Tuesday, August 24, 2021

The Bookseller's Secret

  The Bookseller's Secret
Author:  Michelle Gable
Publication Information:  Graydon House. 2021. 384 pages.
ISBN:  152581155X / 978-1525811555

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley and a publisher's blog tour free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "'Alors, Racontez!' the Colonel said, and spun her beneath his arm."

Favorite Quote:  "Why does a person like any book? It strikes the right note, at the right time."

***** BLOG TOUR *****


Disclaimer: Author Nancy Mitford is the historical figure around which this story is built. The author's note clearly states, "This is not a biography, and the point of a novel is to reflect the inherent truth of a situation, and not merely recite a list of facts. While the Nancy in my book does many things the real Nancy Mitford did not, I hope this novel is a reflection of the spectacular personality and wit of one of the most underrated authors of the twentieth century." I have not read and am not familiar with Nancy Mitford's work. I do not feel that this is a hindrance to enjoying the story, but my experience as a reader is likely different from that of a reader who may be a fan of Nancy Mitford's work. 

Now on to the story. Like many stories of the war, this book uses a two timeline approach. One timeline is that of Nancy Mitford. The other is of a woman in current times who has an interest or is led in some way to Nancy's story of the past.

The story of the past is that of war, but it is also one of family and the bohemian artist community that surround Nancy Mitford. Although she wrote many books, her claim to fame comes from two novels presumed to be semi-autobiographical. This story introduces the possibility of a missing manuscript, a memoir of her personal life, her unhappy marriage, and the exploits of her at-times notorious family.

The story of the present is that of a struggling author facing a crisis about her own abilities who runs away to find comfort in her friend's home in London. Her friend Jojo directs her to the bookstore where Nancy Mitford worked during the war years and where a man named Simon has his own reasons for Nancy Mitford's past. Past and present come together at the Heywood Hill Bookshop in Mayfair.

The book alternates chapters between past and present. Parallels can be drawn between the two authors struggling to write, facing financial difficulty, finding a friend to support them, and finding love outside of a long-term relationship - a marriage in Nancy's case and a lifetime together in Katie's. That being said, I find very little actual parallel between the two timelines. I could have separated the two and read the chapters related to each independently. Other than the fact that Katie is somewhat researching Nancy, the two stories do not really connect. Even the reveal of the bookseller's secret at the end has no real impact on either story.

This book does effectively accomplish what I love about historical fiction. It introduces me to a historical figure I am not familiar with. It introduces me to another facet of World War II history. In this case, it introduces me to the fascinating Mitford family; I think that connection may be more Nancy Mitford's claim to fame rather than her written works. It sends me on a search to read some of the actual history.

About the Book

From New York Times bestselling author Michelle Gable comes a dual-narrative set at the famed Heywood Hill Bookshop in London about a struggling American writer on the hunt for a rumored lost manuscript written by the iconic Nancy Mitford—bookseller, spy, author, and aristocrat—during World War II.

In 1942, London, Nancy Mitford is worried about more than air raids and German spies. Still recovering from a devastating loss, the once sparkling Bright Young Thing is estranged from her husband, her allowance has been cut, and she’s given up her writing career. On top of this, her five beautiful but infamous sisters continue making headlines with their controversial politics.

Eager for distraction and desperate for income, Nancy jumps at the chance to manage the Heywood Hill bookshop while the owner is away at war. Between the shop’s brisk business and the literary salons she hosts for her eccentric friends, Nancy’s life seems on the upswing. But when a mysterious French officer insists that she has a story to tell, Nancy must decide if picking up the pen again and revealing all is worth the price she might be forced to pay.

Eighty years later, Heywood Hill is abuzz with the hunt for a lost wartime manuscript written by Nancy Mitford. For one woman desperately in need of a change, the search will reveal not only a new side to Nancy, but an even more surprising link between the past and present…

About the Author

MICHELLE GABLE is the New York Times bestselling author of A Paris Apartment, I'll See You in Paris, The Book of Summer, and The Summer I Met Jack. She attended The College of William & Mary, where she majored in accounting, and spent twenty years working in finance before becoming a full-time writer. She grew up in San Diego and lives in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, California, with her husband and two daughters. Find her at michellegable.com or on Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest, @MGableWriter.

Q&A with Michelle Gable

Q: What's the "story behind the story" for The Bookseller’s Secret? Why did you decide to write this book?
A: I’ve been a longtime fan of Nancy Mitford’s work and became obsessed with the entire Mitford clan after reading The Sisters by Mary S. Lovell, about twenty years ago. In short, Nancy was one of six beautiful sisters with very distinct (and controversial!) personas: Nancy the novelist, Pamela the countrywoman, Diana the Fascist (and “most hated woman in England”), Unity the Hitler confidante, Jessica the Communist, and Deborah the Duchess. Writing something about this crew has been in the back of my mind since long before I was published and when tossing around ideas, my agent brought up Nancy’s time at the Heywood Hill bookshop during the Blitz. I love London, and any novel set in a bookstore, as well as new takes on the World War II genre, so I was game.

As for the modern storyline, though Katie’s life is vastly different from mine, let’s just say we share some of the same writerly angst!

Q: What message do you hope readers take from the story?
A: I never write with a message in mind, I just hope something about the story sticks with readers, whether it’s a character, some piece of history learned, or a new way of looking at a situation. I’m shocked how few Americans know about Nancy Mitford (even fellow writers) so I do hope readers walk away with an appreciation for her brilliance (and humor!).

Q: Do you have any specific writing rituals (favorite shirt, pen, drink, etc)?
A: I don’t! Sometimes I handwrite, sometimes I write on a computer. Sometimes I have coffee, or water, or Diet Coke. Usually I work in my home office but have been known to write during my daughters’ softball games. I started this book in February 2020 so most of it was written when EVERYONE was home on lockdown. One of my daughters took over my office so I spent a lot of time writing in my bedroom, with the dog curled up next to me. This is when I learned my husband uses binders for work (click-click-click).

One “habit” that is consistent is that I always stop in the middle of something that is going well so it’s easier to pick up the next day. Few things are more daunting than staring at a blank page!

Q: Which character do you relate to the most?
A: I relate to Katie’s writerly angst, but I really connected to Nancy Mitford’s writing style. I’d like to think we have similar senses of humor but that is giving myself a lot of credit!

Q: What can you tell us about your next project?
A: Though I vowed no more WWII novels, I couldn’t help myself! This one takes place in Rome, near the end of the war, and centers on women who created propaganda to feed to the Germans, the goal to lower morale. It’s an exploration of how misinformation not only affects those receiving it, but those creating it.

Q: What do you think drives authors to continue to find stories to tell set around WWII?
A: I think because there are endless stories to tell! It involves most every country, even so called “neutral” countries, and people from literally every walk of life. Brave and scared. Rich and poor. Powerful and powerless. Obedient and rebellious. Every combination of the human experience!

Q: How are you hoping readers will relate to this story?
A: I don’t have any specific hopes, just that they do! And, of course, I want everyone to gain a new appreciation for Nancy Mtiford.

Q: What’s something that you connected with personally as you researched and wrote this story?
A: While she was working at Heywood Hill, Nancy was struggling with ideas for her fifth book just as I had been with my fifth book when my agent suggested writing about her! Also, her husband and mine look exactly alike which is a little creepy. You don’t see a lot of tall, blonde, adult men. And Nancy Mitford died exactly one year to the day before I was born, which also felt like it meant something.
Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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