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Romance Happy Christmas

It’s a rare thing to find fulfillment in maintaining order, carving it out of chaos, keeping the Barbarians outside the gates. But it’s been my life’s pursuit.  

Case in point, I return from my lunch break to find all hell has broken loose in the library. How much anarchy has been unleashed in the quarter-hour it takes me to eat my egg salad sandwich is staggering, but it’s all part of my Sisyphean struggle to thwart the laws of entropy. 

I escort two homeless women in need of a shower to the community bathrooms, but not before ensuring I have NARCAN on my person. I manually shut down the computers to the puzzlement of two older gentlemen who have circumvented the library’s porn filters. I clean up fast food trash carelessly thrown into the book depository’s drive-thru window. I frown at two teenagers making out in the study carrels like they have invented the French kiss. 

“A-oh-fee?” A patron incorrectly reads my name badge aloud. He has an Eastern European accent. “A-Yoh-fay?” 

Out of sheer irritation, I ignore him. 

“Oh-if-ee?” He makes another attempt, interrupting my reverie. I continue my vain attempt to declutter the library’s long reading tables. Order out of chaos, indeed.

I’d long grown immune to thoughtless patrons scattering books hither and yon as if their mothers would be round to tidy up. However, leaving discarded items out is far better than lazily shoving them back onto the wrong shelves. As if Melvil Dewey himself didn’t devise a nearly perfect decimal system to house our compendium of knowledge! 

“Ay-oaf-foe?”

“It’s Aoife,” I turn, correcting his pronunciation. I give him my thin, indulgent librarian smile. “It’s an old Gaelic name. You may pronounce it Ee-fa.”

He flushes red. 

I stand, hands on hips, taking him in. He is tall, my height, burly, thrice my width, but I am thin as a garden rake.

He grins, grizzled and gray with piercing hazel eyes, looking both apologetic and uncomfortable. 

“Ee-fa,” the man repeats. “That’s a graceful name.” 

“My mother thought so.”

“Ee-fa,” he says again. “What of all those extra vowels?” 

“Historically, I believe they’re there in case the Brits want to expropriate them—along with everything else in Ireland.”

The man bitterly laughs. “You sound like my grandfather kvetching about the pogroms.”

“Well, throughout history there’s usually a usurper around ready to usurp,” I reply flippantly. “I believe any book on the shelves in the mid-900s will prove our mutual point. Military History. Ancient civilizations through the 21st century. If I can help you locate something specific, please let me know. Otherwise, you’ll excuse me.” 

“I do need something.”

“Oh?” I arch an eyebrow.

“Let me introduce myself properly. My name is Oskar Raskind, and I’m not here to check out books, Aoife. I’m here to return them.”

I turn and point in two different directions like an airline stewardess. “There are return boxes inside the library near both exits. If you need further assistance with returning the library’s resources, please see the circulation desk.” 

“I don’t know that librarian,” he hesitates, looking over at Frances. Frances exudes a sense of profound disappointment. On cue, she looks over her bifocals at the few library patrons like they are felons. 

“Frances is very helpful.”

“I don’t want to ask her my question.”

“What question do you need to ask, Oskar?” My curiosity is piqued. 

He looks at the books in his hands. “These books are long overdue. Maybe a year. Probably longer.”

I look at the way he is holding them. Tightly gripped. I feel the need to rescue the books, so I reach out. He reluctantly hands them over.

“The library has an amnesty program,” I reassure him. “Don’t worry about the fees. So, let me see what you have here,” I say quietly. 

Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. 

The Little, Brown Handbook of Grammar. 

Roget’s 21st Century Thesaurus.

“I will pay the fines,” he says. “I just wanted to return them for my wife.”

“Your wife?”

“She wanted to write her memoirs before—” Oskar shrugs his shoulders. 

“I understand,” I say because I do. 

I’ve seen eyes like his before. Patrons with those types of eyes usually want books on the shelves around the 155’s. Developmental and differential psychology. Traumatic experiences. Bereavement. 

It is clear Oskar has suffered. Love makes us vulnerable, I suppose. It is also true that I haven’t loved like others have, but I do understand loss. There are things one chooses to forgo when he or she wants a life of order. Amidst the quiet tidiness, sometimes another person’s random or unpredictable behavior would be welcomed. 

I put my hand on his arm. “Your wife must have been quite intelligent. She chose some very good resources to help her write well.”

“She wrote her stories in longhand when she wasn’t in pain. I typed up the pages for her. It made her happy.”

I nod.

“In the end, she just wanted to eat fruit—and chocolate! Oh, she would eat chocolate by the kilogram.”

“We have that in common,” I say. “Death by chocolate seems an appropriate end.”

“My wife was so ill for such a long time,” he adds. “It was almost a relief when—”

We look at each other. He’s shocked at what he’s revealed, putting one of his hands to his mouth—to take back the words.

But I understand. When we don’t have someone to talk with, we end up disclosing the deepest secrets of our hearts to perfect strangers. 

I cried in the arms of a cashier at the dry cleaners on the day my father died. 

I never stepped foot back inside the place again.

🜋 🜋 🜋

A week later, I still think of Oskar, overjoyed when I spy him coming into the library.

“Aoife,” he says, smiling, showing all of his teeth. He is carrying a pretty green and red gift bag. 

“Oskar!” I reply, coming down from a stepstool. The books can wait to be reshelved.

“I wanted to thank you for helping me with my overdue books.”

“Oh, it’s—it’s no trouble at all.” I find myself stuttering. “Your tax dollars at work.” 

“I brought you this.” Unceremoniously, he hands me a gift.

I take it, pulling out a heart-shaped box, more appropriate for Valentine’s Day than Christmas.

“Chocolate-covered strawberries. I hope you like them.”

“Oh, I’m sure I will. I love them,” I confess. 

Frances looks over her glasses at us, calculating how close we are standing together, diplomatically looking away.

“Aoife, do you think we could have dinner together sometime?”

“Sometime? When is sometime?”

“Tonight. We could have dinner sometime tonight.”

“I’m off at 6:00,” I whisper conspiratorially, putting my hand on his arm. 

“I will come by at 5:30 and wait for you in the periodical section.”

“Perfect,” I say because it is. 

He gives me a little wave as he leaves. I stand there and look after him, long after he’s left.

“Who is that?” Frances asks, but I ignore her. 

At sixty-three years old, I am holding a box of chocolate-covered strawberries. 

“I said, who is that?” Frances repeats. 

“That is Oskar Raskind,” I say, grinning like a schoolgirl. 

“Hmph,” Frances grunts, returning to stamp overdue notices. 

As for me, I walk to the stacks in the heart of nonfiction to find the books Melvil Dewey has systematically organized for me.

Carefully arranged in the mid-650s is what I am looking for: Management of personal and family life. Social skills. Care of face, skin, hair, nails. Dating. 


November 23, 2022 21:07

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54 comments

Cindy Strube
06:38 Nov 24, 2022

Deidra. Aoife is me, had I become a librarian - and never married. I love it. Utilitarian romance! ;D I was smiling all the way through. It’s great!

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18:27 Nov 24, 2022

Utilitarian Romance --- hahhahahahaha --- I love it. And I think you just created a new genre for the 21st c. (Not kidding. Not even a little bit.) Happy T-day --- I hope you are a guest and not a host. (That's a lot of dirty dishes...and I'm thankful I'm just on sweet potatoes this year.)

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Cindy Strube
20:11 Nov 24, 2022

Glad to contribute what I can! ; p It just seemed to fit… Happy 🦃 to you also! We’re going to my folks - but I did most of the cooking because I enjoy it! So there’s a pile of dirty dishes waiting for me. Oh well!

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22:45 Nov 23, 2022

I loved this Deidra. I think you knew how to execute their first interaction. It was smooth. Did not feel forced and most importantly the dialogue is on point. It felt natural and like the broken bits of phrases one picks along a street from different groups of people. That's your strength: you know how to make things feel real. I loved the voice of the protagonist. I loved the way she passed from annoyance to friendliness. The man's character was well also. And the dry humor at first was fitted so well. " manually shut down the computers to...

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18:23 Nov 24, 2022

Hello my talented young Moroccan friend! I have TIME finally at the end of this school year to breathe. Send me some of your work! I love your stuff :) And I hope you are writing writing writing around the clock and entering contests near and far.

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22:02 Nov 24, 2022

I'm thankful that you have time. At least you can go enjoy yourself and do more writing. As for myself, I have been writing this story for three months and still can't finish it lol. I'll probably just toss it. But if I do somehow complete it, you'll be the first one I'll seek, my dear mentor. But more importantly just please go and enjoy your time having fun and resting. Happy thanksgiving teacher!

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Jack Bell
00:37 Nov 26, 2022

Enjoyed the nostalgia. Do they still have libraries like this? I used to attend one, similarly staffed and straightened, but gave up as the books were culled for “relevance”, their embarrassingly mismatched bulk pushed to the perimeter as great gleaming internet kiosks took over heart and soul. Dewey seemed reduced to a 350’s footnote. How I wish Aoife would glide back in, Botticelli-like, take up her mysterious dewy reigns once more and announce with unimpeachable authority: “Shh!”

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00:46 Nov 26, 2022

Another Age of Enlightenment will come, but we have a far farther field of foolishness to traipse through before we get there. https://news.gallup.com/poll/388541/americans-reading-fewer-books-past.aspx

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Jack Bell
02:55 Nov 26, 2022

Fascinating. Overall I guess one could argue books are showing some tenacity amidst the digital roar. WHAT is being read would provide some interesting context. I wouldn’t think my best reading has been done during times of high turnover. But the biggest drop off is with college graduates? Good news for Elon Musk perhaps...

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Ela Mikh
14:29 Nov 25, 2022

Aaawww so good. The ending is great and promising. Thank you!

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15:17 Nov 25, 2022

YAY I needed to write a curl-up-in-a-blankie-and-drink-hot-cocoa story. Thanks for hanging out with me :)

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Michał Przywara
21:39 Nov 24, 2022

I was Oskar the first time I saw Aoife. The name, that is. And I too wondered about the spelling. "I believe they’re there in case the Brits want to expropriate them" is a fine reason :) Anyway. The story is sweet, but not saccharine. The dating is fast - but at 63, why wait? Aoife's journey is believable. She's long since made peace with other people making a mess and she's dedicated to keeping things maintained, orderly. Static. Or, in other words, in a slump. Considering Oskar's slip into the intimate with a stranger, he was in a slump ...

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14:53 Nov 26, 2022

Dr. Przywara! I'm glad not to have crossed over into Saccharinity. It's hard to do a proper love story without being cliched, but who doesn't love a lover? Your insightful commentary begs the question: do "slumps" lead us to seek out romantic partners? (Somewhere, Cupid has just hoisted himself on his own petard.) Timing is everything, after all. I'm sure we could graph our emotional slumpery and the potential lovers who came and went. Maybe people would be better off forgoing dating apps and instead investing in tracking their biorhythm...

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Wendy Kaminski
22:05 Nov 23, 2022

So very sweet - thank you for a lovely story!

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18:22 Nov 24, 2022

Tis the season to fall in love and snuggle! Hallmark movies on loop :)

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Wendy Kaminski
18:24 Nov 24, 2022

Ooh! Tell me three faves you'd recommend? :)

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18:28 Nov 24, 2022

You know the one where the uptight businesswoman moves to a small town and falls in love with the guy in flannel? That one (million).

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Wendy Kaminski
18:29 Nov 24, 2022

haha :)

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E. B. Bullet
18:51 Nov 30, 2022

HOW SWEEEET. The little quirky mentionings really came together at the end there. Completely adorable, and optimistic for people who haven't found anyone yet. Maybe I'll find my own Oscar into my sixties or something. My 20s have proven quite lacking in this department.

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01:03 Dec 01, 2022

From experience, I would avoid talking to anyone seriously until your 30's...(prefrontal lobe development and all that :) When it's time, he or she will magically appear -- just like Oskar.

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23:36 Nov 28, 2022

I used to hide in the library as a kid. We didn't have any closets. This was powerful.

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Delbert Griffith
13:54 Nov 24, 2022

I love the chaos/order war that Aoife fights, mainly within herself. Her wry observations and her 'Sisyphean struggle to thwart the laws of entropy' make for a memorable character. I'd fall in love with her except that she scares the hell out of me. Your writings this week leave me with two alternating emotions: despondency that I can't write nearly as well as you, and a spirited determination to improve my writing. I suppose I should thank you for the latter and give myself a good talking to for the former. Brilliantly written, Deidra. I ...

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18:21 Nov 24, 2022

Don't be afraid of smart women, Del. Aoife's just as vulnerable to Cupid as the rest of us, whether his arrows strike us in May or December. The only way to write better is to write more. Lots of perfecting still to be done on my end...I need to try other genres and study up on the craft.

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Delbert Griffith
18:38 Nov 24, 2022

LOL I married a 'smart women.' In fact, she and the boys are all smarter than me! This makes my life pretty damn perfect, don't you think?

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19:22 Nov 24, 2022

Except for having to live in Texas 🤠

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Delbert Griffith
19:40 Nov 24, 2022

Oooh! That hurt! True, though. We have a governor that is the very definition of stoopid, and he has lots of followers. On the bright side, our BBQ is great...

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20:26 Nov 24, 2022

I did time in the penal colony of Florida — so….

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Calm Shark
22:42 Nov 23, 2022

Oh my god, this one made me crack up due to Aoife's love for Oskar. It's been a long time since I've had chocolate-covered strawberries, and I'm salivating right now. You did very well with the prompt and how you expressed it in this story. While I'm here trying to decide on an idea. Anyways, thanks for this story!

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18:18 Nov 24, 2022

Calm Shark, I love to see your sweet comments first! You make my day :) I haven't had chocolate-covered strawberries since a memorable Valentine's Day long ago -- one of my most cherished memories from the love of my life. (The strawberries were the size of a child's fist -- and I ate all dozen with childish glee.) I had to commemorate that special memory in a story, especially set in a library -- my favorite place to be. Happy Thanksgiving to you and all the Sharks :)

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Calm Shark
19:51 Nov 24, 2022

Thank you Deidra! You too:)

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Brian Stanton
13:52 Nov 30, 2022

Congrats on your honorable mention on Globe Soup.

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01:00 Dec 01, 2022

Thanks! Just me an 1,423,305 other people (haha). I do love Globe Soup's contests. Reasonably prices (unlike NYCMidnight and others that charge a small fortune.) What other contests have you entered?

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Brian Stanton
03:36 Dec 01, 2022

Just globe soup, and Reedsy so far. And I didn't do THAT historical fiction competition, I did the next "paranormal" competition at 1000 words or less. I tried the most recent Writing Battle, but I didn't finish in time. So I never submitted anything. Never heard of NYCmidnight. I really don't know of any other competitions other than globe soup and writing battle, if you have any recommendations let me know.

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Edward Latham
11:07 Nov 30, 2022

I knew someone called Aoife and I think she shared this similar naming frustration! I enjoyed the snappy 'I believe they’re there in case the Brits want to expropriate them' which was laced with her frustration. It was nice to see her defences melt and warm to the romance of shared loss!

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00:57 Dec 01, 2022

Yep. The Irish and their names -- Deidra is some awful Americanization of the beautiful Deirdre from "Deirdre of the Sorrows". (Thanks, mom!) Love is love is love :)

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Daniel R. Hayes
07:18 Nov 30, 2022

Hey you!!! It's been awhile and I needed to read a good story, and this was a damn good story. It made me smile which is a great thing!! Plus, so proud to see that you're closing in on the top spot. Keep it going, dude!!!

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00:56 Dec 01, 2022

Dr. Hayes, I presume! What scarifying wonders are you conjuring up for the holidays? Love you :)

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Daniel R. Hayes
06:05 Dec 01, 2022

Oh, you know... Black Christmas tree with presents full of coal... Wait.... That was Halloween, ha, ha, ha! How have you been? I'm good, we had some family medical things to deal with the past couple of months, but we're all good! I managed to get back to writing and I have an interview on a show called Relax and Chat this Saturday, so I'm really nervous about it, but it's for the book and it should be fun.

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A Williams
19:50 Nov 29, 2022

Love this story! How sweet, poignant. I used to be a grief counselor and I love how you touched on grief, here. I enjoy your writing, your dialogue, and your interesting characters!!

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20:36 Nov 29, 2022

Thanks, A! A grief counselor -- !! That is quite a mission to undertake. I'm finding as I get older that grief becomes a more and more common theme :) My best friend included this shortlist with her project for social work at Columbia: https://blog.reedsy.com/short-story/uj1vbp/ and this one where I wonder what angels do when they see us suffering... https://deidrawhittlovegren.com/2021/05/angels-among-grief/

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Liv Chocolate
08:39 Nov 29, 2022

😍 Deidra—I love romance stories where the characters aren’t stereotypically attractive with abs and voluptuous curves. And I love this one in particular. Especially the ending, which echoes yet stands in stark contrast to this earlier line so perfectly: “Patrons with those types of eyes usually want books on the shelves around the 155’s. Developmental and differential psychology. Traumatic experiences. Bereavement.” I found this part especially funny: Frances exudes a sense of profound disappointment. On cue, she looks over her bifocals...

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15:06 Nov 29, 2022

I loathe Ken & Barbie. Frances is a shout-out to Monsters, Inc. "Where's your paperwork...." "Always watching..." On some level, I'm sure I'm still terrified of stoic librarians (who seemed smarter than everyone in my small town.)

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Liv Chocolate
04:03 Nov 30, 2022

I'm team Oskar & Aoife over Ken & Barbie any day

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Antonio Jimenez
07:36 Nov 29, 2022

I can see why you are one of the top Reedsy writers of all time. I am not a romance reader by any means but I loved this story. The dialogue was natural and smooth. You developed it perfectly within the short story framework. Amazing job! I just published my first story in a while. I would love for you to check it out and leave some feedback. I need the help! Thanks!

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14:39 Nov 29, 2022

Thanks, Antonio! Happy to read your latest :)

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Helen Smith
09:45 Nov 28, 2022

What a great library! You can feel the passion and disappointments of life oozing from every corner. You took me by surprise Deidra. I did not expect the cool librarian to consider dating Oskar. But why not? They’d probably make a perfect combination. By the way, us Brits do have a number of saving graces. We love to be transported by a good story for one

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22:32 Nov 28, 2022

The Brits are master storytellers. I have to teach American Lit this year -- and it pales (ghastly white) in comparison to British Lit. Aoife & Oskar are the perfect foils, and probably the perfect match (refer to "The Fiddler on the Roof.")

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09:31 Nov 28, 2022

Interesting how "The Little, Brown Handbook of Grammar" appears to be an example of bad grammar... (I'm guessing it's an American institution, and one, not being a resident of The States myself, I'm not familiar with.) Nice story Deidra. Interesting that, though I've probably only read three or four of your stories (my attendance on Reedsy has been somewhat spotty,) I can already pick out a certain Deirdra-ness to them :-) Enjoyed that one, as usual.

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22:35 Nov 28, 2022

The Little, Brown and Company is an American publishing company founded in 1837 by Charles Coffin Little and James Brown in Boston. (And yes, I stole this off Wikipedia...) It's the finest grammar book on the shelf :) Deidra-ness.....hmmm. I have a style? Probably one with lots of over-paragraphing and snark.

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Marty B
05:40 Nov 28, 2022

Still by beating heart!- pure romance- “I will come by at 5:30 and wait for you in the periodical section.”

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22:37 Nov 28, 2022

Cue Jimmy Durante: Fairy tales can come true It can happen to you If you're young at heart. For it's hard, you will find, To be narrow of mind If you're young at heart. You can go to extremes With impossible schemes; You can laugh when your dreams Fall apart at the seams; And life becomes exciting with each passing day, And love is either in your heart' or on its way. Don't you know that it's worth Every treasure on earth To be young at heart? For, as rich as you are, It's much better by far To be young at heart. And, if you should survive...

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Mike Panasitti
01:21 Nov 28, 2022

Deidra, you've produced another winner on my list. Great dialogue, great exposition, great characters, great story. Let's hear it for sexagenarian librarian romance, which is, after all, as you make it clear to readers here, really ageless and does not discriminate according to gender or profession. Thanks for elucidating the proper pronunciation of Aoife. It is the name of a character in Bone Clocks by David Mitchell, a book I'm about to finish reading. The last chapter reminded me of the neo-feudal setting of The Medicine Girl. Best...

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22:38 Nov 28, 2022

This has been long kicked to the curb :) I'm all for (*googles it first*) sexagenarian romance. Oooo Bone Clocks. I love the title. Worth ordering?

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Mike Panasitti
02:55 Nov 29, 2022

Great book, but no, not worth reading as an introduction to Mitchell. Start with Cloud Atlas. That is definitely worth ordering. A multi-genre literary extravaganza.

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