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The Christmas Bookshop


The Christmas Bookshop

In Jenny Colgan's books, we are treated to a "vacation" of sorts in whatever exotic locale she chooses, where ordinary people will have extraordinary adventures and end up the better for it.

THE CHRISTMAS BOOKSHOP is no exception. Here we meet Carmen Hogan, who feels that her life has been overshadowed by that of her older sister, Sofia, who excelled in school, became a successful lawyer, married a handsome man with the same profession, had three children, and lives a perfect life in Edinburgh. Carmen, on the other hand, did not go to university, is not thriving professionally, and does not even have a boyfriend. She still lives in the small town where she and Sofia grew up, working in a local department store that eventually lets her go. So she moves back in with her parents, making their lives miserable.

"At the heart of THE CHRISTMAS BOOKSHOP are the important connections we make with others and the reality that we don't have just the family we were born into; we also have the family that we create through those we come to love."

At the start of the book, Carmen is fending off her mother's questions about Christmas. For heaven's sake, it's still summer! Perhaps by that time she’ll be seeing someone, and they'll go somewhere exotic and warm for a vacation. She hates going to her sister's, where she feels inferior and has no connection to her nieces and nephew. In fact, she's been a fairly absent aunt, not even sending cards for birthdays and other special occasions.

When their mother asks Sofia to help Carmen find a job, Sofia thinks of a client in need. Mr. McCredie is the owner of a bookshop that is failing spectacularly. He inherited a decent estate from his parents, but through neglect and disinclination to properly manage the assets, he finds himself in a heap of trouble. Sofia tells him that if he can show a profit by Christmas, he will be able to sell the business as a going concern and at least make some money rather than lose it all. She thinks that Carmen, who worked in sales, might be able to step in and turn the business around.

However, the arrangement doesn’t get off to a good start. Sofia has put Carmen in her basement, sleeping in the small room next to the nanny, Skylar. The pristine guest room on the upper level is not offered. Carmen also realizes that she's expected to help with Sofia’s children when the nanny, a yoga and meditation-obsessed university student, is at class. Skylar is officious and annoying, but she's good with the kids, so Carmen tries to tolerate her. Getting along with the little ones is much easier than expected, and Carmen feels a special bond with the youngest, Phoebe. Slightly chubby and unkempt, she's bullied by her perfect older sister, Pippa. Phoebe reminds Carmen of herself dealing with her perfect older sister.

This is not a mystery or thriller full of twists and turns. There is just a sweet parade of characters along the beautifully described old section of Edinburgh. As with all of Colgan's books, we enjoy reading her detailed narrative about the shops and charming streets, the huge Ormiston yew (an actual ancient tree that might be a thousand years old), the bitterly cold weather, and the camaraderie of the shopkeepers. Colgan's writing is gentle and tender as we witness the growing affection Carmen feels for Oke, a university lecturer whom she mistakes at first for a struggling student because he doesn't even have a proper winter coat.

In addition to the memorable plots, characters and settings, Colgan has an affecting way with words. I'm struck by some of her lovely, often metaphorical, phrasing: "Carmen measured her days in books." And there's humor. During the first children's read-aloud at the bookshop, Carmen reads “The Little Match Girl,” not realizing that her young audience will be upset by the ending. So she flips through the rest of the book and sees another story, "The Snow Queen.” But as soon as she reads a line about shards of ice entering people's eyeballs, she decides that on balance discretion was the better part of valor.

At the heart of THE CHRISTMAS BOOKSHOP are the important connections we make with others and the reality that we don't have just the family we were born into; we also have the family that we create through those we come to love. And in every charming story that Colgan writes, we end up feeling that those characters who grace her pages have become so familiar and dear to us that they are family.

Reviewed by Pamela Kramer on November 24, 2021

The Christmas Bookshop
by Jenny Colgan

  • Publication Date: November 16, 2021
  • Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
  • ISBN-10: 0063141671
  • ISBN-13: 9780063141674