It took three statues to plant doubt in my mind. ~ Opening of The Banned Bookshop of Maggie Banks
Sourcebooks Landmark, 2022
I, Maggie Banks, solemnly swear to uphold the rules of Cobblestone Books.
If only, I, Maggie Banks, believed in following the rules.
When Maggie Banks arrives in Bell River to run her best friend's struggling bookstore, she expects to sell bestsellers to her small-town clientele. But running a bookstore in a town with a famously bookish history isn't easy. Bell River's literary society insists on keeping the bookstore stuck in the past, and Maggie is banned from selling anything written this century. So, when a series of mishaps suddenly tip the bookstore toward ruin, Maggie will have to get creative to keep the shop afloat.
And in Maggie's world, book rules are made to be broken.
To help save the store, Maggie starts an underground book club, running a series of events celebrating the books readers actually love. But keeping the club quiet, selling forbidden books, and dodging the literary society is nearly impossible. Especially when Maggie unearths a town secret that could upend everything.
Maggie will have to decide what's more important: the books that formed a small town's history, or the stories poised to change it all. [Goodreads Summary]
The Banned Bookshop of Maggie Banks was December's TBR List Poll Winner and it was the perfect fit! Maggie Banks feels like she has no real direction in life. She flits from job to job and is not sure what it is exactly she wants to do or where she belongs. When the opportunity arises to help her friend out in her bookstore, Maggie does not hesitate. She's always admired her friend, Rochelle, and Rochelle's knowing just what she wants to do with her life. Perhaps this time at Cobblestone Books will give Maggie the time and incentive to discover just what it is she wants to do with her own life.
Bell River seems like a nice small town. The residents are friendly and supportive. At least for the most part. The Bell River Society seems to cast a shadow on a lot of people and businesses, unfortunately, with its strict rules. Over a century ago, well-known author Edward Bell had written his most famous book at the town bookstore and his legacy lives on. The director of the society, a descendant of Edward Bell himself, has set his sights on tourism bringing life and money to the town, only it has not quite worked out that way. Still, he's determined to continue the Bell legacy.
I pictured Maggie as a breath of fresh air to the town. Someone new and energetic, full of life and ideas--none of which are welcomed by the society. I really liked Maggie and her out of the box thinking. As her friend Rochelle points out more than once, Maggie has a gift of drawing people to her, and she certainly does that in this novel. Maggie actually was not much of a reader before she came to the small town of Bell River. Oh, she reads the Edward Bell books she's told she has to read to run the bookstore, but she does not become a fan. It isn't until a local romance author comes into the store that Maggie's interest in reading is piqued.
"[...] if the books I liked had been assigned in school, I might have actually got into reading. Being forced to read Hamlet and The Great Gatsby and having to analyze everything to death made me hate the concept of literature. Finding meaning in an eyeball and then patting yourself on the back just didn't make sense to me." [excerpt from 27%]
When it looks like the bookstore is doomed, Maggie decides she must do something to help keep her friend's business afloat. Maggie is extremely creative and I loved her idea of the underground book club and hosting events in which an author shares a twist on a favorite or reviled classic in a different genre. These types of events aren't just fictional, as the author points out, having gotten her inspiration from a real life bookstore's monthly literary erotic fanfiction parody event she once attended (Shipwreck at the Booksmith). I also appreciated that Maggie went behind the society's back and sold books the community wanted as opposed to just those books written over a century ago. She saw a demand and offered to supply it--what clearer way to make money? There were several times throughout the book that I found myself holding my breath, worried Maggie would get caught. So much suspense! I wanted so much for her to succeed in her endeavors.
There is a slow burn romantic element that runs throughout the novel that I think was probably this book's weakest thread. Even so, I enjoyed seeing the varying layers of Malcolm, Ralph Bell's loyal assistant, come off as the novel progressed, in particular the little game Maggie and Malcolm played with each other, getting each other to step outside their comfort zones.
I am big on endings matching the type of book being written and Shauna Robinson did not disappoint. While not a surprise perhaps, it was very satisfactory and left a big smile on my face. The mysterious secret was well played. The Banned Bookshop of Maggie Banks was funny and at times heartbreaking. I loved all the characters from Maggie, Vernon, Malcolm, Rochelle to all the other characters. Okay, so maybe not Ralph. He was a stick in the mud. I had hard time putting this book down and am eager to read more by Shauna Robinson.