One of Madeline Cullen’s happiest childhood memories is of working with her Aunt Maddie in the quaint and cozy Printed Letter Bookshop. But by the time Madeline inherits the shop nearly twenty years later, family troubles and her own bitter losses have hardened her heart toward her once-treasured aunt—and the now struggling bookshop left in her care.
While Madeline intends to sell the shop as quickly as possible, the Printed Letter’s two employees have other ideas. Reeling from a recent divorce, Janet finds sanctuary within the books and within the decadent window displays she creates. Claire, though quieter than the acerbic Janet, feels equally drawn to the daily rhythms of the shop and its loyal clientele, finding a renewed purpose within its walls. When Madeline’s professional life takes an unexpected turn, and a handsome gardener upends all her preconceived notions, she questions her plans and her heart. She begins to envision a new path for herself and her aunt’s beloved shop—provided the women’s best combined efforts are not too little, too late.
The Printed Letter Bookshop is a captivating story of good books, a testament to the beauty of new beginnings, and a sweet reminder of the power of friendship.
About the Book
The Printed Letter Bookshop
by Katherine Reay
Clean & Sweet Romance
Thomas Nelson (Imprint of HarperCollins)
May 14, 2019
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When I finished a sample of The Printed Letter Bookshop, I was so excited to continue reading it. Unfortunately after I hunted down a copy, I found it extremely disappointing and couldn’t get into it, at least for the first half of it. To me most of the characters were self-centered, bratty, and simply annoying. At first the multiple point of views were overwhelming but I was eventually able to get used them (more like that I was able to tell the characters a part).
Once I was able to get into the story I found it to be pretty good and more like the sample. The characters were finally relatable and their plots were interesting, I couldn’t put the book down.
I don’t know who I would recommend this to. Readers who do pick up this book, should be prepared for a bunch of reviews for the author’s other books at the beginning.
The review copy of this book was provided by the publisher via Edelweiss (Above the Treeline) in exchange for a fair and honest review. All titles reviewed on this blog are a fair and honest assessment of the book. No monetary compensation was received in exchange for this review. For more information regarding our review process, please visit our Review Policy & Review Request Submission page.
People parted around us in the courtyard. No one stopped to say anything — why would they? No one had ever seen us before. I paused, hearing something about champagne and a celebration. I was sure I was mistaken. Two women slid around me into the sea of black. From behind they appeared an unlikely pair. One stiff, as if held up by a single rod, while the other walked with the grace of a yogini. Black pants swirled around her ankles.
At the close of the service we had walked back down the aisle, heads straight, following Dad’s lead. But once we spilled out into the stone entryway, the crowd separated us. I looked around for Mom and found her several feet away, talking to a group of women. One reached out and held her arm, as if Mom needed consolation. Perhaps she did. She was the only one in our family who had kept in touch with Aunt Maddie over the years.
The icy rain had stopped, but the clouds felt no less foreboding. The sleet or snow would soon return. Dad watched the sky for a long time. So long, I tipped my head back as well.
“Almost twenty years.” He dropped his gaze and stared at me. “That’s how long since I spoke to my sister before last month, but she didn’t tell me. She said she was calling to say she loved me.” He gripped the back of his neck. It wrinkled white under the pressure. “I wouldn’t have answered if I’d recognized the number.”
His eyes held a rare hint of vulnerability, so I pressed the advantage. “Well, it was about time. It wasn’t your fault. None of it.”
He cast me an odd, questioning look. Dad, who never questioned. Who held all the answers. “It was my fault. Every bit of it. And I had never seen her so angry. But I was angry too, and … ashamed …” Dad breathed in. And out. “I hated that she judged me, but I don’t think she did. I don’t think she ever held it against me.”
“What? What are you talking about?”
His gaze flickered in alarm or pain before it drifted above and beyond me. He shook his head and walked toward the church’s circular drive.
Bits of conversation snagged me as we passed. “Isn’t there a reception?”
“What about her house?”
“Her brother should host one. Didn’t she have a brother?”
“No … That was Pete’s brother in the front row. Maddie didn’t have any family.”
I looked to Dad and wondered if he’d heard. If those women had done the same, looked at my dad, they would have seen he could never have been Uncle Pete’s brother. He and his sister shared the same deep-set eyes, eyebrows, and nose. Her “Irish twins,” Granny Caoimhe called them. They looked alike, walked alike, laughed alike. Both bit the side of their cheek when deep in thought, narrowed their eyes when something didn’t sound right, and laughed loudest at their own jokes.
Though, if I remembered correctly, Aunt Maddie’s laugh was more of a contagious giggle that held strong until you caught on and joined her. Dad’s, I knew from experience, held a slight condescension — you simply hadn’t caught the brilliance of his humor.
Mom reached us as their driver pulled to the curb. “Maddie was certainly adored. So many people. Shouldn’t we go by her house to make sure it’s okay? Houses don’t like to be left alone.”
Dad opened the car’s door. “I haven’t heard from her lawyers. Who knows who owns it now? We could be trespassing … Madeline?”
I shook my head. “I have no idea. No one has contacted me.” “That’s it then. Until told, it’s not our concern.” He dropped inside.
Mom pulled me into a hug. “I hate leaving you like this. We hardly saw you this trip.” She glanced into the dark car.
“It’s okay, Mom. You both are busy. I’m busy.”
“It’s not okay, but I’ll be back in four days.”
“I land on the seventh, as I’m sure the firm will host something extravagant on the sixth. And I’ll get myself to your apartment.” She gestured to the parking lot. “How are you getting back downtown?”
“I took the Metra up.”
“In the rain? Let us take you back before it starts again.” She leaned into the car. “Do we have time to take —”
“Don’t worry about it.” I tugged at her shoulder. They didn’t have time before their flight back to New York. And Dad would not be happy to veer from his predetermined schedule.
“Charlotte?” he called as if cued.
She waved her hand into the car. “As I said, I’ll be here on the seventh.” She curled a finger around my ear the way she used to do when I was young, and drew a loose strand of hair forward. She often chided me for being too severe. The gesture made me smile and I leaned into her touch.
“My daughter is about to make partner, the youngest partner I might add, at one of Chicago’s top law firms. That’s worth celebrating.” She pulled me close and kissed my cheek. “It’s important to celebrate, to mark occasions, dear. Don’t forget that.”
One more squeeze and she, too, dropped into the car. I was left standing alone, with a sea of black behind me all consoling one another over their loss, and an empty street in front of me. No one knew me. I knew no one. And I wasn’t sure what I’d lost.
Rather than turn into the crowd, I let memories of Aunt Maddie wash past as I stepped across the church’s driveway and headed toward the train station. Past the small village square. Past the gas station that had served soft swirls so long ago. I tripped over a shift in the sidewalk and found myself at the edge of the small park I had sat in before the service. I swiped at the bench and dropped onto it again. There was time before the train.
Madeline Cullen Carter. Same name as me, minus the Carter. I’d been named after her and, until that summer, my dad had only spoken of her in glowing terms. He worshiped her. Only thirteen months older, his “crazy” brilliant sister was everything he wasn’t. And crazy was his highest compliment. I could hear it in his voice. My crazy sister went skydiving. Skydiving at forty-five … She’s up to more craziness; she and Pete want to open a bookstore … She and Pete are headed to Haiti next month to help with relief efforts from Hurricane Dennis …
Crazy meant bold, daring, fearless. It was a radiant word, endowed with virtue and supernatural strength. For years, I wanted to be called crazy too. But after my last trip, nineteen years ago, the same word, previously laden with excitement, adoration, and a hint of envy, emerged with snarled derision and disgust.
Their retirement savings caused the rift and divided us all. She and Uncle Pete had invested in Dad’s Millennium Tech Fund — and, like practically every other tech fund in the spring and summer of 2000 — it vanished.
But shouldn’t she have been more understanding? More forgiving? Shouldn’t family have meant more than money? Everyone was hurt when the tech bubble burst. Everyone lost money. Yes, some more than others, but it wasn’t the managers’ faults. That was like blaming Hurricane Dennis on the meteorologists.
But anger can be as irrational as it is visceral. I felt it at school as my best friends avoided, then shunned me, sure my dad had caused all their parents’ troubles. And after we returned from Aunt Maddie’s house that summer, the apartment felt as silent and somber as school. Mom and Dad retreated to separate corners to heal. They never laughed, never went out to parties or dinners; they hardly spoke. In my most honest moments, I admit I chose Northwestern Law School in an attempt to push reconciliation. Maybe I was trying to rewrite history and prove people could be forgiving and kind. Maybe I wanted assurance that money, gained or lost, didn’t rule the world. New York had taught me otherwise, but Chicago? Maybe …
It never happened.
Aunt Maddie occasionally called and invited me to Eagle Valley for dinner, or volunteered to come visit me downtown, but she never mentioned my father, never said it was all okay, never let him off the hook, and never forgave him. And I never pushed it — I shouldn’t have had to.
I leaned back against the bench. It was my fault. Every bit of it … Dad said those very words. How was that true? Aunt Maddie had spent years blaming him for something out of his control.
“Are you okay?”
I bolted upright. Somehow I had missed a bright red Patagonia fleece standing feet from my face. “I — How long have you been standing there?”
The face above the fleece flashed straight white teeth. The straight teeth led to a slightly bumped nose and remarkable green eyes. His whole face lit with a smile.
“The length of that question. I just came from there.” He pointed across the street to the Catholic church’s rectory. “The church maintains the park and I was working earlier, but needed to take a break.” He used the same hand to sweep behind him. I noted a pile of burlap and a wheelbarrow. As he turned back, he pulled his other hand from his jeans pocket and offered a white handkerchief. I then felt what he must have noticed — my eyes were sticky and most likely red. He jiggled the handkerchief in front of me until I reached for it.
“I haven’t seen one of these since my grandfather died.”
“My granddad left me all his. They feel old-fashioned, but I find comfort in that.”
“And damsels in distress love them.” His eyes were an extraordinary color. They danced with laughter. His voice dripped with innuendo.
“Damsels?” I gave a barkish laugh before I could choke it back, and felt myself grow red. I waved toward the rectory. “You’re a priest. How is that appropriate?”
He followed my hand, and his smiling face blanched. It had held a hint of tan that I only noticed as it washed away. “Where’d you get that — I’m — I’m the yardman.”
He stumbled over his job title as if surprised — or lying.
“Are you?” The lawyer in me awoke.
He leveled his gaze on me, and the eyes glittered again as if he knew exactly what I was doing and found it amusing. But people don’t deal straight unless pushed.
“Yes. My brother lives there. Father Luke, he’s the priest. You can go ask him who stole half his roast beef on rye if you’d like.”
“I believe you.” I remembered why I was holding the handkerchief and dried my eyes. I then forgot it was a handkerchief and blew my nose.
He caught my shocked expression and smiled again.
“I think I should keep it now. I can wash it and get it back to you.”
He flapped his hand. “That’s what you were supposed to do with it. And I have plenty.”
I scanned the park. We were the only ones out.
“It’s not a nice day for yard work.” I gestured to the burlap.
He twisted to follow my gaze. “It’s not, but it’s my job. And if I don’t get all these covered today, we might lose some. We weren’t supposed to get really cold for another week, but we’re dipping to the single digits tonight and snow is coming. Shows what the meteorologists know.”
“I didn’t know it would be so bad when I left downtown. I came for a funeral.” I waved my hand in the general direction of the Presbyterian church.
“Madeline Carter?” At my nod, he added. “I was there too.”
“I’m not surprised. It was packed. She was well known, wasn’t she?”
I heard the lift in my question even if he didn’t. Who was she? Really? After seeing Dad, hearing him, feeling his shame — for that’s what had layered him like a thick coat this morning — I wondered if I knew her, or him, at all.
“Well loved, that’s for sure.” The man pulled pruning shears from his other back pocket and tipped them across the street. “She met me at Luke’s about a year ago. She brought me soup, and books. Always books. You?”
“She was my aunt.”
His brow furrowed. Years of watching clients had taught me well. My comment either confused or bothered him. Before I could ask, he cleared the emotion from his face. “You sit and I’ll leave you be.”
Irritation tempered by disappointment.
I shook my head and stood. “I can’t.” I found myself eye to chin, thinking his was a nice chin. A little stubble, but not too much, a good firm jaw and straight lines. I liked straight lines. Clear facts. Strong foundations. My gaze drifted north again and, despite his obvious displeasure in me, I found kind eyes — and ears that stuck out a little. That made me smile. Dumbo’s ears stuck out too.
I noted that he caught the change in my smile. His eyes flickered a question.
“The train,” I blurted. “I have to catch the 12:11 back downtown.”
“I’m sorry for your loss.” He turned and walked away.
I hesitated, not long enough to get his attention, but long enough to feel silly staring at his back.
Then I did the same; I turned on my heel and walked away, booking it double-time to the train station.
* * *
Ten forty and the church is packed. It should make me happy that everyone feels about Maddie as I do, that everyone loves her and will miss her, but it only ticks me off. I spent every day for the past two years with the woman, and now I can’t find a seat from which to send her off. Who are all these people? Where were they these past months? Or these past weeks when hospice came and her house grew quiet with that warm, sticky scent of death?
I can’t blame them. I want to, believe me I do. But I can’t. Maddie never let anyone know how bad it was. I only found out because I trampled on her privacy, for my own purposes. I had nowhere else to go so I forced her to let me in.
Each night as we closed up the bookshop I’d ask her, “What are you up to tonight?” She was my employer, and more than ten years my senior, but I secretly hoped that one night she might hear my loneliness and maybe suggest we go out to dinner.
Despite being a widow, Maddie was never alone. “It’s bridge night at Suzie’s house … My prayer group is meeting for dinner at Valley Landing … My book club, the former squash players, not the library group, is meeting to discuss In the Midst of Winter … I’m volunteering at the soup kitchen on Waukegan … I’m …”
There was always something or someone filling her days — and her evenings.
Until one day I couldn’t take it any longer. “Can I come?”
She stared at me, a long smile building until it burst out. It made all the wrinkles in her face dig deep. Maddie’s wrinkles were born of a million smiles. She was all horizontal lines, stairstepping into her salt-and-pepper crown.
“That wasn’t so hard, was it? I wondered when you were going to ask to join.”
“You could’ve invited me,” I fired back.
“And you could stop playing the victim.” The words shot out staccato and seemed to startle her as much as they did me. She followed with a quick, “Let me grab my keys,” and fled the room.
By the time she returned, her bright smile was back in place and the moment had passed. And though my surprise and anger lingered, to revisit her sharp reply felt petty and beyond pathetic. I kept my mouth shut.
I only remember that exchange because it was one of the rare times I did keep my mouth shut. Maddie used to tease me about “living in the present tense” — allowing no time for reflection or a heartbeat of pause to separate my will and my actions.
She was right. I do live in the present. But I don’t see how it’s wrong. The past only brings regret, and the future holds nothing bright.
I survey the church. There are two pews in the front draped with red velvet Reserved signs. For family, I assume. They are empty. Figures. When Pete died ten years ago, I didn’t hear much about family. I didn’t know Maddie back then, but I still attended the funeral. Half of Eagle Valley showed up, and all those groups of women came in hordes to help her. Every book club, volunteer organization, church group, and the town’s business association banded together to make sure all her needs were met — well, not all her needs, her husband had just died.
But they brought enough food that Maddie didn’t cook for almost a year. My husband — my ex-husband — Seth was close to Pete, and to her. It was his idea to give her a trunk-style freezer for her garage. At the time, I balked — I balked at most things in those days. But over the past few months, that freezer came in very handy.
Back then, no family came to honor Pete. And it looks like no family has come today. Not that Maddie didn’t call us all family. I can’t name a single person in Eagle Valley who didn’t love her. The letters framed all over the shop attest to that. They’re from kids Maddie taught and tutored, and from friends who were excited about the new bookstore. They are letters of love, which Pete framed and hung when they opened their doors. She could recite each by heart.
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