallulah de Longland,’ she said slowly, letting all the Ls in my name loll about lazily in her mouth before passing judgement. ‘That,’ she announced, ‘is a seriously glamorgeous name.'” Read more of this post

Melt, by Selene Castrovilla (2014)

Ages 15-18
MeltSixteen-year-old Dorothy is new to town, affluent and sophisticated. She’s trying to fit in, and joins her new pal Amy at the local hangout, a doughnut and coffee shop. It’s there she locks eyes and instantly falls for Joey, bruised and damaged but equally smitten. It took all I had as a reader to keep going, especially since the book opens with a brutal description of domestic violence. Written in alternating voices, Joey’s story is written in verse form while Dorothy, the literate one, writes in full narrative prose. At first I thought the shift was also in time, revealing how hate between husband and wife originally began as love. But no, it’s the story of Joey’s family life, intended to reinforce how different the lives are for these mismatched teens. Read more of this post

The Opposite of Maybe, by Maddie Dawson (2014)

Contemporary Fiction
Adult (ovaries a must)
The Opposite of MaybeI don’t remember requesting this book, so when it arrived from the library and I read the synopsis, I sighed. More chicklit – really? Rosie is 44 years old and a single act of unprotected sex with her lover of 15 years gets her pregnant. She thinks it’s early menopause. Meanwhile, she is struggling with Soapie, her aging grandmother who is enjoying her own romance more than Rosie is with Jonathan. Soapie needs live-in care, and invites her gardener, hunky 33-year-old Tony who needs a place to stay as his marriage has disintegrated. This may be best described as a love pentangle … Predictable plot, redeemed somewhat with likeable characters and realistic dialogue. Read more of this post

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, by Gabrielle Zevin (2014)

Romance, sorta
The Storied Life of A.J. FikryA.J. Fikry is an irascible bookstore owner eking out a living on an East Coast island, grieving the loss of his wife and dousing the pain with alcohol. He pushes everyone away, including his sister-in-law and especially publisher reps who annoy him with fall lists and advance reading copies of trashy fiction. None can compare to the perfection of the short story, he asserts, a position reinforced by his serendipitous discovery of an incredibly valuable first edition of Poe’s early short stories. One evening, he passes out with the book in hand, only to wake up and discover the book is gone. Resigned to the loss, he nonetheless reports the theft, thus initiating a friendship with the local police chief who is not much of a reader. Read more of this post

Grasshopper Jungle, by Andrew Smith (2014)

Genre: Science Fiction
Appeal: 14-21
Grasshopper JungleRemember how impressed I was by the reliable science behind The Martian? Yeah, that doesn’t happen here. This can only be described as a darkly – nay, blackly – comic end-of-the-world coming-of-age twisted tale about sexual identity. Sixteen-year-old Austin Szerba is in love with both his best friend Robby and his girlfriend Shann. Still a virgin, he is “so confused” about his sexuality and what makes him horny, because pretty much everything does – a touch from Shann, a kiss from Robby, the thought of a threesome, Robby’s mother, the floor of a laundromat … at the same time, the end of the world as we know it has arrived in Eeling, Iowa, in the form of giant bugs. Read more of this post

Let’s Get Lost, by Adi Alsaid (2014)

Genre: Contemporary
Appeal: 14-21
Let's Get LostLeila embarks on a road trip to see the Northern Lights, heading from Louisiana to Alaska by way of Vicksburg, Mississippi. There she meets Hudson, who falls hard for this package of contradictions who asks him to reveal the treasures of his hometown on what becomes the best night of his young life. But Hudson is only the first of five strangers whose lives are irrevocably changed by chance encounters with Leila, who drives an all-red car (“… be red, goddamnit. From your steering wheel to your hubcaps, be red”). On her way to Alaska, Leila gently encourages a runaway to reconnect with her sister, but not until after a joyride in a BMW that lands them both in jail. Read more of this post

The Rosie Project, by Graeme Simsion (2013)

Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Interest Level: Adult
The Rosie ProjectIn his debut novel, Australian author Graeme Simsion delivers a deceptively lightweight exploration of identity, acceptance, and what it means to love and be love, packed with moments of true hilarity and poignant tenderness. Don Tillman is an associate professor of genetics at a Melbourne university. He has Asperger’s but doesn’t realize it, living his life on a rational, healthy, and precise regimented schedule which includes making lobster salad every Tuesday. At age 39, he embarks on the Wife Project, determined to find a suitable partner. A questionnaire is the obvious instrument for filtering out the unsuitable. Rosie is definitely “unsuitable” – a chronically late drinker who smokes and can’t make a decent meal. Read more of this post

2 a.m at The Cat’s Pajamas, by Marie-Helene Bertino (2014)

Genre: Borderline Fantasy
Interest Level: Adult
2 a.m. at the Cat's PajamasA deftly written genre-bending blend of romance, magic, and gritty realism combine weirdly well to create a surprisingly gripping story. It’s Christmas Eve Eve, and the book opens with nine-year-old Madeleine who is effectively raising herself, and doing a helluva job, if you please. Her father is paralyzed with grief over his wife’s death. While he sleeps away the day, Madeleine eats breakfast at a neighbour’s deli cafe, gets her hair cut by her mother’s stylist, and spends her spare time smoking cigarettes and singing to jazz records. School can only be described as a disaster – Madeleine is a bully without a following who shocks school officials with her mastery of curse words. Read more of this post

A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman (2014)

Genre: Fiction
Interest Level: Adult
A Man Called OveThis heartwarming tale of a man in mourning, demanding neighbours, and a stubborn cat, comes by way of Sweden. Translated by Henning Koch, it is the story of the eponymous Ove, stymied by the new world order in which people drive imports instead of Saabs, don’t know how to reverse a trailer or bleed radiators, and fail to value men who do these things and more, and who act rather than speak. In the vein of The 100-year-old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, this novel slowly reveals Ove’s life story, from his first job to how he fell in love to just how he happened to adopt the Cat Annoyance. His gruff and grumpy exterior hides a solid citizen who believes what’s right should trump what’s now. Read more of this post

Maybe Someday, by Colleen Hoover (2014)

Genre: Romance
Interest Level: 17-25
Maybe SomedayI clearly remember struggling with the shift out of young adult and into adult literature, where I was confronted by alien stories peopled with mothers, couples with mortgages, and divorces. It was all quite foreign, and I longed for literature that reflected my world. Today’s emerging adults face no such travails, as the publishers have developed New Adult fiction just for them. (Check it out on wikipedia.) Colleen Hoover is apparently a leading light in New Adult fiction, known to her fans as CoHo. In this novel, she delivers a heart-tugger of a story aimed right at the hearts of her fanbase. It’s a fine blend of romance and raw attraction, betrayal and binge drinking, complete with a downloadable soundtrack. Read more of this post