Tag Archives: Scotland

The Bookshop on the Corner


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.



I have to admit that I am Buzz Feed Quiz junkie.  You know, the ones that have you answer questions to determine which Disney Princess you are, which Hogwarts House you belong in, and which decade should you have lived in.  In order, Belle (no surprise there), Gryffindor (I wish I was that brave), and the 1950’s (pencil skirts and cocktail hour all the way!).  I recently saw one that “determined” your book interests based on travel preferences, and it got me thinking about settings.  I went through my list of all my favorite mystery writers . . . of course I have a list . . . and not too surprisingly, there was a lot of overlap of locations.  An honorable mention list must include New Orleans, Washington DC, and New York, but here are the four that made the final cut.

The United Kingdom
Big surprise there!  Obviously London – past and present – is number one of my list.  I have been an Anglophile forever, and although I have only had the opportunity to travel to the UK once, I love the juxtaposition between old and new, ancient and modern.  The history combined with all the cultural influences makes the setting full of literary opportunities.  With such a rich history, mysteries can be set in so many different time periods.  I love to read about the social customs and class mores that are indicative to each era.  Some of my favorite authors include maps of historical London and it is fascinating to see what has changed and what has stayed the same.

I love to read about modern London in Deborah Crombie’s Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James New Scotland Yard adventures, Regency London through the eyes of C. S. Harris’ Sebastian St. Cyr, and Victorian London’s Charles Lenox series by Charles Finch.

Of course, the great thing about the UK is that you can include Scotland, Wales, and Ireland.  My favorite mystery writer, Anna Lee Huber, sets her Georgian Lady Darby series in Scotland.  A modern day Wales is seen in Elizabeth Dunnett’s Penny Brannigan series and Rhys Bowen’s Evan Evans mysteries.

San Francisco
You have probably also noticed my love of San Francisco.  Ah, if money were no object . . . actually, it is an object, just one I don’t have a lot of!  Once again, it is a city with a lot of history and diversity.  With influences from the West and its role in the American Gold Rush and westward expansion history, there is a wealth of potential for conflict and personality.  The cultural and ethnic enclaves within the city are so vibrant that they are also individual and unique settings within the larger city.

I love Juliet Blackwell’s witchcraft series that is set in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco; the author does a great job at describing the tone and feel of this vibrant neighborhood.  Kate Carlisle is another favorite author of mine; her stories are set all around the heart of the city but she also travels up 101 across the Golden Gate Bridge to the wine country as well.  I just discovered Nancy Herriman’s novel of Old San Francisco set post Gold Rush and I look forward to more in that series.

New England
The crisp fall air.  The smell of apple pie.  The sound the pounding surf.  The sight of a dead body.  Don’t you love New England!!  Having lived in the Northeast, I quickly fell in love with the region and it truly does provide a wonderful backdrop to a great crime!  Seriously though, the history, the topography, and customs of decades old generations makes New England a great setting.

Quintessential New England towns provide the perfect setting for Julia Spencer-Fleming’s Russ VanAlstyne and Clare Fergusson contemporary mysteries that feature a small town cop and an Episcopalian priest, and for Jenn McKinlay’s Library Lovers mysteries set in coastal Connecticut.  Kaitlyn Dunnett channels a Scottish heritage in the fictitious Moosetookalook, Maine.

Ironically, France had never been a place I had a huge desire to visit, until I was introduced to two great mystery series sent in this beautiful and culturally rich country.  Wine, cheese, the French Alps, the French Riviera.  Seriously, what was I thinking?  Of course I would love to go there!!

Two writers that I really enjoy include Mark Pryor and M.L. Longworth.  Mark Pryor’s Hugo Marston series is set mainly in Paris and I enjoy reading about both the famous and infamous stops that he visits within the city.  M.L. Longworth’s Verlaque and Bonnet series takes place in Aix-en-Provence, which is in southern France not too far from Marseille.  I really enjoy the contrast between the two geographically and culturally diverse areas.

Interesting . . . I have lived in two of these locations; perhaps it is time to move again?  As I wrote this, it got me thinking about specific places from novels that I have read that I would like to visit.  I think I see another blog post topic!  How about you?  What are your favorite book settings?


So . . . to mix things up a little, every Friday I will list four things with a common theme. Hope you enjoy and I would love to hear feedback.

As you might have realized, I love historical mysteries. Set them in England, and I am an even happier girl! Here are four of my favorites.

Sebastian St. Cyr by C.S. Harris
Set in the early 1800’s under the decaying rule of King George III, a brilliant nobleman Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, has returned from the Napoleonic Wars disillusioned and reckless. When he is caught in a web of secrets and accused of a crime he didn’t commit, he uses the skills he learned as an agent during the war to clear his name. To his surprise, he realizes that not only is skilled at solving puzzles, he enjoys it. Joined in his adventures by a peg-legged Irish surgeon and a street urchin, he moves effortlessly through all tiers of society.

This series is the only one on my list to feature a primary male protagonist and it might be my favorite. Harris does an amazing job at intertwining the history with a very believable and complex plot. Her secondary characters have a great deal of depth and I look forward to their appearance in each novel. Sebastian’s relationship with his father, the Earl of Hendon, and Charles Jarvis, cousin to the King and the most powerful and ruthless man in English, adds to the tension in each novel; but it is his interaction with the actress Kat Boleyn and Jarvis’ daughter Hero that really defines his character.

As always, start with the first – What Angels Fear. There are ten books so far in the series; the eleventh book, When Falcons Fall has a release date of March 2016.

Lady Darby by Anna Lee Huber
In Scotland in 1830, Lady Kiera Darby is still hiding from society following her husband’s death. A cold and heartless man, Sir Anthony was a renowned surgeon with a fascination for the workings of the human body. Upon his death, a manuscript was discovered with detailed anatomical drawings of human dissections. As his lack of illustration skills were well-known, accusations flew against his wife Kiera, a talented artist. Society didn’t care that Kiera was married to Sir Anthony without her knowledge of his true purpose: to have her illustrate his anatomical book. She hides away at her sister’s estate, finding solace in painting. When a guest is murdered at a house party, Kiera must use her knowledge of human anatomy to aid Inquiry Agent Sebastian Gage. They discover a wary partnership of skills as they solve this, and future mysteries, together.

I love this series – Scotland, brogue, handsome men in kilts – seriously, what’s not to like. I really enjoy the character of Kiera, as she is a very unique heroine. I feel like each book is a step in her coming-of-age; the knowledge she possesses, albeit unwillingly, combined with society’s restrictions on woman provide a unique and clever perspective. Huber does a fabulous job describing both the city of Edinburgh and the untamed countryside of 1830’s Scotland that truly completes the mood and feel of the book. As if I didn’t already want to visit!

First book is The Anatomist’s Wife. There are three more that follow, with the novella A Pressing Engagement set to be released in May 2016, and the fifth book As Death Draws Near set for July 2016.

Lady Emily Ashton by Tasha Alexander
Set in England in the late 1880’s, Lady Emily Ashton discovers her deceased husband’s journals two years after his death. As he left for a safari expedition soon after their wedding and died abroad, Emily feels that she might be able to better understand the man she married but didn’t really know by reading his journals. What she discovers is shocking. First, her husband was a much better man that she ever gave him credit for, and second, it is very possible that his death did not occur naturally. With guarded caution, she works with her husband’s best friend, Colin Hargreaves to seek out answers, which in turn sparks more questions.

I was drawn to this book when I read that the author became an English major as an excuse to read. How wonderful is that! Alexander’s plots are complex, intricate, and very carefully crafted. Lady Emily discovers a fascination with Greek stories and art. I’ve read The Odyssey and The Iliad but these novels present a completely different viewpoint and a fascinating way to look at literature and ancient art. Alexander is also very in tune to the social mores and conventions of the time. I absolutely love Emily’s mother, who pretty much doesn’t approve of anything Emily does. The dry humor makes me think of Lady Bennett on steroids!

And Only to Deceive is followed by eight more novels; The Adventuress will be released in October 2015.

Lady Julia Grey by Deanna Raybourn
Lady Julia March Grey is a charismatic, upper class woman in Victorian England; Nicholas Brisbane is a half-Scottish, half-Gypsy inquiry agent. Their two lives intertwine when Julia’s husband Edward Grey dies of an apoplexy. Brisbane suggests that Edward’s death might have something to do with the threatening letters her husband had asked Brisbane to investigate. Julia ignores his suggestions only to discover a year later evidence of more threats. Although the case is cold, Brisbane grudgingly helps to solve the crime, and Julia’s previously ordered and understood world is shattered with new light.

I enjoy these books in the same way I enjoy the Tasha Alexander ones, but these have a little less history and a bit more sass. Julia is a naïve yet optimistic and refreshing character; I cringe at some of her mistakes but I love her feistiness and drive. As the youngest of ten siblings in the March family, her relatives always provide amusement and diversion. Her father, the Earl of March, rules his roost with a kind but firm hand; however the reader is often reminded that the term “mad as a March hare” originated with his ancestors. The stories expose some of the more shocking elements of Victorian society but do so in a way that only compliment that character development.

There are five wonderful books in this series, starting with Silent in the Grave, and four novellas. Unfortunately, Deanna Raybourn switched publishers and there is no plan for any future Lady Julia stories. Raybourn has written a few other smaller series and some stand-along books; she has a new series starting with A Curious Beginning in September 2015 about a Victorian woman with a scientific mind.