By: Tory Tanguay
“Rare-book dealer Ashlyn Greer’s affinity for books extends beyond the intoxicating scent of old paper, ink, and leather. She can feel the echoes of the books’ previous owners—an emotional fingerprint only she can read. When Ashlyn discovers a pair of beautifully bound volumes that appear to have never been published, her gift quickly becomes an obsession. Not only is each inscribed with a startling incrimination, but the authors, Hemi and Belle, tell conflicting sides of a tragic romance.
With no trace of how these mysterious books came into the world, Ashlyn is caught up in a decades-old literary mystery, beckoned by two hearts in ruins, whoever they were, wherever they are. Determined to learn the truth behind the doomed lovers’ tale, she reads on, following a trail of broken promises and seemingly unforgivable betrayals. The more Ashlyn learns about Hemi and Belle, the nearer she comes to bringing closure to their love story—and to the unfinished chapters of her own life.”
Content warning: parental suicide, anti-Semitic feelings during WWII
Book empath Ashlyn Greer owns a rare bookstore called An Unlikely Story in 1980s New Hampshire where she buys and trades rare books. What is a book empath you ask? Ashlyn has the gift to feel the emotions that previous book owners leave behind on its pages e.g. grief, hatred, joy, loss, etc. (Kinda cool and different if you ask me!) A gift that she keeps to herself for fear that others may think she’s crazy or making it up. (Completely understandable in my opinion.)
One day, while going through boxes of books, she comes across a beautifully bound volume that is somewhat unique – no author is mentioned, no publisher, no identifying features whatsoever. Only a title – “Regretting Belle.” A few days later she finds a similar book that appears to be a companion to “Regretting Belle” called “Forever, and Other Lies.”
Curious, Ashlyn begins reading to find that the two books are related in their storylines. They are differing sides of a tragic, forbidden romance between Hemi and Belle in 1940s New York City. The two doomed lovers meet at Belle’s engagement party and despite being engaged to another man, Hemi falls deeply in love with Belle. But something goes wrong in their romance and bitter feelings abound.
The novel The Echo of Old Books changes point of view between Ashlyn, Hemi, and Belle, intertwining their stories and revealing their long-held secrets. The books she found become an obsession for Ashlyn to find out who this couple was and what happened to them. In her searching, she meets Ethan, the man who formerly “owned” the books and is unaware of their perceived value. Will their relationship mirror the books they’re reading? Will Ashlyn discover the real identities of Hemi and Belle and discover where they are now? Or will the mystery forever remain an unsatisfied obsession?
This is the first novel by Barbara Davis that I’ve read. It was released March 28, 2023 and I downloaded it shortly after having read the synopsis. This book… oh my gosh. If you want a book to engage your emotions and hit you in all the feels, then read this book. This book explores the idea of two sides to every story, feelings of anti-Semitism that were rampant during World War II, and love found and lost. While World War II anti-Semitic feelings is a tricky topic to address, the author treats it with the delicacy and sensitive manner it deserves while still being historically accurate and remaining purposeful for the story. The writing is spectacular and keeps you engaged. I found this book difficult to step away from for long because I just had to know what happened next.
Each chapter begins with a bookish quote – either from the character of Ashlyn Greer or from a noted personality of the past which I found incredibly charming. I found myself highlighting these passages in my Kindle so I could save them for later. The quotes resonated with me as a reminder of why I love reading and books in general.
I gave this book 4.5/5 stars and would highly recommend to those who like historical fiction and especially those with dual timelines. For those that enjoy a mix of romance and mystery, this book should be added to your TBR.