Happy Saturday, all! Wishing everyone in the U.S. a relaxing long weekend, and a contemplative Memorial Day. It is raining this whole weekend where I am, which on the one hand is a major bummer for what the first week of “summer” should be, is great for my reading! It also gives me a great opportunity to review an ARC I am late on, The Bookshop of Second Chances. I very rarely pick up romance or women’s literature for ARCs because they are not necessarily “my thing,” but I am a sucker for anything set in Ireland/Scotland and an even bigger sucker for books set in bookstores. This one missed the mark a bit for me, but I don’t regret requesting it. Thank you, Netgalley and Ballantine Books, for the opportunity! Without further ado…
From the Publisher:
A woman desperate to turn a new page heads to the Scottish coast and finds herself locked in a battle of wills with an infuriatingly aloof bookseller in this utterly heartwarming debut, perfect for readers of Evvie Drake Starts Over.
Thea Mottram is having a bad month. She’s been let go from her office job with no notice—and to make matters even worse, her husband of nearly twenty years has decided to leave her for one of her friends. Bewildered and completely lost, Thea doesn’t know what to do. But when she learns that a distant great uncle in Scotland has passed away, leaving her his home and a hefty antique book collection, she decides to leave Sussex for a few weeks. Escaping to a small coastal town where no one knows her seems to be exactly what she needs.
Almost instantly, Thea becomes enamored with the quaint cottage, comforted by its cozy rooms and lovely but neglected garden. The locals in nearby Baldochrie are just as warm, quirky, and inviting. The only person she can’t seem to win over is bookshop owner Edward Maltravers, to whom she hopes to sell her uncle’s book collection. His gruff attitude—fueled by an infamous, long-standing feud with his brother, a local lord—tests Thea’s patience. But bickering with Edward proves oddly refreshing and exciting, leading Thea to develop feelings she hasn’t experienced in a long time. As she follows a thrilling yet terrifying impulse to stay in Scotland indefinitely, Thea realizes that her new life may quickly become just as complicated as the one she was running from.
What I Loved:
- The Premise. What drew me to requesting Bookshop is also what kept me reading it (for better or for worse). A down on her luck Thea inherits a creaky, gorgeous manor house in a small Scottish town, an antiquarian bookshop becomes her new second home, the quirky locals accept her wholeheartedly, and she has two squabbling brothers (who happen to be lords) fighting for her attention. It is fun, it is light, and it has all of my favorite elements in a fun light romance. The Scottish locals were all delightful to read about, and the creaky manor house and beautiful Scottish town made me nostalgic for a life I have never actually had but can imagine vividly. This book drove me to look up words for the feeling it gave me – the closest I could find was the Portuguese word saudade (“melancholy”), or the German word fernweh (“farsickness”).
- The Bookstore and Bookstore Cat. Similarly, the old Scottish antiquarian bookstore with comfy nooks and a faithful cat named Helen Hunter (HH) drew me in. Notwithstanding the grumpy and semi-unlikeable owner Edward (more on that below), the bookstore sounds positively delightful with comfy nooks and antiquarian books that any collector would dream of. I loved how Thea transforms the little shop into an internet sensation through its Instagram and other social media pages, and it reminds me of so many other book stores I love to follow and fangirl over.
- Thea (partially). While there are definitely some aspects of Thea’s personality I disliked, generally speaking Thea was a likeable character that you rooted for. When her husband leaves her and takes the house, Thea has to pick up the broken pieces of her life and move to Scotland to take care of her husband’s affairs. She handles this change with grace, humor, and a healthy dose of self-awareness. She is in her 40s and while at first she has some neuroses about living life to the fullest at that age, throughout Bookshop Thea experiences a beautiful amount of growth. I hope I can have this much fun in my 40s and stay as active as Thea is.
What Didn’t Work For Me:
- The Pacing. I honestly almost put Bookshop down after the first couple of days of agonizing detail and introspection from Thea with absolutely no plot movement. The first 35ish percent is slow as molasses with no romance and not much else to read for. When the pace finally picked up and relationships finally beginning, I was hooked, but then the end was as abrupt as the beginning was slow. The end kind of just occurred, with no real purpose or momentous occasion. It was a letdown, particularly given how long this book was.
- Edward Maltravers. As a slightly unpopular opinion, I actually liked Edward a little bit. I enjoyed his gruffness and his wry sense of humor, and I did genuinely feel Edward and Thea’s love for each other in Bookshop. However, Edward is a generally unlikeable character in his capacity as the love interest for such a strong, spunky, and likeable heroine. Edward ruins every one of his brother’s relationships by sleeping with the woman over something that happened when they were teenagers, he generally only has casual sexual relationships with women, and has a sign in his shop that says “No girls allowed” because “because they fall in love with me or I fall in love with them.” Edward is NOT the kind of guy we want Thea to end up with.
- (Peripherally) Thea’s Love of Edward. Again, I am not 100% opposed to Thea and Edward’s relationship. However, it seems highly unlikely to me that Thea would allow herself to fall in love with a serial philanderer, regardless of how much Edward changes for her. I also hate how Thea looks down on Charles and his interest in her, while not once doubting Edward’s own motives. It altogether makes Thea seem like a weaker character than she is supposed to be. Edward should have had to work harder.
On the one hand, The Bookshop of Second Chances delivered what I wanted in that it is a cute romantic book set in Scotland in a bookshop. On the other hand, the romance took forever, it wasn’t lighthearted and airy but instead heavy and a little overdramatic, and I found it hard to completely root for the relationship. I would recommend this for people who like romances with a little more meat to them, but not necessarily as a beach read. It was 2.5 waves for me. If you want to give this a shot for yourself, please check Bookshop out here (on sale at Bookshop!) I would love to have someone to compare notes with.