Wednesday, December 15, 2021

TBR Challenge: Jenny Colgan - The Christmas Bookshop

When the department store she works in closes for good, Carmen has perilously little cash and few options. She doesn’t want to move in with her perfect sister Sofia, in Sofia’s perfect house with her perfect children and her perfectly ordered Edinburgh life.
Frankly, Sofia doesn’t exactly want Carmen there either. Her sister has always been sarcastic and difficult. But Sofia has yet another baby on the way, a mother desperate to see her daughters get along, and a client who needs a retail assistant for his ailing bookshop, so welcoming Carmen might still have some benefits for everyone.
At Sofia’s behest, Carmen is thrown into the daily workings of old Mr. McCredie’s ancient bookshop on the streets of the old dark city. Can she use her design skills to revamp the store and bring it back to popularity in time to benefit from Christmas shopping traffic? Can she choose between bad boy literary rock star Blair and quiet Quaker student Oke? And will she heal the rift with the most important people of all: her family?

Comment: It does seem surprising, but time does fly and it's December already. That means it's time for another post of the TBR Challenge and the theme for this month was "festive", which can be any kind of celebration but this being December, clearly the pick tends to fall more onto Christmas themes and I chose it as well.
I picked a very recent book by Jenny Colgan (although I'm behind on her series) not only because it was a Christmas story and fit the theme but also because some friends have enjoyed it and I was ready to like it too.

In this story we meet Carmen, she hasn't had a lot of luck when it comes to her choices in life, which explains why she will be out of a job again very soon. Her successful sister, lawyer extraordinaire and mother of three, soon to be four, with a wonderful husband somehow finds her a position at a struggling bookshop in Edinburgh, where she lives. Carmen reluctantly agrees, hoping to endure the process of being with a sister she isn't that close to. However, both her sister's children and the bookshop start growing on her and Carmen must decide if she is willing to bet on a life she is enjoying more and more or if this is really just another experience and she should leave before she gets even more attached...

While reading, I kept thinking this book reminded me of a cozy fire, a hot beverage on the side, while it was cold outside... I thought this because it was, indeed, cold outside, but also because every detail in this book is aimed to make us imagine this scenario, that although there are unpleasant things all the time, we should cherish the sweet, the cozy, the warmth in our lives, even if that is only the support of our family. Of course the intention of this story is very obvious but that didn't mean it would be so satisfying to read it, even knowing it's meant to be sweet and inspirational for the season.

Carmen is an easy heroine to relate to because she has worries and a complicated life, mostly because of choices she made and how her personality is but she is a likable person and we feel it's very easy to root for her, especially since, as the plot moves along, we get to see her better side and why she is deserving of a HEA. She isn't perfect, no, but I believe her intentions are genuine and she is a natural helper, in the sense she might seem picky at times but she truly cares and does the "right thing", no matter how one would describe it.

There's a small moment during the plot where it seems things might turn into a love triangle, for of course part of the fun of having a new life experience is to fall in love, but I wouldn't label this romance as a love triangle for the simple reason that there wasn't a doubt in my mind who Carmen would end up with or why. I think the road to romance and admitting it is both sweet and whimsical enough to seem sweet and mysterious in some scenes but the practical side of me wishes they would have found a more detailed agreement on how things would proceed but it wasn't such a negative element because I think we are shown how they are in love.

In a way, if there is one less appealing element overall for me, is the fact some situations seem a little too convenient, slightly too easily accomplished... although i can put those aside for the type of story we have. I also would liked a little less vagueness in general, there are some situations, again, which feel too simple, not fully contextualized or explained...I wouldn't go as to use the word "angst" for this, but there's this sense the less then cheerful scenes might have had more background. It still didn't ruin the experience for me, though, so don't feel the story is incomplete or anything like that.

Since this is a story where good things are supposed to happen, as soon as our heroine makes up her mind about what she wants to do, everything falls very easily into place, both in her life and in the life of those around her. I think the author planned this story well enough for it to give the vibe intended, this is a sweet story about making choices that feel right, about cherishing family and the simpler things in life that, although might not be the flashier in contrast to others, are still fulfilling and special for what they mean. As a Christmas story, I really think this one worked out well.
Grade: 8/10

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