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Jenny Colgan – The Little Shop of Happy Ever After

“Well. I always . . . I always dreamed that one day I might have my own bookshop. Just a very little one.” (p. 15)

Nina is a bookworm, and happily working in a small library. Although she herself is sad to acknowledge how few people actually still use the library service, she is still incredibly shocked to find out that the library will be shut down, together with most of the other libraries in her close proximity, in order to make way for a multimedia center midtown.

Luckily, with all the sales going on with the closing libraries, Nina can get hold of many books (in addition to the huge number of books she already owns) – much to her best friend and flat-mate’s dismay. Where shall all these new books go?? And what is Nina supposed to do now as one of many unemployed librarians?

The answer to these questions comes when Nina has to join a course where she, amongst all the other unemployed people from the library, can speak about her next steps in terms of employment, and the course instructor asks everyone about their dreams. What would they want to do if anything was possible – without any fears of money, rent, insurance, and so on?

Nina admits that her dream has always been to have a tiny little bookshop on her own, but the forbidden questions still come nagging at her. How would she pay for all the expenses? But the instructor has a wonderful, yet unconventional idea, and so her journey to Scotland begins.

Will Nina make her dream come true? Will she miss the city life, or can she get used to the loneliness of the Scottish landscape? Maybe she will find it not so lonely up north, after all…

What I thought:

I had some (minor) difficulties getting into the story, I have to admit. The whole thing about losing her job and her flat-mate wanting her to get rid of all the books and constantly complaining about her reading habits (though, in a kind of good-hearted way…) couldn’t really grip me from the start, but after Nina had decided to move to Scotland I was really into it, and I then loved every bit of it. I feel like this isn’t the sort of book that pulls you in like an action movie, where you feel like you’ve been spit out from a washing machine in spin cycle. It is rather the kind of book that you read and feel comfortable while doing so – you see the main character and follow her on her journey, and when she is settled and content in the end, so are you.

Positive points:

+ All the book references!

+ I loved how Nina got along so well with people, even though she expected them to be much more suspicious of and distanced towards her. And although this was the case with some people, she still found a way to everybody’s heart.

+ And this was, mostly, through her love for books. I really liked to have a book about books and a character really believing that a book can change somebody’s life (because I do, too. And if not change completely, then certainly turn it to the positive).

+ Although Nina had to face many obstacles, she did overcome them one by one, and didn’t let anybody or anything stop her.

+ I loved the descriptions of the Scottish landscape and scenery! It made me feel as if I took the same route with Nina!

+ I liked that the book managed without one of these really earthshattering climaxes, where everything seems lost and unfixable. Yes, there are two slightly bigger ‘situations’ of that sort, but, at least for me, it was clear that they would not pose a huge problem in Nina’s life.

+ Nina is going through a lot and develops a lot in the end. The bookworm that was only reading in her free time develops into a confident and assertive woman who makes her own decisions and doesn’t keep her dream just a dream. When you read it, everything seems possible.

+ Together with this goes that Nina is 29, not just of age and out of high school, and it still is possible for her to change her life around. (Isn’t it awful when some books promote the feeling that only teenagers can tackle their dreams?)

Slightly more negative:

– As stated above, the beginning was a bit – for the lack of a better word – boring, but it doesn’t take long to enthral you, either, so this isn’t too bad.

– I didn’t really like Nina’s ‘best friend’ Surinder, or their whole friendship, for that matter. Surinder was really annoyed at all the books that were piling up in their flat, and Nina could only get them all slowly up to Scotland. When Nina had finally found a (very nice!) place to live there, Surinder suddenly showed up and stayed for a really long time. What could seem like a friendly gesture to support her friend and help her feel more at home in the new place, didn’t really feel like one, as they didn’t really see each other very often; Surinder seemed to be much more interested in the male Scottish population than in helping her friend.

– Surinder and Griffin, Nina’s other friend, were not really supportive of Nina and her idea, which I found kind of sad. She not only had to convince herself to stake everything on one card to fulfil her dream, but then she also had to persuade everyone around her.

All in all I can say that I really enjoyed this book. If you need something to read on one of those days that, especially lately, have had more than a little summery storm outside, with the rain pattering against your window, you should get yourself cozy with a blanket and a cup of tea, and read this book! The two negative points I have listed here were not too overwhelming, and the positive ones certainly outweigh them.

Memorable Quotes:

“Nina had never been to Scotland before. In fact, as she’d booked her ticket, for less than the price of an evening in the pub, she’d realised that at the age of twenty-nine, there were lots of places she’d never been. Of course she had been to Narnia and the Little House on the Prairie, and Wonderland, but to actually smell the deep, rich, yeasty smell of the old grey streets as they’d approached Edinburgh, the ancient cobbles almost making her dismount then and there as the iron sky was reflected in the windows of the tall houses, the oldest skyscrapers on earth – that had made her sit up, entranced by the higgledy-piggledy little streets that wandered here and there, tangling over the great wide ones, and the austere castle on a cliff that appeared to have been parachuted into the middle of the bustling city.” (p. 25-6)

“That evening, as Nina arrived in Scotland for the very first time, it was not stormy and wet and overcast, with clouds so low they seemed to clip the streets. Instead it was as if the entire country was showing off for her. The evening was golden; the northern light strange and beautiful. Everywhere she looked, it seemed, were grey stone castles and long bright vistas, lambs gamboling in the fields and deer scattering away in distant woods as the coach rolled past.” (p.27)

“He shook his head. ‘Not everything in the countryside is lovely. Beautiful things can be dangerous too.’
Nina nodded. ‘But all the books . . .’
‘I swear you think books are alive,’ said Lennox.
‘Because they are,’ said Nina.” (p. 337)

“The winters were colder and darker than Nina could ever have imagined. Out here there were no street lights, nothing between her and the thick dark blanket of sky that had rolled in during October ad showed no signs of going anywhere until the springtime […]. There was almost nothing to do except hunker down, conserve your energy, waiting for the darkest months to pass.
She absolutely loved it.” (p. 341)

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