All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The Last Bookshop In London by Madeline Martin

on September 17, 2021

The Last Bookshop In London
Madeline Martin
HQ Fiction
2021, 320p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/}: Inspired by the true World War II history of the few bookshops to survive the Blitz, The Last Bookshop in London is a timeless story of wartime loss, love and the enduring power of literature.

August 1939: London prepares for war as Hitler’s forces sweep across Europe. Grace Bennett has always dreamed of moving to the city, but the bunkers and blackout curtains that she finds on her arrival were not what she expected. And she certainly never imagined she’d wind up working at Primrose Hill, a dusty old bookshop nestled in the heart of London.

Through blackouts and air raids as the Blitz intensifies, Grace discovers the power of storytelling to unite her community in ways she never dreamed—a force that triumphs over even the darkest nights of the war.

This was just so incredibly delightful.

I added it to a huge book buy on a whim, just based on the title. I do like historical fiction and I thought the idea of this revolving around a bookshop sounding interesting.

Grace Bennett comes to London to stay with her mother’s oldest friend, after her mother’s death and the discovery that her uncle now owns the home she lived in. He, his new wife and their children mean there’s no room for Grace now and so she and her best friend Viv leave their small town behind and move to London in order to find work. Grace doesn’t have a letter of recommendation, so her mother’s friend Mrs. Weatherford, kind of bullies a bookshop owner she knows, a Mr Evans, into giving Grace a position. Originally it’s supposed to just be for six months so that Grace can obtain a letter of recommendation from the owner and move on to another position. She’s not really a reader and the shop is a mess – dusty and unorganised. She doesn’t know much about selling books but she does know about keeping a tidy shop from working for her uncle, so she busies herself with that.

This is right on the brink of war and carries into the time of the Blitz, where bombs rained down on London every night. The author does well to capture not just the fear and the terror of such a thing, but also, the day to day exhaustion of it. Always having to run to bomb shelters, nights of disrupted and poor sleep, the routine of going through the blackouts and those that patrol to make sure no light can be seen. The somewhat mind numbing routine is broken up with instances of true devastation and the difficulty of picking up the pieces.

I loved all the characters in this – Grace and the way she comes to love books, the gruff Mr Evans and his reluctance to employ Grace and how their working relationship develops in the most wonderful ways, poor Mrs Weatherford and the horrible grief she experiences and how she picks herself up and keeps going. And Viv with all her good humour and desire to do something more. Although Grace knew Mrs Weatherford from her being friends with her mother, she only saw her sporadically. Mrs Weatherford was happy to open her home to not just the daughter of her oldest friend, but also that daughter’s friend as well. Having lived through the Great War, she is pessimistic about the future and starts gathering supplies well before the rationing is imposed.

It takes a little while for books to establish themselves in Grace’s life but when they do, she’s a devoted convert. She takes one she’s reading to a shelter with her during an air raid and after explaining what it’s about to some of the others in there, they ask her to read. After that, Grace reading becomes a regular thing as all the people in the shelter, which is quite a large one at a tube station, become invested in the story. Grace, always looking for ways in which to improve the bookshop she’s working in, also begins offering a story hour at the shop, where she’ll continue reading.

The way in which Grace and Mr Evans slowly form a friendship, was so beautiful to read. He’s an older man, quite set in his ways and he’s definitely not a big fan of some of her actions at first. His bookshop is away from the more trendy locations, those closer to the publishers and I don’t think Grace thinks too much of it at first. She even takes a little excursion to look at some other shops on the fancier streets and see how she might implement some changes. A chance encounter with a handsome customer leads to him recommending a book to her and although it’s perhaps a chance to share something with him that leads to Grace reading, she takes to it with enthusiasm. There’s a lot of classics referenced here, some of the more popular ones and it’d be quite easy to track down most of the books mentioned if you haven’t already read them, to read what Grace reads, particularly the ones she reads aloud. Eventually though, Mr Evans comes to see how much Grace has done for his shop (and for him) and the trial becomes permanent and they become very close.

This book was just the perfect read at the perfect time. I loved everything about it – the focus on the bookshop as the central location really worked for me and the ways in which businesses had to try and thrive during such a difficult time. Grace could’ve been caught up in ugly competition but she chose to go a different way when that opportunity arose and I really appreciated everything about this. The characters, the relationships, the portrayal of London during this time, it was one of the better books I’ve read that actually gave an impression what it must be like to live through these bombings. There are probably books just as good out there, I just haven’t read a lot that stay in London during this time.

Really loved this!


Book #160 of 2021

Book #27 of the 2021 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge hosted by Marg @ The Intrepid Reader

2 responses to “Review: The Last Bookshop In London by Madeline Martin

  1. Marg says:

    Going to have to read this one!

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