With Love from London by Sarah Jio
Published by Ballantine Books
Publication date: February 8, 2022
Genres: Fiction, Chick Lit
It’s a fact that I’m almost always going to read books about books even if they don’t always work out. Thankfully, that wasn’t a problem with the novel With Love From London. Set in London (yes!), a former librarian who loves rare books (yes, again!), inherits a book store (OK, now you’re killing me), and the apartment above it (STOP IT). Seriously, a bookstore and apartment in London pretty much covers my bucket list. Anyway…
Valentina is living in Seattle, wrapping up a divorce from her cheating husband when she learns her estranged mother has passed away and she’s the sole beneficiary. She hasn’t seen or heard from Eloise since she was 12 and Eloise left America to return to London. From that point on they had no contact. This abandonment has never left her so she arrives in London with only one goal: sell the building, hopefully make enough money to move on with her life, and put her mother behind her.
Of course, that would make for a very short novel. Instead, Valentina arrives to find a charming building in a London neighborhood that oozes charm. She meets Millie, Eloise’s lifelong friend and Liza, her energetic younger tenant, all of whom act as if they know Valentina, sharing how much her mother talked about her and loved her. The incongruity of being surrounded by people with intimate memories of her stranger mother stirs something in Valentina that, combined with her love of books, makes her decide to keep the shop and move to London, if only to get answers.
After we’re apprised of Valentina’s current situation, the narrative in With Love From London shifts and goes back to the 1960s when Eloise was a young woman. The chapters split evenly between the two women filling in the many blanks left behind as Valentina also navigates her way through this second act in her life. She’s aided by a scavenger hunt Eloise has left for her. This kind of clever detail drew me in, but there were other aspects to the novel’s drama that were not laid out with such care.
This small issue aside, With Love From London was exactly the kind of light reading I needed. Sweet, but not saccharine. Just nudging up against it with a girly feel I enjoyed, but might be too much if you’re more of a tomboy reader. Sometimes books give me a very specific feeling as I’m reading them and in this case, the novel was like knitting. Satisfying, steady, with a need to pay attention but not think too hard, and all coming together perfectly in the end.
What makes books more special than, say, a movie, is that you can hold them. When your own world feels bleak, a book is a portal to anywhere. You can hide within the pages, linger there for comfort or protection.
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*I received a free copy of this book from Ballantine Books in exchange for an honest review.*