Publisher and Publication Date: Hanover Square Press. 2021. Genre: Historical fiction. Pages: 320. Format: Paperback. Source: Self-purchase. Audience: Historical fiction readers who want to read about civilian life in London during World War II. Rating: Very good.
Grace and Viv are best friends. They move to London to start a new life. They’d lived in Drayton, Norfolk since they were born. They are young women in their early twenties. Grace’s mother died a year ago. A friend of her mother’s, Mrs. Weatherford, lives in London and provides a place for the girls to live. She helps them secure jobs. Grace has a job at a bookshop. Viv has a job at Harrod’s. Not long after arriving in London the war begins. In less than a year, the German planes begin bombing London.
I’ve read a few comments from other reviewers asking if this is a suitable book for young adults? Yes. It is appropriate.
Several reasons why I love this story: 1. The story is in linear or chronological order. It doesn’t jump back and forth in time. 2. The story’s focus is on the experiences of one group of people during the London Blitz. 3. The primary character is Grace. She is a person of high character and this is remarked about in the story more often than her physical beauty. She is a person who transforms during the story. Her character shines. 4. The story has inner and outer conflicts, but mainly outer conflicts and how the characters respond. 5. Romance is apart of the story (in a small part), but the emphasis is not on it. Romance in a story can overwhelm the structure of it, making other elements pale. 6. Other characters I love: Mrs. Weatherford, Mr. Evans, Colin Weatherford, and George Anderson. 7. The Last Bookshop In London is an examination of what it was like in London during the Blitz. I have wanted a book to reflect on this history and I’m so glad this story has been written.
Themes in The Last Bookshop In London: heroism, war, perseverance, compassion, death, courage, bravery, kindness, suffering, survival, charity, grief, dreams, and romance.
“Ideals are like stars; you will not succeed in touching them with your hands. But like the seafaring man on the desert of waters, you choose them as your guides, and following them you will reach your destiny.” Address, Faneuil Hall, Boston. April 18, 1859. Carl Schurz [1829-1906] Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations by John Bartlett. Little, Brown and Company 1955. Page 644. Photo from Unsplash/NASA.
Publisher and Publication Date: Spuyten Duyvil. 2020. Genre: Fiction. Travel. Romance. Family saga. Contemporary fiction. Pages: 356. Format: Paperback. Source: I received a complimentary paperback copy from Sunday Taylor. I am not required to write a positive review. Audience: Contemporary fiction/romance readers. Rating: Good.
Sunday Taylor grew up in Pennsylvania and Connecticut and attended Bates College in Maine. A graduate of the Master of Arts program in English Literature at UCLA, she spent the last four decades in California and currently lives in Los Angeles. Taylor is married with two grown daughters and two granddaughters. She journeys to England every year, reads Jane Eyre every autumn and identifies as an Anglophile. This is her first book.
The Anglophile’s Notebook is a literary mystery set in England. Claire Easton travels from Los Angeles to London to research a book on her favorite author, Charlotte Brontë. While seeking Brontë’s secrets, she discovers her own. The Anglophile’s Notebook will whisk the reader away to literary London and the beautifully wild countryside of Yorkshire, home to the Brontë sisters. Brimming with writerly ghosts, enchanting bookstores, cozy pubs, English country gardens, and memorable characters, this novel is for anyone who has found their imagination in the gardens of rural England or a two-hundred-year-old bookstore in London and felt utterly alive.
There are things I like about the book and a few things I do not like about the book.
What I like: 1. Claire Easton is a character who is down to earth and easy for me to identify with. She is a regular gal. She is someone I could be friends with. She is a believable character who has positive and negative human traits. Claire is a reader, bibliophile, writer, blogger, book reviewer, and gardener. These interests are the same as mine. Her background and environment might have created a celebrity status type person. Instead, she is a person who is kindhearted, unselfish, long-suffering; and, she’s also a little innocent and vulnerable. I am glad Claire is a mature woman of 42. She has lived long enough to understand a bit about life and how to make wise decisions. Lastly, Claire is a character who has a transformation. This is always a positive experience for me to read a character who has a remarkable change. 2. Charlotte Brontë is the pleasant fixation for Claire. Claire plans to write a book about Charlotte Brontë . The story centers around Claire’s research of the Brontë books, manuscripts, letters, and the town they lived in. Charlotte is the main emphasis, but the other Brontë family members are apart of The Anglophile’s Notebook. 3. The Anglophile’s Notebook is a travel book. For most of the book Claire is in England. She travels back to California a couple of times. While in England she visits museums, bookshops, art and book collections, estates, and the scenery of the Yorkshire Moors. I enjoyed her descriptions and experiences. 4. Claire is close to her only sibling, a sister named, Jane. Their mother died. There is unanswered questions about their mother. There is not a reconciling of the relationship. One of the reasons I continued to read this book is I wanted to know what happened? Claire dreams of her mother. The memories and feelings about her mother are always present for Claire. Claire is still experiencing grief. Grieving takes as long as it takes. There is no time limit. And, because there are unanswered questions, there remains a mystery about their mother. These issues helped to keep me reading. 5. Jane is a praying person. She acknowledges when a prayer is positively answered. However, it is never specifically stated who Jane prays to. 6. I love the secondary characters in the book. It is a lengthy list. It is a diverse list. 7. The conflicts in the story are internal. 8. The main plot is simple. 9. The story is told in chronological or linear form.
What I do not like about the story: 1. The story has a long list of high functioning words and local dialect sayings. I don’t mind a couple of words that I need to look up in a dictionary, but the list grew and grew. The average reader is not going to like this. When a reader has to pause too much to look up a word in the dictionary it breaks the flow of reading. For example, farcical and raconteur. 2. Ben is Claire’s husband. If he were cut completely from the story would it matter? No. He is actually a weight in the story that is not needed because the story is busy with other things going on. When a story is too busy, well it is just too busy, and the reader (me) is worn-out by the heavy traffic. 3. At this time in my life (or in my reading life), I have become bored with much of the romance that is weaved in a story. I don’t have the data that will back up how other readers feel about this topic. I know how I feel. If Claire had focused all her attention on the Brontë research, the traveling, and the mystery surrounding her mother, this book would be remarkable enough. But, Claire’s personal life became a weight and additional plots for the story. Bottom line for me is there are too many things going on in this one book. Just a few would be wonderful.
Themes: Death and dying, loyalty, self-worth, honesty, redemption, acceptance, kindness, romance, innocence, guilt, wisdom, hope, grief, temptation, empowerment, dreams, and trust.
“We look before and after, And pine for what is not; Our sincerest laughter With some pain is fraught; Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.” Stanza 18. “To A Skylark”  Percy Bysshe Shelley [1792-1822] Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations by John Bartlett. Little, Brown and Company. 1955. Page 467. Photo from Unsplash.
Publisher and Publication Date: Feed a Read-independent published. February 2021. Genre: Historical fiction. Pages: 335. Format: e-book. Source: I received a complimentary e-book copy from the Coffee Pot Book Club. I am not required to write a positive review. Audience: Tudor history readers. Rating: Excellent.
Judith Arnopp is a lifelong history enthusiast and avid reader, Judith holds a BA in English/Creative writing and an MA in Medieval Studies. She lives on the coast of West Wales where she writes both fiction and non-fiction based in the Medieval and Tudor period. Her main focus is on the perspective of historical women but more recently is writing from the perspective of Henry VIII himself.
Her novels include: A Matter of Conscience: Henry VIII, the Aragon Years The Heretic Wind: the life of Mary Tudor, Queen of England Sisters of Arden: on the Pilgrimage of Grace The Beaufort Bride: Book one of The Beaufort Chronicle The Beaufort Woman: Book two of The Beaufort Chronicle The King’s Mother: Book three of The Beaufort Chronicle The Winchester Goose: at the Court of Henry VIII A Song of Sixpence: the story of Elizabeth of York Intractable Heart: the story of Katheryn Parr The Kiss of the Concubine: a story of Anne Boleyn The Song of Heledd The Forest Dwellers Peaceweaver
Judith is also a founder member of a re-enactment group called The Fyne Companye of Cambria and makes historical garments both for the group and others. She is not professionally trained but through trial, error and determination has learned how to make authentic looking, if not strictly HA, clothing. You can find her group Tudor Handmaid on Facebook.
‘A king must have sons: strong, healthy sons to rule after him.’ On the unexpected death of Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales, his brother, Henry, becomes heir to the throne of England. The intensive education that follows offers Henry a model for future excellence; a model that he is doomed to fail. On his accession, he chooses his brother’s widow, Catalina of Aragon, to be his queen. Together they plan to reinstate the glory of days of old and fill the royal nursery with boys. But when their first-born son dies at just a few months old, and subsequent babies are born dead or perish in the womb, the king’s golden dreams are tarnished. Christendom mocks the virile prince. Catalina’s fertile years are ending yet all he has is one useless living daughter, and a baseborn son. He needs a solution but stubborn to the end, Catalina refuses to step aside. As their relationship founders, his eye is caught by a woman newly arrived from the French court. Her name is Anne Boleyn.
1505 – Henry is informed by his father that he must withdraw from his betrothal to Catherine of Aragon. Most of my companions, the older ones at least, have tasted the pleasures of women but I have no desire to dally with whores. Instead, when the curtains are drawn about my bed at night, I think of Catalina and the delights we will one day enjoy. Since there are no tutors to instruct me on such matters, I listen to the tales my friends tell of their conquests. The prospect of bedding my future wife fills me with a mix of excitement and terror. And then, on the eve of my fourteenth birthday, the king informs me that I must make a formal protest against the union with Spain. “Why?” I exclaim. “I have no wish to protest against it!” Father rubs his nose, dabs it with his kerchief, rolls it into a ball, and glares at me. “Your wishes are of no moment. This is politics. You will do as you are told.” I am furious but I know better than to argue. It would do me no good. I can feel my ears growing red with resentment. I clench my teeth until I hear my jaw crack. Oblivious to my feelings, Father shuffles through the papers on his desk, picks one up and reads aloud the instruction he has written there. “You must declare, before witnesses, that the agreement was made when you were a minor and now you reach puberty you will not ratify the contract but denounce it as null and void. Your words will be set in writing and then signed and witnessed by six men. Protestations tumble in my mind but I cannot voice them. When he dismisses me with a flick of his fingers, I bow perfunctorily, turn on my heel, and quit the room. I find Brandon in the tennis court, loudly protesting the score while his opponent, Guildford, stands with his hands on his hips. “You are wrong, Brandon, the point is mine. Isn’t that so?” He turns to the others, who are lounging nearby. Having only been half attending, they shrug and shake their heads noncommittally. “My Lord Prince,” Brandon, noticing my arrival, turns for my support. “You witnessed it, did you not? The point was mine. Back me up, Sir.” I pick up a racket, idly test it in my hand and emitting a string of curses, hurl it across the court. Silence falls upon the company. “What ails you, Sir?” Brandon is the only one brave enough to come forward. He reaches out, his hand heavy on my shoulder. There are few men I allow to touch me. At the back of my mind I am aware that Brandon is merely proving to the others how high he stands in my regard. I should shrug him off, but I don’t. “Walk with me,” I mutter between my teeth and then turn away, almost falling over Beau who dogs my every footstep. “Out of my way!” I scream and he cowers from me, tail between his legs. Tossing his racket to Thomas Kyvet, Brandon follows me. “Henry, wait,” he calls, and I slow my step, until he has caught up. “What has happened?” “My accursed father.” I am so angry, I can hardly speak; my lips feel tight against my teeth, my head pounds with repressed fury. “He demands that I denounce my union with Catalina.” I stop, rub my hands across my face, the blood thundering in my ears. “I don’t know if I am angry because I have lost her, or because I am so sick of being told what I must do. What will Catalina think? What will happen to her?” He shrugs. “In all probability she will be sent home to Spain.” I think of her leaving, imagine her sad little figure boarding ship for the perilous journey to her homeland. For four years she has lived at the mercy of my father’s generosity which, as we all know, is greatly lacking, and now is to be sent home like a misdirected package. “Sometimes I feel this … this limbo will never end, and I will spend my whole life under my father’s jurisdiction.” He flings a brotherly arm about me and I am suddenly grateful to have a friend. He speaks quietly, with feeling and I struggle not to weep like a woman. “We are all told what to do by our fathers, Henry, and we are much alike, you and me. I am also the second son. Had my brother not died, I’d like as not be languishing in the country, wed too young to some red-cheeked matron yet here I am, your honoured servant. One day, you will be king, and I will still be at your side. The future will soon be ours, and the time for following orders will be done with.”
A Matter of Conscience is told in the 1st person narrating voice. In other words, Henry is the narrator. I wasn’t sure that I’d enjoy this book once I realized this. However, I stayed with the story and realized this is a perfect form of writing to let me in on Henry’s thoughts, feelings, reasonings, desires, justifications, arrogance, pride, deception, obsessions, dogmatic, and prideful character. Through Henry’s voice I see a solid transition of maturity from a boy to a man. The transition of his growth is easy to envision. It is palpable. This is one example of why A Matter of Conscience is a story to become apart of-to fall into-to become invested and swept up in the story. Henry is king in the story and he is larger than life.
An interesting point is I do not consider myself a fan of Henry VIII. So, to read about Henry as if he is a swoon-worthy hero is not my response. I don’t have to love a character I am reading about. It is nice to like or love them but not necessary. I do like to see a transformation in the character-Henry has a strong transformation in his character and it is not positive. Readers of Tudor history know Henry VIII through his actions in history. But to get inside his head is surreal. Judith Arnopp has done a brilliant job of recreating Henry.
The spotlight is always on Henry. I am reminded of a line in one of Shakespeare’s plays-Macbeth: “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player That struts and frets his hour upon the stage, And then is heard no more.”
Henry is the one who “struts and frets” on the stage of his royal life. He is puffed up with pride and this increases with age.
The story is told linear or chronological.
I love the characterizations of Margaret and Mary the sisters of Henry. I love the characterizations of Bessie Blount and Mary Boleyn. I love the characterization of Thomas Wolsey, the archbishop and cardinal.
Catherine of Aragon is one of my favorite historical figures of this time period. Her plight is sad. It is up to her to deliver a healthy son. History has revealed the outcome. She is pious. She prays often. I wondered exactly how often she might have prayed? The schedule followed by monks and nuns of this time period was eight times a day. The times were: Matins or Nocturns-at midnight. Lauds-Morning Prayer at 0300. Prime-the first hour at 0600. Tierce-Midmorning Prayer at 0900. Sext-Midday Prayer at noon. None-Midafternoon Prayer at 1500. Vespers-Evening Prayer at 1800. Compline-Night Prayer at 2100.
One of my favorite scenes is Princess Mary is throwing a tantrum because she doesn’t want to marry the old French king. Henry watches her. He has seen this behavior of hers since she was a child. She rages and he simply watches.
Themes in the story: loyalty, jealousy, obsession, deception, conformity, justice, greed, power, temptation, and pride.