The Christmas Bookshop

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What the heck?  That's what kept going through my mind as I read this book.  It is set in Scotland, which is fine.  I'm a fan of the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon, so it is not unfamiliar territory to me.  If not for that exposure though, I would be even more confused about this book.  

When I think of Christmas novels, I think of lots of sugar and fluff.  By the end of the Prologue I was already finding the novel a little grittier than I expected.  It starts off well enough, a tale of two sisters - the favorite and the disappointment.  Carmen moves in with her sister, Sofia, and three niblings and gets a pre-arranged job in a bookshop.  Sofia is a lawyer and one of her clients wants to sell the bookshop but needs to get it profitable.  

So Carmen, who has worked in retail but with no managerial experience, begins working at Mr. McCredie's shop and makes such a brilliant turn around (WTH?) he decides to keep the shop.  At some point, her old boss, Mrs. Marsh, from a different city, shows up in Edinburgh but never really adds much to the plot. (WTH?)  Along the way (Ch. 25), it is revealed that a nearby shop owner is a witch.  There are several references to witchcraft and other pagan holidays which, I believe, go along with the Scotish culture.  There are hints about secret rooms and passageways - so I'm thinking there is going to be some sort of magical element to this book (See next paragraph).  Maybe Mr. McCredie is Santa Claus or a vampire.  So while my brain was trying to pick up on all those clues, I missed the part where he never knew his father and was always ashamed of being a bastard. (Even though his step-father raised him and left him the bookshop.)  So late in the story, when his childhood trauma flares up, again I said WTH?  Not to mention Oke, a Brazilian Quaker.  WTH? Maybe I'm just a little sensitive, having lived in Brazil, I'm sure there are Quakers there, somewhere.  But if you are going to have a foreign Quaker in Scotland, wouldn't it make more sense that they were from Pennsylvania?  I listened to some parts on audio.  Again, I am not unfamiliar with Scotish English.  I found the cadence of the reader somewhat off.  She accented words that were not as important as other, unaccented words.  And her impression of the Brazilian Oke speaking Scottish English sounded more like a harsh German matron.  I also didn't appreciate how Carmen on the one hand appreciated Oke's Quaker values, but on the other hand tried to sway him into celebrating Christmas.  So, I gave up looking for anything magical or fantastical and then, at the end, the little girls find a "small vial" and open it to smell it.  They spill a little on the carpet, which requires lots of towels to clean up. WTH?  And maybe they will just fill it back up with water so Carmen will never know...but neither will they ever know what kind of magic potion it was.  WTH?


On a scale of 1 - 5 (5 being a lot of examples/instances):

Sex: 1

Religion: 3

Gruesome: 0

Suspense: 1

Morality: 2

Traditional: 5

Sex - implications that Blair and Skylar hooked up.  Blair makes several invitations to Carmen to have sex with him.

Religion - celebrated Saturnalia (solstice).  Reference to Christians hijacking the holiday and making it about a baby. (Ch. 25)  One character is a Quaker.  "Touching a baby's face is like touching the face of God." (Ch. 28)  A school Christmas pageant references Jesus. (Ch. 35)  Carmen summarizes Quakerism as "A religion. Without a church." (Ch. 36, ePg. 301)

Gruesome -

Suspense - the carriage on the train had me waiting in suspense for the magic to finally be revealed (Ch. 31)

Morality - Idra contemplates urinating in her bosses coffee mug and is upset because she's being moved to "fricking hats". (Prologue, ePg. 3)  Carmen stands up for her niece when she finds out the nanny told the girl she was fat.

Traditional -  Speculation on whether Mr. McCredie was gay. "it's hardly a crime to be gay in Edinburgh." (Ch. 11, ePg. 77)

For a while I wondered if the little girls were even necessary to the story.  They were mildly helpful to advancing the plot.  In the beginning, I found them hugely annoying.  Eventually I grew accustomed to them.  Interestingly, that is the same change that Carmen experienced towards them.  So, on that note it seems the writing was spot-on.

What was not spot-on was the birth scene.  It was the stereo-typical I-hate-my-husband-for-making-me-go-through-this.  Honestly, I'm so tired of this trope in books.  I have birthed 3 children and never once did I curse my husband during the labor.  I believe that most women do not.  So why is it done in all fictional birth scenes?

There were a couple of words that I was unfamiliar with.  According to Urban Dictionary, "soz" is a softer I'm sorry via text message. (Ch. 2, ePg. 12)  Also "cor" (Ch. 10, ePg. 63) which, according to Urban Dictionary, is a regional substitution for "God" in a cursing sort of way.  Another oddity was that Carmen and Sofia seem to be of a Spanish heritage, including a mother that says, "chica" (Ch. 4, ePg. 19) but it's never really addressed in any way.  When Mr McCredie receives a notice from the council and thinks it's too late to save the shop, Carmen says, "It's winter here for about nine months.  It's never Christmas." (Ch. 8, ePg. 51)  Then she goes on to say "forty percent of business is done at Christmas".  WTH?

Discussion Questions

Why is the mother / daughter relationship often so difficult? "Carmen couldn't, she thought, be the only person in the world who was both nearly thirty and who still turned into a stroppy teenager when confronted by her mother." (Prologue, ePg. 1)

The closing of Dounston's was apparent but Carmen "had done absolutely nothing about it" and found herself without job prospects.  (Prologue, ePg. 6)  Did you ever fail to act on a situation you saw coming?  What did you do instead?  How did it work out?

Carmen remembered an incident from her childhood when Sofia got an ice cream but Carmen didn't so Sofia offered Carmen a lick but then complained that Carmen was taking too much and, consequently, their outing got cut short. (Ch. 5, ePg. 21)  Do you have any incidents like this from childhood that stick out in your memory?

Skylar, the nanny, had a lot of time in her schedule for "self-care". (Ch. 9, ePg. 59)  Did this seem like a red herring to you?

What did it add to the story that Phoebe and Pippa were frequently squabbling? (Ch. 11, ePg. 78)

It seemed very important that Oke was Brazilian because his nationality kept getting referenced.  How did his being from Brazil affect the story? (Ch. 14, ePg. 91)

"Faking it is another word for being a grown up."  (Ch. 17) Do you agree?

At what point did you realize there would be a love connection for Carmen?  Were you team Oke or team Blair?

Theme Ideas


Serve French cakes and scones like the coffee shop at Dounston's. (Prologue, ePg. 5)

Serve milkshakes and marshmallows like when the kids helped Carmen at the shop. (Ch. 9, ePg. 57)

Serve chicken curry, like the family was eating at the beginning of Ch. 11.  Sprinkle it with almonds. (ePg. 76)

Serve gingerbread lattes and hot tea with lemon, in honor of Carmen and Mr. McCredie. (Ch. 12, ePg. 79)

Serve mince pies like Carmen enjoyed.  (Ch. 15)

Serve oat cakes and soya milk like Phoebe had for a snack or biscuits like she wanted. (Ch. 15)

Serve cappuccinos like Carmen brought before Blair's signing at the bookshop. (Ch. 16)

Serve champagne, oysters, lobster and fish'n'chips like Carmen and Blair had at the hotel restaurant. (Ch. 17)

Serve hot chocolate, crystallized ginger and florentines like Carmen served the kids during the snow storm. (Ch. 18)

Serve Vueve Clicquot, like Blair brought to Sofia's. (Ch. 22, ePg. 158)  At dinner they ate lasagna and blinis. (Ch. 22, ePg. 162)

Serve mulled wine like at Bronagh's party. (Ch. 25)

Serve boxes of Malteasers like Carmen saw boys with when she was on her way home from the occult shop.

Serve Wonka's chocolate bars since there was an allusion to Charlie Bucket unwrapping a chocolate bar. (Ch. 25)

Serve candy floss and fudge like at Edinburgh Market. (Ch. 27)

Serve turkey and roast potatoes like at the Christmas day dinner.  (Ch. 37)


Decorate with a toy train. (Ch. 13, ePg. 86)

Decorate with mistletoe and expensive scented candles. (Ch. 22, ePg. 158-159)

Dress like witches and fairies as they did at Bronagh's party. (Ch. 25)  And decorate with soul stones, dream catchers, crystals and apothecary stuff.

Christmas crackers like they had at the Christmas day dinner. (Ch. 37)


"Once in Royal David City" like Pippa played on the bassoon. (end Ch. 15)

"I Wish it Could Be Christmas Every Day" (Ch. 17)

Mystical folk music like at Bronagh's party. (Ch. 25) 

A men's choir singing: "Good King Wenceslas", "Hark the Herald", and "Scot's Nativity" like Oke took Carmen to hear. (Ch. 28)

The Muppets Christmas Carol, like Carmen showed the niblings. (Ch. 22, ePg. 160)