As a Europe still reeling from the Great War slowly awakens to the possibility that Hitler intends to spark another, Grace Bennett and her best friend Vivienne arrive in London, ready to start their future as independent women. The early indicators of war are all around them, though at first the women brush them aside, dazzled by the excitement and possibility of life in the big city. Grace finds work at Primrose Hill, a bookshop woefully behind the times, and sets about using her shopkeeping background from the countryside to modernize the shop.
“The Last Bookshop in London” traces Grace’s journey from this bright-eyed young woman to a survivor of the London Blitz, and the transformative power of books to bring people together, even amidst tragedy and terror. Meticulously researched, author Madeline Martin weaves true historical details of life during the Blitz together in a story that spans the duration of the war and shows how gradually the initial adjustments – sewing blackout curtains, planting victory gardens, air raid drills – begin to sweepingly transform the people left behind.
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Martin got her start in historical romance, and there are echoes of this in “The Last Bookshop in London” as Grace meets a handsome young man just before he’s shipped off to war, and their romance develops through letters and love of books. In its focus on the homefront, Grace occasionally feels more like a spectator to the horrors of the war – the novel’s biggest tragedies happen around her, instead of to her, and that can sometimes keep readers at a distance from the emotional impact of the events. Yet Martin’s sweetly told story, an instant New York Times bestseller, keeps you cheering for Grace, as she perseveres to keep hope alive and build community.
Martin spent much of her childhood in Germany as the child of an Army service member, and credits her time in Europe with sparking her interest in history. As she envisions what life was like in the build-up to war, it’s the considerations for the people who remain behind, and the intimate way their concerns are beautifully handled, that makes this book truly shine.
“The Last Bookshop in London” is available now.