Hi all, and happy Tuesday (meh…) Here is another edition of “Sam has obsession with books about books.” Jenny Colgan started the Scottish Bookshop series with The Bookshop on the Corner, which was a delightful series about a young woman named Nina who drops her life in London after losing her job and goes to the Scottish highlands to run a book mobile for the local residents… and fall in love with handsome sheep farmers along the way. It was delightful, it was enchanting, and anyone who loves books would love it. Thus, I was pretty excited about reading The Bookshop on the Shore, which I didn’t actually even know existed until recently. It was not quite what I was expecting. So here goes nothing…
From the Publisher:
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 from London, single mother Zoe wants to build a new life for herself and her son Hari. She can barely afford the crammed studio apartment on a busy street where honking horns and shouting football fans keep them awake all night. If she doesn’t find a way out soon, Zoe knows it’s just a matter of time before she has a complete meltdown. On a whim, she answers an ad for a nanny job in the Scottish Highlands, which is about as far away from the urban crush of London as possible. It sounds heavenly!
The job description asks for someone capable of caring for three “gifted children”, two of which behave like feral wolverines. The children’s widowed father Ramsey is a wreck, and the kids run wild in a huge tumbledown castle on the heather-strewn banks of Loch Ness. Still, the peaceful, picturesque location is everything London is not—and Zoe rises to the challenges of the job.
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 this broken family—and her own…?
What I Loved:
- The Setting. Jenny Colgan really sets a lovely scene. She makes you feel the mist rising off of the loch and smell the loamy richness of autumn in Scotland, and does an equally good job of making you feel the claustrophobia and grime of London. I have always wanted to go to Scotland, and this reinforces that quite a bit. Beyond just the visceral feelings she evokes, Colgan also brings to life the culture of the Scottish highlands, from the tourists trying to see the Loch Ness Monster to the locals who are eminently curious but also insular.
Zoe took a great, deep breath and pulled the fresh air into her lungs. It was intoxicating. So pure, with an edge of fresh cold and a hint of sunlight; with a mossy scent of grass and leaves and a high note of ancient fir trees and the ghosts of millions of bluebells and snowdrops and daffodils, taking their turns, year after year.
- The Acknowledgment of Social Issues. In Bookshop on the Corner, Colgan lightly touches on how social programs like the library and social services are underfunded, and hurting vulnerable populations. In Bookshop on the Shore, she goes further and delves into mental health services and childcare services for underprivileged people, including single mom Zoe and her son Hari, who has chosen not to speak even though he is five. London fails Zoe and Hari, with Zoe needing to work multiple jobs and somehow get Hari to daycare, and getting evicted from her apartment that is already supposed to be subsidized by the government. Zoe’s situation isn’t abnormal, and I think that Colgan did a really good job of showing how hardworking people regularly get overlooked by the system even when they do everything right. While I don’t know if this is the right book to delve into these issues, I appreciated that Bookshop on the Shore tried to be more than just fluff.
- Hari and Patrick. Patrick is one of the three children that Zoe is in charge of watching at the mansion, and he is a protegee. He is curious and a little obnoxious, but in a cute seven year old way. Patrick has an obsession with dinosaurs and takes an instant liking to Hari since he can talk the poor kid’s ear off, but Hari responds in kind, and the two become the dynamic duo. their friendship is probably the most authentic and adorable part of the book, and while Zoe is wary at first, she soon warms to Patrick’s affection for her son. I could read a short story of the two of them running off on adventures where they experience everyday things, like the garden or the forest, with childlike wonder.
What I Disliked:
- Nina. I know, this is a shock! I loved Nina in Bookshop on the Corner. What happened? Nina is pregnant in Bookshop on the Shore, and has a lot of anxiety about it. While Nina has always been introverted and not easily trusting, she took this to a new level in this book, treating Zoe pretty poorly when Zoe suggests changes to make the book mobile more profitable (like selling books and Nessie memorabilia to tourists). Nina also doesn’t seem to take to Zoe personally, like when Zoe offers advice about childbirth and child rearing that Nina finds offensive, and is unhappy when Zoe brings Hari to the book mobile. While Bookshop on the Shore implies they become friends after Zoe and Nina pursue their own book ventures once Nina has the baby, but you don’t get any warm and fuzzy feelings throughout. I think Nina is much more empathetic and understanding than this book gives her credit for (but what do I know; I am just the reader).
- The Romance. Forgive the spoiler, but I dislike employer/employee romance in general, and the feelings between Ramsey and Zoe didn’t really feel authentic. Zoe’s description of him as a man is borderline teenage, and Ramsey himself isn’t particularly sympathetic of character until the end (too many Jane Eyre vibes here). I don’t require romance to enjoy a good book, but here I almost feel like it would have been better omitted, or explored sooner.
- The Multiple Plot Points. I have a pretty good ability to follow multiple plots, but Bookshop on the Shore just felt disjointed. Zoe’s job with Nina’s bookmobile and her job as a nanny for the children didn’t feel possible to juggle, and her schedule was hard to keep track of. I feel like Zoe’s position in the bookmobile was included primarily to involve characters from the prior book and to integrate Zoe in with the locals, and it didn’t feel as authentic. I also felt a *little* betrayed by the title of this book, because while Zoe loves books and does part time work in the book mobile, there wasn’t really enough “bookshop(ing) by the shore.”
I am conflicted on Bookshop on the Shore, because I love Jenny Colgan and just felt like this one fell a little short. Zoe is likeable enough, despite some questionable choices, and there are some fun references to books like Jane Eyre and Up on the Rooftops. However, it wasn’t enough to make up for the problematic rush of the relationship, and the weird splitting of Zoe’s time that ended up feeling unrealistic given the number of hours in a day. The ending was also very rushed, given how drawn out the rest of the book is. I give this three waves, because at the end of the day, Bookshop on the Shore is a fun and light beach read that offers a really nice break between serious books, and still has those wonderful scottish elements that made me fall in love with the first one. You also don’t need to read Bookshop on the Corner first to understand this one (though I do highly recommend it; it is even better than this one). Pick up your copy here and here!