Reviewed by Elaine Simpson-Long
We have had a few weeks of scorching weather as I write this, though it is now raining, and, of course, as it is summer we get the books in the bookshops and supermarkets et al. under the headings ‘Beach Reads’, ‘Holiday Reads’ etc. I always find this categorising odd. Presumably if a book is a good read then it will be good whether you read it at work or on holiday or in the bath or on the beach, but it is that time of year when all promotions behave in this way. Calling a book a perfect beach read is slightly puzzling. What exactly do they mean? I suppose the bookshops think of books which do not require a huge amount of thought or analysis, one which you can put down when the sun and margarita overcomes you and you fall asleep. But I can read a book in the middle of winter and fall asleep on my sofa in the afternoon after lunch with the same ease.
I feel that calling a book a Holiday/Beach read is vaguely insulting. It seems to imply that it is not worthy of a ‘proper’ read when the weather is cool and you are indoors and that it is a light frothy story that does not warrant much attention. The covers are slanted towards this attitude as well. Usually with pretty watercolours on the front, or matchstick women with pink handbags or sketches of a beach. I feel this kind of marketing does the content inside the pages a disservice.
The author I am reviewing here, Veronica Henry, has had her paperbacks marketed in this way and this can give a totally wrong impression of the kind of book the author writes. ‘Oh chicklit’ is the dismissive attitude. This is so wrong. I have read several of her books in the last month or so and you know what? They are good. They are readable. They make you laugh. They make you cry. They make you forget for a few hours that you are getting old and are not the mad young thing you think you are. They have happy endings. Problems are solved. People fall in love.
And I tell you something else as well. These books will never win a Costa Prize, a Booker Prize, or an Orange Prize. They will never be listed. They will also never be reviewed by the book magazines, by the Literary Review, by the Guardian blah blah blah blah. The literati turn up their noses. They would prefer to laud the latest Rushdie, Amis or Ali Smith. All those cool names that will make the readers appear intelligent and up with the latest trend.
Well folks if you do not read this latest by this author, or any of her previous titles, you are missing a treat. The title How to Find Love in a Bookshop is a no-brainer for me. I mean Love and Bookshop? What could be more perfect?
Emilia was brought up by her father, a single parent, who owns a bookshop, Nightingale Books, set in the high street of a delightfully idyllic Cotswold town. He has recently died and Emilia is now the owner. She promised her father she would keep it open but has to face the fact that her father, though a wonderful person and book lover, was not a business man, and the shop is in financial difficulty.
As she stood in the middle of the shop, she gradually felt a sense of comfort settle upon her, a calmness that soothed her soul. For Julius was still here, amidst the covers and the upright spines. He claimed to know every book in the shop. He may not have read each one cover to cover, but he understood why they were there, what the author’s intent had been and who might, therefore, like to read them, from the simplest children’s board book to the weightiest, most indecipherable tome.
Among those who visit Nightingale Books regularly is Jackson. He is separated from his wife, wishing he wasn’t and looks to Emilia for advice on books for the son he misses so much. Sarah, the owner of Peasebrook Manor, has used the bookshop for years and was very close to Julius. How close? Read the book and find out. Cookery teacher Thomasina is shy and totally lacking in self confidence and has a crush on a man she bumped into in the cookery section. She really really wants to ask him out but cannot quite bring herself to do so.
So we have the setting, a cast of characters and a wonderful background and, of course, we know that problems will be solved, the bookshop will be saved and everyone will live happily ever after. And if the problems seem to resolve themselves a little too easily and those who should fall in love do so, what does it matter? A bit of happiness and joy never comes amiss.
How to Find Love in a Bookshop is well written, narrative flows, characterisation is real and true and the reader is drawn in from the first page becoming totally engaged with the lives and hopes and dreams of all those involved in Nightingale Books.
I really don’t care if a book is categorised as a beach read, chicklit, a Good Read or Perfect to take on Holiday. I really don’t. If a book is a good book then it is a good book.
And this is a good book. Go on, treat yourself.
Elaine Simpson Long blogs at Random Jottings http://randomjottings.typepad.com
Veronica Henry, How to Find Love in a Bookshop (Orion, 2016). 978-1409146889, 322pp., hardback.
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