Wednesday, September 8, 2021

The Bookshop on the Shore - Jenny Colgan

Summary:  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 out of school and left to their own devices.  Zoe has her work cut out for her and is determined to rise to the challenge.  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?  (Summary from back of book - Image from harpercollins.ca)

IMPORTANT NOTE: While The Bookshop on the Shore can technically stand alone, it does have some shared characters with one of Colgan's earlier books also set in the Scottish Highlands, The Bookshop on the Corner.  If the idea of a bookmobile, some romance, and the Scottish countryside appeal to you, I would recommend reading Corner before Shore to avoid bouncing around the timeline.  

My Review:  For our 20th wedding anniversary, my husband and I decided to skip the crowds and masks (for the most part) and celebrate by staying at a quiet inn on the Oregon coast, visiting local beaches, whale-spotting, and hunting for sea glass.  Of all the books crammed into my suitcase, The Bookshop on the Shore was the one that caught my eye when the time came to pick a book. Ordinarily, I take notes while I'm reading to ease the review process, but I refuse to do so on vacation.  As such, I had to rely on my less-than-stellar memory for this review.  Take it how you will.  

Zoe is a young, newly single mother trapped in unfortunate circumstances; when a way out presents itself, she jumps at the chance for a change of scenery and a better life for son.  Zoe arrives at the shores of Loch Ness fully prepared to work in a bookshop and tenderly minister to the wounded hearts of three abandoned children.  What she finds is a bookmobile frequented by some very persnickety patrons and a ramshackle castle inhabited by three rather feral children and their woefully inattentive father.  The children give her an alarming nickname -- Nanny Seven -- and are resolved to send her packing. like all the rest.  However, Zoe has a sense that she is needed and minded to stay if for no other reason than she and her son have no one where else to go.  That's the gist of the story, anyway.  I'll leave it there, so as to avoid spoilers.  

The Bookshop on the Shore is not the be-all-end-all of English literature nor is it fluffy chick lit, but it was an enjoyable beach read.  The story sets out at a rather leisurely pace, picking up speed as the plot unfolds with traces of drama, humor, suspense, book-love, and a romance that takes ages to build.  Some aspects of the story were more serious than I expected, with themes regarding parental abandonment, mental health, and self-harm, but there were plenty of other moments that lighten the overall story.  The romance between the Zoe and another character is adorable, but never felt like the main focal point of the story until near the end of the book.  I wanted it to be a bit more obvious, but the upside is that it didn't overshadow the other aspects of the plot (i.e. Zoe's attempts to help the Urquart children, her interaction with the community, her efforts with the 'bookshop' and her own familial struggles) which made for a more well-rounded story .  

I am not sure whether this will offend the author or not -- if so, let's hope she never sees this -- but I think that the storyline has the makings of a romantic, slightly eerie Hallmark* Halloween movie.  To her credit, Colgan's characters are significantly more developed than those that generally inhabit a Hallmark, but I can see the main story playing out in my head and I would love to see it on screen.  Overall, I was entertained by The Bookshop on the Shore, and that's all I really wanted in the first place.  

*PSSssst.  I love Hallmark movies, so this should be read as a compliment.  

My Rating: 3.25 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader: The romance is sweet rather than sultry, so no worries there. Some profanity sprinkled throughout, but one character in particular gets very drunk, very upset, and very saltywhich leads to numerous F words in one particular scene.  

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