The Bookshop of Second Chances by Jackie Fraser: A story to lift the spirits and soothe the soul - book review -
Just as forty-something Thea Mottram’s life starts falling apart, a letter informing her of an unexpected inheritance would seem to be the doorway to second chances.
But is she ready and willing for the challenge of a house in need of a facelift, a vast collection of second-hand books, the murk and mizzle of the faraway Scottish Lowlands, and some unexpectedly troublesome neighbours?
Sit back with a glass (or two) of whisky and ease yourself into a big-hearted and uplifting story of new beginnings, old books and simmering romance set in the quaint town of Baldochrie on the west coast of Scotland.
The Bookshop of Second Chances, the delightfully warm and funny debut novel of freelance editor and writer Jackie Fraser, was shortlisted for the RNA Katie Fforde Debut Romantic Novel Award 2021 and is the perfect read for book lovers and true romantics who want to curl up on autumn nights.
Thea is having one of the worst months of her life. Not only has she been made redundant but she has also discovered that Chris, her husband of nearly twenty years, is sleeping with Susanna, her so-called friend. And what also hurts is that he’s not sorry and is now living with Susanna at what was once Thea and Chris’s marital home.
Bewildered, lost and exhausted, Thea doesn’t know what to do until a solicitor’s letter arrives telling her that her 93-year-old Great-Uncle Andrew, whom she barely knew and who died a few months ago, has left her a substantial sum of money, his huge collection of second-hand books, and West Lodge, his house in Dumfries and Galloway.
Running away to a little town where no one knows her seems like exactly the fresh start and the chance to escape from all she knows in Sussex that Thea needs right now and she heads north to discover the small town of Baldochrie.
Despite the rain, grey skies and sharp wind that greet her on arrival on a spring day, Thea is enchanted by the stone cottages, sturdy farmhouses, castles in various states of ruin, and dancing daffodils in the churchyard.
She finds West Lodge overflowing with second-hand books – some of them expensive first editions – and soon her life becomes entangled with aristocratic bookshop owner Edward Maltravers and his estranged brother Charles, Lord Hollinshaw.
As Thea becomes embedded in the local community and makes new friends, she puts on hold her initial plans to sort the books, sell the house and move on, and wonders if maybe she could live here, if only for the summer.
But the Maltravers are making things just as complicated as the life she was running from... is this really the fresh start she longed for?
Fraser adds an extra layer of sparkle and wit to her literary-themed romance as the sassy and sharp-witted Thea finds her new life is increasingly bound up with brooding Edward Maltravers, a man whose troubled past holds the key to his suspicions and his grumpy discontent.
As the romance between Thea and Edward slowly blossoms, readers learn that there are deep undercurrents to their lives and that both must battle through the pain barriers of past hurts and present misunderstandings if they are to follow the path of a new and true love.
With entertainment all the way, a myriad of book references to please all book and bookshop fans, a helping of mystery, and a sprinkling of golden moments of comedy and heart-melting angst, this is a story to lift the spirits and soothe the soul.
(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £7.99)