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Lately I’ve been in a reading rut. Just by fluke, I’ve read a number of books recently that I was either neutral about or vehemently disliked. Some of those books were for evaluation as part of one of my committees. While I always approach these review titles with an open mind, it just happens some rounds that the books fall flat and I struggle to find anything that is noteworthy let alone worth a starred review.

 

Others of those titles were books of my own choosing by authors I have liked in the past, and those are the most disappointing. One of these authors traditionally writes romances but ventured into cozy mystery territory. I’ve read a number of the author’s romances and loved them, and a couple of them rank among my favourite books. I’m not typically a cozy mystery reader, but since it was by someone I like, I was willing to give it a shot. It took me about two chapters to solve the mystery, I felt nothing for any of the central characters and didn’t really buy into the romance. To make matters worse, I thought the writing was terrible, and that’s just something I have little tolerance for as I get older.

 

The second is a book by a popular mystery writer whom I’ve read on and off since high school and I’m also finding it disappointing. The plot feels clichéd and forced, the characters are weak, and the writing is also poor. My impression is that the author was attempting to use a topical subject to frame the mystery, but it’s one that’s totally overdone and isn’t handled as well as about 20 others with similar plots.

 

After coming off of so many 'meh' reads in a row, I started questioning my taste in books. Were the writers always that bad, or has the pressure to produce annually (or even bi-annually) caused a drop off in quality. I also wonder if it’s me and if I’m being too picky. Is it possible that I’m judging the books on an overall distaste for the particular genre or subject? Maybe, but if they’d been really good, I’d be holding them up as amazing books that are strong examples of the genre.

 

So how do you get out of a reading rut? In my case, I picked a book at random that I’ve heard a lot of great things about by an author I’ve never read before. When you have a lot of books qued up, sometimes it’s fun to open one without too much thought and take a chance. The worst that happens is I don’t enjoy it, and I am still looking for that great read that will shake me out of my reading rut. The best is that it turns out to be a great book and it’s exactly the medicine I need to get the bad taste of the last few disappointments out of my mouth. Luckily, The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff was the latter, and I loved it!

 

The novel is a dual story about Grace, a young war widow who finds a suitcase in Grand Central Station one day on her way to work, and that of Eleanor Trigg, the suitcase’s owner, who was tragically hit by a car earlier that morning and killed outside the station.  Eleanor helped establish and run the women’s unit of the SOE, training them as radio operators and sending them into occupied Europe to help the allies.  When someone betrays them, the field agents disappear, and are presumed to have been killed by the Nazis. At the end of the war, all but twelve of the women were accounted for, and Eleanor is determined to not only find out what happened to those lost girls, but also to find out who betrayed them. Through the photographs, Grace’s and Eleanor’s stories become intertwined, and Grace becomes desparate to finish what Eleanor started and bring closure to Eleanor, the lost girls of Paris and herself.

 

Jenoff’s book is pretty far from my usual type of read. It’s not that I don’t like historical fiction, but a lot of it tends to be either too didactic or too depressing for me (historical romance is something entirely different, and I do enjoy that quite a bit.)  It’s also a book that’s doing a pretty good job of selling itself, and since bestsellers don’t need my help to end up on library shelves, I only read them when they’re by an author I know and like.

 

That’s why this novel was such a pleasant surprise for me. Among a slew of WWII era titles, Jenoff brilliantly covered an aspect of the war that I knew nothing about and found fascinating, created extremely compelling characters, and seamlessly wove together the stories of Grace (the girl who found the suitcase), Eleanor, and Marie - one of the radio operators. I couldn’t put this book down and I stayed up way too late one night trying to finish it. I can’t remember the last time I did that, so I promise you that coming from me, that’s high praise!

 

If you’re thinking that this isn’t something you’d usually read and isn’t really your style, I urge you to reconsider. The writing is excellent, the story is engaging, and you’ll be as caught up in it as I was. I don’t know what my next read will be, but I think I try the experiment again and choose  a random book that I wouldn’t normally read. Who knows what other gem I might discover!

 

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Happy Reading!

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