Book Review: The Music Shop

This review was written for and first published by Bookmunch.

Rachel Joyce, an author in the vein of Joanna Cannon and Sarah Winman, has a knack of succinctly capturing the minutiae of everyday behaviours with piercing insight. In just a few words she paints an image of an attitude, action or expression that conveys more than mere description. Her characters are not just brought to life on the page, they become close acquaintances, the reader investing in their outcomes, feeling their joys and pain.

This latest work opens in January 1988, in a town that is changing under Thatcher’s Britain. The unnamed music shop is a relic of the old. It is located in a rundown side street – a row of tatty shops and their upstairs flats along one side; houses, many divided and sublet, on the other. The shop owners live above their businesses. They are an integral part of a small community.

The music shop is run by Frank and his assistant, the accident prone Kit. They sell vinyl records, eschewing cassettes and the newly popular CDs. Frank’s modus operandi is to tell his customers what music they need to listen to, something he somehow feels from their presence. He enjoys helping others but keeps himself emotionally distant, afraid of being hurt again.

Frank’s sheltered little world is threatened by encroaching gentrification, and by the arrival of a mysterious woman who faints outside his shop window one afternoon. When Ilse Brauchmann returns to thank Frank for his help he realises he may be smitten. It is almost a relief when he discovers she is unavailable as she is already engaged.

The story is interspersed with flashbacks to Frank’s childhood. He was raised by his single mother, a wealthy and Bohemian woman who insisted that her son call her Peg, refusing to act as expected or conform to anything ordinary. Peg entertained a string of boyfriends but her true love was music. She shared her knowledge and passion with her son, but offered him little else.

Ilse asks Frank to teach her about music with lessons to be given once a week. Using the stories his mother told he opens up to this enigmatic stranger. Alongside their burgeoning friendship, Frank and the other residents of Unity Street are being wooed by property developers. When they refuse the financial incentives, threats are made.

The character development is astute and often humorous but the plot arc lacked sufficient depth to keep me fully engaged. Although billed as a love story this aspect felt contrived in places. The strength of the writing is in the quiet observations of people, and in the music – its emotional impact and the anecdotes shared. Those with Spotify can listen to The Music Shop playlist, an eclectic mix with links explained throughout the tale.

Any Cop?: Despite my reservations there is enough pleasure to be derived to make this a book worth reading. It is a gentle, hopeful story. The resurgence in popularity of vinyl and the decline of CDs provides a fitting coda.

 

Jackie Law

Mothers’ Day – Guest Post by Emma Curtis

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Today I am delighted to welcome Emma Curtis, author of suspense thriller One Little Mistake (which I review here), to my blog. Emma’s book explores the tricky balancing act that so many women live juggling friendship, marriage and motherhood – and the catastrophic consequences of a seemingly small mistake. She has written this guest post for Mothers’ Day.

On Mothers’ Day, we reflect on everything our mothers did for us and we give them a call, or take them a bunch of flowers, and thank them. This is the time to forget the fact that as teenagers, we said to ourselves, if I ever have children I will never do that! It’s the time to forget the parties we weren’t allowed to go to, to forgive the unreasonable bedtimes and irrational decisions that were never satisfactorily explained. When you have your own children you quickly realize that even if you do have a mental check list of the dreadful things your own mother did, there is a one hundred percent chance your kids will be able to come up with some humdingers of your doing. Mothers’ Day is a time to remember that mothers are human beings, and if they make mistakes it’s because they love us and worry for us and sometimes overreact.

One Little Mistake is a novel about an ordinary wife and mother who doesn’t always get it right. But none of this would have mattered and she would have muddled on, just like the rest of us, had it not been for one major lapse in judgement. When I wrote Vicky Seagrave, I drew on my own experiences of falling into motherhood four years before I had planned or wanted to. It caught me and my husband by surprise and we were unprepared for every aspect of it: the love, the fatigue, the mess, the restrictions, the adjustment in our own relationship.

Vicky’s ‘Mistake’ has a catastrophic effect on her life, the reverberations rippling through her marriage, her closest friendship, her job and her position in the community, putting at risk everything she holds dear. One Little Mistake is a psychological suspense novel, so what happens to Vicky and the danger she puts herself and her family in, is of course extreme. However, at the heart of it I wanted to show the confusing side of motherhood: feeling out of control; discovering that it’s not all perfect baby skin, talcum powder and fluffy white towels like in the ads, that it’s mess and tears, it’s unwashed hair and eyes bruised and baggy from lack of sleep. It’s dirty dishes piling up and piling on the pounds. It’s being two hours into a six-hour train journey to Edinburgh and realising you forgot the spare nappies – yes, that was me! It’s keeping things going on the surface and trying to ignore the muddle churning underneath.

But above all, it’s a mountain that we climb not so much because we have no choice, but through animal instinct and unconditional love. And in the end, you kiss your children as they leave the house on their own for the first time and you know that it’s OK. You can forgive yourself the mistakes you’ve made, because they make you proud. And then one day, you tell your twenty-five- year-old daughter, sitting on the sofa glued to her laptop, that you love her and she answers distractedly that she loves you too.

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One Little Mistake is published by Black Swan, an imprint of Transworld Books.

 

Sharing books with random strangers

I am passionate about books. Like most book bloggers I review books because I want to talk about them, write about them, and to encourage others to read. When I discover a good book I want to shout about it from the rooftops. As my neighbours may complain if I indulged in such behaviour I shout about it via social media instead.

Thanks to Twitter, last year I came across a book sharing initiative called Books Underground which operates in London (there is a similar group in New York called Books on the Subway). So many wonderful, bookish events happen in our capital city and I felt a little rueful that such enterprises rarely make it out as far as my little corner of the world.

I decided that there was no point in harbouring such feelings. Instead, I determined to try to do something about this lack so set up Books As You Go.

I approached a number of publishers and was delighted by the support that Arcadia BooksHeadline Publishing and Transworld gave me. Thanks to them I have been able to share some fabulous titles over the course of the six months that we have been up and running.

I say we. Books As You Go is still mainly me. I have persuaded family members to help out if they happen to be travelling by train anyway but most shares are actioned by me alone. Perhaps if we are given more books to share then we shall grow.

So, what does a share entail?

Every couple of weeks I load up my trusty canvas tote bag with a stack of books and catch a train from my local station. I leave the train at each stop and place a couple of books on a table in the waiting rooms. My regular drops occur at Chippenham, Bath Spa and Bristol Temple Meads but books have also been left at Swindon and Reading. Where I share depends on the number of books I have to give away and how much time I have to do so.

Each book is adorned with a sticker

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and contains a slip of paper explaining what the book share is about.

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I know that the books are picked up because I check as I pass back through on my way home! It is gratifying when the people who pick up the books tweet or message via Facebook to let me know that a book has been found.

At Christmas I wanted to do something special so I gathered together a number of my own books that I had multiple copies of and shared these alongside the books that publishers had kindly provided. This seemed a much better use of a book than having it sit unread on my shelves.

I see this book share initiative as a random act of benevolence. To me books are precious and I want to share the joy that they can bring. Most of the time I have no idea who picks the books up but I like to think that the unexpected find has made their day just that little bit better.

I state on the slip of paper inside each book that I would like whoever finds it to return the book when they have read it for someone else to find. I look forward to the day when I am passing through a station and see one of our books left by a reader for another traveller to enjoy.