Cover Image: The Library Thief

The Library Thief

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

The Library Thief was a thoroughly entertaining historical mystery. I was drawn into the dark, twisty world of Florence, a female bookbinder, who undertakes a commission for Lord Belfield, and as a result her life takes an unexpected turn. This is a page turner, covering historic attitudes to sexuality and race in an intelligent, thoughtful manner. The storyline was a little convoluted at times, but the characters were well drawn and th historical period felt authentic.

Was this review helpful?

I always get excited when I see a book with a book related title, add in the gorgeous cover and I was hooked. I was intrigued from the start and couldn't wait to find out more about the secrets within Rose Hall. Wesley was my favourite character, I loved the friendships he forged and the secrets he kept, he was the most fascinating character. Unfortunately I did struggle with this book in places and felt there was a lot of unanswered questions. It was an easy listen but necessarily a memorable one.

Was this review helpful?

https://lynns-books.com/2024/04/16/the-library-thief-by-kuchenga-shenje/
3 of 5 stars
My Five Word TL: DR Review: I think I misled myself

Before I start this review I must confess that I misled myself a little with this particular novel. I do have a way of sometimes not reading the description as thoroughly as I should and in this instance I was expecting a gothic mystery. In actual fact there is so much more going on in this story and whilst I appreciate what the author wanted to deliver, it simply wasn’t what I expected and so I did struggle a little. Like I said though, that’s on me for not properly checking out what the book was about in the first place.

As it is the story gets off to a good start. A young woman turns up at a mansion uninvited and asks to see the master of the house. Florence is the daughter of a bookbinder, her father has thrown her out following a scandal of some description and the only hope she has is that Lord Francis Belfield will employ her to restore his rare book collection. After a few tense confessions Florence is taken on and given a room and a three month time allocation to get the library collection into a fit condition to sell. Lord Belfield’s wife recently passed away in what can only be considered as unusual circumstances. On top of this tragedy his personal finances are in disarray and he needs to raise funds somehow.

What I liked about this story. The writing was easy to get along with, I have no idea how historically correct it is but I enjoyed it, the scene setting was well executed and atmospheric. There was an air of sadness about the place, also one of slight neglect there now being very few staff left to manage the estate which immediately generates an easy going friendship between Florence and the butler/footman/odd job person.

The cast of characters was relatively small and almost what you would expect from a gothic mystery. The master of the house has an air of sadness that doesn’t prevent him from sometimes being rather high handed. His brother is a truly awful, over privileged character who I loathed. The cook is grumpy and not easily befriended. The footman is easy going, a little gullible and loves to gossip. Now, unfortunately I did not always find Florence easy to like and this definitely made the read a little more difficult for me. I’m not sure I can really put my finger on why Florence didn’t win me over. She had some winning characteristics, she was creative, clever and definitely a capable and forward thinking woman but she puzzled me. For example, with very little to go on she immediately decides the late mistress was murdered (why?) and begins to look at all the inhabitants as potential suspects. It just felt a bit flimsy at this point with little to back up any real theories, she was also on thin ice in terms of her employment and so the notion of snooping around an unknown house in the early hours of the morning reading personal correspondence, etc, just felt a bit reckless. Plus, if there was anything of real substance to be found in such correspondence then surely it wouldn’t have been left lying around in the first place?

Anyway, regardless of these little misgivings I was enjoying the story and was keen to find out what was going on at Rose Hall. However, I did find myself losing interest as the story progressed and in fact I was tempted to stop reading. The plot became a bit too convoluted and the mystery elements got overtaken by so many other events. However, I will say that I’m glad I continued reading. I wanted answers and they were definitely delivered. At the end of the day I think this is a case of my own expectations having gone off in the wrong direction this simply wasn’t the read I was expecting or hoping for at that particular time but I would love to see what this author comes up with next.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks. The above is my own opinion.

Was this review helpful?

Painfully anachronistic. Felt like the author knew nothing about Victorian England. Characters made strange and unrealistic choices - e.g. almost as soon as our heroine arrives at Rose Hall the gay footman invites himself to her bedroom to brush her hair every night. Sexual assault also plays a major role in this novel. Cannot believe this has been compared to the excellent Fingersmith. Save your time and money and skip this one!

Was this review helpful?

It’s the story of Florence who is trying to outrun a scandal and intercepts her father’s commission as a bookbinder at Rose Hall, restoring a collection of rare books for a widower, Lord Francis Belfield
One night the library is broken into and Florence discovers a half burnt book in the fireplace, it’s the secret diary of her employer’s late wife, who had died and the diary my hold the clue to her fate.
A stunning, atmospheric historical debut novel, spellbinding and thrilling keeps you guessing throughout.
A gothic mystery with undertones of Rebecca - a single penniless woman, a job in a huge creepy mansion and a distant gruff Lord of the manor.
It’s also a strong story of race, women’s rights and the struggle of women in this era.
I found it interesting learning about bookbinding and about black Britons in Victorian times.
Thanks @kuchengoeng @littlebrown & @netgalley for the fascinating read

Was this review helpful?

4.5 stars
This was an engaging story, it took me a little while to get into it but once I did, it was difficult to out down. The are quite a number of different topics that are explored including racism and homosexuality to name two. Florence Granger was an intelligent woman but she also needed to find out more about her background. She hadn’t experienced a loving relationship with her father. There are a number of interesting secondary characters, including Wesley, the footman. This was definitely a different story with a number of twists and surprises throughout. I received a copy and have voluntarily reviewed it. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Was this review helpful?

The premise of this historical debut novel was good and it had a good mystery element to it, but unfortunately for me it was just a bit too clogged up trying to cover too many issues, some being racism, women’s suffrage, rape, feminism and gender identity, all in one book. These issues need to be brought to the forefront but I felt it was just too many to cover. However, the characters were diverse and you couldn’t help rooting for Florence. The pace is quite slow and sometimes repetitive but the ending was fast paced and enjoyable. I would be interested to read more from this author. Thank you to NetGalley and Little, Brown Book Group UK, Sphere for letting me read and review this book.

Was this review helpful?

The Library Thief by Kuchenga Shenje

Florence Granger is forced to leave her home in Victorian Manchester after her Father disowns. As a trained bookbinder she travels to the Lake District to restore the book collection of Lord Belfield. However, the safety and security she is seeking is severely compromised by the inhabitants of the stately home and the secrets of the past.

Not sure what to make of this one... On the one hand I liked the main story and the mystery behind the death of Lady Belfield, and I liked the range of issues that the author brought into the book. But, on the other hand, that was also the downfall of the book for me - too many things, some of them interesting, some of then gratuitous, distracting from the main plot and affecting the pace. Nevertheless, an interesting historical novel, dealing with very worthwhile and important issues.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for an ARC of this book.

Was this review helpful?

A gothic tale of deception, intrigue, amorality and bookbinding combines in this debut from Kuchenga Shenjé. The Library Thief introduces us to Florence Granger who needs to escape from her bookbinder father and in so doing travels to Rose Hall in the Lake District to undertake a commission, granted to her father, to repair a vast collection of valuable books in Lord Bellfield’s library. Lord Bellfield’s wife Persephone died in rather mysterious circumstances and the household is much depleted. Florence sets out to not only repair the books but to delve into Persephone’s death. She uncovers many more household secrets while becoming a target for Lord Bellfield’s unscrupulous brother. This is a well paced read with good characterisation and provides a fascinating insight into bookbinding which I enjoyed as much as the plot as it unfolded. Thanks to NetGalley and Sphere Books for the eARC.

Was this review helpful?

I love a good historic mystery so this book appealed to me for that reason. However despite the many twists and turns, especially towards the end it was very slow in parts and dragged a bit for me. The writing is excellent with very atmospheric descriptions but the plot seemed to drag and become overly complicated. There is a diverse set of characters, each with their own stories developing through the book, some very likeable, others not so likeable. An interesting first book. I received an advance review copy for free, and I am leaving this review voluntarily.

Was this review helpful?

The Library Thief by Kuchenga Shenjé is a work of historical fiction with a unique perspective and an impressive debut novel.
When Florence is thrown out of her home by her father she desperately hatches a scheme to use the skills she learned as her father's apprentice in his bookbinding and restoring business to find a place to stay. She cons her way into the remote Rose Hall by pretending her father sent her in his place as he was unwell. She is immediately impressed by a library filled with rare treasures but soon finds herself caught up in a web of secrets, everyone in the place seems to have something to hide, and the biggest mystery of all is what happened to Lord Francis Belfield's wife who died in a suspicious drowning accident. When Florence finds her diary in the library it seems like the mystery could finally be solved, but before she can delve too deeply into the book a mysterious intruder tries to burn it.
This is a book with layers upon layers of secrets that need to be unravelled for the story to be revealed and some are so well hidden that the reader may figure them out before the characters do. I found the central character of Florence to be complex and morally grey in a most interesting way but I think that some readers will find her divisive. Also the book does have some very dark moments so I would advise that readers may want to check the trigger warnings before reading.
I read and reviewed an ARC courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher, all opinions are my own.

Was this review helpful?

Thank you NetGalley and Little, Brown Book Group UK | Sphere for this eCopy to review


The Library Thief is a historical novel following Florence after she was kicked out of her father's home trying to make a living as a book binder. Her first job for Lord Belfield leads to her investigating how his wide died. I felt the novel was very slow in places, with too many themes included (race, class, LBGTQIA, feminism, slavery, mother figure). If it was meant to be a gothic novel it fell a long way short of the genre as there was no fear or suspense just a mystery.

Was this review helpful?

I’ve read a number of Gothic-tinged historical novel debuts over the last few years. Titles that spring to mind are “The Beholders” by Hester Musson (2024), “The Animals Of Lockwood Manor”- Jane Healey (2020), “The Confessions Of Frannie Langton” – Sara Collins (2019), “Theatre Of Marvels” – Lianne Dilsworth (2022) and my favourite of all “The Wicked Cometh” by Laura Carlin (2018). These books appeal to me as a reader. I like the darkness which gradually reveals itself from beneath a thin veneer of respectability. They often have a nod towards the work of The Brontes, Daphne Du Maurier and/or Sarah Waters and some of these have been strong in depicting characters who would have had to operate on the fringes of society who find themselves plunged into disturbing situations. This can mean characters offering a Black British and/or LGBTQ+ experience.
These factors are present in Kuchenga Shenjé’s debut. It doesn’t feel quite as embedded in the history of the times as some of the above but we do have outsiders placed in an atmosphere which becomes increasingly twisted. This is an effective and satisfying mystery novel. Rose Hall, a large house in the Lake District sounds respectable enough and it is the place main character Florence Granger chooses to provide a temporary place of escape. Her father is a bookbinder and she has absorbed enough of his skills to repair the book collection in Lord Belfield’s library. Belfield’s wife Persephone died in mysterious circumstances and the grieving Lord has reduced his staff to just a cook and a manservant. Florence joins them for a temporary live-in assignment to prepare the books for sale, but what are the secrets the houses, the staff and the Belfield family are hiding?
Good characterisation, good pace with things that we’ve encountered in those other Gothic debuts alongside fresh perspectives which makes this a very readable debut for which there should be an appreciative audience. I actually really enjoyed the details of the bookbinding work before the delicate twists of the plot start to be revealed.
“The Library Thief” is published on 9th April 2024 by Sphere Books. Many thanks to the publishers and Netgalley for the advance review copy.

Was this review helpful?

With thanks to NetGalley, the author and the publisher for an arc of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

I’m afraid that this one was really not for me. I love a gothic novel, I love a mystery and I’m quite happy to read about racial, sexual or gender politics but not all in the same book.

This couldn’t make its mind up what it was saying or what it was about and managed to be both woke and worryingly stereotypical at the same time. Why was there an insistence that the heroine had made herself available to all sorts of men from quite a young age in her back story. It seemed to pander to all the racist stereotypes that used to be bandied around about black people and sexuality and actually detracted from the plot.

If anyone was surprised by some of the key plot points it can only be because they’d skipped ahead too much as they were very well signposted.

Was this review helpful?

With thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for an advance review copy.

Well - with novels by new authors you win some, you lose some, and this one was definitely in the 'lose some' category. I requested this title because of the comparison with Bridget Collins' The Binding and because it was billed as a gothic mystery with nods to the story of Rochester's wife in Jane Eyre - all very promising. In reality, it is pretty dreadful I'm afraid.

First of all, there are far too many woke agenda items crammed into the book - race relations, gender identity, feminism and female emancipation, women's suffrage, rape and sexual politics, the legacy of slavery, imperialism. The net result is that the treatment of all these themes is superficial in the extreme.

The quality of the writing is poor too. The plot drags, and there is far too much telling not showing, with lots of repetitive plot summaries to bring us back periodically from whatever political tangent we were on in the previous chapter and vainly try to re-establish a sense of mystery. But worst of all is the historical and lexical sloppiness - the language constantly feels anachronistic and there are a number of uses of words which didn't enter the language until quite a bit later than the late 1890s, when the story is set. 'Loo' wasn’t introduced till the 1940s, 'cross-dressing' not till 1911, 'transvestite' not till 1910. 'OK' was in use in the mid-19th century but was mainly American.

This novel needed a great deal more editing than it's had, and someone should have advised the author that she is still young and there is time to explore some of her pet themes in future works. As it stands, it's uncontrolled, poorly researched and frankly, quite boring. I'm not even sure why I bothered to finish it and certainly wouldn't recommend that anybody else does.

Was this review helpful?

1896, Florence, brought home as a baby from Jamaica, travels to Rose Hall as a bookbinder. There to restore a collection of rare books. Lord Belfield, a recent widow, is there to greet her but soon she finds whispers and secrets about the family and that of his late wife.

I don’t usually read many historical novels but I found the storyline intriguing and enjoy books about books. We encounter a large cast of eccentric, compelling characters, which are well written. The book explores a lot of social and political issues in the Victorian era and is done in an interesting way, making the reader more aware of these darker times.

For me, the book seemed to dip in and out of pace and at times was fairly slow going. Saying that, I appreciate what the author was trying to communicate and I found this was a well written debut. Good for those who like slow burn historical novels, filled with secrets and explorations of sexuality, race and gender. Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for this copy in return for an honest review.

Was this review helpful?

This was an interesting book with a lot of promise. I enjoyed the writing style however the story and characters were both a bit underdeveloped - the ending seemed rushed which was a shame. In a way maybe there were too many societal issues the author was trying to reference which therefore confused things a bit. I did enjoy however and would try another book from this author.

Was this review helpful?

A beautifully created story with a very deep under belly to its story in relation to Britains part in slavery and colonisation of their descendants in Victorian society.
It also deals in great depth about women’s place in society at that time and how with little rights they were manipulated by men.
A brilliant read that is very thought provoking

Was this review helpful?

Florence is a strong and feisty young lady who runs away from her father to Rose Hall to undertake the only work she has ever known and loved, bookbinding, but she soon realises that not all is as it seems as she gradually finds that she may have run away from one scandal headfirst into another as she starts questioning whether there was maybe more to the death of the previous Lady of Rose Hall. Florence soon finds herself fully immersed in life at the hall but will she find the answer to all her questions and will she manage to escape… This is an historical novel about the darker hidden side of Victorian life. The side where women have no rights, and where women of colour have no place in society. This book brilliantly and vividly portrays how life was during this era and as all good historical novels should brings the time period to life.

Was this review helpful?

A gothic inspired novel following Florence a young bookbinder who has arrived at Rose Hall to repair Lord Mayfield's extensive library. She fi ds it a mysterious place, with people acting oddly after the death of the late Lady Persephone. When the library is broken into and she finds the diary of Lady P half burned, she becomes intrigued be the house residents and looks for answers.

I found the book hard to get into at first. I couldn't quite put my finger on what the book wanted to be. Is it historical fiction? Is it a murder mystery? Turns out it's both. I thought I was going to DNF it about 20% in. I found some quite predictable and I wanted it to move on quicker. I did continue and it picked up pace and the predictability became comfortable.

It seems to be a well researched book and packed full of social issues of the time, including womens rights, black culture/history and LGBTQ people. This is the kind of thing I love, which is why I continued reading.

Was this review helpful?