Review: The Bookseller

The Bookseller, Cynthia Swanson

Hardcover, 338 pages

Published March 3rd 2015 by Harper

Source: e-ARC from edelweiss


From Goodreads.

Nothing is as permanent as it appears . . .

Denver, 1962: Kitty Miller has come to terms with her unconventional single life. She loves the bookshop she runs with her best friend, Frieda, and enjoys complete control over her day-to-day existence. She can come and go as she pleases, answering to no one. There was a man once, a doctor named Kevin, but it didn’t quite work out the way Kitty had hoped.

Then the dreams begin.

Denver, 1963: Katharyn Andersson is married to Lars, the love of her life. They have beautiful children, an elegant home, and good friends. It’s everything Kitty Miller once believed she wanted—but it only exists when she sleeps.

Convinced that these dreams are simply due to her overactive imagination, Kitty enjoys her nighttime forays into this alternate world. But with each visit, the more irresistibly real Katharyn’s life becomes. Can she choose which life she wants? If so, what is the cost of staying Kitty, or becoming Katharyn?

As the lines between her worlds begin to blur, Kitty must figure out what is real and what is imagined. And how do we know where that boundary lies in our own lives?

I really wanted to love The Bookseller.  I was so curious!  Would it be magical realism?  Was the Bookseller going to be living two lives only in her own head?  I love books about books – so would this be an amazing guide to books like The Storied Life of AJ Fikry?

I really can’t find the right words for this book.  Kitty had such potential as an independent woman, a bit ahead of her time in the ‘60s – and then she’d wake up as Katharyn.  A housewife and mother who was completely a product of her times and did not show as much spine as she had before she met her husband. Kitty kind of wanted to be Katharyn and at the same time Katharyn kind of wanted to go back to being Kitty. Honestly, I just wanted to know what the heck was happening.

I just didn’t click with Kitty/Katharyn as a character enough to feel really drawn into her story either way. Maybe it was because she wasn’t ever settled in either life?  I could have likely walked away from The Bookseller without an answer of what was real and not really suffered for a lack of resolution.  In the end, while the explanation made sense for the story – it wasn’t what I wanted for her which always makes me grumpy.

I will say Swanson wrote her time period well – I was uncomfortable reading her mentions of race and class throughout and with the discussions of autism and the blame placed on mothers.  So in that regard I felt like I was right there in another time.  I loved the description of Denver in the ‘60s!  That was really fun to read.  I liked how Kitty/Katharyn used the books that were best sellers to track where she was in time. Really this wasn’t a bad book, just not an Amanda book in the end. This was Swanson’s debut novel, I’d for sure be curious to see what she writes in the future.

2 stars

Thank you Harper and Edelweiss for this advance copy in exchange for an honest opinion.

Have you read The Bookseller?  Did you get drawn into this story?  Or can you recommend another book about books for me?


  1. It’s always frustrating when a book you’re excited about turns out to be not right for you. While the cover and title are, of course, appealing it sounds like based on the plot and the time period (not a favorite of mine) that this one will be a pass. Thanks for the review!

  2. Well, damn. I am listening to this one, and so far all of my notes include various variations of “I have no idea what is happening here or what the point of this story is.” I’ll finish it because I am more than halfway, but at least I know the rest will continue to be the slog it has been so far.

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