Heartwarming without the cheese

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review.

In this great big scary, f*cked up world, it’s been difficult to find books that strike the right balance. I want something hopeful but not saccharine. Sometimes I want my book to say something, other times I want it to be light hearted and fun.

music shop

The Music Shop, the new book from Rachel Joyce, is a nice light hearted hopeful book that won’t choke you with sweetness.

It’s 1988 and Frank owns a music shop. He only sells vinyl, despite pressure from suppliers to begin stocking CDs, and he will sell you the music that you need, not necessarily what you think you want. He has a special knack for reading people, for seeing the things that they would rather hide, and in his quiet way he’s able to show them that he sees all of them.

But then Ilse Brauchmann walks into his life and he’s completely discombobulated. He just can’t get a read on this quiet woman with the green coat, the dark curls and the intense eyes. When he looks at her he only hears silence. She asks him if he will please teach her about music, the way he sees it and so they begin to meet once a week.

Frank’s record shop is one on a street of mom and pop type businesses. But these businesses have started to close and a development company has been buying up the properties. Frank and his colleagues on the street, Father Anthony with the gift shop, Maud from the tattoo shop, the Williams’ brothers from the Undertakers, all have their livelihood threatened by “progress.”

I wasn’t completely sure where I was going to fall with this book. I was charmed by it early on but I worried that there wouldn’t be enough substance to get me through to the end.

Oh but there was! By the end of this book, I had completely teared up and my heart was soaring. The Music Shop is a lovely book about community and music and love and sticking to your guns. In choosing to set her story in 1988, Joyce has simplified the lives of her characters (in terms of technology) which is one of the only ways I think that this story could have worked. Had it been set in 2017, it wouldn’t have been believable.

And while it’s not unusual to see books that are love letters to reading, I can’t recall ever reading one that was so in love with music. The way Joyce writes about music will have you running to iTunes or even an old record shop to find something that moves you.

Joyce has once again crafted a little story with a big heart but without the cheese. I completely recommend this to those with a bruised heart, or those looking for a sweet escape this holiday season.


Finding the Answers: The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House Canada in exchange for an honest review.

A year or so ago, my book club picked The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. It was a heartwarming story, one that was hopeful and sad and frustrating and sweet and honest and ultimately left me with some questions. You see, once Harold Fry gets to where he’s going, there are no answers to be found.

I like answers when I read.

So when I saw that there was a companion book to Harold Fry, I was initially sceptical about reading it. Did I want to read this? Did I want to go back down this road only to find that I had more questions? I’m also usually really hesitant to read books about illness and death that way. Unexpected death? Cruel ones even? I’m down. A slow, wasting illness? No thanks.

But ultimately, the pull of a possibility of answers was too great and I dove into The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy.

I am so glad that I did.


The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy starts with Queenie moving to a palliative care home in the final stages of her illness. She has sent Harold a letter to tell him that she’s dying. And then she hears that he’s coming to her. She only has to wait for him to walk to her and she will get to see him again. But she’s worried about seeing him because she never told him the whole truth about herself. She doesn’t want to see him until she can unburden herself. A volunteer at the hospice suggests that she writes to Harold, that she tell him the whole story.

So she does. We find out more about Queenie: how she came to find herself living in Knightsbridge and working with Harold; how she protected his job and how she found herself falling in love with him. She also became friends with Harold’s son and this is the part that she’s been hiding from Harold, that she’s dreading telling him about. Because of what happened.

And while she looks back with the help of a nun with a French name, she’s also coming to terms with the end of her life. Surrounded by a group of original characters in the same boat, Queenie learns to live in the moment and let herself experience these last weeks.

I think that I liked this book more than the original. It was easier to like Queenie and her story held more interest for me because it did provide some of the answers that Harold just never had. It allowed for a complete story. That said, I don’t think that this book will pack the same punch if you haven’t already read The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.

You know that I’m a sucker for endings and this ending was wonderful. Heartbreaking and surprising and perfect.