Another pick for a 2020 PopSugar Reading Challenge prompt, this time for a book with a book on the cover. There were plenty of good suggestions; I went with The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan (William Morrow/Harper Collins, 2016). I thought this was my first book by this author, but after checking Goodreads, it turns out I’ve also read Amanda’s Wedding (which, uh, I didn’t really love). How lovely is this cover, though? Don’t you just want to rush right into that shop, grab whatever gorgeous, gilt-edged hardcover you can reach, and throw yourself into the nearest squishy armchair for a cozy afternoon of uninterrupted reading?
Nina Redmond adores her job as a librarian, matching each person with the perfect book, but her job doesn’t quite love her back- with austerity measures becoming the norm, libraries all over England are closing, and the one where Nina works is no exception. After trying to decide what to do with the rest of her life, nearly on a whim, Nina travels to a small town in rural Scotland and buys an enormous van with the intent of opening her own traveling bookshop. This rural town, as it turns out, is desperate for books, its own library having shut down years ago, and almost overnight, Nina’s living in rural Scotland, her life having done an entire turnabout.
Even small businesses- and small towns- aren’t immune to drama, and Nina finds herself embroiled in the affairs of the community almost immediately. A quasi-romance with a railway worker keeps her wondering; her gruff, moody landlord both irritates and intrigues her; a ragtag set of siblings worm their way into her heart. All the while, Nina is bringing her love of books to everyone she knows and helping spread the love of reading.
This was just kind of okay for me. I liked it, but didn’t love it. It’s cute, occasionally veering into cutesy, but the romance parts of it didn’t feel authentic to me whatsoever. I understood Nina’s infatuation with Marek, the mysterious railway worker, although the whole thing turned sour and a little creepy, but Lennox? I don’t understand the “He barely talks to me and is a grumpy asshole to everyone, but Imma hop in bed with him anyway” trope (is there a name for that one?). I get being wildly physically attracted to someone; that happens all the time in romance novels and the couple doesn’t exactly hold back before swan-diving under the covers (or hitting up the nearest closet, or bathroom, or going at it in the kitchen or wherever’s convenient). That doesn’t bother me, but there are usually at least a few previous scenes where the couple has shown marked attraction to one another. There wasn’t even any heat in earlier scenes between Nina and Lennox, not even a passionate undercurrent, just a sense of irritation. Their relationship, if you can call it that, didn’t feel genuine to me at all.
The setting, though, is fantastic. The fictional village of Kirrinfief, tucked away in the Scottish highlands, sounds gorgeous and magical. Supposedly, it’s a place that usually receives torrents of rain, but the weather holds out for much of the book; this had me wondering how, when it does go back to being rainy, a book van would function, especially since a huge draw for Nina’s business is things like toddler storytime. How do you have that if it’s raining buckets or when it’s cold and the wind is whipping across the landscape? This was never covered, and I would’ve liked to have seen Nina’s plans for this.
Also noticeably absent from the book is any concern about healthcare, which is to be expected, but still struck me as an incredible thing. Nina loses her job and, while she’s worried about being able to pay rent, after going into business for herself, she never once has to wonder, “What if I’m hefting boxes of books and I tear my rotator cuff? What if my appendix bursts? What if I find out I have a brain aneurysm, throw out my back, or develop a serious case of pneumonia that requires me to be hospitalized? How would I pay the medical bills if I’m hit by a car? Can I afford any kind of insurance on what I’m making?” What amazing privilege that must be, to be able to leave a job and start your own business and never once have to worry about any of that- whereas when my husband lost his job years ago, one of my first thoughts was, “Well, guess I have to go off my medication and just hope my back doesn’t go out.” As an American, this kind of thing is always so prevalent to me when it comes to books set in countries with nationalized healthcare systems. I bring this up not because it has anything to do with the quality of the book or how I feel about it, but because it’s part of the lens in which I view these stories, and it always leaves me feeling wistful.
All in all, not my favorite read of the year, but the setting is deeply charming and helped rescue a lot of the book for me. I have a large map of the world with magnetic pins hanging in my living room, and I move a pin to every country where a book I read is set. I’ve already got six pins (not counting the US) scattered throughout the map. Not bad for the end of the first month!