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The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce
Contemporary fiction

The Music Shop

by Rachel Joyce

Quick take

A harmonious (get it?) love story between an gifted music shop owner and an enigmatic customer.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Happy


  • Illustrated icon, Icon_80s


Why I love it

Kim Hubbard
People Magazine

What is it about music "whether it’s the soaring majesty of a Beethoven symphony or James Brown’s just-gotta-dance funk" that touches the human heart so deeply? How can artfully arranged notes cheer you up when you’re down, remind you we’re all connected, or break your heart? (And why, since there aren’t that many notes to choose from, hasn’t every possible song already been written? I’ve always wondered—but I digress.)

This charmer of a novel doesn’t exactly answer those questions, but if pondering them interests you, you’re going to love it. It’s the late 1980s, and Frank Adair, a youngish man who’s been damaged in ways that aren’t immediately made clear, owns a record shop on a rundown street in a British suburb. CDs are threatening to make vinyl obsolete, yet Frank refuses to sell anything but the latter. It would be a disastrous business plan if he didn’t have a singular talent: Whenever a customer walks in, Frank can "hear" exactly what music that person needs. A sad sack demanding only Chopin? Frank says he’ll groove to Aretha. ("Who?" asks the sad sack. But as it turns out, Frank’s right.)

But when a lovely woman named Ilse Brauchmann appears in the shop one day and promptly faints, Frank learns the limits of his gift—he "hears" nothing from Ilse at all. What follows is a love story wrapped in a mystery, in a rapidly changing neighborhood. Why is Ilse, who signs up for regular music lessons with Frank, so evasive about her past, and about the fiance who’s never in evidence? Will Frank lose her along with his shop, which, like the small businesses run by his quirky friends, is ever more threatened by gentrification?

As the story moves forward, flashbacks illuminate both Frank’s genius and the reason for his sorrows, and Ilse’s secrets are slowly revealed. You’ll root for these two wounded, wary souls and for music’s potential to heal them, and finish the book humming everything from Handel’s Hallelujah chorus to Nick Drake.

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It is 1988. On a dead-end street in a run-down suburb there is a music shop that stands small and brightly lit, jam-packed with records of every kind. Like a beacon, the shop attracts the lonely, the sleepless, and the adrift; Frank, the shop’s owner, has a way of connecting his customers with just the piece of music they need. Then, one day, into his shop comes a beautiful young woman, Ilse Brauchmann, who asks Frank to teach her about music. Terrified of real closeness, Frank feels compelled to turn and run, yet he is drawn to this strangely still, mysterious woman with eyes as black as vinyl. But Ilse is not what she seems, and Frank has old wounds that threaten to reopen, as well as a past it seems he will never leave behind. Can a man who is so in tune with other people’s needs be so incapable of connecting with the one person who might save him? The journey that these two quirky, wonderful characters make in order to overcome their emotional baggage speaks to the healing power of music'”and love'”in this poignant, ultimately joyful work of fiction.

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Member thoughts

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All (2346)
Love (936)
Like (1152)
Dislike (258)
2434 ratings
  • 38% Love
  • 47% Like
  • 11% Dislike
  • Post Falls , ID

    This is definitely a romance, though it’s not a typical one by any means. There is some mystery in this story but it is a beautiful love story with a very unique plot and style with a very moving end.

  • Endicott , NY

    Imaginative, witty, and addicting, THE MUSIC SHOP’s quirky (and borderline stereotypical) characters could only exist in a novel. But what a novel this is, one which plays out like your favorite song.

  • Springfield, PA

    The only time I cried reading a book. ‘Armistice Day I will keep. I don’t want to throw away any sacred things. What else is sacred? Oh, Romeo and Julie, for instance. And all music is’ K.V.

  • Lincoln Park, NJ

    Very enjoyable read. Loved the characters and the music lessons. Wanted to listen to every record mentioned in the book and am now searching for a player and tons of vinyl! I love Frank! I love vinyl!

  • Birmingham, AL

    This book hit all my sweet spots: quirky little romance set in the U.K., tons of wonderful music references both old and new but mostly old, and interesting flawed characters with mysteries to unfold.

  • Shoreview, MN

    The narrative style is quirky and sweet, which juxtaposes nicely to the heavy-at-times subject matter. It's hard not to fall in love with the characters; they all represent unique facets of ourselves

  • Camano Island, WA

    This is a truly beautiful book if you just want to read a cute and quirky romance. As someone whose obsessed with music/vinyl I also discovered that Frank is probably the man of my dreams. I loved it.

  • Las Vegas, NV

    This book took me back when I was a teenager and shopping the record stores. Each character came to life. I pictured them and felt their presents. I would read this book again. Beautiful story!!!!

  • Chicago, IL

    If you loved The Little Paris Bookshop, you will find equal delight in this novel. Wrapped around a decades-long love story, it shows us how music has the ability to unite and show us our best selves.

  • Phoenix, AZ

    What a beautiful surprise! Music lovers are sure to delight in this quirky charmer that will also play well to fans of Chocolat and High Fidelity who wondered what would happen if you combined the two

  • Atlantic City , NJ

    Frank and ilse are amazing together and everyone from maud to father Anthony are memorable in there own ways and kit trying to do everything right but turns out wrong reminds me of a certain someone .

  • Sterling Heights, MI

    I love the characters in this book - especially Frank. And I love how there is an appreciation for all types of music from punk to classical. I'm definitely going to check out the playlist on Spotify.

  • Lebanon, PA

    This book showcases what it is to EXPERIENCE music. To hear, see, feel and live it. Anyone who has an appreciation of music needs to read this book! I already miss the Unity Street gang! I ?? Frank!

  • Bothell , WA

    I'm a word person, but this book made me believe I could be a music person, and made me feel what that would be like while I lived in its pages. The characters are unique and special and I loved them.

  • Hudson, WI

    I'm a music teacher and so naturally this title sprang out at me. I found it to be a very fast read and absolutely adorable! Seeing the power of music come to life in these characters was beautiful!


    The characters were quirky, every one of them, which made them endearing. The setting of the story also was unique, a kind of dodgy part of town. The secrets of the main characters piqued my interest.

  • Missoula, MT

    This book is truly a hidden treasure. It is my new recommend to everyone. If you love subtle romance, music factoids, humor, humanity, hope, or need a wonderful story, this is the one. Happy reading.

  • Kings Park, NY

    What an extraordinary book. As a music lover this book spoke to me like few others have. I listened to the music as it unfolded in the book and it was a completely new experience. I highly recommend.

  • Franklin, WI

    With vivid descriptions, quirky characters, and musical insight, Joyce ties us to Frank and Ilse in ways that make us want to both hug and throttle them. The music rises, falls, swells... we all win.


    It was a lovely book filled with 1980's pop culture references. I loved the socially awkward male protagonist - the writing totally allowed me to understand his point of view, his intimate feelings.

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