Monday, March 9, 2015

ARC Review: The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson

Title: The Bookseller
Author: Cynthia Swanson
Published: March 3, 2015
(Amazon / Goodreads)

Synopsis: A provocative and hauntingly powerful debut novel reminiscent of Sliding Doors, The Bookseller follows a woman in the 1960s who must reconcile her reality with the tantalizing alternate world of her dreams. 

Nothing is as permanent as it appears . . . 

Denver, 1962: Kitty Miller has come to terms with her unconventional single life. She loves the bookshop she runs with her best friend, Frieda, and enjoys complete control over her day-to-day existence. She can come and go as she pleases, answering to no one. There was a man once, a doctor named Kevin, but it didn’t quite work out the way Kitty had hoped. Then the dreams begin. 

Denver, 1963: Katharyn Andersson is married to Lars, the love of her life. They have beautiful children, an elegant home, and good friends. It’s everything Kitty Miller once believed she wanted—but it only exists when she sleeps. 

Convinced that these dreams are simply due to her overactive imagination, Kitty enjoys her nighttime forays into this alternate world. But with each visit, the more irresistibly real Katharyn’s life becomes. Can she choose which life she wants? If so, what is the cost of staying Kitty, or becoming Katharyn? As the lines between her worlds begin to blur, Kitty must figure out what is real and what is imagined. And how do we know where that boundary lies in our own lives?

*** I received and advanced copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. This fact has not affected my opinion. ***

I really want to say that I enjoyed this book. The Bookseller is one of those books where there is a lot to like but I still had a hard time completely connecting with it. It had great characters and beautiful writing but the magical realism and sudden twist in the plot at the end didn't work for me.

One of the things that I liked most about this book was the characters. The main character was incredibly likable, regardless of what incarnation she was in Kitty or Katharyn. She was really the heart of this story. This is not really your typical book about books with a quirky and slightly nerdy MC. It is a book about a woman who thinks she has everything she wants but the grass is always greener on the other side. So when she goes to sleep she imagines an alternative life for herself. I think anyone who has ever felt like their life hasn't turned out the way they expected can relate to that. But there were also a ton of interesting and likable secondary characters. From Kitty's parents, to her best friend and business partner Freida, even Katharyn's husband Lars and her children. They were all likable and fully-formed characters that made the story interesting.

I also really enjoyed Cynthia Swanson's writing. Her prose was both lyrical and thought-provoking. I've already mentioned the main theme of this book which was that things don't always turn out the way you expect them to but she managed that lesson without being to preachy. The two different "worlds" she created were atmospheric and gave off this great tension. Speaking of those worlds, the book is set in the early 1960's and I really enjoyed the historical fiction aspects of the book. It added a really interesting layer to the idea of the parallel lives. It was like we were being shown the dichotomy of the ideal housewife of the time and the more empowered woman that things were moving towards in that decade. The 60's setting added a lot to my enjoyment of the book along with the author's writing style.

However, there were some things that I didn't quite like about the writing style, or should I say world-building. I really don't want to give anything away because of spoilers but there was just something about how it got to the ending that I didn't enjoy. About halfway through the book, the main character realized she was uncertain about which world was real (not a spoiler, it's in the synopsis). But instead of searching for validation or clues she just goes about her business. Through a process of awkward questions and info-dumping she learns about her life then out of nowhere the realization occurs. If there were more clues of mystery to the book that would have been one thing, but it was just so sudden.

It was the kind of book where you are thinking one thing and then as the plot develops a sudden twist making you realize it is nothing like you thought. I usually love a good plot twist but in this case it was a little bit like I had invested all this time in something that turned out to be all a lie. When the twist happened, the only thing that surprised me was how much it didn't surprise me. But I think maybe that was because this is essentially a really character-driven story and then something like that, while fitting with the character development, just came off as sudden. All in all, I think I went into this book expecting it to be something that it was not. I should have expected the magical realism aspects of the story but I didn't. I expected it to be more of a traditional historical fiction. If it had been, I think I would have enjoyed it more. But magical realism just isn't my thing.

So unfortunately for me The Bookseller was one of those books that started out really strong but I found myself not really enjoying it by the end. It should have been a solid 8 star read for me. It had great characters and beautiful prose, it tugged at the heartstrings and was quite thought-provoking. But because of the unexpected ending that seemed completely against what I had spent my time investing in and the magical realism that isn't my thing I ended up as just an okay read for me.

I give The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson a 7 out of 10

Buy/Borrow/Bypass: Borrow. If you are a fan of magical realism or literary fiction then check this book out. It has a lot going for it including likable and interesting characters and lyrical writing. If you don't mind an unexpected twist and prefer character-driven stories over plot-driven this would be a great choice for you.

Have you read The Bookseller? What did you think? Leave me a comment with your thoughts. Thanks for stopping by and HAPPY READING!


  1. Aw, sorry you didn't love it! The book summary sounds super interesting! I'll have to read it someday and see if I like it! (;

    Pearl @ AsteriskPearl's Book Blog

    1. Give it a try. I was enjoying it until the end but interestingly the more I think about it, the more the ending made sense. I think it just wasn't how I wanted it to end but it doesn't seem as disappointing as I originally thought.

  2. Good review. The premise looks promising. I was torn about whether to request this one or not through NetGalley. I think I will skip this one.

    1. It wasn't bad, just not for me. It definitely had a lot of promise and there were some really good things about it.

  3. Didnt like the ending. I was left wanting more. I did not get the satisfaction feeling from reading a good book.