The Bookshop on the Shore by Jenny Colgan, Eilidh Beaton (Narrator)

The Bookshop on the Shore by Jenny Colgan, Eilidh Beaton (Narrator)
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks, HarperAudio (Publisher)
Genre: Contemporary, Fiction
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

A grand baronial house on Loch Ness, a quirky small-town bookseller, and a single mom looking for a fresh start all come together in this witty and warm-hearted novel by New York Times bestselling author Jenny Colgan.

Desperate to escape from London, single mother Zoe wants to build a new life for herself and her four year old son Hari. She can barely afford the crammed studio apartment on a busy street where shouting football fans keep them awake all night. Hari’s dad, Jaz, a charismatic but perpetually broke DJ, is no help at all. But his sister Surinder comes to Zoe’s aid, hooking her up with a job as far away from the urban crush as possible: a bookshop on the banks of Loch Ness. And there’s a second job to cover housing: Zoe will be an au pair for three children at a genuine castle in the Scottish Highlands.

But while Scotland is everything Zoe dreamed of—clear skies, brisk fresh air, blessed quiet—everything else is a bit of a mess. The Urquart family castle is grand, but crumbling, the childrens’ single dad is a wreck, and the kids have been kicked out of school and left to their own devices. Zoe has her work cut out for her, and is determined to rise to the challenge, especially when she sees how happily Hari has taken to their new home.

With the help of Nina, the friendly local bookseller, Zoe begins to put down roots in the community. Are books, fresh air, and kindness enough to heal this broken family—and her own…?

I honestly don’t know where to start, what to share and how to avoid spoilers. To say this is a busy story is putting it mildly. My mind is blown, my emotions and feelings are all over the place because there are so many reasons to smile, cry, worry and grin. There are parts where I could feel my eyes widen, my jaw drop and my breath stall in my lungs from suspense. There are so many details to all the personalities that star in this novel. The fact that I spent 11 hours listening over two and a half days, at work, late at night, right after breakfast, basically every chance I got tells you how involved I was in the story of Zoe and her little son, Hari. I didn’t know what to expect when I took a chance on this book. I’d never heard of the author before and that’s my loss. I am wowed by this novel.

The narrator has a voice I had to get used to. I did though and now I’ve come to believe that Ms. Beaton’s voice is absolutely perfect for the characters of Ms. Colgan’s characters, especially Zoe, the heroine, and Ramsey’s son, Patrick. The narrator has some other gems throughout but I’ll let readers, if they listen to the book, discover that charming point for themselves.

Here’s the problem with listening to a book instead of reading – I have no idea how to spell some of the names and I don’t want to get it wrong so I’m going to have to describe people through their roles or some such. Bear with me. Patrick is Ramsey’s youngest, Mary is the second oldest and the eldest son has a name I would probably spell wrong. Out of all the hero’s kids, I think Patrick is the most adorable, outgoing and just plain cute. His relationship and effect on Hari is one of the strong elements in the book and one of my favorites. The two were thick as thieves and a delight to read about. I believe Ms. Beaton’s narration was spot on for those two.

Mary’s character is a hard one. That child has issues – serious issues that caused me heartache on her behalf, and is involved in the few scenes that affected my emotions the most. Zoe’s influence is one of the paramount reasons that what happens to Mary is so powerful and important.

Ramsey’s eldest son isn’t quite as prominent as the other two, but Zoe’s gentle guidance took this sullen, internet-gaming young man and turned him into a person with confidence, goals and helped him discover a grand new passion through which he experiences success, joy and a possible path to a career. I liked that.

I think I’m writing this backwards. Zoe is the main character, a single mom of Hari, and Hari can’t speak yet. He’s 4 years old and hasn’t made a peep. Zoe’s love for him comes through loud and clear. He lucked out when he got Zoe for his mom. His dad, Jaz, not so much. Oh, he loves the little tyke, but … there’s a reason Zoe and he never got married. And yet, I didn’t dislike Jaz. He’s irresponsible, yes, but he truly loves his son and I consider that a redeeming quality.

When I first meet Zoe, the author paints a very scary picture. The heroine is in dire straits and things don’t look good. She gets a helping hand from Jaz’s sister and that’s how the whole story in Scotland starts up. True, when I first started listening to the story, I got a little confused about who was who in which chapter, but that confusion didn’t last long. There is a significant reason the author wants readers to meet certain players early on. Readers need to understand what is going on in Zoe’s life, why she takes the jobs that were offered sight unseen and they need to meet the people that mattered in that stage of her life. Here’s another unusual aspect of the book – it has four parts and each part has a ton of chapters. It’s like the author tells Zoe’s and Hari’s story in stages – as a crisis point or major plot twist puts the heroine on a new path, each path becomes a section of her life and that’s why I think the novel is formatted in this manner. It is different, that’s for sure.

When I listed the genre as contemporary fiction, I did not add romance to the list. There are romantic elements, yes, but the book doesn’t really focus on a romance between Ramsey and Zoe. That just happens as Zoe’s influence heals everyone in the house, and that includes the housekeeper. It was nice to see it happen but the focus, the whole story is about Zoe dealing with the hand life has dealt her. It’s showing a reader how she herself heals while she patiently works with all of the hero’s children, meeting each challenge as they come, with compassion, firmness, stubbornness, a gentle grace and love. However, Zoe’s interactions with adults prove to be a bit more challenging. The dialogue comes in fits and starts because she initially is extremely nervous, downtrodden and at the lowest point in her life. That’s at the beginning. By the end of the book, Zoe has come into her own, and she’s a woman a reader can cheer for, care about and be happy for. This novel is basically her journey towards being the strong, confident, and beloved woman she becomes.

Oh my goodness, there is so much more I want to say, to share, to really impress upon readers of this review that The Bookshop on the Shore is worth reading. I mean it. It’s not a fluff read because the author also tackles some hard topics, like what happens to a child that is emotionally traumatized and does things to harm themselves or others. It’s handled with competence, respect and love. Then there is the truth about what really happened to Ramsey’s wife. The townsfolk bandy about lots of rumors and conjectures but don’t believe any of them. The truth is a lot more tragic than any could guess. Yet, it also opened my eyes to what a wonderful person Ramsey is, in his own quiet, few-worded way.

I’ll stop here. I mean, I didn’t even get to mention the evil chicken, the possible sighting of Nessie, what triggered Nina’s contractions to go from 0 to 60, the storm, what happens with the books – see what I mean? This novel is amazing – it’s like a whole world and I felt like I was living it with Zoe. I don’t know if it’s because of the skill and talent of the narrator bringing Ms. Colgan’s words to life or what, but if readers haven’t discovered this heartwarming tale, and are fans of stories that engage a reader on a deeper level, then this book is a must read. Oh, and the HEA is as unusual as Zoe’s life. I couldn’t figure out if it was really a happy ever after or a happily for now. I guess you’ll have to read it and decide for yourself. It does satisfy though because it wraps up with a surprising twist that bodes well for all the people I’ve come to care about.

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