No Two persons by Erica Bauermeister (Literary Fiction)

Writing: 5/5 Characters: 4/5 Plot: 3/5
An interesting premise — in the first chapter, Alice Wein writes, and manages to publish, a deeply felt book, drawing on her own emotional experiences. It is titled “Theo.” Each of the next nine chapters (extending over a number of years) is a story about an individual who interacts with the book in a way that has a significant impact on his or her life: the Assistant who discovers the manuscript, the actor who narrates the audio book, a blocked artist, a driven diver, a deserted teenager, a bookseller, a ghost town caretaker, an intimacy coordinator (my favorite), and a book agent.

Each story is deeply personal; several brought tears to my eyes. While I didn’t find the book depressing, many were quite poignant. As the stories continue, we learn more about the book itself from it’s opening line — “wandering is a gift given only to the lost” — to succinct summaries of its development and denouement. Kind of clever embedding a book within a book without actually having to write it! I did find one story trite (I won’t tell you which — it may not feel that way to you!)

I greatly prefer novels to short stories, so I was a little disappointed that this wasn’t really a novel. On the other hand, I read them all (I often stop after the first few in a story collection). Bauermeister is a lovely writer, and the characters have real depth. And I have always liked the concept of books and how subjective each reader’s experience is. As an aside, I also really like the cover!

Thank you to St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on May 2nd, 2023

Little Souls by Sandra Dallas (Historical Fiction)

Plot: 4.5/5 Characters: 4/5 Writing: 4/5

Little Souls takes place in Denver, 1918. The Influenza has hit the population badly, and the men are still away at war. At 19, Lutie Hite is a carefree artist working in advertising for the local department store; her older, more careworn, sister Helen is a nurse. Through an interesting set of events they become responsible for Dorothy, the ten-year old daughter of their now deceased tenant. From these beginnings follows a fairly wild, often heartbreaking, but ultimately heartwarming ride.

I’m a big Sandra Dallas fan. Dallas writes Western historical fiction about strong women making it through adversity with fortitude, intelligence, and the help of their community. She always brings in the small details of life in that particular time and place to make everything ring true.

Her stories tend to the dramatic, but never go over the top and feel quite realistic for their time. She is even-handed about how people thought and behaved at the time — different characters have different opinions on everything from mask-wearing (ha!) to personal morality, and no opinion is presented as obviously better than the others. Religious feeling and participation was a big part of life in that place and time, and I liked how she treated it. While this in no way dominates the book, there were some beautiful passages about how individual characters felt about God that moved me, despite my not being religious myself.

This is a real page-turner — I’m afraid I annoyed my husband by reading on into the night…

Thank you to St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on April 26th, 2022.