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Likely Stories : The Last Bookshop in London, by Madeline Martin

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I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry.

The Last Bookshop in London, by Madeline Martin, is a marvelous story of love, passion, loss, and terrible hardship.  Martin has penned five other novels, two of which will soon be on my TBR pile.

The story begins in August 1939.  Rumors of war abound.  The story begins, “Grace Bennett had always dreamed of someday living in London.  Never did she imagine it would become her only option, especially not on the eve of war. // The train pulled to a stop within Farrington Station, its name clearly marked on the wall inside a strip of blue set within a red circle.  People hovered on the platform, as eager to get on, as those within, were to get off.  They wore smartly cut clothing in the chic styles of city life.  Far more sophisticated than in Drayton, Norfolk. // Equal parts nerves and eagerness vibrated about inside Grace.  ‘We’ve arrived.” (11).

Martin wrote, “Despite Grace’s longing to go to London, and despite Viv’s enthusiastic encouragement, Grace had remained in Drayton for nearly a year after an attempt to pick up the pieces of her broken existence. // That was before she learned the house she’d lived in since her birth truly belonged to her uncle.  Before he moved in with his overbearing wife and five children.  Before life as she knew it shattered even further apart. // There was no room for grace in her own home, a point her aunt had been eager to note often” (12-13).

When Grace left for London, she realized she had never had a letter of recommendation.  At that time, getting a job without a paper was virtually impossible.  Mrs. Weatherford was Grace’s deceased mothers friend.  She eagerly helped Grace with a position in a bookstore owned by a curmudgeonly shop owner.  Martin wrote, “Grace’s first attempt with Primrose Hill Books didn’t go as planned. //

Not that she’d had harbored lofty expectations for success, but she had anticipated the owner would at least be prepared for her arrival. // […] The narrow shop front was not located on Primrose Hill as the name suggested, but rather was one of many in a line that ran along Hosier Lane, each with windows reflecting the dullness of the clouded afternoon sun.  The bookshops first two floors had been pained black with a yellow stuccoed face rising above it, cracked and faded with age.  A white sign proclaimed Primrose Hill Books in a glossy black looping text.  The effect was clearly meant to be elegant but seemed to Grace as rather flat and cheerless” (25-26).

The proprietor, Mr. Evens, immediately discouraged Grace’s hopes of a job.  Mrs. Wheatherford, however, had words with the grumpy bookstore owner, and she was promptly hired.  This pleasant story is interrupted by the war.  Madeline Martin’s The Last Bookshop in London has a wonderful ability to notice even the minutest detail of life in England during the war.  5 Stars

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and happy reading!

Life-long voracious reader, Jim McKeown, is an English Instructor at McLennan Community College. His "Likely Stories" book review can be heard every Thursday on KWBU-FM! Reviews include fiction, biographies, poetry and non-fiction. Join us for Likely Stories every Thursday featured during Morning Edition and All Things Considered with encore airings Saturday and Sunday during Weekend Edition.