Audiobook Review: The Bookshop on the Shore by Jenny Colgan

Title: The Bookshop on the Shore
Author: Jenny Colgan
Narrator: Eilidh Beaton
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication date: June 13, 2019
Print length: 416 pages
Audio length: 13 hours, 11 minutes
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Purchased


A grand baronial house on Loch Ness, a quirky small-town bookseller, and a single mom looking for a fresh start all come together in this witty and warm-hearted novel by New York Times bestselling author Jenny Colgan.

Desperate to escape London, single mother Zoe wants to build a new life for herself and her four-year-old son Hari. She can barely afford the crammed studio apartment on a busy street where shouting football fans keep them awake all night, and Hari’s dad, Jaz, a charismatic but perpetually broke DJ, is no help at all. But his sister, Surinder, comes to Zoe’s aid, hooking her up with a job as far away from the urban crush as possible: working at a bookshop on the banks of Loch Ness. And there’s a second job to cover housing: Zoe will be an au pair for three children at a genuine castle in the Scottish Highlands.

But while Scotland is everything Zoe dreamed of — clear skies, brisk fresh air, blessed quiet — everything else is a bit of a mess. The Urquart family castle is grand but crumbling, the children’s mother has abandoned the family, their father is a wreck, and the kids have been kicked ot of school and left to their own devices. Zoe has her work cut out for her and is determined to rise to the challenge, especially when she sees how happily Hari has taken to their new home.

With the help of Nina, the friendly local bookseller, Zoe begins to put down roots in the community. Are books, fresh air, and kindness enough to heal the Urquart family—and her own?

Love, love, love, love, love.

Jenny Colgan’s books have been reliable, sweet escapes for me, and I’ve loved so many of them — but The Bookshop on the Shore just may be my favorite yet!

Zoe is a lovely main character, who starts the book in an awful situation. She’s about to be evicted from her grotty little apartment, she works in a posh nursery that she can’t afford to send her precious boy to, she can’t find help for the fact that Hari seems to be mute by choice, and Hari’s dad is unreliable and offers no support whatsoever.

The opportunity to be an au pair in the Highlands, providing a roof over her head and a small income, and to run a mobile bookselling business during the owner’s maternity leave, is too good to pass up — and frankly, Zoe is completely out of options.

She and Hari pack up and head to the Highlands, where the dark, neglected manor is in disarray and the children are completely wild, snidely referring to Zoe as “Nanny Seven” when she shows up, since she’s likely to be just one more in a string of hopeless caregivers who the bratty kids manage to drive away.

But Zoe is determined and desperate, and simply refuses to fail. She and Hari settle in. Hari is immediately befriended by Patrick, the precocious 5-year-old of the family, although the older children, 9-year-old Mary and 12-year-old Shackleton, are much harder to win over.

Meanwhile, Zoe takes up the bookselling business when the owner Nina is unexpectedly forced into an early bed rest, and combines her love of books with her startlingly good business sense to develop an entirely new clientele — one that Nina might not entirely approve of, but hey, at least Zoe is making money!

The description may make this seem like pretty standard fare, but I promise, this book is something special! The Urquart children are troubled and troublesome, but with good reason, and their behavior isn’t sugar-coated or made cute. Mary especially has some serious issues to contend with, and it’s heartbreaking to see what she experiences.

Zoe does come off a bit like a magical Mary Poppins/Maria from The Sounds of Music combo — swooping in with her good sense and cheery disposition, steeling herself against hurtful comments and making the children eat healthy, go outdoors, clean up, and all sorts of other positive activities, entirely against their will. Still, behind the scenes, we see Zoe’s vulnerability, and this keeps her grounded as a character and keeps her from seeming too super-nanny-ish.

Gradually, the children warm up to Zoe, and her influence lets light and joy back into the lives of this sad family. Naturally, there’s a love story too, and it’s sweet without being saccharine, and feels well developed and well earned.

Zoe’s anxiety over Hari’s well-being feels very real and all too relatable. To her, her boy is perfect, but at the same time, he’s isolated himself from the world in a way that brings him all sorts of negative attention from well-meaning strangers. Seeing the boy becoming close with the adorable Patrick is just one of the pleasures of this novel.

The narration of the audiobook is delightful, keeping the story moving along crisply, giving personality to each of the characters and making them all distinct and vivid. If you can’t tell already, my favorite is little Patrick, whose use of the word “absolutely” in every sentence is just the cutest thing ever.

There’s real heart-ache in this book, and some moments that had me at the edge of my seat, but also a realistic look at the messy business of raising a family, dealing with children who aren’t perfect, and looking for small ways to make things better, even if just a bit at a time.

Just to put this book in context, it’s set in the same world as The Bookshop on the Corner, with some cross-over characters, but I wouldn’t call it a sequel, and it can absolutely (thanks, Patrick!) be read a stand-alone.

Jenny Colgan’s books tend to have certain elements in common — a lonely or sad main character needing a dramatic change, moving to a small, remote community, meeting lots of quirky characters, finding a place for herself, and falling in love. This is all true of The Bookshop on the Shore, but that doesn’t mean that it’s at all formulaic.

I loved the setting, the characters, the investment in the portrayals of the children, and the way Zoe, Hari, and the Urquarts all change one another’s lives for the better.

A bonus is how much all of these characters love to read! In this book as well as The Bookshop on the Corner, the characters talk about books all the time, and listening to the audiobook, I was often tempted to hit the pause button so I could write down the books mentioned. What a treat!

I’ll use Patrick’s favorite word one more time and say that I ABSOLUTELY recommend The Bookshop on the Shore!

Shelf Control #204: The Highland Witch by Susan Fletcher

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!


Title: The Highland Witch (original title: Corrag)
Author: Susan Fletcher
Published: 2010
Length: 368 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

The Massacre of Glencoe happened at 5am on 13th February 1692 when thirty-eight members of the Macdonald clan were killed by soldiers who had enjoyed the clan’s hospitality for the previous ten days. Many more died from exposure in the mountains. Fifty miles to the south Corrag is condemned for her involvement in the Massacre. She is imprisoned, accused of witchcraft and murder, and awaits her death. The era of witch-hunts is coming to an end – but Charles Leslie, an Irish propagandist and Jacobite, hears of the Massacre and, keen to publicise it, comes to the tollbooth to question her on the events of that night, and the weeks preceding it. Leslie seeks any information that will condemn the Protestant King William, rumoured to be involved in the massacre, and reinstate the Catholic James. Corrag agrees to talk to him so that the truth may be known about her involvement, and so that she may be less alone, in her final days. As she tells her story, Leslie questions his own beliefs and purpose – and a friendship develops between them that alters both their lives. In Corrag, Susan Fletcher tells us the story of an epic historic event, of the difference a single heart can make – and how deep and lasting relationships that can come from the most unlikely places.

How and when I got it:

I’ve had this book on my shelf for at least five years, and I’m pretty sure I received it from a book group friend during one of our annual book swaps.

Why I want to read it:

Basically, put the word Highland in a title, and throw in the word witch as well… and I’m sold! I’m always on the lookout for good historical fiction set in Scotland, and this one sounds terrific! 

What do you think? Would you read this book? 

Please share your thoughts!


Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments!
  • If you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

Book Review: Finding Fraser by KC Dyer


“Jamie Fraser would be Deeply Gratified at having inspired such a charmingly funny, poignant story—and so am I.”—Diana Gabaldon, #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Outlander series

Escape to Scotland with the delightful new novel that readers have fallen in love with—inspired by Diana Gabaldon’s #1 New York Times bestselling Outlander series.
     I met Jamie Fraser when I was nineteen years old. He was tall, red-headed, and at our first meeting at least, a virgin. He was, in fact, the perfect man.

     That he was fictional hardly entered into it…

On the cusp of thirty, Emma Sheridan is desperately in need of a change. After a string of failed relationships, she can admit that no man has ever lived up to her idea of perfection: the Scottish fictional star of romantic fantasies the world over—James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser.

Her ideal man might be ripped from the pages of a book, but Emma hopes that by making one life-altering decision she might be able to turn fiction into fact. After selling all her worldly possessions, Emma takes off for Scotland with nothing but her burgeoning travel blog to confide in.

But as she scours the country’s rolling green hills and crumbling castles, Emma discovers that in searching for her own Jamie Fraser, she just might find herself.

For any devoted Outlander fan, Finding Fraser is sure to ring true — if only escapist fictional escapades ever really happened in real life.

Emma, at 29, is frustrated by her career (or lack thereof), her love life (or lack thereof), and her prospects in general. Why can’t she ever find a man who even comes close to the perfection of Jamie Fraser? Fed up and in need of a change, Emma sells everything and — against the sensible scolding of her younger but more practical sister — heads off across American towards the plane that will take her to Scotland.

Needless to say, all sorts of mishaps ensue, even before she leaves the country. Emma has a variety of run-ins with Outlander fans of the sane and not-so-sane variety, actually meets Herself (that would be the beloved author of the Outlander series, Diana Gabaldon) but bursts into tears when it’s finally her turn to greet her, has the unpleasant experience of seeing a stripper in a kilt and fake red wig, and meets some die-hard Braveheart fans who are willing to defend their story with knitting needles and other pointy objects.

… the very thought of meeting Herself in the flesh made my hands start to shake. She was the woman who created Jamie Fraser, who built him up from clay — or from ink and paper, at least. She has gone on to beat him, wound him, torture him in every possible way, and still nurture his unending love for Claire over the course of the entire series.

Emma doesn’t have all that much of a plan when she arrives in Scotland, other than using her Outlander paperback as a guide to follow in Claire’s footsteps and, hopefully, meet the kilted Scottish warrior of her dreams. Real life rarely follows careful plans, much less dreams, so Emma’s path is not smooth, and she encounters all sorts of challenges that could easily have sent her running back to the safety of her overbearing sister and a steady (boring) job.

Instead, she decides to stick it out, and finds a way to stay in Scotland, earn enough to pay for room and board, make friends and start to build what feels like home, and yes, fall in love. But is he the man of her dreams, or just a stand-in for what she really wants?

Finding Fraser is engaging and endearing. Of course, Emma’s plans are impractical and unlikely, but she throws herself into them, even when down to her last bit of cash and after having all her belongings stolen. She starts a blog, thinking to chronicle her journey, and develops a cheering squad of followers who encourage her not to give up hope. Readers will identify early on who the true love interest should be, but it takes Emma the entire book to catch up. Meanwhile, she ends up  in a relationship with a guy who is clearly just so, so very wrong — except for the looks and the fact of being Scottish. I wanted to give Emma a good shake every time she starts to realize that maybe Hamish isn’t such a great catch after all… and then talks herself into giving him another (and another and another) chance.

It was super sweet to see her find a home for herself, make friends, and start to feel a part of the town where she rather haphazardly ends up. Her stay is ended abruptly by immigration woes that seem a bit shoe-horned in for the sake of drama, but that’s okay. The real point is Emma’s search for her own perfect Jamie… and her ultimate realization that what she really needed all along was to find her own inner Claire.

What I hadn’t really thought about — beyond tracing the journey in the front of the novel — was Claire’s part in the love story. Claire’s heart was true, but there was never any doubt that the woman had standards. Jamie literally lived through hell and more to meet those standards. Even living with uncertainty and chaos all around her, she knew what she wanted.

Finding Fraser is a delightful summer read, perfect for a chair on the beach or a cozy hammock. It’s light and fluffy, but full of heart and more than a little humor. It’ll definitely hit the sweet spot for Outlander lovers. Wouldn’t we all love to hop a plane and go find our own Jamie?


The details:

Title: Finding Fraser
Author: KC Dyer
Publisher: Berkley
Publication date: January 1, 2015
Length: 368 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Purchased








Shelf Control #143: Secrets of the Sea House by Elisabeth Gifford

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!


Title: Secrets of the Sea House
Author: Elisabeth Gifford
Published: 2013
Length: 303 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

In 1860, Alexander Ferguson, a newly ordained vicar and amateur evolutionary scientist, takes up his new parish, a poor, isolated patch on the remote Scottish island of Harris. He hopes to uncover the truth behind the legend of the selkies—mermaids or seal people who have been sighted off the north of Scotland for centuries. He has a more personal motive, too; family legend states that Alexander is descended from seal men. As he struggles to be the good pastor he was called to be, his maid Moira faces the terrible eviction of her family by Lord Marstone, whose family owns the island. Their time on the island will irrevocably change the course of both their lives, but the white house on the edge of the dunes keeps its silence long after they are gone.

It will be more than a century before the Sea House reluctantly gives up its secrets. Ruth and Michael buy the grand but dilapidated building and begin to turn it into a home for the family they hope to have. Their dreams are marred by a shocking discovery. The tiny bones of a baby are buried beneath the house; the child’s fragile legs are fused together—a mermaid child. Who buried the bones? And why? To heal her own demons, Ruth feels she must discover the secrets of her new home—but the answers to her questions may lie in her own traumatic past. The Sea House by Elisabeth Gifford is a sweeping tale of hope and redemption and a study of how we heal ourselves by discovering our histories.

How and when I got it:

I bought a copy several years ago, after hearing recommendations from book group friends.

Why I want to read it:

Okay, a) Scotland! But b) it just sounds like a good story, with a dual timeline, the myth of the selkies, and family secrets. I’ve heard really good things about this author, but haven’t read any of her work. Have you?


Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments!
  • If you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!














Take A Peek Book Review: The Café by the Sea by Jenny Colgan

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.



(via Goodreads)

Years ago, Flora fled the quiet Scottish island where she grew up — and she hasn’t looked back. What would she have done on Mure? It’s a place where everyone has known her all her life, where no one will let her forget the past. In bright, bustling London, she can be anonymous, ambitious… and hopelessly in love with her boss.

But when fate brings Flora back to the island, she’s suddenly swept once more into life with her brothers — all strapping, loud, and seemingly incapable of basic housework — and her father. Yet even amid the chaos of their reunion, Flora discovers a passion for cooking — and find herself restoring dusty little pink-fronted shop on the harbour: a café by the sea.

But with the seasons changing, Flora must come to terms with past mistakes — and work out exactly where her future lies…

My Thoughts:

The Café by the Sea is a sweet, fluffy treat of a book — not especially deep or filling, but enjoyable the whole way through. I enjoyed the setting — a beautiful, isolated Scottish island where everyone knows everyone else, and where, sadly, the younger generation doesn’t see much of a future. When Flora arrives back on the island for a work assignment, she instigates changes that will ultimately lead to the rejuvenation of the island, by convincing a billionaire about to open an exclusive resort to hire and source locally.

The work assignment is also the means for Flora to finally get noticed by her boss, an icy playboy lawyer with a tragic past who never allows emotions to seep to the surface. Honestly, the love story didn’t click for me. Flora, a paralegal in a prestigious law firm, has had a hopeless crush on Joel for years, and although it’s not giving away too much to say that the island has a profound effect on him as well, I couldn’t figure out what Flora saw in him in the first place, other than his amazing good looks. Meanwhile, there’s a potential love interest on the island, but that part of the story doesn’t get a whole lot of attention, so it’s pretty clear early on which way things are going.

I loved the parts of the story about Flora reconnecting with her father and brothers, coming to terms with a loss in the family several years earlier, and reconnecting with the people and natural beauty of Mure. However, I was a little unsure about some of Flora’s decision-making regarding her career and her future. When we meet her, she’s working as a paralegal with an eye toward becoming a fully qualified lawyer, but her actual work in law seems to fall by the wayside as she becomes more and more involved in using her family’s history to open up and run an amazing café in the center of town. Was she never really all that interested in becoming a lawyer? It seems that she’s just fallen into this new life, and I would have liked to have her at least think about what it might mean to walk away from her professional plans and change course like this.

Still, this is really a charming book, with a gorgeous setting, interesting, quirky characters and a plot that hits some emotional notes without ever losing its sense of romance and light. When you’re looking for something to lift your spirits, check out The Café by the Sea!


The details:

Title: The Café by the Sea
Author: Jenny Colgan
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication date: June 27, 2017
Length: 416 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Library








Book Review: The Pearl Thief

Before Verity…there was Julie.

When fifteen-year-old Julia Beaufort-Stuart wakes up in the hospital, she knows the lazy summer break she’d imagined won’t be exactly like she anticipated. And once she returns to her grandfather’s estate, a bit banged up but alive, she begins to realize that her injury might not have been an accident. One of her family’s employees is missing, and he disappeared on the very same day she landed in the hospital.

Desperate to figure out what happened, she befriends Euan McEwen, the Scottish Traveller boy who found her when she was injured, and his standoffish sister, Ellen. As Julie grows closer to this family, she experiences some of the prejudices they’ve grown used to firsthand, a stark contrast to her own upbringing, and finds herself exploring thrilling new experiences that have nothing to do with a missing-person investigation.

Her memory of that day returns to her in pieces, and when a body is discovered, her new friends are caught in the crosshairs of long-held biases about Travellers. Julie must get to the bottom of the mystery in order to keep them from being framed for the crime.

In this coming-of-age prequel to Code Name Verity, we meet a much younger Julie — a privileged daughter of an aristocratic Scottish family, home for the summer from her Swiss boarding school. Julie and her siblings are converging on their late grandfather’s estate one last time as the grounds, manor house, and belongings are being either sorted for auction or repurposed into a boys’ school.

At the beginning of the summer, Julie is free-spirited and ready for fun. When Julie arrives earlier than expected (and ahead of her luggage), she grabs an old kilt that belonged to her brother and sets off to explore along the river that runs through their property — where she’s konked on the head and knocked unconcious.

As Julie recovers, she develops a connection with the Traveller family who rescued her, and begins to dig through her foggy memories to figure out who knocked her out, and what’s going on with the ancient and priceless Scottish river pearls that were a beloved part of her grandfather’s treasure trove.

Through Julie’s eyes, we get to know the family of Scottish Travellers and see the prejudice and cruelty they’re so casually subjected to, even by people Julie otherwise had respected. Likewise, through Julie, we meet a reclusive, disfigured librarian and gain an understanding of what it truly means to look beyond the surface.

The adventure and mystery of the story are quite entertaining, and there’s nothing here that would earn anything more scandalous than a PG rating. That said, Julie does explore her sexuality through a series of important kisses, and discovers that her orientation may be more complicated than she’d been prepared for. At the same time, we see the great love and loyalty that Julie is capable of, whether directed toward her immediate family, long-time acquaintances, or fast friends.

This is important to note, because of course this is Julie from Code Name Verity, and while The Pearl Thief is set earlier than that stellar book, it’s an interesting look at the young woman Julie was before her life was changed forever by World War II. In The Pearl Thief, Julie is still a half-formed woman, but she’s already well on her way toward establishing her outsized bravery, talent for mimicry and pretending to be someone else, keen mind that zooms in on details, and of course, the absolute devotion to her friends.

It’s not essential to have read Code Name Verity before reading The Pearl Thief, but I think it does add a great deal of meaning. Without the context of CNV, The Pearl  Thief is an interesting and entertaining adventure story, with a beautiful setting and a very neat interweaving of Scottish history and folklore within the more contemporary mystery plot. But having read CNV, The Pearl Thief is all above the above, plus.

It’s a beautiful look into the life of a young woman who we know will go on to be remarkable. For that reason, while The Pearl Thief itself isn’t a highly emotional story, reading it manages to be a moving experience. Here is Julie —  Queenie — in her early days, and it’s easy to see the roots of who she will one day be.


The details:

Title: The Pearl Thief
Author: Elizabeth Wein
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Publication date: May 2, 2017
Length: 326 pages
Genre: Young adult
Source: Purchased









Wishing & Waiting on Wednesday: At the Water’s Edge

There’s nothing like a Wednesday for thinking about the books we want to read! My Wishing & Waiting on Wednesday post is linking up with two fabulous book memes, Wishlist Wednesday (hosted by Pen to Paper) and Waiting on Wednesday (hosted by Breaking the Spine).

This week’s pick:


At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen
(to be released June 2, 2015 )

In her stunning new novel, Gruen returns to the kind of storytelling she excelled at in Water for Elephants: a historical timeframe in an unusual setting with a moving love story. Think Scottish Downton Abbey.

After embarrassing themselves at the social event of the year in high society Philadelphia on New Year’s Eve of 1942, Maddie and Ellis Hyde are cut off financially by Ellis’s father, a former army Colonel who is already embarrassed by his son’s inability to serve in WWII due to his being colorblind. To Maddie’s horror, Ellis decides that the only way to regain his father’s favor is to succeed in a venture his father attempted and very publicly failed at: he will hunt the famous Loch Ness monster and when he finds it he will restore his father’s name and return to his father’s good graces (and pocketbook). Joined by their friend Hank, a wealthy socialite, the three make their way to Scotland in the midst of war. Each day the two men go off to hunt the monster, while another monster, Hitler, is devastating Europe. And Maddie, now alone in a foreign country, must begin to figure out who she is and what she wants. The novel tells of Maddie’s social awakening: to the harsh realities of life, to the beauties of nature, to a connection with forces larger than herself, to female friendship, and finally, to love.

I loved Water For Elephants, and this novel set in war-time Scotland sounds wonderful.

What are you wishing for this Wednesday?

Looking for some bookish fun on Thursdays? Come join me for my regular weekly feature, Thursday Quotables. You can find out more here — come play!


Do you host a book blog meme? Do you participate in a meme that you really, really love? I’m building a Book Blog Meme Directory, and need your help! If you know of a great meme to include — or if you host one yourself — please drop me a note on my Contact page and I’ll be sure to add your info!

Gathering Storm: Q&A with author Maggie Craig

I’m thrilled to welcome author Maggie Craig to Bookshelf Fantasies for a Q&A about her newest novel, Gathering Storm.

What’s it all about? Read on…

Synopsis (Goodreads):

Gathering Storm

Jacobite Intrigue and Romance in 18th Century Edinburgh.

Edinburgh, Yuletide 1743, and Redcoat officer Robert Catto would rather be anywhere else on earth than Scotland. Seconded back from the wars in Europe to captain the city’s Town Guard, he fears his covert mission to assess the strength of the Jacobite threat will force him to confront the past he tries so hard to forget.

Christian Rankeillor, her surgeon-apothecary father and his apprentice Jamie Buchan of Balnamoon are committed supporters of the Stuart Cause. They’re hiding a Jacobite agent with a price on his head in Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, a hanging offence.

Meeting as enemies, Robert and Kirsty are thrown together as allies by the mysterious death of a young prostitute and their desire to help fugitive brother and sister Geordie and Alice Smart. They’re on the run from Cosmo Liddell, bored and brutal aristocrat and coal owner.

As they pick their way through a labyrinth of intrigue, Robert and Kirsty are increasingly drawn to each other. She knows their mutual attraction can go nowhere. He know his duty demands that he must betray her.

Bringing to life a time when Scotland stood at a crossroads in her history, Gathering Storm is the first in a suite of Jacobite novels by Scottish writer Maggie Craig, author of the ground-breaking and acclaimed Damn’ Rebel Bitches: The Women of the ’45.

Let’s talk to Maggie and find out more!mcbrolly1

Welcome, Maggie! I know you’ve written novels set in the 1800s and the 1900s, and now Gathering Storm, which opens in 1743. Do you have a favorite period to write about?

My heart belongs to the 18th century, the Jacobites of 1745 in particular. I find it a fascinating period of history. It was the Age of Reason and the beginning of the Enlightenment, yet men still marched out onto battlefields with swords in their hands. Gender politics were changing too. The relationship between 18th century men and women was shifting, allowing female characters more leeway in what they said and, to an extent, in how they acted.

What role does your non-fiction research and writing play in your fiction writing?

A huge one. While the main characters in my fiction are always imaginary – or so I think, I’m not always convinced they don’t tap me on the shoulder and insist I write their stories – I like to have them interact with real historical characters. Over years of research, those have become like friends to me. As anyone who reads Gathering Storm will surmise, I’m particularly fond of Duncan Forbes of Culloden, my hero’s mentor.

What inspired you to write Gathering Storm?

It started with the picture of a man’s face on the cover of a magazine. He was quietly handsome but he looked so sad. I put that picture up beside my computer and looked at it for a while, wondering what had made him unhappy. Then I sat down one day and started to free-write and before I knew where I was I was with Captain Robert Catto of the Town Guard of Edinburgh in pursuit of an illegal dissection.

I’m fascinated by some of the details of life in Edinburgh at that time. Were there really “underground” dissections and secret meetings of anatomists taking place at that time?

Absolutely. There was a strong religious objection to dissection because people believed in the resurrection of the body on the Day of Judgement, so you had to be whole for that. Anatomists were allowed to demonstrate dissection on the bodies of convicted felons who had been hanged, but only on a very limited number and only if the relatives did not claim the body. Edinburgh University was at the forefront of medical education in Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries and desperately needed more bodies for the students to learn from. That’s why Burke and Hare became active in the 1820s, robbing graves to meet the demand and then cutting out the hard work by simply murdering people. Anatomists paid good money for fresh corpses. Burke and Hare were caught when one medical student recognized the body lying on the slab as being the girl he’d been with the previous night, when she’d been fit and healthy.

You seem to have a great deal of sympathy for the terribly hard lives of the lower classes. What do you think readers would be surprised to know about women’s lives at that time?

I think working-class girls and women could be terribly vulnerable to young gentlemen who saw them as fair game. On a more positive note, readers might be surprised by how many women were active in business, running timber yards, shops and taverns. Sometimes that was because they were widows and had taken over the family business when their husbands died but many seemed to relish the opportunity.

Can you tell us a bit about your background — where you grew up, your family life, and how you became a writer?

I grew up in Glasgow, on the banks of the Clyde, the youngest of four children. My dad worked his way up through the railways to become a station master and we lived in the station house where he loved to tend his garden. He was a great story teller, as was my mother. We travelled all over Scotland on the train to visit relatives and my dad knew the history behind every stone. I learned about William Wallace, Robert the Bruce, Bonnie Prince Charlie, the Radicals of 1820 and the Red Clydesiders of the early 20th century at a very early age. One of my forebears on my father’s side was Robert Tannahill, the weaver-poet of Paisley. All my family write. We think it’s just what everybody does. I’ve been writing and publishing books for the past 15 years and now live in the north of Scotland with my Welsh husband Will and two cats. We have two lovely grown-up children and an equally lovely daughter-in-law from North Carolina who all live in Edinburgh so we spend a lot of time there.

What do you read for fun? What writers inspire you?

I love Nora Roberts. There’s nothing better in a snowy Scottish winter than reading about fabulously wealthy and beautiful people sipping cocktails in the Californian sunshine. I’ve always been inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson, Robert Burns, Daphne du Maurier and Dorothy L Sayers. I also love Diana Gabaldon, Barbara Erskine, Susanna Kearsley and Ian Rankin.

I understand that Gathering Storm is the first in a planned Jacobite suite of novels. What are you working on now, and what can we expect in this series?

My next book will be The Captain’s Lady, a time slip set between Glasgow and the West Highlands during the 1745 Jacobite Rising. Its main historical protagonist is Meg Wood, who makes a cameo appearance in Gathering Storm.  It’s a one-off story. I’m then going back to Robert and Kirsty, to continue telling their story.

Can you give us a hint about what lies in store for Robert and Christian (Kirsty)?

Trouble. Moral dilemmas. Physical danger. The entrance of a bad guy. Oh, and he is so bad. They’re going to have to wade their way through hell and high water but there will be tender moments and wee Geordie Smart will be there too.

Thank you, Maggie, for your time and terrific responses!

Other books by Maggie Craig:

The River Flows On
One Sweet Moment
When the Lights Come On Again
The Stationmaster’s Daughter
The Bird Flies High
A Star To Steer By
The Dancing Days

When the Clyde Ran Red
Bare-Arsed Banditti: The Men of the ’45
Damn’ Rebel Bitches : The Women of the ’45


My thoughts on Gathering Storm:

I very much enjoyed this historical novel, which focuses on the build-up  to the Jacobite rising of 1745 through the lens of a small group of people caught up in intrigue and conspiracies in Edinburgh. Taking place over the course of one very eventful week, Gathering Storm introduces us to both sides of the conflict through the individual characters who take center stage in the novel.

Captain Robert Catto is an enigmatic and conflicted main character, noble and full of purpose, yet also tormented by family secrets and a troubled past. He knows his duty and what he must do, but as he becomes more and more fascinated by Christian, it becomes harder for him to stand firm. Robert is also, it must be said, a man who does tend to give into his baser nature from time to time — so for those looking for the typical dashing, upright hero, Robert’s actions may not be at all what is expected.

Christian (Kirsty) is a strong-willed and intelligent young woman, who perhaps doesn’t realize when it might be best to not take a stand. She’s loyal to family and friends, but absolutely can think for herself and make her own decisions.

Because Gathering Storm takes place in a very compressed amount of time, it often has an intense, almost breathless feel to it, and the emotional connections happen quickly and unexpectedly. The action is quite compelling, and I liked the mix of politics, danger, and personal relationships.

Maggie Craig’s in-depth historical knowledge really shines through, giving Gathering Storm a ring of authenticity and a strong anchor in real events. For anyone interested in Scottish history, or for fans of historical fiction in general, I’d recommend giving Gathering Storm a try.


The details:

Title: Gathering Storm
Author: Maggie Craig
Publisher: Alligin Books
Publication date: 2013
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Received from the author

Book Review: Letters From Skye

Book Review: Letters From Skye by Jessica Brockmole

Letters from SkyeIn this romantic look at wartime love, letters hold the key. Letters From Skye is told entirely via letters written during two different but very similar time periods. The main story follows the correspondence that blossoms between poet Elspeth Dunn, on her faraway, windswept Isle of Skye off the northern coast of Scotland, and David Graham, an impetuous American college student who has mustered the courage to write a fan letter to an author he admires. Their correspondence begins in 1912 and continues through the first World War. As Elspeth and David write letters, they come to know one another deeply and intimately, until — almost inevitably — they declare their love and seek each other in real life as well as on paper.

In parallel to this piece of the story is the correspondence of Margaret, Elspeth’s 20-ish daughter, taking place in 1940 and relating to her fiance Paul the strange circumstances of her mother’s disappearance during an air raid on Edinburgh and her discovery that her mother has kept a hidden cache of mysterious letters for over twenty years.

From Margaret’s side of the story, we learn that Elspeth has raised Margaret on her own and has never shared any information with Margaret about her father — so while we’re reading the love letters of Elspeth and David and seeing how their commitment and passion for one another grows, we’re also aware that something must have happened to separate them. The suspense in Letters From Skye comes from this contrast, knowing that these two were madly in love in the 1910s, yet knowing also that in 1940, David has not been a part of Elspeth’s life for as long as Margaret can remember.

In Letters From Skye, the romance is heightened by the urgency of war, and indeed Elspeth has warned Margaret not to rush into a wartime engagement, when sentiments are heightened and no one takes the time to think things through. Clearly, she’s speaking from experience, but are her assumptions about what took place in her own past correct?

There’s much to love in Letters From Skye. Jessica Brockmole succeeds exceedingly well at painting pictures of the various times and places in the novel through the characters’ letters. We get from Elspeth a great sense of what her isolated life on Skye is like, with her views of the sea and hills, the lonely winters and hard rains, the dependence on family and the judgments of the neighboring townsfolk. From David, we get a grand view of privileged American youth in its heyday, playing pranks on campus, itching to get to the glory of the battlefield without any true conception of what horrors really await in the trenches. From Margaret, we get the feeling of incredulity as German bombs fall on the homes and streets of Edinburgh and London, as well as the privations of a country living on rations and sending their children off to the relative safety of the countryside.

While Letters From Skye is primarily a love story, it also does a very effective job of conveying the experience of life in wartime, both from the perspective of the women on the homefront and through the eyes of men on the front lines. Our culture often romanticizes these wars, but Letters From Skye makes abundantly clear that while love may flourish in the pressure-cooker of war, there’s nothing romantic about war itself.

The many threads of the storyline come together nicely by the end, and we learn that there is much more to understand about the past than any of the characters had realized. Misunderstandings and the tragedies of war conspire to separate lovers, and it takes the diligent digging of Elspeth’s daughter until all the various players understand what happened and why. While some of the answers ultimately may seem a bit familiar or predictable, it works nonetheless.

Telling the story through the medium of letters is very effective here, as we readers aren’t simply reading about two people and their growing connection — we’re a part of it. As we read their letters, it’s like a peek into David and Elspeth’s inner lives, and we are privy to their most intimate thoughts and feelings. We absolutely want them together, and it’s heartbreaking for the reader to see the obstacles that separate them, seemingly forever. I felt very invested in David and Elspeth by the end of the book, and while I’ve described the events of the ending as a bit predictable, that in no way detracts from impact that the resolution had on me. I simply couldn’t rest (it was just about midnight when I finished this book) until I found out what happened and why — and what the characters could expect next in their lives.

It was worth staying up for, believe me. I enjoyed Letters From Skye, felt a great connection to the characters, and truly cared about their fates. I’d say that qualifies as a success! Letters From Skye is author Jessica Brockmole’s first novel. I hope we’ll hear much more from her in years to come.


The details:

Title: Letters from Skye
Author: Jessica Brockmole
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publication date: 2013
Genre: Historical fiction/romance
Source: Library book


Wishlist Wednesday

Welcome to Wishlist Wednesday!

The concept is to post about one book from our wish lists that we can’t wait to read. Want to play? Here’s how:

  • Follow Pen to Paper as host of the meme.
  • Do a post about one book from your wishlist and why you want to read it.
  • Add your blog to the linky at the bottom of the post at Pen to Paper.
  • Put a link back to Pen to Paper somewhere in your post.
  • Visit the other blogs and enjoy!

My wishlist book this week is:

Letters from Skye: A Novel

Letters From Skye by Jessica Brockmole

From Goodreads:

A sweeping story told in letters, spanning two continents and two world wars, Jessica Brockmole’s atmospheric debut novel captures the indelible ways that people fall in love, and celebrates the power of the written word to stir the heart.

March 1912: Twenty-four-year-old Elspeth Dunn, a published poet, has never seen the world beyond her home on Scotland’s remote Isle of Skye. So she is astonished when her first fan letter arrives, from a college student, David Graham, in far-away America. As the two strike up a correspondence—sharing their favorite books, wildest hopes, and deepest secrets—their exchanges blossom into friendship, and eventually into love. But as World War I engulfs Europe and David volunteers as an ambulance driver on the Western front, Elspeth can only wait for him on Skye, hoping he’ll survive.

June 1940: At the start of World War II, Elspeth’s daughter, Margaret, has fallen for a pilot in the Royal Air Force. Her mother warns her against seeking love in wartime, an admonition Margaret doesn’t understand. Then, after a bomb rocks Elspeth’s house, and letters that were hidden in a wall come raining down, Elspeth disappears. Only a single letter remains as a clue to Elspeth’s whereabouts. As Margaret sets out to discover where her mother has gone, she must also face the truth of what happened to her family long ago.

Why do I want to read this?

Letters from Skye suits so many of my reading preferences: Historical setting, Scotland (!), war-time romance, multi-generational narrative. I love the idea of the contrast between the romances that happened in the lives of the mother and daughter in the different World Wars — and how one could affect and change the other. It all sounds very dramatic and dashing and so very romantic! I’m really look forward to reading this one.

What’s on your wishlist this week?

So what are you doing on Thursdays and Fridays? Come join me for my regular weekly features, Thursday Quotables and Flashback Friday! You can find out more here — come share the book love!