Book 90 of 2015: First Impressions by Charlie Lovett

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A thrilling literary mystery co-starring Jane Austen from the New York Times bestselling author of The Bookman’s Tale

Charlie Lovett first delighted readers with his New York Timesbestselling debut, The Bookman’s Tale. Now, Lovett weaves another brilliantly imagined mystery featuring one of English literature’s most popular and beloved authors: Jane Austen.

Book lover and Austen enthusiast Sophie Collingwood has recently taken a job at an antiquarian bookshop in London when two different customers request a copy of the same obscure book: the second edition of Little Book of Allegories by Richard Mansfield.  Their queries draw Sophie into a mystery that will cast doubt on the true authorship ofPride and Prejudice—and ultimately threaten Sophie’s life.

In a dual narrative that alternates between Sophie’s quest to uncover the truth—while choosing between two suitors—and a young Jane Austen’s touching friendship with the aging cleric Richard Mansfield, Lovett weaves a romantic, suspenseful, and utterly compelling novel about love in all its forms and the joys of a life lived in books.

I found this book in the mystery section of my library’s audiobook page. Since I’m in an audio kick and this was something different, I felt like it was worth a shot.

I typically read reviews of books as I’m reading them. I’m sure this may change my opinion of a book as I read, but it’s something I like to do. I usually read a poor review and match it with a high one. As such, there are a few readers who went for this book for the mystery. I am on the camp that if you read this book, you MUST be a bibliophile. An Austenite as well if at all possible.

I am both. I love Jane Austen, but have always been wary about her as a fictional character. That said, I liked how Lovett weaves her story and the story of Sophie. You see the life of a writer and how she uses conversations and people as the inspirations for her stories. Though Austen’s section in the book is purely fictional, I could see it going that way. The process between her and her mentor are much the same for myself and my best friend. And though I am not a published novelist (yet), her help is what makes me a better writer today.

Whereas Jane Austen’s part in the book is her process and her as a creative person, Sophie Collingwood’s part of the book is centered on books. More specifically, it is centered on a special book that seems completely inconsequential. This special book spurs on the mystery and the romance of Sophie’s story.

Yes, Sophie isn’t really the strongest of characters; however, I found her to be enjoyable. There is something about her love of the written word and the passion of it that speaks to me. I found her conviction to be pure. She is witty, fun, and a lover of books.

The mystery is easy to figure out. I was screaming at Sophie at times when she did something that was completely obvious. I didn’t know the little twist in the end, though I did know who the bad guy was. However, the comparisons I made of Sophie’s life with Austen’s and then add a comparison with Pride and Prejudice, gave me a huge literary moment. I could see how if I was back in school I could use this book in a college paper alongside Jane Austen’s own work. It’d be a fun paper. I hope someone does it.

So, in all, read this book for the love and passion of books. The writing is beautiful and easy to get into. The story may be predictable, but it was enjoyable. It made me want to see Jane Austen sites more and more. This is a fun book to read. Just don’t pick it up if you want a mystery.

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