Reviewed by Emma Crowley
Nightingale Books, nestled on the high street in the idyllic Cotswold town of Peasebrook, is a dream come true for booklovers.
But owner Emilia Nightingale is struggling to keep the shop open. The temptation to sell up is proving enormous - but what about the promise she made to her father? Not to mention the loyalty she owes to her customers.
Sarah Basildon, owner of stately pile Peasebrook Manor, has used the book shop as an escape from all her problems in the past few years. But is there more to her visits than meets the eye?
Since messing up his marriage, Jackson asks Emilia for advice on books to read to the son he misses so much. But Jackson has a secret, and is not all he seems...
And there's Thomasina, painfully shy, who runs a pop-up restaurant from her tiny cottage. She has a huge crush on a man she met and then lost in the cookery section, somewhere between Auguste Escoffier and Marco Pierre White. Can she find the courage to admit her true feelings?
Despite How to Find Love in a Book Shop being the 15th novel from Veronica Henry, I have previously only read A Night on the Orient Express which I really enjoyed. But when I saw this new book being advertised it was the title that just screamed that this book would be a bookworms dream. This year I've already read The Little Bookshop of Lonely Hearts by Annie Darling and The Little Shop of Happy Ever After by Jenny Colgan, both centred around bookshops in one guise or another, but to my mind this is and always will be plenty of room for books of this nature and the more the merrier I say. Who doesn't love reading a book that features books if only to get even more recommendations to add to our ever increasing T.B.R piles? I'm always curious to see what books will be mentioned and whether I have read them or not.
The cover for this book is so warm and inviting, it makes you wish Nightingale Books was real and that you could open the door and step inside and uncover what delights and treasures are awaiting you on the shelves. If as the title suggests you find the beginnings of love there (apart from your love of books) then that is an added bonus. The book instantly stirred a feeling in me that reminded me just why I love reading so much and that feeling persisted (in a good way) right through my reading of the story as a cast of characters and their problems make themselves known. So much so that you feel as if you have known these people and this setting forever. The story follows Emilia Nightingale and her fight and commitment to keep her late fathers beloved bookshop open. After all it has touched customers in more ways than one for so long. The theme of the book couldn't be more relevant or timely considering the dominant power of e-books in this era of modern technology. Having read the blurb I sincerely hoped Emily would be successful in her quest to keep the bookshop going and as the title alludes to find love along the way.
The book opens with a prologue - a man is viewing an empty, damp, dusty, run-down shop with a baby in a pram in the small town of Peasebrook. He is contemplating whether he should buy this vacant building and turn it into the shop of his dreams 'After all a town without a bookshop is a town without a heart' (already on page one I found myself nodding along in agreement). Julius is a single father and if he buys the shop and makes a go if it he will have secured a solid future for his young child Emilia. Fast forward 32 years later and we are faced with a very different situation, Nightingale books holds a prominent position in the hearts of the residents of Peasebrook and without it the town would just not be the same. I'll admit the first chapter brought tears to my eyes and I had to stop reading for a while as it was too real and close to the bone. The writing was magnificent and emotional and Emilia's pain oozed from the page as she says her last goodbyes to her father. The man who was there for her through thick and thin, who inspired and nurtured her love of books and created many happy memories for his customers. Now Emilia has had to return from teaching English abroad and face reality. Her father is gone and outside forces in the form of builder, and all round dominant person, Ian Mendip is putting pressure on her to sell the bookshop she calls home so it can be turned into flats. Emilia knows this is not what her father would have wanted but when she discovers the finances are not all they had been made out to be she is torn between a rock and a hard place. Sell and get the money to relieve the financial burden or get some courage and strength and once again put Nightingale books back on the map as the special place it is and which has helped so many of the residents in more ways than one? 'What did a diamond bring you? A momentary flash of brilliance. A diamond scintillated for a second a book could scintillate forever'. What helps the reader engage even more with Emilia and Julius (even though we never meet him) is the short back-story given as to how Julius came to be a single father running the book shop, this brief snap shot of a love lost way too earlier was emotional and real and I was sorry it had to end all too quickly.
Right from the beginning there are references to books mixed into the story and what was extremely clever was that several characters had their own book recommendations at the end of some chapters based on their personalities or interests. But what really got to me the most was Emilia picking up the ultimate classic Little Women for comfort and solace, it is one of her favourite books and mine too. There is something about that book that gets to me every time. Emilia was a fantastic character - raw and hurting on the inside but full of determination and strength on the outside. Yes like anybody else in her position she wavered slightly and who wouldn't when faced with her situation but through the characters she meets and helps through her love of books surely that would see her come out on top. Emilia learns just what a profound effect her father had on so many people. She had already known just what a special person he was, sure he was her father, the man she looked up to, the man who had raised her and guided her through life and she will not see Nightingale books go down without a fight as if Ian Mendip got his way the bookshop would be just a distant memory. Emilia's quest is for her father and for all the people whose lives he touched. 'It was up to her to carry on his work so he would live on, she swore to herself. Julius Nightingale would live forever'.
This book was full of wonderfully descriptive and crafted characters. There were quite a few to get to know and normally I would find this frustrating and hard to keep track, or else feel several were surplus to requirements, but not here it was obvious the author put time and effort into selecting her characters and establishing their back-stories and their links to the bookshop, and to each other, in one small way or another. All of the stories and the characters naturally fitted into the overall plot of the book and I was intrigued as to how they would develop and how they would help in saving the bookshop. Normally in a book of this nature the storyline would focus on all the efforts to save the bookshop, yes we have the redecoration, the promotions, the interaction with social media and author events etc which is all relevant in the bigger scheme of things, but this became more of a background plot (in a good way) as Veronica Henry allowed her characters to step forward to the front and tell their stories. The characters and their problems, feelings and the decisions they had to face were all integral to the story and I became ever more so absorbed the further I read. There was nobody I especially disliked apart from Ian but that was because I hated the idea of what he was doing as no place should ever be without a book shop.
So what of these many characters I keep referring to and their interesting stories and the obstacles they face and just why do they hold Julius in such high regard and are willing to help Emilia every step of the way? Just a brief mention of some characters will suffice. Up at Peasebrook Manor there is Sarah Basildon married to Ralph. They have a daughter Alice who is on the verge of marrying Hugh – an egotistical man who is more interested in hard partying than long term commitment. Dillon is the gardener who has nurtured the grounds of the manor for as long as he can remember but he is hiding something that if it came out would make some people deliriously happy but others not so. As for Sarah she is wounded and emotionally strung out, life had been happy for her until recent events and now she is lost and all over the place. Normally regarding Sarah's predicament I would have no sympathy in the least for her but as the author conveyed her feelings and decisions so well I found myself understanding her personality and the reasons for her actions. Jackson is Ian's right hand man, separated from his partner Mia and father to young Finn, he too is lost and wondering how can he re-establish a relationship with the boy he loves so much and not just be seen as the Dad who visits on occasion and takes his child to nice places. I was worried Jackson's role was going to turn nasty given what he was asked to do and having read his backstory I didn't want this to happen.
Young mother Bea has swapped her glamorous life working on a lifestyle magazine in London for Peasebrook to raise her daughter while her husband commmutes but is her dream all it is cracked up to be? Hand washing cardigans in lavender water and making chutneys can only keep her going for so long. Can Emilia and Bea help each other out in any way? Thomasina is a teacher in a local school but painfully shy when it comes to putting herself forward. She secretly harbours a fondness for a local man but how can she face him and admit her true feelings. Running a pop up restaurant for two in her home allows her to indulge her passion for food and cooking and also she can help runaway student Lauren. I so felt for Thomasina and deeply wished she could get past the stumbling blocks in her way to find true happiness. June works on a voluntary basis in the bookshop and she too got a delightful storyline which merged well with everything else going on. There wasn't any character or storyline which felt rushed or ridiculous I enjoyed each and every one and hoped for good outcomes for all.
How to Find Love in a Bookshop is simply a little gem of a book that draws you in right from the prologue until the final outcome, I loved every minute of it. The writing and the whole idea of the story was superb and it was clear Veronica ran wild and indulged her passion for books and writing and developing her characters personalities and problems. In fact I really would love to read more of Peasebrook and Nightingale books, a Christmas story sounds like a good idea (Hint, hint). I enjoyed how everyone came together to help Emilia, it wasn't forced or contrived they all genuinely wanted Julius' legacy to continue for many years to come. By solving the problems of the bookshop they in turn subconsciously solved their own and created a real sense of coming together and achieving something as a team. Emilia could see the power the shop wielded, its ability to help heal and comfort and she needed that too despite some bumps along the way. Her storyline apart from saving the bookshop was touching and I honestly didn't know would she find love in a bookshop or was it not meant to be. Nightingale books was a force for good and this sentiment shone through each and every page and made for a thoroughly enjoyable read. I love this quote because it sums up just how important books are 'So that was why people read. Because books explained things how you thought, and how you behaved, and made you realise you were not alone in doing what you did or feeling what you felt'. Do place this wonderful book high up on your summer reading list you will not be disappointed in any way. Trust me.
Many thanks to Orion books via NetGalley for my copy of How To Find Love in a Bookshop to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.