#BookReview The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce #20BooksOfSummer20

TheMusicShopAbout the Book

1988. Frank owns a music shop. It is jam-packed with records of every speed, size and genre. Classical, jazz, punk – as long as it’s vinyl he sells it. Day after day Frank finds his customers the music they need.

Then into his life walks Ilse Brauchmann. Ilse asks Frank to teach her about music. His instinct is to turn and run. And yet he is drawn to this strangely still, mysterious woman with her pea-green coat and her eyes as black as vinyl. But Ilse is not what she seems. And Frank has old wounds that threaten to re-open and a past he will never leave behind …

Format: Hardcover (336 pages)    Publisher: Doubleday
Publication date: 13th July 2017 Genre: Fiction

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My Review

The Music Shop has been on my bookshelf ever since I heard Rachel Joyce talk about the book at Henley Literary Festival in 2017. You can read my review of the event here. Now I’ve finally read it, I’m kicking myself that it took me so long.

Set mainly in 1988, the book conjures up a vivid picture of that time – lava lamps, Ritz crackers, high street shops such and Dolcis and Tammy, using the Yellow Pages to find a tradesman. I know I’m showing my age now but I can remember browsing in record shops for the latest vinyl releases. This passage especially, as Frank takes delivery of new stock, evoked such memories.

Boxes of vinyl began to arrive the next morning. Rare original pressings, bootleg copies, white-label promotional labels, as well as entire box-set collections. Seven- and 12-inch singles in the shape of hearts, birds and hats; limited-edition releases on coloured discs in blue, red, orange, yellow, white and even multicoloured splatter. Soundtrack records, popular favourites. World music, second-hand classics, demos. Rare mono recordings, limited-edition audiophile pressings… Plain sleeves, picture sleeves. Albums with posters, fold-out flaps and signed covers.”

In the residents of Unity Street, Rachel Joyce has created a fabulous community of diverse individuals who nevertheless feel a growing sense of togetherness, especially when outside forces threaten to bring unwanted change. “Here they were, living together on Unity Street, trying to make a difference in the world, knowing they couldn’t, but still doing it anyway.

The book has a wonderful cast of secondary characters such as Maud, the owner of a tattoo parlour, Father Anthony, the owner of a religious gift shop, “Saturday” Kit who helps out in Frank’s shop, Mrs Roussos and her chihuahua…oh, and not forgetting the matchmaking waitress of The Singing Teapot.

I loved the little stories about the customers whom Frank helps with music choices, such as the man who ‘only listens to Chopin’. Frank’s uncanny ability to prescribe the music others need for their current predicament leads to some unexpected choices. My favourites were his selection of the perfect lullaby for a sleepless child and an album to rekindle a marriage that has lost his spark. In fact, I could have read a whole book of such stories.

Interspersed with events in Unity Street are Frank’s memories of his childhood growing up with his mother, Peg. Sadly for Frank, Peg lacked the conventional instincts of motherhood – “show Peg a boundary, she crashed straight through it” – but she was at least responsible for inspiring his passion for music through her wonderful stories about composers and musicians. As the reader will discover, she’s also the reason Frank cannot bear to listen to a particular piece of music. Unfortunately, Peg’s actions will come to influence Frank’s relationships with others as he grows up. “Frank was so busy loving other people he had no room to accommodate the fact that someone might turn round one day and love him back.”

Will meeting Ilse Brauchmann change things for Frank? Obviously, I’m not going to tell you but all I will say is, that if you’ve read any of Rachel Joyce’s previous books, you’ll know she has a knack for taking readers on an emotional journey. The Music Shop is no exception. I was advised by a fellow blogger who had read the book to have tissues ready at the end; they were right.

The Music Shop is just the sort of warm, uplifting story perfect for the times we’re living through. As Kit says at one point, “I can’t imagine a world without Frank”. Hallelujah to that.

In three words: Charming, funny, uplifting

Try something similar (in the spirit of Frank): In My Life: A Music Memoir by Alan Johnson

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116433648_3250124005044448_5505438321894254958_oAbout the Author

Rachel Joyce is the author of the Sunday Times and international bestsellers The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Perfect, The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy, The Music Shop and a collection of interlinked short stories, A Snow Garden & Other Stories. Her work has been translated into thirty-six languages.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Book Prize and longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Rachel was awarded the Specsavers National Book Awards ‘New Writer of the Year’ in December 2012 and shortlisted for the ‘UK Author of the Year’ in 2014.

Rachel has also written over twenty original afternoon plays and adaptations of the classics for BBC Radio 4, including all the Bronte novels. She moved to writing after a long career as an actor, performing leading roles for the RSC, the National Theatre and Cheek by Jowl. She lives with her family in Gloucestershire. (Photo credit: Facebook author page)

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#BookReview The Bird in the Bamboo Cage by Hazel Gaynor @HarperFiction @RandomTTours

Bird in Bamboo Cage BT PosterWelcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for The Bird in the Bamboo Cage by Hazel Gaynor. My thanks to Anne at Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part and to HarperCollins for my digital review copy via NetGalley. Do check out the post by my tour buddy for today, Jane at Jane Hunt Writer.

9780008393632About the Book

When war imprisons them, only kindness will free them…

China, 1941. With Japan’s declaration of war on the Allies, Elspeth Kent’s future changes forever. When soldiers take control of the missionary school where she teaches, comfortable security is replaced by rationing, uncertainty and fear.

Ten-year-old Nancy Plummer has always felt safe at Chefoo School. Now the enemy, separated indefinitely from anxious parents, the children must turn to their teachers – to Miss Kent and her new Girl Guide patrol especially – for help. But worse is to come when the pupils and teachers are sent to a distant internment camp. Unimaginable hardship, impossible choices and danger lie ahead.

Inspired by true events, this is the unforgettable story of the life-changing bonds formed between a young girl and her teacher, in a remote corner of a terrible war.

Format: Hardcover (400 pages)         Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication date: 20th August 2020 Genre: Historical fiction

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My Review

The story alternates between two first person narrators – Nancy Plummer and Elspeth Kent – providing the reader with different perspectives on the unfolding events. After all, the thoughts and feelings of a ten-year old girl are likely to be very different to that of an experienced teacher. What unites them is the value of friendship. I liked the way the friendship between Elspeth and fellow teacher, Minnie, grows, allowing them to share the past disappointments and tragedies in their lives. Similarly, Nancy’s friendship with Dorothy (‘Sprout’) and Joan (‘Mouse’) helps to ease the pain of separation from her parents.

When the teachers and children are forced to leave their beloved Chefoo School, Elspeth receives two parting gifts from their Chinese servants that will come to be a source of comfort in the years ahead. The first will help her to distance herself mentally from the traumatic experiences she will witness and endure. (It’s a theme picked up later in the book when a character observes, “Thinking is the real war, isn’t it? It’s our minds that will ultimately determine whether we win or lose; whether we survive.”) The second gift becomes not only a symbol of hope and resilience but a way to honour the memory of those who will not live to see freedom.

The reality of what in loco parentis really entails becomes clear as Elspeth, Minnie and the other teachers find themselves thrust into a role far beyond that of merely educators. As Elspeth muses, “I was here to step into the shoes of all the absent parents. I was here to watch over these temporary orphans of war.” Often, Elspeth underestimates just how important she is to the children’s mental and emotional strength. In a way, the need to look after and protect the children provides a distraction from the challenges each day brings – the unsanitary conditions, shortage of food, risk of disease and cruelty of the guards. As Elspeth remarks, “For the children I kept going.

Routine and upholding the principles of the Girl Guides – loyalty, courage, hard work, and so on – are the strategies Elspeth and Minnie use to hold things together, distracting the children from the hardships of the internment camp. However, they cannot protect them from everything and none of the children will emerge from the experience unchanged.

As an admirer of John Buchan, I’m sure you can imagine my delight when one of his books turns up in the camp library set up by the redoubtable Mrs Trevellyan. (There’s also a mention of one of Buchan’s favourite books, The Pilgrim’s Progress, which, incidentally, is used to pass clandestine messages in his novel, Mr Standfast.) And I could only nod in agreement at Mrs T’s observation about the value of books: “This is our escape. Right here, in all these glorious words. Between these pages, we can be as free as the birds. We can go anywhere we please!

The Bird in the Bamboo Cage brings to life the story of the children of Chefoo School in a way that immerses the reader in their experiences. I felt I was living every moment with them. Although there are things that are difficult to read about there are uplifting moments as well, including small acts of defiance and of unexpected kindness. I can only echo the words of the author when she notes in the Afterword, “No matter the time or distance from an historical event, the universal themes of love, grief, friendship, regret and resilience are what connect us all across the decades.

In three words: Emotional, authentic, inspiring

Try something similar: The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng

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Hazel GaynorAbout the Author

Hazel Gaynor is an award-winning New York Times, USA Today, Irish Times, and international bestselling author of historical fiction, including her debut The Girl Who Came Home for which she received the 2015 RNA Historical Novel of the Year award. The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter was shortlisted for the 2019 HWA Gold Crown Award. She is published in thirteen languages and nineteen countries. Hazel is co-founder of creative writing events, The Inspiration Project, and currently lives in Ireland with
her family, though originally from Yorkshire.

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