Review: The Last Bookshop in London by Madeline Martin

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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.

Source: NetGalley and Hanover Square Press Rating: 4/5 stars

When Grace Bennett moved to London, she saw her whole life before her.  Grace saw a glamourous job as a shop girl, nights spent out with friends at the theater, dancing, and simply celebrating being young and alive.  The reality is quite different as England is on the verge of war with a very determined Adolf Hitler and Grace’s options are far different than she once dreamed of. 

The reality of Grace’s lie in London is sharing a small room with her best friend in a small boarding house, thanks to curfews and restrictions there are no fun nights out, and the job in a glamourous department store is actually a position in a dusty old bookshop.  While Grace is not all pleased with her placement, she soon sees ways in which she can turn her negative into a positive.  The shop’s proprietor is a grumpy old man who largely leaves Grace to her own devices.  Over the course of many, many weeks Grace makes huge changes to the store in terms of cleaning, accessibly, and organization. 

A happy result of Grace’s efforts is an increase in traffic and sales.  As the war inches every closer to England’s shores, books are still plentiful when so many other goods and products are not.  The bookstore is thriving, and Grace spends much of her free time dreaming up new and improved way to further improve the store’s appearance and offerings.  Unfortunately, Grace’s free time becomes far more limited as she begins to work more closely with community volunteers to help protect citizens once the German bombs begin to fall on a regular basis.  Grace’s nights are filled patrolling her neighborhood, ushering citizens to the underground shelters, and reading to those gathered in the darkness while her days are filled praying her beloved bookshop survives another day.

The Bottom Line:  I’m not entirely sure what I expected from this book, but I got a truly fine read.  Grace is perhaps one of the strongest characters I have had the pleasure of reading about in a good long while.  Grace’s strength is quiet yet determined and while she never feels she is doing enough for the people around her; she eventually realizes her efforts are exactly what is needed just when needed.  In so many ways, Grace becomes the center of her small community, the calm in the storm others know they can count on, rely on.  What’s more, and perhaps the real message of this book, is how the community rallies around Grace when she needs them.  I am a sucker for a book with a great sense of spirit and community and I certainly found that in spades here.

Goodreads | Amazon | Paperback | Audible

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