fiction

The Bookshop on the Corner- Jenny Colgan

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!

Visit Jenny Colgan’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

fiction

Love and Other Words- Christina Lauren

The final task I had to complete the Modern Mrs. Darcy 2019 Reading Challenge was three books by the same author. While, as I mentioned in my last post, I don’t often binge-read books by the same author (I’m more of a slow, savoring, dole-it-out-bit-by-bit kind of gal), Christina Lauren is an exception for me. I fell in love with them when I read Dating You/Hating You a few years back, and they’ve been front-and-center on my radar ever since. This year, I read (and loved!) My Favorite Half-Night Stand and followed that up days later with Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating. To round out my list of three books, I chose Love and Other Words (Gallery Books, 2018), the duo’s first foray into women’s fiction.

When Macy’s mom dies when Macy is only 10, she leaves behind a list of advice that will help her husband raise their daughter. One of these pieces of advice prompts him to buy a mildewy vacation house in California wine country, and it’s there that Macy meets Elliot, the gangly, awkward, bookish boy next door who will become her everything. The two forge a friendship based on literature and honesty, and Macy finds Elliot is the one person she can just be with. He doesn’t act weird because her mom died, and while he doesn’t always know exactly what to say, he always knows exactly how to listen. As they grow and mature, what started out as friendship shifts into something stronger, something they both understand is timeless, but the reader is already privy to the truth: thanks to Macy’s narration and the alternating timelines, we know that as an adult, Macy, now a doctor and deeply hurt, hasn’t seen or spoken to Elliot in eleven years, and she’s engaged to someone else.

Love and Other Words examines how a friendship can blossom into love and then fall to pieces before either party has a chance to understand why or how, and the aftermath of such a painful destruction. For a story that’s abundant with grief in each of the two timelines, Christina Lauren still manages to imbue the story with a sense of hope, healing, discovering the means in oneself to let go of the past and fall in love with life- and with someone else- once again.

This was a deep, lovely read. Macy and Elliot as teenagers are beyond adorable- Elliot is the boy next door every book nerd wishes they had when they were younger. The two spend their days holed up in Macy’s library, reading quietly and sharing books, and nothing would have made me happier as a teenager to have a friend like that (sadly, I read alone on my front porch and in my room; none of the boys that lived near me were readers). Their awkward-but-brutally honest conversations are both funny and charming, and multiple times I laughed out loud at their blundering attempts at more mature discussion. Take, for example, the following dialogue:

“Why are you staring at me?” he asked.
“I was…not.”
He let out a short, dry sound of disbelief. “Okay.” Stretching his neck, he looked down. “You’re still staring.”
“I’m just wondering how it works,” I asked.
“How
what works?”
“When you…” I made a telling gesture with my hand. “With guys and the…you know?”
He raised his eyebrows, waiting. I could see the moment he knew what I was talking about. His pupils dilated so fast his eyes looked black.
“You’re asking me how
dicks work?”

Even if you weren’t that curious as a teenager, how amazing would it have been to have a friendship that comfortable, where you could be that open with each other? Christina Lauren has (have? I’m never sure what verb form one uses with a writing duo. Third person singular? Plural? Possibly English is just stupid for this task) a gift for writing strong female/male friendships that confront any sexual tension in engaging and believable ways. Macy and Elliot are fine examples of this, but this has rung true for all of the couples and platonic friends in all of their books that I’ve read.

Adult Macy is driven by her work and closed off to deep emotion, something that becomes more understandable and heartbreaking as the reader learns more of her backstory. The one issue I have with this story is the speed at which the ending comes. There’s a major revelation towards the end, one that makes everything Macy has been through and done make sense, and it’s something that I think would have required more time for Elliot to process than he actually took. There would have been some strong emotions to work through, particularly from a character who feels things so deeply as Elliot does, and so I was left feeling as though I were being shoved out the door after having attended a warm party with friends.

Despite that, Love and Other Words is a deeply heartfelt story of two people with a once-enviable friendship who fall in love, lose everything in an instant, and find each other years later. It’s grieving, it’s pain, it’s self-awareness and learning and coming back to a place of honesty after far too much time away. It fits in well with the other Christina Lauren novels I’ve read; while it lacks their usual dual narrative (something I always enjoy), the alternating timeline by a single narrator gives the book a similar feel. I so enjoyed reading this book, just like everything else I’ve read from this amazing duo. And with that, I’ve completed the 2019 Modern Mrs. Darcy Reading Challenge! Yay me!

Is there an author that you’ll read pretty much anything they write? Christina Lauren is one of those authors for me; who are yours?

Visit Christina Lauren’s website here.

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