I picked this book up because I’d had trouble sticking with anything for a little while after a few books that failed to really impress me, and I wanted something light. I looked at the cover, saw it was about a bookstore (in England) and thought, great, that’ll do. I didn’t expect much. I was most definitely surprised.

First of all, this cover is beautiful and sweet and cosy – but it does not capture the actual content of this book. It’s not a light, fluffy book. There’s a lot covered here. There is romance. There’s also some heroine-overcomes-and-learns-to-love stuff. But there’s also a lot of darkness and depth. This is the story of a young girl who is trying desperately to erase her past. We don’t know what she is trying to expunge at the beginning of the book, but we slowly learn her history and it is not your typical story of childhood misadventure and not enough parental attention. Nor is it a story of a girl whose biggest problem is attracting the attention of a smokin’ hottie. There are themes of abuse, deep psychological damage, domestic violence, betrayal, loss, death, mental health and isolation. Not only are these themes included, but they were dealt with in sensitive, evocative prose.

Here’s what I loved about this book. First, I loved that the main character, Loveday, felt real. Yes, there’s some angst and self-obsession. But that’s realistic for a character in her early 20s who has been deeply damaged and spent her formative years trying not to have emotions, let alone learn to deal with them. She retreated into herself, pushed those near her away, and became lost in the only safe place she knew – books.

Her voice took me back to when I was that age, suffering from my own emotional wounds, and doing a pretty terrible job of managing them. She’s also got an edge to her – she loves tattoos, she’s got a pierced nose and dyed hair. Her appearance draws judgement, and she almost dares people to judge her unfairly so she can confirm her expectations that people just aren’t worth the benefit of the doubt.

I also loved the process by which she decides whether people are worth her time. She’s learned to watch closely, and to pay attention to the details of interaction. She doesn’t suffer fools gladly – or at all. She is prickly, but willing to admit if she is wrong. She endearingly judges people on what they read and how they treat their books (much as I do) and tends to care more for bound paper than most of the customers who come her way.

I liked that Stephanie Butland managed to capture both Loveday’s toughness and her vulnerability. I loved that she is surrounded by people who have learned to love her as she wants to be loved, and who respect her need for space and privacy. I loved that she gets the first lines of books that have meant something to her tattooed on her body. I loved that she wasn’t willing to accept anyone trying to force her into their mold. And I loved that she was willing to step up and face some hard truths, ones she had been running from for years, when she realized it was time to do so.

This book is hard to pin down. There’s some romance, there are dark themes, there’s some mystery and the writing is easy to zip through, but also has beautifully written sections that made me stop and re-read. It’s not straight up, hard-hitting literary fiction. It’s not saccharine romance. But it’s also not a light read. I liked that it surprised me, and that it wasn’t as dark as some books focusing on similar themes, but not as fluffy and shallow as the cover would have led me to believe. So where does that leave me in terms of categorizing it? I honestly don’t know. The best I can come up with is that it strongly reminded me of Gabrielle Zevin’s The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, which is one of my all-time faves.

I think the only criticism I have of this book is that two of the characters write poetry that they perform at a pub. Their poems are included in the book, and while I get that the book isn’t about poetry, I did feel like the poems could have been better. The lines of prose in the book that stood out to me were far better and emotionally evocative than any of the poems. I could have done without them. But other than that, there’s not much for me to complain about. It was a delicate balance that worked out to be an easy-to-read book about difficult themes, one with characters I could empathize with and a plot that kept me wanting to turn those pages.

This book was definitely a strong start to the year for me, and a lovely surprise. I’d recommend it if you’re looking for a mostly light book that has some beautiful writing and darkness intertwined, and that will leave you with a lot to consider.

You can trust a book to keep your secret . . .

Loveday Cardew prefers books to people. If you look closely, you might glimpse the first lines of the novels she loves most tattooed on her skin. But there are things she’ll never show you.

Fifteen years ago Loveday lost all she knew and loved in one unspeakable night. Now, she finds refuge in the unique little York bookshop where she works.

Everything is about to change for Loveday. Someone knows about her past. Someone is trying to send her a message. And she can’t hide any longer.

Lost for Words is a compelling, irresistible and heart-rending novel, with the emotional intensity of The Shock of the Fall and all the charm of The Little Paris Bookshop and 84 Charing Cross Road. –  Goodreads

Book Title: Lost for Words
Author: Stephanie Butland
Series: No
Edition: Paperback
Published By: Bonnier Zaffre
Released: April 20, 2017
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 368
Date Read: December 27, 2017 – January 3, 2018
Rating: 8/10
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.24 (1,771 ratings)

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