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
Rating:

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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

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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!

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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!

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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?

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The details:

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

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