Delightful – and with a surprise happy ending!
I’m not entirely sure how I’d even classify this book. It’s part romance, part mystery, and part fantasy (though it’s urban, and the main character has what Orson Scott Card would call a micropower: she can read the emotions in old books left over from the person who last owned them). It’s also told in a very unique style: two arguing manuscripts from former lovers, and the reader, Ashlyn, in between, as she digests the story.
Ashlyn is an owner of an old bookstore, which is perfect for her, given her particular gift. She’s had a rough life, and takes refuge in the books she loves. When she gets a donation of two strange bound volumes, without author names or publication pages, she becomes curious, particularly when she’s hit with the overwhelming sense of heartbreak from both of them. Yet she finds that the two volumes are a set, a he said/she said recapitulating a romance gone wrong. Even in the volumes, neither of them names the other except for by nickname: he calls her Belle, and she calls him Hemi (which seems to allude to Hemingway, as he is apparently a writer himself).
Ashlyn becomes so engrossed in their stories that she determines to track down the donor, and stumbles upon Ethan, related to the man who donated them. Ethan is a writer too, and while he brushes her off at first, eventually she interests him in the sleuthing process of who they were and what happened to them. Ashlyn feels strongly that there has to be something they’re missing, since both writers seemed to equally believe themselves to be the wronged party. In the process of investigating, Ashlyn and Ethan delve into their own romance.
The end of the two manuscripts ends unfinished, but Ashlyn and Ethan deduce that “Belle” is actually Ethan’s estranged great-aunt. This leads to unraveling the rest of the mystery. I won’t spoil it except to say that Ashlyn’s instincts are correct. While nothing in the story led me to believe that there would be a happy ending for Hemi and Belle, when there finally is, it’s very satisfying. Barbara Davis endings usually are!
My rating: ****1/2
Sexual content: it’s there, but in a fade-to-black kind of a way
Violence: none that I recall
Political content: none