Thursday 11 April 2024

The Little Penguin Bookshop by Joanna Toye
Release Date: 11th April 2024
Publisher: Penguin
Genres: Family Saga / wartime / romance / Historical fiction

Books can change lives, even in wartime. . .

When World War II breaks out, Carrie Anderson sets up a bookstall at her local train station in the hope of providing a sense of escapism for travellers, troops and evacuees.

Driven by an entrepreneurial spirit and armed with a colourful array of Penguin paperbacks, Carrie’s business soon booms. And when she gifts a book to a dashing officer, an act of kindness becomes the beginning of Carrie’s very own love story.

But as war rages on, and Mike is posted abroad, Carrie’s world is turned upside-down.

With the help of her station community, and the power of her paperbacks, can Carrie find the strength to battle through?

Carrie and her twin brother Johnnie have just turned 18 years old and Britain is on the brink of war. Their once carefree existence is to be shattered by Hitler and his intentions on Europe. Suddenly thrown into adulthood sooner than expected, the pair must forge their own separate ways in this time of enormous hardship and sacrifice and do their bit for their country. 

Johnnie, who is absolutely mad about planes, joins the RAF and Carrie, desperate to help with the war effort, opens a book stall at the local railway station. People from all walks of life pass through the station and Carrie's interactions with them and the relationships she builds through a mutual love of books goes someway to easing the pain of war, transporting people away from the battlefields and worries about loved ones to worlds created within the pages of books. And it is through a love of books that Carrie meets a dashing young soldier, Mike, who just like the heroes in her romance novels, sweeps her off her feet. But the course of true love does not run smoothly for the couple as the war threatens their happiness.

I was drawn to this book because who doesn't love a novel about bookshops!? Plus, I am always intrigued by what life was like for those living through the war. The sacrifices made by so many people both at home and abroad. The day to day difficulties of living and the inventive and intriguing ways that people just made do. Carrie has such a lovely family and I really enjoyed how they all pulled together to support one another and the station community also.

The book has a lovely cast of characters, all of whom really develop and surprise along the way. There is a real sense of community, friendship and loyalty throughout the book which is just lovely and it really does portray the strength of women in particular, trying to hold it all together.  At the beginning of the novel I did think Carrie and Johnnie's relationship was a little immature and almost childish despite being 18 years old. But in hindsight I believe that the author was trying to paint a picture of how the siblings had to quickly mature and the differences in how they behaved and even how they spoke to one another developed as their experiences of living through a war changed them. I was a little irked by the constant reference to Johnnie being Carrie's twin, as I felt it unnecessary a lot of the time but other than that, a nice read for those lovers of wartime sagas or books with a strong familial bond with a lovely little love story thrown in. 

I can't even imagine how heart-breaking it must be to say goodbye to the love of your life or son, never knowing whether you'd ever see them again or not hearing from them for a very long time not knowing if they were alive or dead. Thinking about it makes my heart ache. Joanna Toye really conveyed the emotion of this very well. The ending has definitely left the book open for a sequel. I suspect Carrie's story isn't over yet.



After a career in radio and TV scriptwriting, Jo's first six saga novels feature a family-owned department store in Britain in the Second World War. With husbands, boyfriends and brothers away, three shop girl friends and their families pull together to battle the bombs as well as their own poignant personal dramas. Jo drew on her family's war experiences as well as memories of how shopping used to be. Staying with retail, The Little Penguin Bookshop is the first novel in a brand new series.

Twitter @joannatoye

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