Tuesday, 16 July 2019

Emma's Review: The Bookshop on the Shore by Jenny Colgan

Reviewed by Emma Crowley

Escape to the Scottish Highlands where a tiny bookshop perches on the edge of a loch

Zoe is a single mother, sinking beneath the waves trying to cope by herself in London. Hari, her gorgeous little boy is perfect in every way - except for the fact that he just doesn't speak, at all. When her landlord raises the rent on her flat, Zoe doesn't know where to turn.

Then Hari's aunt suggests Zoe could move to Scotland to help run a bookshop. Going from the lonely city to a small village in the Highlands could be the change Zoe and Hari desperately need.

Faced with an unwelcoming boss, a moody, distant bookseller named Ramsay Urquart, and a band of unruly children, Zoe wonders if she's made the right decision. But Hari has found his very first real friend, and no one could resist the beauty of the loch glinting in the summer sun. If only Ramsay would just be a little more approachable...

Dreams start here...

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Many thanks to Little Brown via NetGalley for my copy of The Bookshop on the Shore to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.

Jenny Colgan's new book The Bookshop on the Shore once again takes us back to the stunning setting of the Scottish Highlands which featured in The Little Shop of Happy Ever After. This new story is not a sequel but it does feature some characters we have met before but to a lesser extent so it is easily read as a standalone. It was great to see how Nina whom we have previously met is getting on as she faces a new phase in her life as she awaits the birth of her baby. Zoe is the new character we meet as she goes from living a downtrodden life in London where every day is a slog and a struggle to a very different and unexpected life as the au pair for a family who themselves are experiencing so many difficulties.

The Bookshop on the Shore was brilliant from start to end. Once I sat down to read it I barely looked up until I had reached the last page and it was definitely the ideal way to spend a summer's afternoon engrossed in a story that gives you an awful lot more than you bargained far if one was to judge the cover  Jenny Colgan has written a terrific story which although there are lovely, light and humorous moments which I have come to expect from her these are carefully balanced with the exploration of more serious and delicate issues which are all too prevalent in the world today.

Zoe O'Connell is anxious and overwhelmed, her life is one of hardship with no support from anybody. She is single-handedly raising her son Hari who now aged four should really be able to speak but instead he is silent and there is no reason given for the cause of this bar the experts saying it could be a developmental disorder. Zoe works to try and get some money to barely keep their heads above water but really herself and Hari are just eking out an existence in London. They are not really living and Hari's father Jax breezes in and out of their lives when he remembers they exist. He is more interested in a party lifestyle with his aspirations to become a DJ. He has promised Zoe the world but never keeps his end of the bargain.

Zoe was a woman drowning in worry and anxiety and all she really wanted to do was create the best life possible for her son but she knew with the conditions she existed in in London and the negative energy all around them that something needed to be done. But what? The straw that breaks the camels back is when her landlord ups the rent on an apartment that is already more or less uninhabitable. Jax once again provides no support or answers and to be honest to me he was just a playboy who couldn't care less about the welfare of his son. It was like he was still a child himself needing direction.

I wondered how would the author get Zoe from London to Scotland and I loved how Surinder, Jax's sister, was that connection. I thought it fitted in well with the story and that was how Nina owner of the travelling book shop van came to be in the story again. Zoe grabs the opportunity presented to her with open arms and she deserved nothing but admiration for doing so. She knew deep down change needed to happen or god knows what would happen to herself and Hari but moving away like that was a huge risk. Agreeing to cover Nina's maternity leave in the book shop is just the thing Zoe would love to do as she has such a deep love for books and reading.

I loved how books featured in the story almost like different characters themselves. Zoe used them as an escape but she was also ingenious in how she kept the shop going with her creative ideas but also when it came to dealing with a more delicate situation she used the power of books to bring someone out of their shell. Zoe was at her wits end when leaving London but to me the minute she stepped foot in Scotland she was like a changed person. It was like a weight had lifted from her shoulders and she was more capable of facing and dealing with the challenges this new phase in her life would present to her. The most notable of these would be agreeing to becoming the seventh live-in nanny/au pair for a family racked by pain and suffering.

Ramsay is the father of three children, Shackleton, Mary and Patrick. The children go through nannies like no one's business thanks to their less than savoury behaviour. With no mother on the scene, and rumours abounding in the village as to what exactly happened to her, the children seem to have free run of the house and grounds and are more or less left to fend for themselves. The housekeeper Mrs. MacGlone prefers to stick to her cleaning duties. Beech House is old fashioned with an air of neglect but also one of mystery and sadness. Ramsay seems locked away in his own little world where he would prefer to spend time indulging in his passion for books as an antiquarian bookseller rather than engage with his children. It is almost like he has forgotten they exist and that the major troubles brewing in the house and the reputation they have earned for themselves mean nothing to him at all.

Zoe should have turned tail and ran even the children gave scant regard to her and thought she would be gone before she barely unpacked. But she could see this family was crying out for help but didn't know how to come out and say it. That the façade of appalling behaviour and hurtful comments was just that a façade, they needed structure and guidance. Besides she has nowhere else to go and she can't leave Nina in the lurch as the books shop needs to be kept running. I loved how Zoe just got down to the nitty gritty and wasn't going to be put off by anything. She was clever, creative and the more she got to know the family the more she realised that there was so much going on beneath the surface the extent of which only became known to the reader the further we delved into the story.

I thought it was excellent that Jenny Colgan chose to include such a sensitive and raw topic within this story and especially to relate it to the younger generation. It was expertly written with such tact and it did become emotional and perhaps a little difficult to read at times. That’s because your heart breaks at such despair, anger and pain that is there but until now no one has wanted to admit its existence let alone even confront it. But will Zoe be the person to do this as she seems to get such a spurt under her and she sets about implementing some very much needed changes? Will the children rebel or will they embrace the good intentions set out by Zoe? Will Zoe herself find what has eluded her for so long or will there be a few more twists in the tale before any sort of resolution, understanding and acceptance can be reached?

I thoroughly enjoyed the writing style throughout this marvellous read. It's almost as if Jenny Colgan is chatting away to you as she writes and I love how informal it all feels but at the same time when a serious point needs to be made it is done so with just the right selection of words and all traces of humour can vanish only then to reappear a page or two later. Patrick the youngest child is a prime example of this. He was just brilliant. I loved his mannerisms and way of speaking and how he took Hari under his wing and almost became a voice for him. Patrick provided innumerable laugh out loud moments and I adored how in one way he was an innocent but in others he had been allowed to grow too fast with little or no control or guidance for him. His bond with Hari was a joy to see, it allowed Zoe to breathe a sigh of relief that perhaps she had made the correct decision in moving away from London despite the many obstacles and oppositions that stood in her way most notably the family and keeping the book shop going but she has spirit, grit and determination. She knows the children need love, care and attention and she hopes she can break through the armour and defence systems they have put in place.

The only predictability I found in this story was the romance element and I thought this was fairly obvious from the moment Zoe stepped foot in Scotland but to be honest that didn't really bother me because this story gave me so much more. Exploring the dynamics of family. How the make up of families are all different but each has so much to offer.Zoe for me went from someone who was weak and suffering to a person who was confident, capable and indomitable. The move was the making of her and I hoped the further I read that she could channel all this energy, enthusiasm and assurance into transforming even further her own life and that of the lives of those resident at Beech House.

Jenny Colgan has written another stunner of a book and one which I would highly recommend. It's honest and at times intense but also packed full of humour, warmth and human understanding. Now if Jenny could write another book in this series or the Mure series I would be one very happy reader indeed.

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