Peer Review by tas (yellowbrickrd) (Australia)

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The Things Which Can Happen in a Bookstore

By: lady lantsov

    He was starving. Deprived. He needed books like a heroin junkie needed a hit.
    Never had he felt so desperate for black typeface on paper. For those written enchantments.
His legs changed from walking to jogging without consulting him first. White Converse thudded against leaf shadows on the sidewalk. Books for the Soul felt infinitely far. Would his paper-and-ink lifeline stretch—stretch—and—snap? 
    A quarter mile from his own house, and he seriously doubted he’d make it. It wasn’t his physical abilities that he questioned. He was a runner; his mental and emotional states, however, needed a swig of that life-giving water—books. And possibly an iced latte.
    Tag breathed a sigh of relief when he saw the bookstore's rough-cut wooden sign dangling in the distance. Rays of July morning sun shone across the hand painted letters. Brooks would know what he needed. Most days, he ventured into Books for the Soul with no specific title in mind, but Brooks Felmar—assistant manager, shelver, best friend—always found the right book.
    Tag peered through the window before stepping into his second home. Instead of bells on the door, like any other store, a cacophony of bagpipes and harmonica greeted him. As the recording ended, a potpourri of aromas enveloped him. Coffee. Cinnamon tea. Chocolate chip cookies. Musty pages. Lemon cleaner. Tag shook off his nostalgia and was about to search for Brooks when Brooks emerged from the cafe section, grinning.
    “Montag Croftrow. Where. Have. You. Been? School ended weeks ago!" exclaimed Brooks. "And I know that varsity soccer workouts don’t start until August," he added. 
    "Just busy.” Tag shrugged. "And the only person who calls me Montag is my grandmother."
    "Busy. Mhm. So, Tag, what's up?" Brooks wrapped an arm around Tag's shoulders, grinning down at him. His other hand snaked around and jabbed Tag in the ribs. Brooks’ nickname for Tag had emerged years ago—during a game of tag. From there on, Montag never existed. He was always Tag. 
    Brooks let Tag trail behind him without complaint, advising him on breaking curfew, trigonometry, homecoming dances and everything in between. When Tag turned fifteen, the six year gap became less insurmountable, and they evolved into something closer than brothers. 
    Tag cut to the point. “I need a book. Now.” 
    “C'mon, don’t you want to pour out your conflicted teenage heart to me? It’s been at least a month since our therapy session,” Brooks mocked. Tag ducked out of Brooks’ arm. Although they had pulled more than one all-nighter in conversation, Tag didn’t want to start a long heart-to-heart. 
    “I told you, I need a book. Preferably a thick one.” Tag cursed how his tone dissolved into pleading on his last sentence.
    "My, aren't we desperate?"
    “Brooks. Please. You know what it’s like when you need—”
    “The right book. Yeah, I understand.” Brooks sighed; his gaze—storms hovering between blue and gray—turned solemn and businesslike. 
    “What do you have?” Tag knew he sounded idiotic like this, but the hunger for a story gnawed at him. Insatiable.
    “There’s a new collection in the RUU. Arrived at the crack of dawn today.” RUU—a room filled with Rare, Unusual, and Unique books—was one of many acronyms for sections of the bookstore.
    “A crate of twenty-five?”
    “Ten this time.”
    “What were you doing here at the crack of dawn?” Tag wondered, inching toward the stairs.
    “Couldn’t sleep. Besides, I’m implementing a new organization system.” Brooks lowered his voice, glancing toward the cafe. “Also… Elly’s brothers are in hot water again, so I let her crash here.”
    “What happened this time?”
  “You know that’s her business,” Brooks reminded him. Tag nodded. Elly’s three younger brothers were all alike but as opposite from Elly as night and day. It wasn’t the first time they had been on the wrong side of the law. 
    “Well, give her my regards. Have you looked through the books yet?” Tag was already at the top of the curved landing, eyeing the second floor.
    “Nope, it’s all yours to discover. And the girl’s.”
    “A girl?” Brooks smirked as Tag’s foot hovered over the next step.
    “Maybe you’ll get your first girlfriend since, what, sophomore year? This girl was striking, I’ll give her that. You know I notice everything about everyone. Tall, around your age. Her hair… it was dark with unusual highlights, kind of russet and gold. Like streaks of fire and sunlight.” He paused, contemplating. “You know, that's straight up poetry. Anyway, I think you should find her.”
    “You're turning into a gen-yoo-wine poet,” Tag noted. Beneath the banter, the steady thrum of necessity bore into him.
    Books. Books. Books, whispered the shelves.
    “Wow, a gen-yoo-wine poet?” teased a warm voice. With sandy waves of hair and a smile that never appeared forced, Brooks' girlfriend was impossible not to like. Only subtle shadows under Elly's eyes hinted at the anxiety Brooks had described. She walked to Tag and handed him the usual latte. 
    "Thanks." Tag sipped his drink, which was typically a perfect balance of creamy and bitter.
    “Don’t thank me, thank Brooks. Three dollars on your tab, babe,” she teased Brooks. 
    But today, Tag’s latte seemed bland and empty. When Elly’s lattes tasted flavorless, it meant he was distracted and book-famished. By the time Brooks and Elly were consumed in discussion about an upcoming engagement party, he stood outside of the RUU with latte spillage on his hand.
    The RUU exerted a curious magnetism for Tag. Added to the fact that the dark-haired girl had piqued his interest, and nothing could have dragged him away. He wiped a latte-covered hand on his stained jeans and pushed open the warped door. Creeeaaak. 
    The bookcases wound around in a dizzying oval. Ten leather-bound volumes were spread on the carpet beside a wooden crate.
    Tag stared ravenously at two identical books; an intricate symbol shone in the center of a gold circle. Tag snatched one of the copies just as the second book disappeared.
    Into the hands of a girl with fire and sunlight in her hair. 

Update as of 11.10.20: I CUT DOWN THE WORDS!!! TO 998! GUYS! I'M IN HISTORY CLASS TRYING NOT TO FREAK OUT! EEEEE!!! (can you tell i'm a wee bit excited?)
Update as of 11.9.20: unfortunately, the expert review limit has been reached, but I've cut to 1065 words!!!
Update as of 11.7.20: I can't edit anymore right now. I've cut down at 1240 words, but it's still 240 too many. *bangs head against desk* I'm also going to look at some different sections of this story (because I have more on the google doc) and see if I might change which part I submit. 
Update as of 11.6.20: after 2 peer reviews, I've changed several things, but it still way exceeds the word limit at 1651 words. GRRRR. Much thanks to Stone of Jade and BizzleWrites!
Also, don't worry about indentations and grammar. I copy+pasted from my google doc, so it's bound to get messed up. 

This is a very rough draft... but I've loved this idea for a long time. It's been sitting in my drive for a while, and I realized I could just pull it and use it here. I know it exceeds the word limit. I'm working on it.
The inspiration for this was originally from Pinterest, but that actually isn't even mentioned in this excerpt yet. It was the idea of a book where the main character falls in love with the reader. The book mentioned here is that book, written directly to the reader. If you'd like a transcript of that pin, message me in the comments and I'll copy and paste it in a reply. It's a fascinating idea. I decided to put a story within a story here, but unfortunately, I'm already exceeding the word limit...
I'll cut more eventually, but I just wanted to publish it for now. I'll also release another excerpt of a different section so you guys can help me decide which to submit. This piece starts from the beginning. It's chapter 1 of part 1.
Review for Review!

Message to Readers

Stone of Jade
for their outstanding peer reviews and effort and time!

Peer Review

The dusty, homely atmosphere of the bookstore is reflected throughout the piece and I love that so much.

Tag is such a quirky little boy. I don't know what you thought as you were typing him into your google doc, maybe something along the lines of dream man? not me falling in love with your character after less than 1000 words. Anyway, at first I thought his whole book thing was really weird and I guess it is. I think you could expand a bit (though u dont have much room) on the joy of reading the fist chapter or something because right now hes an utter addict, but Id like to sorta know why, or get a feel for why and the joy he finds in books.

not really.

The setting is beautiful. So simple and yet magical, not quite real. Bookstores like the one you described are becoming harder and harder to find and I glad I got to visit one with Tag.

Your characters feel absolutely real, this funky little community in a dusty bookstore.

Reviewer Comments

This was just amazing! I kept getting sucked into the story, especially the cute little comments between him and Brooks and having to pull myself out and focus of reviewing.

Anyway this has been fun!