The London Bookshop Affair
Grade : B+

The London Bookshop Affair is a dual-timeline tale of love, war, and family set amidst the dark days of WWII and the glamour of London in the 1960s.

It’s 1942 when we meet Jeannie Duchesne, nineteen years old and newly in love with an American Airman. He goes off to battle while she works quietly at a shop, dreaming of his return when they will marry. Only life in wartime rarely has a way of going to plan.

We then jump ahead to 1962, where Celia Duchesne is increasingly frustrated by her placid existence. If her elderly parents have their way, she will work as a bookshop clerk until she marries the literal boy next door. But she dreams of having a career, of taking a secretarial course and becoming one of the glamorous women employed by the BBC, hobnobbing with celebrities and doing fascinating work that actually challenges her.

When the elderly couple at the shop where she works sell it to an American divorcée, she is worried she will soon find herself in need of new employment. Instead, Celia is given a raise and the opportunity to take a night course in typing and stenography. With diligence, she should be able to complete the course in a few months and get a better job, one that will finally allow her to leave home and the bitter anger that always simmers beneath the surface of that tiny dwelling.

Then, her dearest friend finds a file at a solicitor's office that upends everything Celia previously believed about herself and her family. Untangling the secrets contained in the scant papers within leads Celia to Miss Clarke, a mysterious woman who worked closely with Jeannie and might just have a use for Celia as well.

Intertwining with all this is the narrative of Septimus Nelson, who works at the American Embassy and is quickly becoming enamored of the young sales clerk at the bookstore he frequents. His work has never allowed him to settle down and he is not one for falling in love, but the more he gets to know Celia, the more he realizes he is ready for that to change.

This novel is part women’s fiction, part cozy spy thriller, and the women’s fiction portion works quite well. The focus of the story is on Celia, who is taking her first tentative steps into independence. Her discovery of family secrets via the file from her friend helps her to understand the underlying current of deep misery in her home and her parent's seeming antipathy towards her. Watching her force the truth out in the open and the healing that takes place from that is really lovely. I appreciated that the story underscores how everyone is doing their best to make the right decisions and how grief can cause us to keep from showing how much we love those we still have as we mourn for those we’ve lost. I also really liked that Celia is very careful in her gathering of information before she confronts anyone about anything. She wants to have a clear picture before she tears open old wounds, and her doing so is what enables the experience to end so positively.

In fact, that clever, cautious way of handling both relationships and mysteries is what makes Celia such a delightful heroine. She genuinely cares about the effects her actions could have on others and makes sure she has all the facts before she acts. It shows her sincere concern for everyone, from her friends, Daphne and Sam, to her parents, and even kindly bookshop owner Mrs Denton and would-be beau Septimus.

Speaking of which, I was impressed with the blossoming romance between Septimus and Celia. She has some strange reactions to his advances - understandable given the turmoil happening at home due to her recent discoveries. I appreciated the author showing that what we are going through can affect how we respond to overtures of love, and that sometimes instincts rather than emotions are the best guide to whether the time/place/person is the right choice for us.Jeannie’s portion of the story deals with the Special Operations Executive. Anyone familiar with their work will probably remember that there was more than a little scandal and horror associated with their issues in France, and Jeannie winds up being a part of that. Her parts of the story are brief and non-graphic, but it is wartime, and some off-page violence takes place. It is referenced, but very, very little is shown.

War is also an important part of the 1960s portion of our story, but at that point, it is the Cold War and the possibility of nuclear annihilation that underlies the daily lives of our characters. The Cuban Missile Crisis, how that involved London and its denizens, and just what people were thinking of it all play an important role in the thriller aspect of the tale.While the history is absolutely fascinating, the resolution to the story vis-à-vis the cozy spy part didn’t work as well for me, because it’s simply too coincidental. Literally, all the vital clues drop into Celia’s lap, either as a result of her being at the right place at the right time or as a by-product of other issues she has been trying to resolve.

That small quibble aside, I found The London Bookshop Affair to be a quick, enjoyable read. The warm interpersonal relationships at its core and the delightful Celia make it an easy, entertaining way to spend a few hours. I would recommend it to fans of WWII fiction and those who enjoy women’s fiction starring young, clever heroines.

Reviewed by Maggie Boyd
Grade : B+

Sensuality: Subtle

Review Date : January 20, 2024

Publication Date: 01/2024

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Maggie Boyd

I've been an avid reader since 2nd grade and discovered romance when my cousin lent me Lord of La Pampa by Kay Thorpe in 7th grade. I currently read approximately 150 books a year, comprised of a mix of Young Adult, romance, mystery, women's fiction, and science fiction/fantasy.
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