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Spring pickings: Vroman's Bookstore, Pasadena

March 10, 2009 |  5:43 am

Lastnightinmontreal Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena was founded in 1894, making it the oldest operating bookstore in Southern California. Although it has moved a few doors down from its original location, it remains, after more than a century, independently owned. Webmaster Patrick Brown, who also Twitters for the bookstore, recommends "Last Night in Montreal."

Emily St. John Mandel’s "Last Night in Montreal" is the best debut novel I’ve read in years.  At the center of it is Lilia, a rootless drifter, abducted by her father at the age of seven and raised in a series of anonymous motel rooms and dismal diners. Lilia has walked away from everyone and everything in her life, but when she walks out on her boyfriend Eli, he decides to find her. Unfortunately, Eli isn’t prepared for what awaits him in frozen Montreal.

This book has it all — tightrope walkers, dying languages, go-go dancers, dark secrets and the grim, punishing Quebec winter. Its structure is an utter marvel — braiding time and weaving together the stories of four people, all of whom are searching for answers. It swept me away, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.

— Carolyn Kellogg