Review: The Little Shop of Happy Ever After by Jenny Colgan

Monday 22 February 2016
Title: The Little Shop of Happy Ever After
Author: Jenny Colgan
Publisher: Sphere
Publication Date: 11th February 2016
Pages: 384
Source: Review Copy
Rating: 4/5
Purchase: Amazon
Given a back-room computer job when the beloved Birmingham library she works in turns into a downsized retail complex, Nina misses her old role terribly - dealing with people, greeting her regulars, making sure everyone gets the right books for their needs. Then a new business nobody else wants catches her eye: owning a tiny little bookshop bus up in the Scottish highlands. No computers. Shortages. Out all hours in the freezing cold; driving with a tiny stock of books... not to mention how the little community is going to take to her, particularly when she stalls the bus on a level crossing...

I want to say that a new book from Jenny Colgan is one to be savoured, but in my case The Little Shop of Happy Ever After was one that I devoured in less than a day because I fell in love with the story that much. Jenny has brought us a cupcake cafe, the most wonderful little sweetshop, a Parisian chocolate shop and everybody's favourite seaside bakery. Amazon is full of books with the main character taking on some kind of dilapidated venture and then making it into an overnight success but there's just something about these books that brings readers back, and I love them. Plus, there's something about Jenny's books that just give them that edge over those other, similar tales.

This time around and the story in The Little Shop of Happy Ever After is very much a love letter from Jenny to book lovers everywhere. It begins with a letter to the reader from Jenny with some background about how the book was formed, and then some of the places that she loves to read (and why she loves to read so much!), my personal favourite of her stories being the one about the hammock. Personally I most like reading in the bath or in bed, annoyingly the two places that also make me the most sleepy. I also enjoy reading on holiday (despite barely reading a thing on my last one). I am also a firm believer that one can and should read a book at every available opportunity, and I am thankful for the Kindle for iPhone app for that very reason.

Our main character in The Little Shop of Happy Ever After is Nina, who faces unemployment or a big change in her current role when her beloved library is closed and merged with the bigger, central library in the city centre. I could easily turn this review into an essay length feature about libraries and their closures, but what I will say is that it was so easy to believe everything that we read about Nina. Starting from her love for libraries and reading as a child, to then becoming a librarian herself and helping other children choose their next reads. I remember getting my first library card and it was back when a library was just that, there were no computers, no group meetings that have nothing to do with reading and there wasn't an Xbox or iPad in sight. Fast forward 20 years or so and now it seems that books are almost a forgotten concept of why people visit libraries, and it's a great shame. Some of my local community libraries were threatened with closure recently, one of them being the one I have used since I was a child. Luckily, for now, they remain open and for those unable to venture into the city centre library (where the focus is very much on computers as opposed to great service from librarians) it is a Godsend and long may they remain open. Reading about the plans for the proposed job role Nina would take on should she move to the other library made me cringe, it was just everything that a library shouldn't be!

Nina is perhaps, at times, what one would expect a librarian to be like (okay, not all of them of course), she is quite timid and isn't exactly somebody who is willing to take risks and she surprises herself when she sees an advert for a dilapidated van up in the Scottish highlands and an idea soon forms in her mind that she is unsure that she could ever bring to fruition and that idea is turning the van into a mobile bookshop, and using it to save a community that has also had its reading heart very much ripped out with the closures of its libraries and bookshops. It is of course another case of right place, right time and for most of us, it isn't as easy as locating a page in a newspaper and using it to change our lives but, that aside, Nina's journey to actually acquiring the van and trying to turn it into a success isn't exactly easy, and it doesn't all happen overnight.

Nina often reminded me of myself at times, and I found myself incredibly envious of her new-found attitude. I keep reading these books where the main characters completely change their lives and it makes me wish I had the confidence to do something like that myself. To run off and just start a new life is probably a dream quite a lot of people have sometimes. One of Jenny's standout features of her books is always her settings and when Nina first rocks up in the Scottish highlands it's not exactly the warm welcome, or beautiful setting that we might expect and in fact, she ends up returning back to Birmingham both van-less and dreamless until a saviour in the form of the pub landlord she met up there comes up with an idea to help her acquire the van, and so the business is eventually born. It's only as the story progresses that the reader, and Nina completely and utterly falls in love with the setting in this book and it's absolutely perfect for the story that unfolds.

There's so many things I want to say about this book because, for what is a shorter novel than we are used to from Jenny, there's so much packed into the story and it's not just Nina's story that the reader is treated to. There's a number of eclectic characters that make up the story, each of them with a role to play in proceedings. It is beautifully researched and everything is richly and vividly described and everything just comes to life in your mind because of that. There wasn't anything about the story I disliked, well, apart from the fact that it had to end and surely another book featuring all or some of these characters is coming in the future?! One of my personal favourites was Lennox, a most intriguing character with an attitude to reading that us book lovers will have faced (and will continue to face) many times over the years! Defending your love for reading is a regular occurrence sadly. The happy ever after is of course always one of the best things about Jenny Colgan's books and the one here doesn't disappoint in the slightest. This is the perfect book to end this bitter winter with and it is one that won't disappoint readers old and new.

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