I’m pretty sure I haven’t ever read a Susan Wiggs novel before this one. I was pleasantly surprised. Of course, this novel had me at bookshop (as they all do!) and even though I’ve had an ARC of this book for months, I finally decided to finish it today, after stopping and starting a few times a few months ago.
I’ll confess I was cruising along with my books, and suddenly this past week I hit a wall again. Just couldn’t get through anything. So I am glad I picked this back up again, because I hit that magical place in the book that had me focusing in and forgetting about anything for awhile. Even though I didn’t do anything for July 4th but stay home and cook out, I was still feeling a bit of a holiday hangover today. After watering my flowers outside and getting laundry started, I was happy to just stay inside and read.
This novel really is a nod to booklovers everywhere. Natalie Harper grew up in a bookstore; her mother Blythe operates a family bookshop in a building that has been in the Harper family for 100 years-a coveted building in fashionable San Francisco. After a horrible tragedy, Natalie returns to San Francisco and the bookshop, to take stock of its future, and to take care of Grandy, her grandfather. He’d recently fallen and broken his hip and was now showing signs of early dementia. Natalie had been successful at a wine brokerage firm and while she didn’t love her job, she was good at it. But it wasn’t hard to leave and return, if only to help her Grandy take care of next steps.
Those next steps aren’t as easy as Natalie expects, when she finds out her Grandy owns the building and the bookstore, and will not sell, even after Natalie realizes they are deep in debt and behind on taxes. What’s a bookstore manager to do, but try and build up the business with a huge author event that could help pay bills and give the store much needed advertising?
Natalie also meets Peach Gallagher, a local “hammer guy” who specializes in fixing old buildings. Her mother had arranged for Peach to fix a few things in the building, and Peach is one good looking man. He’s also a really decent man, with an adorable daughter who frequents the bookstore. His friendly and calm attitude helps Natalie as she struggles between grief, understanding her grandfather’s failing health, and the tough decisions she has to make.
So we’ve got a few things running through this story: the struggle to save the bookstore, an ailing grandfather, a potential romance, and a story that’s been handed down over the generations about a treasure that’s hidden somewhere in the building, left by Grandy’s grandmother, who died in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Is it just a fanciful story, or is there treasure lurking somewhere-treasure that could save the business?
I read this novel pretty quickly, and enjoyed it very much. No surprises, just a gentle unfolding of the story. I loved all the book references, and the peeks into what it takes to run a bookstore. Definitely a good vacation book!
This book is out in the U.S. on July 7th in hardcover, ebook, and audio.
Rating: 4/6 for an enjoyable novel about life when it makes a few sharp turns, the importance of family, and of course, the life changing magic of books. Some parts made me a little teary-eyed, so you may need a tissue!
Derek Stillwater Visits JA Konrath’s Universe
A while back, JA Konrath, who I relentlessly refer to as “Joe” because, well, that’s his name, offered writers the opportunity to write a short story, novella or novel with one of his own characters. He provided guidelines and approaches.
I was interested, but busy doing other things. I’m a full-time freelance writer as well as a novelist. I’m also a ghostwriter and during the period that Joe first made this offer I was pretty tied up with a big historical fiction ghostwriting project and barely got work done on my own novels. One of my writer friends, Jude Hardin, had written a novel, Lady 52, that features his own series character, Nicholas Colt, and Joe’s best known series character, Lt. Jacqueline “Jack” Daniels.
Jude suggested I do the same. So I dithered. Then I started in on a novel that would feature my best known series character, Derek Stillwater, with Lt. Jack Daniels. As soon as Joe had made the offer, I knew when I wanted the story to be and what it would be connected to. When I read Joe’s novel, Dirty Martini, I always knew Derek would be there in Chicago in some way. So why not have Derek and Jack work together immediately after those events?
I started working on the novel.
The problem is I don’t pay much attention to rules, I guess.
Somewhere along the way Jude asked me how I was doing and I mentioned I was working on a novel with Derek and Jack. He said, “Yeah, but, did you write a short story first?”
Well, it turns out that Joe had a kind of preliminary testing period for writers to do this, and he wanted to make sure they didn’t waste a lot of time on a novel that might not work, so he wanted any of us to write a short story first.
Well. So I stalled around for a while, then I wrote a short story, “Black Russian.” Then I sent “Black Russian” and the part of the novel I had completed to Joe and I went off and did other things, including finishing my own more recent Derek Stillwater novel, Vengeance.
Eventually Joe and I went back and forth over “Black Russian,” then Joe changed the way these projects were going to get done. Rather than Joe being the manager of these projects, Amazon was going to include it in its Kindle Worlds program. But after checking this program, I and quite a few other writers had some issues with it, primarily revolving around owning our own creations shared with Joe’s. Joe very generously got his people at Amazon to rewrite their contract agreements and here we go.
This is all rather inside baseball, so to speak.
But what about Black Russian? Well, here are a couple things I knew in writing this short story.
I wanted it to have the name of a cocktail.
I wanted it to be more or less current with the timeline of my latest Derek Stillwater novel, more or less just before or just after the events of Vengeance. That would be very different from the Stillwater-Daniels novel I’m working on, which would be several years earlier, a prequel, if you will. So in this short story, Derek and Jack know each other and are kind of friends. That left me with the dilemma of how to get Derek involved in the story. I figured, since he was headquartered in Washington, D.C., somehow Jack would need to get out there and need his help. And once I got the name of the story, it all pretty much came together. I was also quite pleased to be able to bring in the character of Austin Davis, who is the hero of my novel Hot Money. I plan to revisit Austin again as well and there’s a big chunk of a novel done featuring him.
So here we are, BLACK RUSSIAN. I hope you enjoy it.
And with any luck, later this year you’ll get to read about Derek and Jack’s first adventure.