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first impressions

Source: Review copy from Viking
Rating: ★★★★★

“A good book is like a good friend. It will stay with you for the rest of your life. When you first get to know it, it will give you excitement and adventure, and years later it will provide you with comfort and familiarity. And best of all, you can share it with your children or your grandchildren or anyone you love enough to let into its secrets.”

(from First Impressions, page 28)

Quick summary: Charlie Lovett’s new novel, First Impressions, is a feast for bibliophiles and especially fans of Jane Austen. In 1796, Jane Austen forges a friendship with Richard Mansfield, an elderly clergyman and writer who shares her love of the written word and with whom she shares the early drafts of her manuscripts. In the present, Sophie Collingwood is reeling from the loss of her uncle with whom she shared a love of books, as well as the loss of his massive library, which was supposed to have been hers. While deciding what to do with her life now that she’s graduated from Oxford, she takes a job in an antiquarian bookshop owned by one of her uncle’s friends, and she’s almost immediately thrown into a mystery when two customers request her assistance on the same day to find the second edition of A Little Book of Allegories by Richard Mansfield. As Sophie pieces together the story behind the rare book, she is forced to question whether Austen is truly the genius behind Pride and Prejudice, choose between the incorrigible American with whom she shared a passionate kiss and the sexy publishing executive helping her track down the book, and even run for her life.

Why I wanted to read it: Who could resist a book about the love of books? And the premise that Austen may have stolen the plot of Pride and Prejudice is both clever and intriguing.

What I liked: It can be difficult for authors juggling a dual narrative to make them equally appealing to readers, but Lovett had me hanging onto every word of both stories from the very first page. I thought it was creative how Lovett puts Jane Austen at the center of a mystery that takes a sinister turn. The friendship between Jane and Rev. Mansfield is beautifully portrayed, and Lovett even makes Sophie’s story, though wild and over-the-top, completely believable. Despite the darkness of the mystery, there are light, heartwarming moments throughout the book, from the scenes where Uncle Bertram passes on a love of books and reading to Sophie to the scenes where Jane shares her writing with Rev. Mansfield.

What I disliked: Nothing! This book grabbed me from the start, and it was a good thing I picked it up on a vacation day from work, as I gobbled it up in one sitting.

Final thoughts: First Impressions is an exciting novel about cultivating a lifelong love of reading, collecting antique books, and all that can be accomplished through a marriage of the minds. It’s a fun, fast-paced novel that seamlessly blends the past with the present and will make readers long for libraries amassed over the generations, the smell of old paper and ink, and the promise of adventure within the pages of a book. Definitely one of the best books I read this year!

Disclosure: I received First Impressions from Viking for review.

© 2014 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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