The Bookman's Tale: A Novel of Obsession by Charlie Lovett

June 17, 2013 Art, Crime, Historical Fiction, Mystery 43

How fare thee, sweet Bookworms?

Today we explore a book about books! A few weeks ago, one of my aunts left me a note on Facebook asking me if I’d read The Bookman’s Tale: A Novel of Love and Obsession by Charlie Lovett. I said I hadn’t and asked if it was any good. My aunt responded with “I don’t know, YOU’RE the bookworm!” Apparently snarky eyebrows aren’t the only familial trait… Full on sarcasm runs rather strongly as well. I decided to look and see if I could find this book on NetGalley, so I could mention this conversation on my blog and tell the world that my aunt is one sassy broad. As luck would have it, I was able to snag a copy. I am fortune’s fool… Or something. Full Disclosure: I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley. This shan’t compromise my integrity in the slightest, as I am rather fond of looking gift horses in the mouth. I won’t hesitate to bite my thumb at it, should it come to that.
Are my Shakespearean references annoying you yet? Too bad! This book is about Peter Byerly, an antiquarian bookseller and collector. Peter is a shy young widower with an anxiety disorder. Since the untimely death of his beloved wife, he’s lost interest in his former passion for hunting down lost treasures in antique manuscripts. He has run away from his grief stricken home in North Carolina and settled in a cottage in the English countryside. While half-heartedly rummaging through a collection, Peter discovers a water color that is the spitting image of his late wife. The mystery? The painting is very clearly from the Victorian era… And Peter is in 1995. He is suitably confused, and embarks on a journey to uncover the origins of the painting. During the course of Peter’s research on the painting, he accidentally runs across a book that has the potential to prove that Shakespeare really wrote all of his own plays.
Oh yeah. Background information. There’s always been some rumors swirling about in literary circles that doubt that the works attributed to William Shakespeare were in fact written by William Shakespeare. Theories abound as to who the true author may be, or if the person of William Shakespeare existed at all. Though the works are clearly documented through dates, it’s awfully difficult to prove WHO actually wrote them. Most of the works were originally plays, Shakespeare the business man never spelled his name with an “e” at the end and only had a grammar school education, Francis Bacon may have wanted to use a pen name, blah blah blah. Conspiracy theorists only sound ridiculous when you’ve got solid proof to discredit their claims, and no such solid proof exists of Shakespeare being, well, Shakespeare. Except maybe, just maybe, this book that Peter has come across. Dun dun dun!!!
This book has elements of The DaVinci Code and Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore. We’ve got a mystery of historical proportions that needs to be solved. The stakes are high. The mysteries run deep. People are trying to protect SECRETS.  The story is constructed sort of like a braid. It’s got three distinct storylines going at the same time. We follow Peter’s life circa 1995 with the brooding and the grief and the mystery. We also explore the time line that shows Peter meeting his late wife Amanda in college and the blossoming of their love story (which is rather heartbreaking since you know from the beginning that she’s not long for this world.) The third piece of the puzzle is the story of a rather important book and how it ends up being passed down through the ages.
The black string is Peter in 1995. The red is Peter and Amanda, sitting in a tree. The blue is the book's story.

The black string is Peter in 1995. The red is Peter and Amanda, sitting in a tree. The blue is the book’s story. Analogies in friendship bracelets. Astounding. (Image Source)

I refuse to be a spoilsport, because I rarely read mysteries and I rather enjoyed this one. The ending was a little too tidy for my taste (dare I say predictable?), but I’m willing to forgive Lovett on the grounds that I enjoyed the rest of the story. If you liked Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore, I think this will be right up your alley. It’s not quite as whimsical as Penumbra, but it is every bit as engrossing. If you’re at all like me, Peter the super book nerd will steal your heart and you’ll want to hug him and give him tea… And Xanax.

Oh yes. I almost forgot to mention! I felt exceptionally close to this book because it talked about places I’ve been! Several times throughout the book Peter stops at the Russel Square tube station while in London. It’s close to the British Museum (where I’ve BEEN!!!) and it was our “home stop” while I did my two week mini-mester in London approximately 1,000 years ago. I was all, “Russel Square is my ‘hood!” Very exciting for me.

Oh my dear little peaches of Bookworms. We could talk about Shakespeare or mysteries or any number of things. But I must know. Am I the only person who gets unreasonably excited about reading stories with PLACES I KNOW?! When I was reading Neil Gaiman’s American Gods I was practically giddy with all the Illinois small town name dropping. It makes me feel a part of it, you know? Is it just me? Don’t leave me hanging y’all. Share your stories. Or tell me I’m crazy. I most certainly am, though this is probably quite low on the list of my “eccentricities” shall we say? Spill!

43 Responses to “The Bookman's Tale: A Novel of Obsession by Charlie Lovett”

  1. Ashley F

    Speaking of books about books. If you haven’t already, read “The Shadow of the Wind” by Carols Ruiz Zafon. Amazing.

  2. Megan M.

    Oooh, this sounds right up my alley! I’m strongly considering starting a book review blog just so I can get some fabulous free books. But since my past blogging endeavors have ended in shame, I guess I’ll resist the urge for now. I DO get excited when a place I know pops up in something fictional. There’s a lot of talking about Brainerd, MN in the movie Fargo, and since a lot of my relatives are Minnesotans (those accents!) and actually go to Brainerd for stuff, I feel an affection for that movie that goes beyond just “hey, that’s a good movie.”

    • Words for Worms

      LOL it’s so funny that you bring up Fargo! One of my college roommates was from Eden Prairie and when she’d tell people where she was from, she’d always say that it was mentioned in Fargo “for the good schools, doncha know.” (And if you started a review blog, I’d totally read it.)

  3. Heather

    I get all excited when a book’s story (or even part of it…or even a mention) takes place in the Finger Lakes area where I grew up. One of Vonnegut’s books takes place IN the little town where I grew up and that’s SO COOL.

  4. Books, Tea & Me

    I have this book sitting on shelf, up next on the queue. Can’t wait to read it now after your review!
    And I also love seeing places I’ve been to pop up in books, but that’s a very rare occurance for me. Most books don’t even know Calgary, AB, Canada exists, and I haven’t traveled much outside of New York City and California.

    • Words for Worms

      I’ve read a few books set in Canada, but I can’t recall where exactly. Probably Toronto. If it makes you feel any better, I’ve never been to NYC or California, so everything set in those locales (of which there’s a TON) means almost nothing to me.

  5. Rory

    I love reading books with places and names I know (Rory is exactly popular, so I love finding it in books). I am about 30% through this book, so far, so good.

    • Words for Worms

      Katie is a LOT more common than Rory, but I still get excited when there’s a Katie in a book, on TV, or in a movie. Of course, in the case of TV/Movies, I’m then left wondering if they spell it the “right way” (meaning, of course, with an IE.)

      • Rory

        Actually a pet peeve of mine is creative spellings, so I totally understand. I recently read NOS4A2 will features my obscure hometown of Dover, NH. It made me happy!

        And as for Rory, Gilmore Girls will always be my favorite!

  6. Jeannine G.

    Yay! I had seen a review of this elsewhere and requested it on my wish list for paperbackswap! I’ve gotta start reading fiction on NetGalley!

  7. Monika

    It’s so fun to read books that take place in places you’re so familiar with! This one sounds entertaining, it’s going on my TBR list – thanks!

  8. Turn the Page Reviews

    Great review! I loved this book- books about people who love books float my boat. I ALSO love books about places I know- especially books in Charleston, where my in-laws live.

    • Words for Worms

      I love reading about the south! Actually, I’ve read about Charleston a few times and it’s on my list of places I’d like to travel. It sounds so freaking charming!

  9. lostinliterature108

    I think you’ve mentioned before that you’re not a big Nicholas Sparks fan but I must say it is very cool living in North Carolina and knowing almost ALL of the places he writes about.

    • Words for Worms

      I read one Nicholas Sparks once but it really wasn’t my cup of tea. I didn’t even realize that the majority of his books are set in NC. That’s a whole angle of readership I’d never thought of!

      • Darlene

        Yes, he is from here. Pretty sure he still lives here and I think all his books are set in NC. Could be wrong but I am pretty sure.

  10. Rissa

    I’m so glad there is a universe of readers who are also thrilled by reading stories set in “real life” places (ie – places “real” to you because you’ve visited or lived there). I also experience the reverse of this: picking travel destinations based on the setting of my favourite books! I have a real thing for great stories that whisk you away to say India, or Africa and immerse you in the culture and people of a place you’ve never been. And when I pull out my travel map and dream… my top picks are always book-locations!

  11. Jennifer @ The Relentless Reader

    Dun dun dun!! Ha 🙂

    Hell yes I get excited when I read about places I’ve been! I get doubly jazzed up when books take place in my home state. Why is that anyway?

    • Words for Worms

      I think it’s a fame by association thing. Wisconsin never gets enough love- I don’t blame you for the excitement! I almost forgot to tell you! I was telling my dad about your giant musky statue, and he claims to have a photo of himself posing in its mouth… You know, back when you could climb on statues and not get arrested. Or something. Wisconsin for the win!

  12. Megan M.

    I just finished reading this! Even though it has so many elements I like (a bookish MC, a literary mystery, etc.) I almost gave up on it a few times. It was so long and drawn out, and the MC was too perfectly perfect. It was cloyingly sweet. I only stuck with it because of your good review and a few intriguing moments that happened right about the times I was ready to give up on it. LOL

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