First. I have been the worst reviewer this year. I kept meaning to sit down and write, because I have read more books than ever this year, but life just kept getting in my way. As it does.
And yet, here I am, in week two of a positive Covid test, and I’ve finished binging all the shows (SIDE NOTE: how had I slept on For All Mankind for so long?). No time like the present to get started.
A few weeks ago, I saw Ian Rankin tweet about a list of the best books of the year, compiled by some British someone who had curated a fine list of reading, but had omitted any and all romance and comfort reading. The list had been “improved” by fellow Scot Jenny Colgan, who listed some amazing books that she had read in 2022, and I fell down a rabbit hole of her twitter page and decided to read whatever my library had available by her.
48 hours and three books later, I came up for air, obsessed with Jenny Colgan and her cozy Scottish stories. I read The Bookshop on the Shore, The Christmas Bookshop, and 500 Miles From You. And my online library has a few more (but not a complete collection by any means), so I imagine I’ll finish a few more while I wait out my negative test result,
The books follow a familiar pattern: we have a main character who is not living their best life. They then for various reasons (no money, bad boyfriend, trauma) relocate to a very lovely Scottish location, and VOILA, 300 pages later, BEST LIFE.
The Bookshop on the Shore:
Zoe is a single mom living in near-poverty in London with a son who is almost four and how still doesn’t speak. Her son’s father is never around, never contributes, and is always off DJing and chasing Instagram likes. When his sister finds out that he has a secret son that he’s never told his family about, she gets involved, helping Zoe get a temporary position as a nanny and part-time bookseller (in a delightful book bus, which I guess is a plot of a completely separate book that I did not read in the correct order) way up north near Loch Ness.
The family that Zoe is meant to help out with is a mess, and the talk of the small town. The three kids are more or less wild — the mother is mysteriously missing, and the father is so busy working that he doesn’t have the time or the temperament to take care of them — so they do what they like, when they like.
Zoe finds herself a very unwelcome fish out of water. But she puts her head down and tries her best. And slowly but surely, both the town and the family find that she is exactly where she is supposed to be.
There are some dark parts — abandonment, self harm, mental health –here that I did not expect, but they were handled with care.
I literally waited 11 seconds after finishing that one to download the next one my library had.
The Christmas Bookshop:
Carmen has just lost her job working in her hometown department store. There doesn’t seem to be much for her at home, so her VERY SUCCESSFUL sister in Edinburgh sends for her, offering her a place to stay and a temporary job for Christmas, which Carmen begrudgingly accepts.
Carmen finds herself in her very pregnant sister’s beautiful home, surrounded by her nieces and nephew that she doesn’t really know (along with one horrible au pair), and a new job working in what she was told was a bookshop, but is more a room that has boxes of dusty books in it.
Again, no surprises here, but Carmen works hard at fixing both her relationship with her family and her new boss. Can she save the lovely bookshop? And what about the mysterious and handsome professor with the man bun?
This one had me googling flights to Edinburgh for next Christmas. How have I not been there at the holidays? I think that has been a grievous mistake.
500 Miles From You:
This one was a little different, but no less enjoyable. Lissa is a nurse barely getting by in London. She lives in government provided housing and hangs out with her best friend, the delightful Kim-Ange. One day, while out on a routine call, she witnesses the murder of a young boy that she knows, and after she is unable to save him, she quickly falls into the trappings of PTSD. The NHS decides to send her away on a job-share program, up to the very same town that Zoe lives in (from the first book mentioned above).
And who is Lissa job-sharing with? Cormac, a former army medic, now a nurse in the rural Scottish Highlands. He moves down to London and into Lissa’s flat.
Neither of them are comfortable at first with their new surroundings, and email and text each other (although they have never met) to better understand what the other’s life is like.
I could have done without the ridiculous last 10 pages, but other than that, I enjoyed the alternating narration and points of view. And was surprised by nothing, which is just what I wanted.
These books are like pure, 100% comfort, wrapped in wool and tweed, drinking hot tea, and wearing Wellies. Characters from previous books pop up and seeing them doing well was so soothing. I’m so glad Ian Rankin sent me in this direction. This was just what I needed.