Review: The Bookshop of Second Chances – Jackie Fraser

Review: The Bookshop of Second Chances – Jackie FraserThe Bookshop of Second Chances
by Jackie Fraser
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publication Date: May 4, 2021
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 448
Source: NetGalley

I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

My rating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

A woman desperate to turn a new page heads to the Scottish coast and finds herself locked in a battle of wills with an infuriatingly handsome bookseller in this utterly heartwarming debut, perfect for readers of Evvie Drake Starts Over.

Thea Mottram is having a bad month. Her husband of nearly twenty years has just left her for one of her friends, and she is let go from her office job--on Valentine's Day, of all days. Bewildered and completely lost, Thea doesn't know what to do. But when she learns that a distant great uncle in Scotland has passed away, leaving her his home and a hefty antique book collection, she decides to leave Sussex for a few weeks. Escaping to a small coastal town where no one knows her seems to be exactly what she needs.

Almost instantly, Thea becomes enamored with the quaint cottage, comforted by its cozy rooms and shaggy, tulip-covered lawn. The locals in nearby Baldochrie are just as warm, quirky, and inviting. The only person she can't seem to win over is bookshop owner Edward Maltravers, to whom she hopes to sell her uncle's antique novel collection. His gruff attitude--fueled by an infamous, long-standing feud with his brother, a local lord--tests Thea's patience. But bickering with Edward proves oddly refreshing and exciting, leading Thea to develop feelings she hasn't felt in a long time. As she follows a thrilling yet terrifying impulse to stay in Scotland indefinitely, Thea realizes that her new life may quickly become just as complicated as the one she was running from.

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Isn’t that cover adorable? I was drawn in by the sunny colors – hello summer! – and further intrigued by the blurb. As you might expect from the illustrated cover, this leans more towards women’s fic, but despite a few issues, I rather enjoyed it.

After her husband leaves her for her best friend and she loses her job, Thea moves out of their house and into the Scottish cottage she just inherited from her great-uncle. I mean, what better way to deal with a complete upheaval of your life than to move to a quaint little village? Thanks to a library full of rare books, Thea’s got enough to live on, but decides to take a job with at the local bookshop, against the initial reluctance from the grumpy and somewhat misogynistic bookshop owner. But as the months pass, is she turning over a new leaf or just hiding from life?

“There’s a rack of vintage postcards of the local area in fantastically saturated colors, and a list of Questions to which the answer is No, all of which are quite obnoxious. I can tell Edward Maltravers (or someone who works for him) adds to these as they occur to him, since halfway down it says, Do you have or want to buy FIFTY SHADES OF GREY? Another one says, Are people more important than books? and, My child does not read, will they be okay?”

I’d say this book falls more under the women’s fiction umbrella than romance. Sure, there is a romance in it, but the main point is Thea restarting her life and figuring out what she really wants, and part of that just happens to include a romance. And while I’m not quite at that age yet, it was also refreshing to read a book about a woman in her mid-forties. Thea’s practical, if a bit out of touch with her emotions, and has no qualms telling it like it is. While I liked her and would love to sit down for a cup of tea and chat about books with her, there were times her practicalness edged into doormat territory for me.

“So anyway. No girls?”
“Too much trouble.”
I shake my head, disbelieving. “It’s not your tree house.”
“Yes, it is. It’s totally my tree house.” Edward nods, firmly.
“What kind of trouble, anyway? Weeping? Menstruating?”
“Jesus Christ.”
This makes me laugh. “Well?”
He lifts a shoulder, irritable. “They fall in love with me. Or I fall in love with them. It’s stupid and annoying.”

That’s a decided opposite to Edward, the local bookshop owner, who would most kindly be described as a curmudgeon. While Thea has a tendency to be blunt, Edward’s downright rude and borderline cruel, especially to his younger brother, Charles, who inherited the lordship after Edward abdicated it. I liked seeing Edward fall in love with Thea almost more than seeing Thea fall in love with him. It’s very slow burn, but watching them become friends was highly enjoyable. They had lovely banter – Thea, after all, doesn’t let Edward get away with his usual grumpiness – but it did get old hearing everyone else in the village try to convince Thea that he liked her. However, I never really grew to like Edward, so that affected my enjoyment of the relationship quite a bit. Edward and his Charles are estranged and have a lot of decades-old resentments between them. They both did some really awful things to each other, and especially with what Edward did, I had problems understanding how Thea could just accept that give her own recent history.

“What a gorgeous day. I feel my spirits lift further. You could almost say I was happy. I don’t like to address this thought head-on, though, because if you look at happiness it usually disappears, a shy creature. And also—it’s just a layer, isn’t it? A moment’s joy that’s come from nature, sunshine and seaside, overlaying everything else.”

Watching Thea fall in love with the Scottish countryside was much more enjoyable. Baldochrie, Thea’s cottage, and the bookshop were all lovingly described. Thea initially intends to only stay for a bit, but as the summer turns into fall, it becomes clear how much the town fits her. It’s all a bit cliche – that sort of second chance at life that has a mature woman starting over in a vacation destination and falling in love with the black sheep. And while I can’t say it was thrilling or particularly compelling, it was an enjoyable read. The narrative is very much in Thea’s head, with lots of rhetorical questions and dropped off sentences. I liked it – it felt almost like I was chatting with a friend – but I can see how it would turn off some readers.

Overall, I’d give this 3.5 stars. If you’re looking to spend some time in the Scottish countryside and don’t mind a chatty narrator, I think this would be a nice summer read.

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