Tuesday, May 21, 2019

"The Printed Letter Bookshop" by Katherine Reay

Oh.  My.  Goodness.

I have a new favorite Katherine Reay book, y'all.  No question about it.  I mean, I've liked all her other books, even loved a couple of them, but none of them were as special as The Printed Letter Bookshop.  Not one.

Where to begin?  With the characters, of course.

Madeline's aunt has died and left her a bookstore, a house, an old station wagon, and the chance for a new life.  Madeline is a high-powered lawyer at a prestigious Chicago firm.  She works a million hours a week, hasn't had time to find a new boyfriend after the last one broke up with her, and is convinced she's doing exactly what she should be doing.

Janet works at the bookstore.  She's divorced.  She hasn't been allowed to hold her first grandbaby yet because everyone blames her for the divorce.  She's angry and bitter and kind, which seem like a weird mixture, but that makes her human.  I didn't like Janet much at first because she was so crabby, but by the end, she bloomed into an understandable, healing, hopeful woman.  Hers is possibly the biggest character arc of the three, actually.

Claire also works at the bookstore.  It helps her fill her days when her two teens are at school and her husband is at work.  It keeps her connected to people, and it fulfills her.  She's great at managerial stuff at the shop, but she tends to just keep managing instead of mothering when she goes home.  She feels estranged from her 17-yr-old daughter in particular, but she and her husband aren't close anymore either.  

Three very different women with three very different sets of struggles who gradually learn and grow and mature, with some help and guidance from Madeline's deceased Aunt Maddie.  But not in a weird, creepy way!  I promise.  She left them each a list of books to read, and as they do, they go on journeys of self-discovery and healing.  

The whole book is permeated with the love of stories.  The power of stories.  The way the right story at the right time can lift us, empower us, even change us.  That might actually be my favorite part of this book!  The way it celebrates the power and importance of storytelling.

No, I'm totally kidding.  My favorite part is the characters.  It always is.  Especially Madeline, as she learns to embrace who she is, not who she thinks people want her to be.  The only character I didn't connect with very well was Chris, the groundskeeper friend of Aunt Maddie's who serves as Madeline's love interest.  I liked him, but I never felt drawn to him the way I wanted to be.  That's okay, though, as he's not really a huge part of the book.

Unlike Reay's last few books, The Printed Letter Bookshop does contain some Christian content.  Her last few have been more like clean mainstream books, and I liked them, but I really couldn't call them Christian fiction.  This one, though, has discussions of Bible passages, a strong theme of forgiveness given and received, and even one character with a brother who is a Catholic priest.  So I'm going to label this one Christian fiction, though I'm disappointed that it doesn't actually mention Jesus once, nor do any of the characters appear to be regular churchgoers.  They're nominally believers who do read parts of the Bible, but that's better than nothing, I guess.

(Mine from Instagram)

Particularly Good Bits:

There's something comfortable and secure about people who color within the lines (p. 13).

That's what books do, Maddie used to say; they are a conversation, and introduce us to ourselves and to others (p. 127).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for discussions of an extra-marital affair, teens drinking and misbehaving, and a little mild smooching.


  1. That sounds very sweet. I might like to read it.

  2. Gotta love a book set in a bookshop! :)

    1. Lark, I know, right? Always a charming setting for a book :-)

  3. I read Dear Mr. Knightly a while ago and it wasn't my favorite. I wasn't sure I would ever try another of Reay's books. But I do love books involving a bookshop, and your review convinced me to try it...and I LOVED it!! SO many great themes in this book and I, too, loved the characters. It will be on my favorites list for this year for sure. Planning on reading more of her books as well.

    1. Becky, I think Dear Mr. Knightley tends to be one of those books you either really like, or just don't. In fact, I know of several people who really like a lot of Reay's books, but not that one. You're not alone.

      Anyway, I'm glad you tried -- and loved -- The Printed Letter Bookshop! I also liked the sort-of sequel, Of Literature and Lattes, but not so well as this one.


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