Tag Archives: Little Beach Street Bakery

The Bookshop on the Corner

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Title:  The Bookshop on the Corner
Author:  Jenny Coogan
Publisher:  William Morrow
Publication Date:  2016
ISBN:  978-0-06-246725-6

Book Summary:
In the current age of technology, social media, and financial cutbacks, the Birmingham library where Nina Redmond works finds itself without purpose and Nina, without a job.  At age twenty-nine, all Nina has ever known and loved are books.  Her roommate has finally hit her limit of all the lost and lonely books that Nina brings home and declares that Nina and her books must go.

Now, out of a job and a home, Nina searches for a new start.  In the transition program that is meant to help the displaced workers find that next step, Nina reveals her lifelong dream – to own a bookstore.  However, with limited means, Nina instead settles on a search for a book van and she finds one . . . in Scotland.

As so begins a grand adventure of negotiating the purchase of the van, finding a new place to live, figuring how to get her books to the van, learning how to drive the van, and endeavoring to make a living sharing her love of books with the readers she meets.

Along the way, she meets a host of characters: Edwin and Hugh, her pub buddies; Lennox, her cantankerous landlord, Marek, her mysterious and sexy book smuggler; and Ben and Ainslee, the children whose secrets tug at her heart.  But as Nina shares her passion for books and talent at perfectly matching reader to story, she must also decide which chapter of her own life she will follow and if she is willing to step out from behind the pages of the books that she is reading and face the world.

Book Commentary:
I loved this book.  Straightforward and simple, it had all my favorites – a nerdy heroine, a rakish hero, books, and Scotland.  Sigh.  As with the other Jenny Colgan books, for many they might be considered “chick lit,” but I really feel that her metaphors for life are spot on.  She comments that for Nina, whenever the grim, harsh, and unpleasant realities of life rear up, “she always turned to a book.”  I think a lot readers do this; find sanctuary and peace in stories that aren’t their own realities.

The author, however, through Nina does warn of the dangers of constantly escaping into a book and forgetting to live your life.  The constant imagery and metaphors of books and new chapters really resonate with the reader; the story is a delightful tale, but also a cautionary one.

The author comments that this book – her seventeenth – was written for her readers.  She expounds on her favorite reading spots and understands the spark of matching a perfect book to a wounded, expectant, or nervous soul.

As someone who has read a lot of books to children, I also appreciated the theory that “children were evolutionarily engineered to listen to stories, because it stopped them from wandering off in the woods and getting eaten by hairy mammoths.”  Makes sense!

Who might like this book:
This book is for book-lovers.  It will make you think a bit about why you read and how you read, but most all, it will make you smile.

I have read and loved two other Jenny Colgan books – Little Beach Street Bakery and Summer at Little Beach Street Bakery . . . and I might possibly have two more waiting in my to-be-read pile.

Little Beach Street Bakery

little beach street bakery

Title:  Little Beach Street Bakery
Author:  Jenny Coogan
Publisher:  William Morrow
Publication Date:  2014
ISBN:  978-0-06-237122-5

Book Summary:
As Polly’s graphic design business with her husband falls apart and they are forced to declare bankruptcy, so crumbles her marriage.  With limited funds, Polly is unable to find cheap rent anywhere in Plymouth so she broadens her search.  She discovers a home in an “unusual location,” as the listing describes.  Located on the tidal island of Mount Polbearne, the two room flat fits her budget.  Although it is worn and in desperate need of a good cleaning, Polly grasps the chance to find a place away from Plymouth, away from her former life, and away from her husband Chris, where she can have peace and solitude and a chance, at thirty-two years of age, to rethink her future.

Her best friend Kenesha is convinced she is crazy, but Polly embraces the opportunity for change.  The island has definitely seen better days; many of the inhabitants rely on fishing as their income source.  As the causeway between the island and the mainland is often covered by the tide, there is limited opportunity for commerce.  The lone bakery on the island serves rubber sandwiches made from cheap bread, and is run by a cantankerous old woman, Mrs. Manse, who also happens to be Polly’s landlord.

With little money and little to do, Polly resorts to a favorite past-time, baking.  The smells of her homemade bread waft across the harbor and she finds herself running a covert undercover baking operation, as the islanders both dislike Mrs. Manse’s bread and are also frightened of the woman.  When Mrs. Manse is injured and must spend time in the hospital, Polly is able to work her passion and talent into something that might be able to sustain both herself and her livelihood.

A delightful cast of characters helps Polly on her journey:  Tarnie and Jayden, two fishermen who become her first friends on the island; Huckle, a beekeeper on the mainland who seems to have a secret past; Reuben, Huckle’s immensely rich and pompous and wonderful friend; and Neil, an injured puffin who Polly rescued.

Set on the raw and primal Cornwall coast, Mount Polbearne becomes both a refuge and reawakening for Polly.

Book Commentary:
Wandering through Barnes and Noble, this book caught my eye.  I enjoy stories about people reawakening old passions and interests and renewing their lives, whatever the motivation.  The fact that the book is set on the Cornwall coast only made it that much more appealing.  A truly beautiful story, Little Beach Street Bakery is written through the senses.  The sounds of the surf and ocean can be heard through the author’s description, as can the smells of baking bread.  What could be more peaceful!

Polly is a very likeable, human, flawed character.  I admire her spirit and drive but also understand and feel her pain and sadness.  I found myself really rooting for her success and joy.

The English teacher in me loves all the subtle symbolism.  The lighthouse light that shines through her bedroom window, both providing security and illuminating her fears, is a constant throughout the book. There is a great twist in this theme at the end that makes my heart sing!  The motif of bread making – the kneading of the dough, the fine balance and experimentation of different ingredients, the waiting for the dough to rise and to bake – are all metaphors for the struggles, self-doubt, and personal discovery that Polly faces.

One of my favorite characters, is the island of Mount Polbearne itself!  A breath-taking island just off the coast of Cornwall with a castle on the top of the cliff as it overlooks the English Channel.  Only accessible by boat or a causeway that is open based on tidal changes, this island is harsh and yet stunning.  The evolution of the island and its people through the book just adds to the enjoyment of the story.

Who might like this book:
Don’t get caught in the idea that this book might considered “chick lit;” it is so much more!  I really enjoyed the depth to which the author made the parallels between baking and life and how much of the island and its history she incorporated.  Yes, I googled the island.  Take a look at the picture!  Beautiful!!  A new addition to my bucket list!

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The author is a baker herself and has included numerous bread recipes in the index. I am anxious to try them; I just need to figure out the conversions!   I am excited to read other books by this author, especially Summer at Little Beach Street Bakery, the sequel to Little Beach Street Bakery.