A Busman’s Holiday

I saved a pile of glossy new holds for a week of vacation recently and was a little surprised to discover that the first two books took me on a busman’s holiday with one featuring a bookseller and the second a librarian working in a public library – not exactly the escape from thinking about work that we usually have during time off – but both of these books will go on my TBRA list (to be read again). Some books I enjoy and suggest to others with great enthusiasm, knowing that they will find much to love in a book, but then there are some books that I find so inviting that I make a note to come back to them when I think I’ll need some comfort or distraction. These two books were easy additions to my list.

KC Dyer’s Eighty Days to Elsewhere was a book that I placed on hold months ago, thinking that I might have to toss it right back onto the holds shelf after a quick read because it seemed like the concept was too overwritten to ever work. Dyer’s main character, Romy, ends up working for a company, called Ex Libris, who specializes in creating spectacular travel events based on famous literary adventures, in this case Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days. Although I had enjoyed a previous book from this author, I didn’t hold much hope that an idea like this would hold my attention, but the magic happened right away. Romy’s story relatively believable (in a contemporary romance novel-kind-of-way) and I was rooting for her from her first seasick afternoon.

Romy took this unusual job to help her two uncles pay the rent on their used bookstore in NY and normally wouldn’t be the kind of person to attempt international travel. Prior to the first leg of her journey (on a container ship!) she had only travelled to Quebec on a school trip. The romance in the story is found with the only other person on the same journey – Dominic – who would also like a permanent position with the travel company and they are competing to provide the best reports back to their CEO, and increasing their Instagram profiles along the way. Along with regular updates they send photographs of the possible highlights (the author has posted them on her website – it’s a fabulous bonus) and are up against an eighty-day deadline, just like the original Jules Verne story.

The references to book publishing and authors are plentiful and there are wonderful details about all of the places they visit as they make their way across the world. Romy’s determination to succeed so that her Uncles can keep their book store fuel her journey in the face of obstacles that would make more seasoned travelers give up and go home. She really is a character to love and, great news, this is the first book in a series so we can look forward to reading more about the Ex Libris adventures.

Molly Montgomery is even more entrenched in the world of books – as a children’s librarian on Little Bridge Island. Little Bridge Island is of those fictional places where you could happily envision yourself visiting if it were real (you could start planning to visit some of the sandy white beaches of the Florida Keys where the author lives) but Meg Cabot writes of it so convincingly it does feel a bit as if you have spent a little time there after you read the book. No Offense is the second in this series, following No Judgments last year and it really was pleasant to go back to visit the small community again.

Molly has only been in town for about five months by the time the novel begins but she already has a sense that she knows most of her library patrons very well. We meet her in the middle of a children’s program with a small problem – a teen who wants to cause trouble – when she is called away for a ‘bathroom emergency’ which turns out to be a newborn baby deliberately left behind. The criminal investigation into exactly how this baby ended up in the library’s bathroom introduces her to the local sheriff, John Hartwell, and their romance develops despite the fact that they continually offend each other and get called away by police emergencies and library business.

The police side of the story was solid – lots of discussion of police cars and investigative techniques but the library and book love!? Tremendously satisfying. I’m sure that Molly would be a terrific co-worker, despite her desire to solve the crimes in the novel (she reads many detective and mystery novels), and when Molly and John finally communicate effectively it is a true happy ending for both.

Meg Cabot’s books have been consistently engaging for decades, with her ability to craft a great story and real characters with a sense of humour. I’ve seen more than one person on Twitter say “I’m re-reading all of Meg Cabot’s books during the quarantine.” If No Offense is your first of her books, it will not be your last.

Books written about a topic that is dear to a reader’s heart can be hard to enjoy because part of the mind can be caught up in evaluating whether or not the details are correct, especially when it is a novel that doesn’t get the balance right. Too much technical detail can outshine the plot and leave a reader overwhelmed but just enough makes it seem as if we are learning a little bit more about a world we’d never known before – remember The Martian and how, after reading it, we were all certain that we could also live for several months on potatoes and great disco music? It was made so believable with the exact amount of research and sensational writing. Meg Cabot and KC Dyer have done the same thing with both of these novels but I don’t see myself ever traveling across the world or solving the mystery behind a lost newborn. I will read both of their books again and so look forward to the next.

— Penny M.