Veronica Henry's How to Find Love in a Bookshop is pretty much a delight from first sentence to last. How can a book about books, bookshops and readers not strike a cord among fellow book lovers. Even the slightly dramatic or heavier elements of the story don't bog down the mind of the reader too much as you just know things are going to be resolved happily in the end. I don't think I give away anything by saying that the endings (yes, plural) are neat and tidy, since it is the various plots that make up the story that are what makes this book such a pleasure to read.
I think I could happily live in the fictional village of Peasebrook in the heart of the Cotswolds. Imagine a picturesque hamlet amidst the undulating fields of green. All those lovely cottages with loads of flowers out front and tiny twisty little streets. A real little community where everyone knows everyone else. One perfect little bookshop serving the village run by a man who has a love of literature and books and knows his neighbors so well that they pop in for a browse and a chat. I'd book the lone table at Thomasina's little restaurant known as A Deux she runs on weekends out of her home and have a cider at the local pub, buy cheese at the shop where Jem works and maybe be friends with June who was once an actress but now has a beautifully decorated little cottage. Oh yes, and be a regular customer at Nightingale Books.
Nightingale Books is the heart of the story even though this is not just about the bookseller and his shop but about the whole community of Peasebrook. (I can imagine it being made into a TV series on PBS, but I'd rather it be a real place). The bookstore was lovingly imagined by Julius Nightingale and his wife Rebecca. The two, he a British student at Oxford and she an American on her way home, meet and have a whirlwind romance. It wasn't meant to work out quite the way it did. It all happened far too fast--their falling in love and the unexpected result of a baby. They decide, since they essentially met in a bookshop and both have a deep love of reading that maybe they should open one themselves since everything about their relationship has been quick, almost accidental and very unexpected. But tragedy strikes and Julius is left on his own, a young man with a baby girl to raise alone.
This is where the magic really, begins. Out of sadness comes Nightingale Books, which is the planet around which all the characters, the residents of Peasebrook revolve. When the story opens, Emilia has been called home from abroad where she works as her father's health has been quickly declining. She never knew her mother and she never expected to lose her father so soon. He never held her back from following her dreams, but when he dies she feels it is the right thing to do to come home and carry on running Nightingale Books. She was all but raised in the shop and books have always been a part of her life, but her dream of running it is not as easily achieved as she expects.
Julius was always more about community and passing on a love of literature to his friends and customers. It was run with love and not with an eye solely for profits, so when Emilia takes over she finds the shop is riddled with debts that she is not sure she can pay off and turn Nightingale Books around to turn into a successful business she can make a living from. A local property developer has had his eye on the bookstore and hopes to convince Emilia to sell but she is determined to try and make a go of it with a little help from friends. Nothing is ever as easy as it looks, however.
Emilia and Nightingale books may be at the center but there are many threads running through this story. Many loves and dreams of the community that makes this such a magical read. I found myself swept up into the daily dramas and heartbreaks, all the storylines are interlinked and they all come to satisfying resolutions but it is always the journey there that makes for the pleasant reading. And of course the story is peppered with book and literary references. This is perfect escapist reading to tuck away into your bag when you go to the beach or on vacation (or just sitting in your favorite chair or at your favorite coffeeshop). Many thanks to Penguin Books for sending this my way, I had a feeling it would be right up my alley, and indeed it was. It looks like Veronica Henry has an admirable backlist of books which I think will be fun to explore.