The Library Book by Susan Orlean

51pmjwgu0bl._sx340_bo1,204,203,200_The Library Book is a fabulous in-depth look at the unsolved mystery surrounding the single largest library fire in United States history,  that of the Los Angeles Public Library in 1986. Though the book is nonfiction, it is packed full of interesting information, including the history of the very first libraries as well as both hilarious and heartwarming anecdotal details from various library employees which Orlean interviewed.

Perhaps I loved it so much because I’m a librarian, but I believe it will be loved by any reader based upon the great popularity it has already received. Celebrity reader, Reese Witherspoon selected The Library Book as the January pick for her book club, Hello Sunshine and it’s also spent time on the New York Times Bestseller list, of course. It is evident that Orlean spent many years researching and studying the Los Angeles Public Library system, as well as libraries in general. Most fascinating to me was the description of  the process of thousands of wet, damaged books from the fire that were frozen before the mold started, and then months later pressed dry to remove all the moisture. Another really neat thing to read about was the start of e-books and the mind-blowing statistics of their worldwide usage today. I kept repeating facts out loud while reading to my husband because they were so interesting.

The Library Book has been called “a love letter to libraries” by some, which is certainly on point. In the beginning, Orlean tells of when she was a young girl visiting the library with her mother, a memory which she will always cherish. She remembers vividly the discussions with her mother on the way home which books they would read first and the feel of the stack of books in her lap, a comforting presence. Her mother always said she should have been a librarian. Like Orlean, I too have always held a special place in my heart for libraries. I can remember being in them from the time I was very young, in awe of the wonder surrounding me on the shelves. And, like Orlean’s mother, I always dreamed of being a librarian, and here I am. This book really captivated me and reminded me just how fortunate and thankful I am to be able to be living out the dream I once had as a little girl.

I would highly recommend The Library Book for fans of nonfiction and fiction alike, especially those who love a bit of mystery and/or history. You won’t be disappointed with this book!

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Map of the Heart by Susan Wiggs

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Map of the Heart will be published August 22, 2017. I was in the mood for a love story, and this one was a perfect fit. This is a modern-day romance mixed in with a healthy dose of historical fiction, historical mystery, and a forbidden historical romance.

36 year old widow and single mother, Camille, has shut off her own heart from feeling happiness or true love, since her husband died in a tragic accident five years prior. At that time, she also gave up her favorite past-time which brought her the most joy – photography.

Camille spends her days trying to figure out the best way to deal with her moody teenage daughter and aging father, whose cancer is fortunately in remission. Part owner of Oh-La-La, a home-goods shop in downtown Bethany Bay, the New England touristy beach town she calls home, Camille also has a film developing business. She specializes in developing and restoring very old film.

Enter Finn, Malcolm Finnemore, but known only as Finn. He’s a handsome historian and professor who specializes in war and military history and volunteers his time recovering lost soldiers remains to give families closure. His own father, a soldier, disappeared during the Vietnam War before Finn was born, and Finn has been unable to find any clues to locate him, until a lost roll of film from his father’s camera was uncovered. The film could be images of the last place his father was alive, and it could even lead to his whereabouts. Giddy with excitement at the prospect of getting closer to finding his father, he contacts an expert, Camille, to restore and develop the very old, important film for him.

What follows is a series of sparks, then fires, then uncertainty, and passion in a romance made for the movies. Oh la la, indeed!

Camille’s father, Henri, who grew up in Bellerive, France, receives a box found in the attic at Sauveterre, and estate in southern France where he grew up and that he owns. Inside are some puzzling items that belonged to Henri’s mother, Lisette, who died during childbirth. There is little to no resemblance between Henri and his presumed father, Didier. Camille and Henri begin to question whether Didier Palomar, mayor of Bellerive and a Nazi supporter who was killed shortly after WWII ended, is actually Henri’s birth father.

Henri and Julie, Camille’s daughter, decide to spend the summer in southern France at Sauveterre, despite Camille’s resistance. She finally gives in after Julie is involved in an accident at school and Camille is unsure whether Julie is the bully or the bullied. Julie is miserable, and a summer away with a mystery to solve may be just what she needs to snap back into a happier childhood. And, of course, Camille realizes that Aix-en-Provence where Finn lives is very close to Bellerive. A summer in beautiful southern France AND a handsome, charming, single man dying to meet up with her as soon as possible – any woman in her right mind would be crazy to turn that down! Thank goodness, for the sake of the story, Camille lets go and heads to France.

The story switches back and forth to the 1940’s as readers get to know young Lisette and her remarkable story. Once the truth about Henri’s real father and Lisette’s past are revealed, readers will not be able to put the book down. I know I certainly couldn’t!

Map of the Heart is well-written with equal parts heartbreak and romance. The romance isn’t too steamy, but subtle and implied. I felt transported back and forth between the beach town of Bethany Bay and the picturesque estate of Sauveterre in the Var – both places that I would love to be. I loved the story and even the ending, which I sometimes do not like in romantic fiction. Fans of Elin Hilderbrand and Kristin Hannah will love this story.