In brief: Arriving in London just before World War II breaks out, Grace has no idea what is in store for her life…
The good: Incredibly emotional story of a community within a city.
The not-so-good: It starts out with Grace being that bit too perfect, which was irritating.
Why I chose it: Heard many good things about this novel.
Publisher: HQ (Harlequin)
Rating: 8.5 out of 10
The Last Bookshop in London was recommended by several people whose opinions I trust. I’ve been feeling a bit fatigued when it comes to historical fiction set during wartime, but this novel is quite different from what I was expecting. It’s a story of community and pulling together during hard times, despite multiple setbacks. It was also unexpectedly emotional.
The story opens with Grace and her friend Viv arriving in London just before war is declared to live with Grace’s mother’s friend. Grace is now an orphan, with an evil uncle who has refused to give her a letter of recommendation for employment. However, that doesn’t stop her new landlady from finding Grace employment at Primrose Hill Books. The owner is not keen on having an assistant, but reluctantly agrees to a six month trial. Grace begins to improve the bookshop, as well as taking on duties to assist the war effort. But it’s not long before the war hits each person hard in different ways and everyone must support each other.
Initially, I thought this book was going to be a little too neat and tidy, with Grace seeming to do no wrong and being irritatingly perfect. The narrative appeared at first to be sprinkled with a lost of descriptors, but either I got used to hit or it toned down a bit. Grace demonstrated some flaws, and the plot didn’t go the way I thought it would (boy meets girl during wartime), but delved deeper into the life of the people in London during the Blitz. One of the interesting things I felt about Grace’s character was that she wasn’t a reader before working in a bookshop. Following her progress in reading was a delight, as were the books she enjoyed from classics to modern (for the time) novels. She is still a bit too good to be true, saving lives and cheering up the people around her. However, there are some graphic scenes of devastation from the bombings and a lot of heartbreak which balances things somewhat. It’s clear that a lot of research has been done on life during the Blitz.
The Last Bookshop in London is a rather quick and easy read, and provides good insights into the lives of ordinary Londoners in extraordinary circumstances. Drama is mixed with hope and tragedy and I found the ending surprisingly emotional.