Review: Christmas at Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan

Review: Christmas at Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny ColganChristmas at Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Series: Little Beach Street Bakery #3
Pages: 320
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on October 10th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

New York Times-bestselling author Jenny Colgan dishes up another delightful holiday story about the residents in an idyllic Cornish village who must join forces to save Christmas.

In the Cornish coastal village of Mount Polbearne, the Christmas season has arrived. It’s a joyous time for family, friends, and feasting as decorations sparkle along the town’s winding streets and shop windows feature buoyant, festive displays. And in Polly’s Little Beach Street bakery, the aromas of gingerbread cookies and other treats tempt people in from the cold.

Though Polly is busy keeping up with the demands of the season, she still makes time for her beekeeper boyfriend, Huckle. She’s especially happy to be celebrating the holiday this year with him, and can’t wait to cuddle up in front of the fireplace with a cup of eggnog on Christmas Eve.

But holiday bliss soon gives way to panic when a storm cuts the village off from the mainland. Now it will take all of the villagers to work together in order to ensure everyone has a Merry Christmas.

My Review:

I got so wrapped up in this one that I shivered right along with the heroine. It’s COLD on the coast of Cornwall at Christmas!

This is a story about friendship and families and relationships and finding your bliss and not letting the baggage of the past drag you down.

It’s also about a miracle at Christmas. Not that one. But the tiny little miracle that saves both a family and a friendship, even if it’s not exactly deserved. But miracles so seldom are.

Polly and Kerenza are best friends, and have been since they bonded like glue as scholarship students at a posh private school. But their friendship is severely tested when Kerenza confesses to Polly that the baby in her eight months’ pregnant belly might not be her husband’s.

Polly is caught on the horns of multiple dilemmas, So she does what she usually does – she buries herself in her work as the owner of the Little Beach Street Bakery, and tries to push it all away.

She’s pushing a lot.

Part of the problem is that Kerenza’s husband Reuben and Polly’s fiance Huckle are also best friends. Kerenza fears that if Polly tells Huckle her big secret, then Huckle will feel duty-bound to reveal all to Reuben, ending their marriage in a gigantic mess.

Polly and Kerenza were scholarship students way back when because they were both raised by single mothers who did not do well financially – or in Polly’s case, emotionally. Kerenza’s dad is dead, but Polly’s sperm donor is just a missing piece in her life. A missing piece she can’t fill in, because he’s a subject her mother refuses to talk about. And neither Kerenza nor Polly is willing to risk putting Kerenza’s baby into the same life that they both only managed to get through because they had each other. Not if there’s any way on Earth to avoid it – at any cost.

But Polly fears, and rightly so, that keeping a huge secret from Huckle will damage their seemingly perfect relationship. A relationship that is only perfect because they both avoid the subjects that neither of them wants to deal with. Most particularly Polly’s complete unwillingness to talk about their future. They love each other, they believe they are each other’s soul mates – but whenever Huck raises the subject of taking their engagement to its next logical step, Polly freezes, and freezes him out.

It’s more than cold enough in Mount Polbearne without that.

As guilty as Kerenza feels, this is one of those times when confession is not the answer. There’s a very strong possibility that the baby is her husband’s. There’s also a strong possibility that she was so drunk that when she thinks she fell on some random guy’s dick that nothing actually happened. She was too drunk to remember. All Kerenza can do it wait and see.

But Polly is the one who is really stuck. When her sperm donor’s wife contacts her to tell her that her biological father is dying and wants to see her, it’s up to Polly to decide what she needs to do. Not just whether to see him or not, but whether to finally pry open her mother’s memory box of “things we do not discuss”. And then to decide how the revelations of the secrets of her own life will affect her and her future.

So it’s Kerenza’s crisis, but it’s Polly’s journey. With her pet puffin Neil riding along with her, every step of the way. And it’s lovely. (Especially Neil!)

Escape Rating B+: The first quarter of the book I remember thinking that it was interesting and cute but not all that compelling. The mess of Kerenza’s life, and the complete narcissistic selfishness of her husband Reuben did not thrill me as a reader. It did rather seem as if her mess was very much self-inflicted.

But I settled in to read after dinner, and just got hooked. I came up for air after an hour and realized not just how much time had passed, but also just how much story I had absorbed. Once the focus shifted fully into Polly essentially in not-dealing-with-multiple-crises mode, I got sucked in and couldn’t tear myself away until the last page.

One of the interesting themes that plays out over the course of the story is about the damage that secrets can do to a relationship. Kerenza spends much of the story punishing herself for her unremembered indiscretion, holding the secret so tightly (and so necessarily) that she becomes a shadow of herself. And yet, she knows that it is vital for her baby’s future that she keep the secret no matter what.

But requiring Polly to also keep the secret damages her relationship with Huckle, almost irrevocably, even though it is not her secret and, as she tries to convince Huckle, not her secret to tell, either. And that it’s really none of their business. Or at least not enough of their business to risk the consequences to Kerenza and to the baby.

The more damaging secrets are the secrets that Polly’s mother Doreen has kept from her about her biological father and their relationship. Because it seems obvious that whatever happened back then, it has kept Doreen from living her own life and helping Polly to both grow her own wings and fly free. That Polly managed anyway, at least to some extent, is a testament to her own strength. But those buried secrets still hold her back and weigh her down, and she needs to know the truth in order to live her dreams. She can’t let her life be ruled by her fears – especially by proxy. Watching her set herself free is one of the highlights of the story.

That Polly has been adopted by a puffin, or more specifically that Neil has Polly wrapped around his bright little beak, is utterly adorable. And adds a marvelous touch of whimsy at just the right moments. I haven’t read the rest of the Little Beach Street Bakery series, and now I want to, if only to find out how Neil and Polly adopted each other. It must be adorable.

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Review: The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan + Giveaway

Review: The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan + GiveawayThe Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Pages: 368
Published by William Morrow on September 20th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Nina Redmond is a librarian with a gift for finding the perfect book for her readers. But can she write her own happy-ever-after? In this valentine to readers, librarians, and book-lovers the world over, the New York Times-bestselling author of Little Beach Street Bakery returns with a funny, moving new novel for fans of Meg Donohue, Sophie Kinsella, and Nina George’s The Little Paris Bookshop.
“Losing myself in Jenny Colgan’s beautiful pages is the most delicious, comforting, satisfying treat I have had in ages.”—Jane Green, New York Times bestselling author of Summer Secrets
Nina Redmond is a literary matchmaker. Pairing a reader with that perfect book is her passion… and also her job. Or at least it was. Until yesterday, she was a librarian in the hectic city. But now the job she loved is no more.
Determined to make a new life for herself, Nina moves to a sleepy village many miles away. There she buys a van and transforms it into a bookmobile—a mobile bookshop that she drives from neighborhood to neighborhood, changing one life after another with the power of storytelling. 
From helping her grumpy landlord deliver a lamb, to sharing picnics with a charming train conductor who serenades her with poetry, Nina discovers there’s plenty of adventure, magic, and soul in a place that’s beginning to feel like home… a place where she just might be able to write her own happy ending.

My Review:

The Bookshop on the Corner begins as every librarian’s nightmare, and transforms itself into many librarians’ dreams as Nina takes her life into her own two hands and goes from harried and laid off librarian in Birmingham to contented and fulfilled bookseller in the Scottish Highlands.

It’s a lovely journey. The bookshop on wheels that Nina puts her heart into has the best bookstore name ever, “ The Little Shop of Happy-Ever-After.” If only that were such an easy thing to buy. Or sell. But Nina Redmond certainly finds one of her own, and brings that possibility, or at least the escape into a vicarious one, to lots of little towns and villages dotted through the land she comes to call home.

The story does not have an auspicious start, at least not for our heroine. As is unfortunately happening in real life in the U.K. Nina’s little branch library in bustling Birmingham is closed due to budget cuts. A very, very tiny number of the staff will be relocated to the headquarters library, to jobs with less pay and nearly no contact with the books that they all love. The powers-that-be have drunk the “new media age” kool aid, and are more interested in people who don’t read than people who do.

Anyone who has worked in a library in the past couple of decades has probably run into all too many avatars of this breed. I love my technology, and I do most of my personal reading on an iPad, but if there are no books, there is nothing to put on said iPad. Reading is reading. I digress.

Nina, who has been living a safe, sheltered and mostly comfortable life by hiding within the pages of whatever book she is reading at the moment is both crushed and energized at the same terrifying moment. She has no job, but she has a scary dream of opening a traveling bookshop, not dissimilar to a bookmobile, but with prices on the books instead of date due slips.

In the face of impending economic doom, and the tons of books she has accumulated in the house she shares starting to crack the ceilings and the stairs, Nina hesitantly hatches a crazy plan. She goes off to the Highlands to buy a white elephant of a van. When she discovers that she can’t get any of the dozens of permits she needs to operate her bookshop in overcrowded Birmingham, she takes her dream to where the van is blocking most of a street. In the Highlands village of Kirrinfief.

The story is Nina’s journey. She has to step way, way outside her comfort zone to find the place that speaks to her heart. And because she opens herself up to the love of the people who are drawn to this place, love finds her as well. As everyone around her rediscovers the love of a good book, Nina is finally able to stretch herself to discover that a good book is no substitute for a real life – even with a bit of heartbreak along the way.

Escape Rating B+: Although I very definitely enjoyed this story, it also felt like it had a bit of a fantasy element. Sadly the demise of Nina’s little branch library and the direction that things took in the library reorganization felt much, much too real. The situations are somewhat different between the US and U.K., but not that different. Unfortunately. The struggles experienced by Nina and her former colleagues were all too real.

On that other hand, the situation that Nina drives herself into in Kirrinfief felt a bit like a trip to Brigadoon. Opening any kind of bookshop is all too frequently a fast track to going broke. Like any small business, it’s much easier to start one than make one successful. Her approach is just different enough to make this barely possible, and she has no competition whatsoever. None of these little towns seem to be big enough to support their own little bookshop, and the libraries have all closed. Internet coverage seems to be so spotty that the instant access to Amazon or Waterstone’s just doesn’t exist. Nina seems to have sidled into her niche at just the right time.

Admittedly, in real life some of Nina’s book acquisition methods would give all of us a bit of pause. It feels like she skirts the edge of legality just a bit in the beginning. Maybe more than a bit.

She has the gift that we all wish we had, matching a reader with just the right book for them at just the right time. That gift is also a touch of magic.

But what Nina seems to be doing is bringing people together in their mutual love of books. And by doing so she makes a place in the community that is hers alone. In an area where there seem to be 5 (or more) single men for every woman, there’s also a damn good chance that Nina will find a romance for herself that is not between the pages of a book.

That she stumbles rather dramatically at first makes her a bit more human. So many of the business aspects of this story feel a bit too easy even for fiction, but the way that she initially messes up her love life make her more real and more sympathetic. She’s more human for screwing up.

That the romance she finds is the icing on a cake she has already baked for herself, and not the actual cake, gives this story its heart.

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

The publisher is giving away 3 print copies of The Bookshop on the Corner to lucky entrants on this tour:

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