Monday, April 13, 2015

Book Review: "The Bookseller" by Cynthia Swanson

The Bookseller Cynthia Swanson
Published: March 3, 2015
ISBN: 9780062333001
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: TLC Book Tours
Highly Recommended

1962: It may be the Swinging Sixties in New York, but in Denver it’s different: being a single gal over thirty in this city is almost bohemian. Still, thirty-eight-year-old Kitty Miller has come to terms with her unconventional single life. She was involved, once—with a doctor named Kevin—but when things didn’t work out the way she had hoped, she decided to chart her own path. Now she dedicates herself to the bookstore she runs with her best friend, Frieda, returning home each evening to her cozy apartment. Without a husband expecting dinner, she can enjoy last-minute drinks after work with her friends; without children who need to get ready for school, she can stay up all night reading with her beloved cat, Aslan, by her side.

Then the dreams begin.

1963: Katharyn Andersson is married to Lars, the love of her life. They live in a picture-perfect home in a suburban area of Denver, close to their circle of friends. It’s the ideal place in which to raise their children. Katharyn’s world is exactly what Kitty once believed she wanted . . . but it exists only when she sleeps.

At first, Kitty enjoys her nighttime forays into this alternate world. Even though there is no Frieda, no bookstore, no other familiar face, Kitty becomes increasingly reluctant to open her eyes and abandon Katharyn’s alluring life.

But with each visit to her dreamworld, it grows more real. As the lines between the two worlds begin to blur, Kitty faces an uncertain future. What price must she pay to stay? What is the cost of letting go?

My Thoughts:
I'm not proud to admit this, but I went into this book thinking I would know exactly how things would go.  I'm not saying that I thought it would be trite or predictable, but rather that it fell firmly into a trope of a life that is and a life that could have been.  And, to be sure, that is what The Bookseller is, but not in the way I thought it would be.

I'm going to be especially careful writing the rest of this review as I think this is an unusually easy book to spoil and I really, really don't want to do that--I want you all to read it!

Let me start with Kitty/Katharyn, who I call K from here on out.  I felt she was a strongly constructed character and robust enough to really carry this book.  She has to switch between two settings, sometimes with only a partial knowledge of her current world, but she is written such that she stays just one character.  The other characters in the novel are more one-dimensional, which normally is a drawback for me, but is actually necessary in this case (no, I'm no going to tell you the book!).

Setting in this book is paramount.  Both lives that K experiences is set in Denver, but in different worlds in the same city. If my memory is correct, I've only been to Denver twice and both times I was stuck in the airport.  So, I have no way of knowing if the portraits of Denver Swanson draws are accurate--but they are definitely evocative (for the record, it seemed like a hybrid between Portland and Tucson, which probably isn't too far off).  I felt like I was right there in Denver of the early-60s.  And, speaking of the time period, Swanson also uses current (to the time) events to set things up, something which I appreciated as a reader.  In a book where reality is questioned, it was nice to have an"anchor."

If I had a complaint about this book it would be that the moment when the situation becomes clear is a little muted.  I don't mean that I felt that there should have been more "action," bu I do wish it had been a bit more of an "a-ha moment."

In the end, though, this was a dazzling debut and one that I'd recommend to pretty much anyone...but I will give this warning; you'll probably start paying more attention to your dreams after reading this!

About the Author:
Cynthia Swanson is a writer and a designer of the midcentury modern style. She has published short fiction in 13th Moon, Kalliope, Sojourner, and other periodicals; her story in 13th Moon was a Pushcart Prize nominee. She lives in Denver, Colorado, with her husband and three children. The Bookseller is her first novel.

Find out more about Cynthia at her website and connect with her on Facebook.

I received a copy of this book in return for an honest review.  I received no other compensation for this post.

Want to read more?  Check out one of the other stops on this blog tour! (Links go to the blog, not the specific review)

Tuesday, April 7th: Bibliotica
Wednesday, April 8th: The Discerning Reader
Wednesday, April 8th: Read Lately
Thursday, April 9th: A Chick Who Reads
Friday, April 10th: 5 Minutes For Books
Tuesday, April 14th: Reading Reality
Wednesday, April 15th: Sara’s Organized Chaos
Thursday, April 16th: Kritters Ramblings
Monday, April 20th: BoundbyWords
Tuesday, April 21st: Readers’ Oasis
Wednesday, April 22nd: Vox Libris
Thursday, April 23rd: Read. Write. Repeat.
Friday, April 24th: Always With a Book
Monday, April 27th: Patricia’s Wisdom
Tuesday, April 28th: A Bookish Way of Life
Thursday, April 30th: Bookshelf Fantasies
Friday, May 1st: Bibliophiliac
Wednesday, May 6th: Ms. Nose in a Book

The Bookseller
by Cynthia Swanson


  1. You are making my reading list way too long!

  2. Although the overall concept is as you mention a known trope, the fact you mention it's still not what you thought it would be is intriguing, and one of the key success factors is as you mention the character of the main character to the reader!

  3. Well I have insanely vivid dreams as it is, but the book does sound interesting! I sure hope my own dreams don't start to butt up against reality. Pretty sure zombies should stay in the realm of the imagination.

  4. I have to admit that I don't pay much attention to dreams - maybe this book would make me change that!

    Thanks for being a part of the tour.

  5. This looks like a good one! I'll have to check it out. Thank you for sharing.