Published: September 2nd, 2021
Publisher: Bonnier Zaffre
Genre: Romance Novel, Contemporary Romance, Humorous Fiction
Format: Hardcover, Kindle, Audio
Happy Publication Day to this spectacular debut. I’m thrilled to be sharing my review for The Last Library on its special day. Thank you Bonnie Zaffre for the invitation to take part and the gorgeous personalised proof copy.
*This book is known as The Last Chance Library in the US
You can tell a lot about a person from the library books they borrow
Library assistant June knows a lot about the regulars at Chalcot Library, yet they know very little about her. When her mum – the beloved local librarian – passed away eight years ago, June stepped into her shoes. But despite their shared love of books, shy June has never felt she can live up to the village’s memory of her mum. Instead, she’s retreated into herself and her memories, surviving on Chinese takeaways-for-one and rereading their favourite books at home.
When the library is threatened with closure, a ragtag band of eccentric locals establish the Friends of Chalcot Library campaign. There’s gentlemanly pensioner Stanley, who visits the library for the computers and the crosswords, cantankerous Mrs B, who is yet to find a book she approves of, and teenager Chantal, who just wants a quiet place to study away from home. But can they compel reclusive June to join their cause?
If June wants to save the library, she finally has to make some changes to her life: opening up her heart to friendship, opportunities and maybe even more . . .
“Libraries are boats
And the books are life jackets.
Without them we’ll drown.”
The Last Library is a truly special book. A bibliophile’s dream and a hug in book form, it has secured a place in my favourite books of all time. Nostalgic, tender and witty, it is a love letter to libraries, literature and community. And when I finally closed it after reading the last sentence I did so with a big smile on my face and a warm glow inside despite feeling sad to say goodbye to the wonderful characters that I’d taken into my heart.
The story follows a varied bunch of characters as they fight to save their beloved library from closure. It is an impassioned fight. They face an uphill battle, many bumps in the road, and the council attempts to thwart them at every step, but they refuse to give up, proving themselves a stronger adversary than many expected.
“As a child she used to believe that each book had its own smell, specific to its story, and the smell of a library was the combined smell of thousands of different tales.”
This glorious debut begins with a letter from the author talking about her love for libraries and what inspired her to write this story. I thought this was a great way to open the book as it immediately establishes that a library is so much more than a room full of books; it is a solace, a refuge, and a place of community. It also sparked memories of the many happy hours I’ve spent in libraries over the years in my own reading journey, and those spent with my son as a baby, toddler and child, creating an atmosphere of nostalgia that carries through right until the last page.
“Every inch of this room was steeped with memories, her mum’s DNA woven into the story rug and well-thumbed books. If the library was lost, June’s mum would be lost again too; and that was something June could never let happen.”
It is impossible not to take these quirky, funny and endearing characters into your heart. Librarian June is a lifelong bookworm. Her whole world is the library. She took over her role after her mother’s death eight years ago and, for her, the walls are filled with not only cherished memories, but her mother’s spirit. The idea of losing that is unimaginable to June. I liked June immediately; how she imagines lives for people and the way she finds solace in books. But I also felt sad for her. She lives a very lonely life, and one of the best parts of the book for me was watching this shy, socially awkward young woman slowly blossom and develop friendships outside of the pages of her books.
We get to know the others through June’s eyes, slowly discovering their secret lives, backstories and personalities as she does. They are an eclectic cast of characters who you’d never usually put together, but they are bonded by their shared love and need for the library. Each of them is wonderfully written, the author creating a rapport between them and the reader, and I’ll admit to having favourites. I loved the friendship between Stanley and June and had a real soft spot for his character. But the author was skilled at giving even the most spiky or ‘unlikeable’ characters a warmth that drew me to them, making it impossible not to love every one of them.
“Libraries are like a net, there to catch those of us in danger of falling through the cracks. That’s what we’re really fighting to protect.”
The Last Library is everything a book lover could want and more. It is a celebration of books and the power of stories, but also a story about community, kindness, friendship, loss and courage. A journey of self-discovery. One of the biggest aspects of the story is how libraries are so much more to a town or village than a room full of books and the author highlights the many ways they are there to help. It made my heart ache thinking of the closures we see in libraries today, especially as they were such a big part of my own childhood and that of my son. It made me determined to start using my local library again so that I can do my part to ensure they are still around for future generations.
Charming, uplifting and hopeful, this is a book that will stay with me forever. One you don’t want to miss. I urge you to read it as soon as possible.
MEET THE AUTHOR:
Freya Sampson works in TV as an executive producer. Her credits include two documentary series for the BBC about the British Royal Family, and a number of factual and entertainment series.
She studied History at Cambridge University and in 2018 was shortlisted for the Exeter Novel Prize.
She lives in London with her husband, two young children and an antisocial cat. The Last Library is her debut novel.
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Please check out the review from the other bloggers taking part in this tour.
Thanks for reading Bibliophiles😊 Emma xxx