The Christmas Bookshop
The Christmas Bookshop is a sweet, holiday offering about a woman finding the place she was always meant to be. It is loosely tied to Jenny Colgan’s Kirrinfief series and fans familiar with those volumes will recognize some of the characters – and plot motifs – from those books in this narrative. You don’t have to have read them to enjoy this one though.
Carmen Hogan has worked at Dounston’s department store ever since she was in school and while she’s known for months that the storeis in trouble, it is still a huge disappointment when she is laid off. With zero savings and no other jobs available in her small town, Carmen is forced to move back in with her parents. They adore her, but being homeless and jobless is not what her mother wants for Carmen’s future. Desperate, Carmen’s mum appeals to her oldest daughter, Sofia, a successful lawyer, to find Carmen a new position.
Sofia doesn’t know what her mother expects her to do. It’s not like Carmen’s career in retail has exactly qualified her for a placement in a barrister’s office. Then it hits her: Mr. McCredie, a client who owns an ancient bookstore, needs to turn the finances of his shop around in the next several months or he will lose everything. Surely Carmen’s experience manning a till at a Dounston’s can translate into selling books and helping an old man save his business.
Carmen isn’t exactly thrilled to move to Edinburgh, into Sofia’s perfect house and help her care for her three perfect children as well as play babysitter to an elderly man with a failing enterprise. But before long, she finds she gets along very well with her nieces and nephew, has a knack for book sales – and there are actually moments where she almost, very nearly gets along with her perfect sibling. Carmen had made a wreck out of her old life, is it possible she can make a success out of this second chance?
Fans of Ms. Colgan know that a staple of her novels is the heroine type I refer to as ‘hot mess Cinderella’, gals who begin the tale in dire straits and find themselves saved by discovering the niche they were meant to occupy all along. In Carmen’s case, Mr. McCredie’s bookshop is that niche. Recognizing a soul even more lost than she is – and realizing that she really does need to make a go of something or she will be serving as backup nanny for Sofia forever – she tackles turning the dusty, dank, untidy store into a charming, quirky little boutique that – just in time for the holidays – carries unique and beautiful Christmas volumes. Ramsay Urquart, hero of The Bookshop on the Shore, turns out to be a huge help in this endeavor. As an estate sale shopper he discovers gorgeous volumes of yuletide classics for her to sell which are steeped in a nostalgia factor perfect for the well-heeled clients that frequent the picturesque area in which McCredie’s is located.
Pippa, Phoebe and Jack, Carmen’s nieces and nephew, prove quite adept at finagling their way into Carmen’s heart and ours. Far from being picture-perfect children, as Carmen had initially thought, they turn out to be all too human: Phoebe is something of a scaredy-cat brat, Pippa a bossy know-it-all and Jack is sports-obsessed. Their faults are sweet rather than irritating and they are an important part of Carmen’s transformation from a rather self-obsessed, whiny woman who behaves like a spoiled teen into a less whiny and more mature adult.
Equally important is the reconciliation that occurs between the two sisters. Carmen had always felt Sofia had lucked into her success but comes to realize Sofia has actually worked incredibly hard for everything she has. Letting go of past hurts and appreciating each other gives the siblings a new found closeness they never thought to achieve.
The author has a breezy, lighthearted writing style which always makes her books a pleasure to read. And she does a wonderful job of capturing life during the holidays and infusing it with all the imperfections and delights which make up the season. She left me longing to decorate and drink cocoa.
There are two potential love interests in the story. Blair Pfenning is a self-help guru whose popular books delight audiences the world over but who is secretly a grouchy narcissist. BBC Scotland decides to utilize McCredie’s to shoot an interview with him, and he begins a casual flirtation with Carmen. And then there’s Oke, a Brazilian Quaker lecturing on trees at a nearby university. A genial and charming young man, his calm, kindly demeanor is the perfect balance to Carmen’s more frantic and sharp-tongued nature. Carmen doesn’t connect with her hero till almost the end of the book and it is definitely not worth the wait. They have less than a dozen scenes together, most of which include other people and we are given no tangible reason as to why they would love each other.
This book felt a bit snarkier than Colgan’s last few novels. I’ve mentioned that Carmen is a tad snide and critical. She openly admits she has a huge chip on her shoulder, based primarily on the choices she has made, but she has a tendency to take that out on others rather than indulge in self-loathing. At one point she asks someone if they believe in God with the same level of skeptical scorn one would apply to an adult who believed in Santa. Self-help books, healthy eating for children, and yoga all receive that same treatment. It’s done in a humorous fashion but the jokes definitely have a judgmental edge to them. Fortunately, she changes (a little!) as she slowly comes to terms with the bad decisions that brought her to Edinburgh and recognizes the good choices she has made since arriving.
Those are quibbles, though, and they definitely won’t matter to the author’s long-time fans. The Christmas Bookshop is a signature Colgan novel, redolent with all the features her readers love. I’m quite sure they will be delighted with this offering. Those who haven’t tried the author before might want to start with Meet Me at the Cupcake Cafe or The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris. Those are slightly stronger reads which serve as an excellent introduction to her work.
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I've been an avid reader since 2nd grade and discovered romance when my cousin lent me Lord of La Pampa by Kay Thorpe in 7th grade. I currently read approximately 150 books a year, comprised of a mix of Young Adult, romance, mystery, women's fiction, and science fiction/fantasy.