Aria's Travelling Bookshop
While Aria’s Travelling Bookshop appears to be listed as a stand alone novel, it did not read that way to me. I felt I had a better grasp on the story because I had read the first book Aria appeared in, Rosie’s Travelling Tea Shop. Both narratives detail the joys of van-life and the delight of being a nomad.
Lovely Aria Summers doesn’t mind being the third wheel in her friends’ relationship. In fact, as a determinedly single-forevermore widow, she is resigned to that status as her lot in life, now and in the future. Aria doesn’t care because she loves her freewheeling van-lifestyle and finds lots of pleasure in taking her camper/bookshop on the festival circuit, travelling with Rosie and Max and creating community with whomever else she finds herself travelling. She also appreciates that it gives her plenty of solitude; whether it’s quiet hours spent driving down scenic roads with only her own thoughts for company or spending an evening curled up with a good romance novel, she has plenty of time to just enjoy living on her own. Aria is firmly convinced she’s meant to be a free bird, flying solo.
The night before she, Rosie and Max leave for France is different. Their little caravan of campers, a group who has travelled together for the last several months, is heading in (mostly) different directions. Aria feels obligated to go hang out at the bar, drink too much wine and say goodbye to all the friends and acquaintances she’s made touring the festival circuit.
When she arrives, she is surprised to see Jonathan Chadwick chugging drinks with the Van-Lifers. Aria met the smart bibliophile at a festival earlier in the year and they’d talked for the best part of a day about the novels they loved, especially the romcoms. But the caravan moved to a different city and, she assumed, left him behind.
Aria quickly loses track of Jonathan in the crowd and she’s good with that. They had a bit too much chemistry for her to be completely comfortable around him, given her vow to never love again. Then a series of unexpected events result in her falling off a karaoke stage and straight into his arms. Aria isn’t sure what causes her to completely lose control and kiss him (the wine), but she is sure that she enjoys it far too much to ever repeat that mistake again. She’s just glad she won’t keep running into him once she’s on the continent.
Only… she does. Jonathan is touring France, too, albeit for a different purpose and many of the places he lands just happen to coincide with the places Aria’s scheduled to be. Is fickle fate tempting her beyond what she can endure? Or is life telling her it’s time to move on?
I’ve seen this novel described as Friendship Fiction/ Romance / Women’s Fiction (humorous) and I would say that definition is apt. The story is as much about Aria’s relationships with other women – her crusty mother-in-law Mary, the delightful Rosie, and the difficult Tori – as it is about Aria’s burgeoning romance with Jonathan. In fact, Jonathan is in the novel far less than Rosie and almost equal to those other two characters. This was my main problem with the book – that it was such a hybrid of women’s fiction and romance, there is no real buildup to an HEA/HFN. I liked what there was of the love story but the truth is that there isn’t much to it. Once they work past the considerable obstacle in their path, they are so perfect for each other they fall in love very quickly and easily.
That obstacle is Aria’s reluctance to ever be in a sexual relationship again. Her first husband loved her utterly and completely, and she had loved him the same way. When he died of cancer, Aria was understandably devastated. During his last few months, they had toured the Lake District in a camper and Aria has not felt comfortable making a home anywhere but that camper ever since. She also hasn’t felt satisfied just parking it somewhere; she has remained on an endless travel tour since shortly after he passed. A part of Aria realizes she is trying to outrun her grief, but she certainly doesn’t want to stop and let it catch up with her. Much of the book is spent processing her pain with the help and wisdom of Rosie, Mary and a special diary as her guide. Because Aria’s sorrow is several years old, the author is able to treat it with a light hand, combining heartache, joy and humor skillfully so that Aria’s journey towards Jonathan is meaningful and filled with funny, sweet moments.
While that portion of the tale is well done, my favorite part of the book details van life. Working out the schedules, counting pennies, living in the company of other nomads, figuring out how to get medical care or communicate across language barriers, deciding what’s appropriate to bring to group meals – all that totally fascinated me. How they support each other’s businesses is interesting, too. Aria would sell her books with the customized love poems written by one of her peers and Rosie makes special bookish tea blends to help buyers of Aria’s books immerse themselves in the world of their favorites. The businesses work cooperatively rather than competitively.
Aria’s Travelling Book Shop is a gentle, charming story about the abundance of love and how our lives often have room in them for more than one great romance. Readers who enjoy women’s fiction with an HEA should give this one a try.