Category Archives: Books about Books & Bookshops

Review: How to Find Love in a Book Shop by Veronica Henry

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How to Find Love in a Book Shop by Veronica Henry

Having met my other half in the bookshop (him customer, me bookseller) I loved the sound of this book; it was a definite must read and just the thing for a summer’s eve.

Emilia is 32-ish and she inherits, from her father Julius, the bookshop and home she grew up in but where she has spent little time over the past few years. It has been just the two of them since Emilia was a baby, so when Julius dies there is no other family to help out and Emilia has to make all the decisions about the future of the bookshop by herself.

Julius has poured much energy,  love and money into the bookshop for the past 32 years but has he left a strong enough business for Emilia to continue his legacy…?

‘A book shop could only make things better – for everyone in Peasebrook. Julius imagined each person he passed as a potential customer. He could picture them all, crowding in, asking his advice, him sliding their purchases into a bag, getting to know their likes and dislikes, putting a book aside for a particular customer; knowing it would be just up their street. Watching them browse, watching the joy of them discovering a new author; a new world.’

Nightingale Books occupies a prime location in the yellow-stoned Cotswolds town of Peasebrook and it occupies a very special place in the heart of the community, with a core of customers who are determined to help keep the bookshop open now that Julius has gone.

There’s the ‘lady of the manor’, Sarah, who has a long-standing connection to the bookshop and understands all too well what it’s like to be in financial difficulty. There is Thomasina, the painfully shy teacher, just a few years younger than Emilia, who falls for a man she met in the cookery section. There’s Mia, a young mum who’s given up a high-flying career to have the country life at home with her baby but is looking for something more. There’s Marlowe who used to put the world to rights with Julius several times a week over a drink or two, and who Julius used to play cello with in a small chamber group and then there’s Jackson, the young builder who is trying to save his marriage and form a deeper connection with his young son, through books.

There are several love stories woven through the novel, each of them appealing in their own way and the multiple plot strands make it a great page turner; it literally kept me up one night to finish it. I was slightly less enthused about the inner workings of the bookshop, renovations and practicalities but that’s only the bookseller / bookshop owner in me picking holes in the detail. It is a novel after all, not a factual account. Very few readers are going to notice anything to grumble about there; just bookshop owners like me! My only other grumbles are extremely minor but they niggled at me so I’m going to mention them. Book Shop or Bookshop? There are so few examples of ‘Book Shop’ being used these days; the norm being bookshop or bookstore (bookstore being slightly more American but both terms are used in both countries). This bothered me, perhaps unduly. What do you think? My only other niggle was just a tiny editorial thing. Near the beginning of the novel Veronica Henry has the characters going ‘up to London’ from Oxford… and that just didn’t work for me; you don’t go ‘up’ to London from Oxford, you definitely go down. They really are tiny grumbles.

I haven’t read any other novels by Veronica Henry so I can’t make any comparisons with her other books but when I fancy a light-hearted romance I would read another. I enjoyed her style and multiple plot strands and anything that keeps me up into the early hours of the morning has to get the thumbs up from me.

About the Author

Veronica Henry lives in Devon and has penned 14 romance novels; one of which won the 2014 RNA Novel of the Year Award, A Night on The Orient Express. Before trying her hand at fiction she also had a successful career as a scriptwriter for The Archers, Holby City and Heartbeat, amongst others

Where to Buy

You can buy How to Find Love in a Book Shop from your local independent bookshop, or you can buy online from hive.co.uk and still support your local independent bookshop by nominating them to receive a percentage of your sale on Hive. Shop local where possible to help keep your High Streets alive. The current RRP for a new hardback is £12.99. ISBN no 9781409146889. At Books & Ink Bookshop most of our new books are for sale at a discounted price. We also have a large second-hand stock. First published by Orion in hardback in 2016.

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Review: Mobile Library by David Whitehouse

I’m not sure what I was expecting when I chose Mobile Library as my next read; something cute and fluffy about books and reading perhaps. The story is about a 12 year old boy and I think I was expecting a children’s book. What I got was something quite different. Mobile Library is something of a contemporary fairy tale, complete with all the dark and dismal parts that usually crop up in fairy tales, as well as the redeeming fairy-godmother.

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Mobile Library by David Whitehouse

 

Twelve-year-old Bobby lives a bleak and lonely life, devoid of affection since his mother died. His father and girlfriend appear to care little for Bobby and show little interest in the boy, except for when they are venting their anger. When he’s at home Bobby spends his time neatly arranging and rearranging memories of his mother into files, or boxes, so that she can pick up her life where she left off when she returns… Bobby is also bullied at school but has a best friend, Sunny, who is his greatest protector. Bobby and Sunny are on a mission to turn Sunny into a cyborg so that he can protect Bobby from bad things forever.

Then Bobby meets Rosa when he’s passing by her house on his way home from school. She is 13 and she asks Bobby if he’d like to play. She has a disability of some sort, has a loving and trusting nature and immediately takes to Bobby as a friend. Rosa is attacked by the same bullies picking on Bobby (while Bobby, through fear hides in the bushes) and through this situation Bobby comes to meet Val, Rosa’s mum. Val and Rosa both warm to Bobby very quickly and take him into their hearts. Bobby spends more and more time with them, learning better how to communicate (after the silence he endures at home), taking baths (another forbidden thing at home), reading books, playing, eating proper meals and indulging in treats like ice cream (not allowed, his father says). Val enjoys Bobby’s company – for many years she has had little company other than her daughter – and Bobby feels love and a sense of belonging for the first time since his mother’s death. The little trio start to become like a functional family unit, although Bobby still has to go home to his father at the end of the day.

‘In every book is a clue about life,’ Val said. ‘That’s how stories are connected. You bring them to life when you read them, so that the things that happen in them will happen to you.’

‘I don’t think the things that happen in books will happen in my life,’ he said.

‘That’s where you’re wrong,’ she said. ‘You just don’t recognise them yet.’

Then events occur which put their surrogate son-mother relationship in danger and Val decides to take off across the country with Bobby and Rosa in the mobile library which she cleans once a week. In their time together this library has become like a dreamworld to Bobby – full of stories, adventures and escapism:

Morning hours vanished somewhere inside the books. Bobby read The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, amazed that a man whose name he couldn’t pronounce might write a story that seemed like it was written just for him. Like the young prince, he too found the adult world strange. He too saw very few certainties in it.

They encounter quite a number of adventures while travelling and trying to evade detection, including picking up a fellow traveller-on-the-run who leads them all the way up to Scotland, from middle England, and back down and Bobby, Rosa and Val are all having the times of their lives when reality strikes. Will they be able to stay together in their new-found family unit…?

The novel starts at the end, which I didn’t particularly mind; it’s usually a device that annoys me as I like the novel to tell the story but in this case it is the ending told from a slightly different narrative perspective to the actual ending which is narrated in more detail and with Val’s voice, so the story isn’t fully revealed at the beginning. I didn’t get into the book right away, perhaps because it was so different to what I was expecting. I found the characters all a bit extreme and therefore not very believable and the plot a bit far-fetched. But. Then I settled into the fairy-tale-type style and it no longer mattered to me if the characterisation was over-the-top and the accumulation of events unbelievable; the characters were living out their own story and that’s when it started to work for me and fall into place. There’s no doubt that child abuse on this level does take place, disability discrimination, and so on. And there’s no doubt that reading stories, along with love and nurture, can really help unlock a child’s potential. The author also explores the theme of imagination and how far one can go with imagination before harm is done, i.e. is it always good to be imaginative, or should the self or another inflict boundaries to protect you from harm? A number of deep themes are explored.

There is some interesting philosophising in the novel, some great snippets about books, reading and the influences of literature, and some deeply disturbing aspects regarding child abuse and abusive relationships. It is not a novel for children, that much is clear but it doesn’t otherwise fit into a neatly arranged category. It is a good, thoughtful read. I often find it easy to forget a book almost as soon as I’ve read it but I won’t forget this one. The book isn’t perfect and can feel overdone and blatant but I would recommend it, particularly for the universal message about the power of stories to change, heal and transform.

About the Author

David Whitehouse was born in 1981 and lives in London. His first novel, Bed, won the inaugural 2010 To Hell With Prizes Award for unpublished work, the 2012 Betty Trask Prize and has been published in eighteen countries. His journalism has appeared in the national press and he has undertaken TV and film projects as well.

Where to Buy

You can buy Mobile Library from your local independent bookshop, or you can buy online from hive.co.uk and still support your local independent bookshop by nominating them to receive a percentage of your sale on Hive. Shop local, where possible, to help keep your High Streets alive. The current RRP for a new paperback is £7.99, ISBN no 9781447274711. At Books & Ink Bookshop most of our new books are for sale at a discounted price. We also have a large second-hand stock. First published by Picador in hardback in 2015; Picador paperback edition 2016.

Independent Booksellers Week 2016

It’s that time of year again -the 18th to 25th of June is Indie Booksellers Week (IBW) here in the UK and it’s a week for celebrating all the great things about being independent  – as a bookshop, that is….

In 2012 Jonathan Cape produced the first little booklet essay to be published in Independent Booksellers Week and sold exclusively in independent bookshops. This first one was A Life with Books by Julian Barnes and was followed in 2013 by Ann Patchett’s The Bookshop Strikes Back (Icon Books), 2014’s The Unknown Unknown: Bookshops and the Delight of Not Getting What You Wanted by Mark Forsyth (Icon Books) and this year’s The Gifts of Reading by Robert Macfarlane.

4 IBW TITLES

These little essays each epitomise what’s best about books, book buying and the giving and reading of books for pleasure.

In A Life with Books Julian Barnes, at a time when we were all a little bit nervous about the future of the printed book vs the e-book, made a strong case for the supremacy of the printed book over its electronic counterpart. Like many writers he has had a deep love of books from a young age and this love of books stems not just from the words themselves but from the handling of the books, the turning of the pages, the touch and the sight of them on the bookshelves (your own or in the library). To quote from the beginning of his essay:

I have lived in books, for books, by and with books; in recent years, I have been fortunate enough to be able to live from books. It was through books that I first realized there were other worlds beyond my own; first imagined what it might be like to be another person; first encountered that deeply intimate bond made when a writer’s voice gets inside a reader’s head…

Later in his essay he goes on to say:

I have no Luddite prejudice against new technology; it’s just that books look as if they contain knowledge, while e-readers look as if they contain information.

And a little earlier in his essay, I love this snippet as it rings so true with me:

…how weird it would be to have around you only as many books as you have time to read in the rest of your life.

The year after Julian Barnes’s essay, Ann Patchett gave us a heartwarming and optimistic read with The Bookshop Strikes Back. In 2011 Ann Patchett bucked the trend and opened an independent bookstore in Nashville, Tennessee. Disappointed to wake up one morning and find that her city no longer had a bookshop – not a chain, nothing – Ann slowly came around to the idea of doing something about it. Parnassus books is now a roaring success and it’s on my ‘must see if I ever take a world tour of fabulous bookshops’ list.

If what a bookstore offers matters to you, then shop at a bookstore. If you feel that the experience of reading a book is valuable, then read the book. This is how we change the world: we grab hold of it. We change ourselves.

Jump forward to 2014 and Mark Forsyth’s essay for IBW. Mark has a delightful way with words and his essay is witty and succinct, though much more philosopohical than the previous two. How can you know what you want if you don’t know it exists, or in other words how can you know what books you want unless you browse a bookshop and discover them?

The internet is a splendid invention, and it won’t go away. If you know you want something, the internet can get it for you. My point, and the whole point of this essay, is that it’s not enough to get what you already know you wanted. The best things are the things you never knew you wanted until you got them… The internet is, ultimately, a huge army of machines. And machines do not allow in the element of chance. They do exactly what you tell them to do. So the internet means that, though you get what you already knew you wanted, you’ll never get anything more.

And then there’s bibliomancy – there’s a word I learned from Mark Forsyth – bibliomancy: the art of foretelling the future by interpreting a randomly chosen passage from a book, especially the Bible. He applies this to bookshop browsing as well, ‘Yes. This is what I’m going to read next.’ Forsyth believes that in a good bookshop you should be able to go into the shop ‘blindfolded, reach out your hand at random and find something wonderful.’

Good-Bookshop

This year we have an essay from Robert Macfarlane about the pleasures of giving and receiving books as gifts, The Gifts of Reading. Macfarlane reflects on how such gifts have affected and, in some ways, shaped his life so far. He particularly mentions Patrick Leigh Fermor’s A Time of Gifts, a book that was given to him when he was studying for his PhD.

If you have never read ‘A Time of Gifts’, may I urgently suggest that you buy a copy as soon as possible, or better still ask someone to give you one as a present?

He goes on to say:

When I first read ‘A Time of Gifts’ I felt it in my feet. It spoke to my soles. It rang with what in German is called Sehnsucht: a yearning or wistful longing for the unknown and the mysterious. It make me want to stand up and march out – to walk into adventure.

And walk he did and has now walked many miles under the influence of Leigh Fermor; all from the the simple influence of a book received as a gift. It’s a delightful addition to the IBW essays about books and will hopefully inspire the gifting of many more books.

IBW is a celebration of bookselling on the High Street, a celebration of independence (something I’m pretty passionate about), a celebration of readers and browsing, of authors and writing, a celebration of the serendipity of discovering books you never knew you needed, a celebration of giving and receiving books and watching the joy on a child’s face when they describe to you a book that they’ve really enjoyed reading, or when they discover on the bookshelves a new book by a favourite author. Above all, it’s a celebration of booksellers, without whom there would only be algorithms to help us discover the books we want to buy and it’s a celebration of the printed BOOK.

Where to Buy

The Gifts of Reading by Robert Macfarlane is published by Penguin Books and has an RRP £2.50. It is only available to purchase from independent bookshops, so get yourself to an indie bookshop near you very soon as stocks will be limited. Essays from previous years are out-of-print but if you’re very lucky you may be able to find a few copies in independent bookshops as well. Just remember, every little purchase (however small) helps to keep an independent bookshop alive and on your High Street – Thank You!

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