Tuesday, 31 August 2021

Emma's Review: The Bookshop of Second Chances by Jackie Fraser

Reviewed by Emma Crowley

Thea’s having a bad month. Not only has she been made redundant, she’s also discovered her husband of nearly twenty years is sleeping with one of her friends. And he’s not sorry – he’s leaving. 

Bewildered and lost, Thea doesn’t know what to do. But, when she learns the great-uncle she barely knew has died and left her his huge collection of second-hand books and a house in the Scottish Lowlands, she seems to have been offered a second chance. 

Running away to a little town where no one knows her seems like exactly what Thea needs. But when she meets the aristocratic Maltravers brothers – grumpy bookshop owner Edward and his estranged brother Charles, Lord Hollinshaw – her new life quickly becomes just as complicated as the life she was running from... 

Book Links: Kindle or Paperback

Many thanks to Simon and Schuster UK via NetGalley for my copy of The Bookshop of Second Chances to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.

The Bookshop of Second Chances is the debut novel from Jackie Fraser which follows the trials and tribulations of Thea as she navigates her way through a new world of singledom following the unexpected termination of her marriage. The setting for this book was in Scotland and from the outset it was just fabulous. I really wanted to be able to go and visit the village of Baldochrie with its stunning countryside and of course Fortescue books which was run by Edward. Not to mention the location of Edwards ‘shed’ which seemed so otherworldly and beautiful. A real place to get away from it all and give yourself time to chill and relax and take stock of your life. The setting in my opinion makes up for some of the issues I found with the book. The story started out really well as we got to know our main character Thea and the reasons why she has found herself in the village but did drag somewhat in the middle until picking up pace ever so slightly in the last quarter or so.

Thea has suffered a double whammy in her life. She has been made redundant from her job and in the last ten days her husband has left her for another woman he has been secretly carrying on with for years. She is heartbroken and feels like she is the worst in the world that nobody wants her. What is so wrong with her that her husband could betray her in that way? But luck in some small way seems to be on her side when a letter from a solicitor arrives informing her she is now the owner of West Lodge a small house in Scotland left to her by her Great Uncle Andrew. This gives her the perfect escape route as she flees to Scotland on the pretext of sorting the house out for sale. But perhaps the little village she finds herself in will offer more than one enticement to stay permanently? 

Throughout the book Thea reiterates that this is just an extended visit to sort out the house but really deep down you can see her new surroundings start to have a good effect on her and maybe this is what she needs in her life given the devastating and cruel blows she has been dealt with that came from nowhere. She has been humiliated and needs time to lick her wounds. She thinks she is avoiding having to deal with her feelings by investing so much time in the bookshop but really subtly she is in fact facing what she is has been trying to supress. You do feel sorry for Thea that her personal life has reached the state it has and you know she needs to build herself back up again. She is miserable when the divorce is sprung on her out of nowhere but over time being in Scotland makes her happy and she begins a slow, slow journey of improvement and fulfilment. 

What Thea wishes to do with the lodge seems to fade into the background as the story progressed and I thought her new job in Fortescue books took over and this role and whom she meets through it became the focus of the overall plot. The Maltravers brothers, Edward and Charles, have long been at loggerheads and the reason for this does eventually become clear and I did think Charles was very much justified in his stance but then I could perhaps say the same regarding Edward. Thea seems to come between the pair and for Charles I sensed he would play her if he could because he could see the way Edward was thinking. But Thea has been brutally burnt once before and she is not going to let that happen again. She becomes feisty and I loved how she stood up for herself and wasn’t going to be someone who could be walked all over for other peoples gain or for their fun and games.

Thea first encounters Edward when she goes to sell some of her Uncle’s old books and suffice to say from the outset Edward is not a character that you warm to in an hurry and to be honest I hadn’t even come around to him by the time I reached the end of the book. He is rude and abrupt and even though he needs someone to work in the shop, women are not allowed. That says it all in relation to his viewpoint on women even though he seems to have slept with an abundance of them. Thea won’t crack though. She gets the job and she does well in this new position as she truly loves books and interacting with people. But Edward ugh, just his whole demeanour and attitude I really couldn’t stand it. He is surly and packed full of resentment with bottled up issues and family problems just bubbling away and eating him up that it affects how he interacts with people and Thea on a day to day basis. 

Edward is just so closed off and strange and he manifests his feelings in such a gruff and boorish way. But as with a lot of books in this genre when characters act in this way there must be a perfectly good reason for it and when the layers are peeled back and Thea breaks through his tough shell yes dare I say it I did feel a tiny morsel of sympathy for him. Still overall as a character he was infuriating and even though his grumpiness may have been a pose or concealment still I just thought his overall attitude didn’t sit right with me at all. Thea was a brave woman to take him although deep down I thinks he relished the challenge as it helped her become that little bit braver and helped with her own healing process.

The Bookshop of Second Chances I feel overall was too long and could have done with being much shorter. I have seen other reviews mention the same and given the length it was I think it affected the overall flow of the story as a whole. It just seemed to get bogged down in too much unnecessary detail where Thea rambled on and on. It was like her mind was racing all the time and it spewed forth onto the pages in one long swoop which made it difficult for me to fully connect with her. She was constantly talking and analysing and going off on various tangents which added nothing to the story and I found it hard to become fully invested in her the more the book progressed. As the romance element was introduced, and subsequently progressed, you could see where things were going but the initial spark although really evident became somewhat dimmer as the plot developed until things came to a head rather suddenly. 

Even as I neared the last few pages it felt as if the author had more that she wished to tell and then all of a sudden the book finished. From what I have just said it sounds like I didn’t enjoy this book but I did. I just feel a little more editing in terms of cutting down on the length would have made the plot tighter and given a somewhat lighter feel to the book as you were working your way through it. No doubt about it, the author has lots of potential and she has written a promising debut with an interesting overall premise. There is comedy and romance, a wonderful setting and of course given the title lots of mentions of books which ultimately will please many readers.

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