The Cafe by the Sea – Jenny Colgan

Review (Amazon): 

Years ago, Flora fled the quiet Scottish island where she grew up — and she hasn’t looked back. What would she have done on Mure? It’s a place where everyone has known her all her life, where no one will let her forget the past. In bright, bustling London, she can be anonymous, ambitious… and hopelessly in love with her boss.

But when fate brings Flora back to the island, she’s suddenly swept once more into life with her brothers — all strapping, loud, and seemingly incapable of basic housework — and her father. Yet even amid the chaos of their reunion, Flora discovers a passion for cooking — and find herself restoring dusty little pink-fronted shop on the harbour: a café by the sea.

But with the seasons changing, Flora must come to terms with past mistakes — and work out exactly where her future lies…

My Review (spoilers, although not that many. it’s a love story; you can guess the ending):

This is our romance novel for 2018, and honestly, one of the best novels I’ve read of this sort. I always find them to be so dramatic or so WW2 or just so boring. It’s still adorably predictable, but I found the setting to be unique and captivating enough to really make up for any of that.

The author sets up the book with a prologue saying that the island of Mure, where the book takes place, is not a real island (so she didn’t get any correspondence from readers telling her how she got something wrong lol), but it’s a pretend Scottish island, like Fair Isle. I’ve never been to Scotland or the Scottish Isles, but the book definitely made me want to go (in the summer).

The main character is a young woman named Flora. She’s 26, and a paralegal in a big law firm in London where she has a huge crush on her boss, Joel, even though she knows better. He’s a big shot American who breaks up with women like it’s his job, and just isn’t very nice of a person.

Then one day, another American, Colton Rogers, approaches the firm because he’s having difficulty with a wind farm which is going to be installed right beside his resort, on an island in the Scottish Isles–the same one on which Flora grew up, and has never looked back at. She’s brought into Joel’s office to discuss with Colton about this, and is straightaway on the case.

We’re introduced to selkies, which was a new story for me. They are a well known myth in this region of the world, something akin to a mermaid. Selkies are seal people who lose their ocean shape while they are on land. They seem to be more common in women where the story is that the only way to keep your selkie bride is to hide her sealskin so she can’t leave you. Selkies also have a very distinct look, pale skinned with pale hair just like Flora and her mother.

Flora begrudgingly heads back to Mure, a place she hasn’t been for a long time, and she’s not excited about returning to visit, although we don’t really know why. She gets to her family home where she sees her brothers Fintan, Innes, and Hamish – all completely different from each other – the family dog Bramble, and her father, a man of a few words.

We learn that Flora’s mother died, and no one has been the same since. Flora and her father had a falling out, and she returned to London, not returning to the island since. The brothers are all struggling in their own ways, and no one is happy with Colton Rogers and his big fancy resort he put in.

Then she gets word that Joel is coming to the island. Colton is uber wealthy and Joel doesn’t want to lose him as a client, and he doesn’t know what is going on with the case. Flora is in a frenzy from it, and she meets up with her old friend Lorna to catch up and gossip, and Lorna suggests that Flora make some good old-fashioned cooking for her family since they haven’t really been eating since their mom died, and Flora’s mother was the best cook.

Flora tries, but is wildly unsuccessful at dinner, and of course her brothers and father start kidding her about how terrible it is, and she gets frustrated and hurt and leaves for a walk. Old buddy Bramble decides to follow her, and he gets injured as it starts to rain. Flora carries him into a cave, where she stumbles upon a big broad shouldered man named Charlie who is on a camping trip with a bunch of kids who have one parent in prison. They help her get Bramble back home but not before Flora gets to meet Jan, Charlie’s partner, who is quite rude and dismissive to Flora.

Still waiting for instructions from Colton or from Joel’s appearance, Flora begins to settle back into her old life. She cleans the house from top to bottom where in the meantime, she finds her mother’s recipe book and begins to start cooking for the family. The family has a modest farm, which is getting tougher each year, and we learn that there is an underlying issue that Fintan isn’t carrying his weight at the farm. It turns out, he’s been doing a side project of making his own cheese.

Joel finally arrives at the island, and Flora is in a frenzy. It’s weird though because although she’s been there for a bit, she hasn’t seen Colton or really done any work except collect gossip about how much the islanders dislike Colton and the Rock (the place he’s building) because he hasn’t integrated with the locals whatsoever, and he isn’t hiring or importing from the island. Flora picks up Joel at the airport and takes him to his hotel and then returns for him later to go to Colton’s.

Colton gives them a tour, and as Flora is inquiring about why he’s not using locals, he mentions that most of the locals move away, sell their produce and supplies elsewhere, and generally he doesn’t find the capability to buy stuff here. Flora explains to Colton that he needs to intermix more with the locals, because The Rock is absolutely exquisite and it’s easy to understand why Colton doesn’t want the wind farm there, but if he wants to sway the vote, he needs to make nice with the voters. Flora’s first task is to start gauging the leanings of those on the council.

After visiting 2 unbudging council members, Flora headed for the shop to buy some groceries for dinner where she bumped into Charlie and invited him over as well. They had a great dinner until a bit of awkwardness when Flora suggested that Fintan bring out his cheese to go with the fruitcake (I guess that’s a thing) and their dad realized that was what was taking him away from the framework. As Charlie is leaving and we start to see the beginnings of attraction between him and Flora, Joel calls.

We learn that Joel was a foster child for his youth, never having an adoptive family. The closest thing he has to a father is a child psychiatrist he has had for many years despite no longer being a child. We learn more about Joel and the struggles he has with relationships and people and trust through phone calls throughout the book to this doctor. We also learn that Fintan and Flora have a strenuous relationship because Fintan was always jealous of the attention that Flora (the only girl) got from their mother. Fintan didn’t want to be sent outside to play with the other boys, and it hurts Flora deeply to realize that she never noticed how hurt he was by this. They have a huge fight, but to make things up to him, Flora invites him to go with her to The Rock to have dinner that evening with Joel and Colton.

A few things develop in this meeting – one being that Colton had no idea he also owns a shop (the pink house) on the main street, and as he didn’t know that it was part of what he bought, it has been abandoned since he moved in. He also had no idea that nothing about his menu was actually local. And we also learn that Colton and Fintan are gay.

The boatman goes to Flora and Fintan’s house to pick up some of Fintan’s cheese along with a variety of things that Flora has recently made, and returns to The Rock so that they can have a more satisfying meal. Colton and Joel are so impressed that the decision is made to open the pink house to sell some things made of Flora’s mother’s recipes along with Fintan’s cheese.

She awakes in the middle of the night to texts from Joel. Not outright flirty, but certainly in that direction. She and Bramble decide to go meet Joel who can’t sleep because of how light it is outside. They walk along the beach discussing work mostly, and once it’s actually morning, they head back to the farm for breakfast. After a wildly chaotic breakfast (Innes’ young daughter was there as well), Joel headed for the airport to go back to London.

While Joel is gone, Fiona gets busy opening the pink house as The Cafe by the Sea and employs some locals to run it using her mother’s recipes. Charlie is there on the first day to buy pastries for the boys he’s taking out hiking that day. Flora is glum that Joel left with nothing being said or happening further, so she asks Charlie for a drink. Lorna and Colton also stop in. Lorna is incredibly impressed, and Colton wants to pry for info about Fintan and just to see how it’s all going. He brings the painters round that same day, and tells Flora that he’s going to host a huge party for the locals to come see The Rock which Flora is also involved in planning.

The day of the party comes and Joel arrives at The Cafe by the Sea. Flora unsuccessfully tries to convince him to wear a kilt for the party! She unbeknownst to him has been persuaded into dancing in her old troupe, costume and all. At the party, all the townspeople and council members are there. Colton is all decked out in his heritage outfit. Joel sees her dancing and starts doing some serious introspection of his own life and begins to realize that things are different with Flora and on this island. But of course Charlie is also at the party. He tells Flora that he and Jan (who is also at the party) are separated.

Flora goes to find Joel. Inge-Britt, the owner of the hotel and the town floozy, has sunk her hooks into him. Joel was just being nice, but he can’t find the words when Flora, visibly upset, finds them. Flora leaves to find Charlie, while Joel, a bumbling idiot, continues to entertain Inge-Britt. Flora and Charlie dance, and at the end, they kiss, with a rude awakening of Jan yanking her away. A fight ensues as Jan does not believe they are separated, and Flora leaves the party.

On other fronts, the party is a success. Colton asks Fintan to work for him full time, and Colton brings up the option of buying the farm with Flora. She struggles with the idea at first but realizes it is definitely for the best. Joel shows up, back to his old cold-hearted self, and becomes enraged when he has to stay overnight because the weather is too bad. Colton, Joel and Flora head into the pub, none really knowing what to do. Colton can’t get back to The Rock in the weather, and neither Colton nor Joel have any more dry clothes, so Flora leaves the pub to head to her house to find them some. Colton urges Joel to go with her, and he does.

They get to her home and some PG-13 action ensues. Flora stops though as she suddenly realizes that she’s conflicted and he’s her boss, and she pumps the brakes. She tells Joel the story about her mother dying, and how at the funeral, she shouted at her father for telling people that her mother was a Selkie who had returned to the ocean. She yelled in front of everyone that he kept her chained to the kitchen even though she had wanted to go out and experience life. And she’d never returned since. In the midst of their heart-to-heart, Charlie arrives. He needs to borrow the tractor due to a whale beached from the storm.

While Flora is helping get the whale back into the water, Joel again being a complete dummy, manages to get to the airport to get off the island. When Flora returns home, she realizes this, but Colton and Fintan are there to discuss the farm. They eventually convince their father that it is the right thing to do, and in the meantime, Fintan comes out to his father about his relationship with Colton. Flora apologizes to her father for her behavior at her mother’s funeral, and the vote for the wind farm is nearing.

Flora has still heard nothing from Joel, but she finally hears from another coworker that Joel took over Colton’s old job in New York and he’ll be up for the council meeting in Joel’s place. The meeting happens, and Colton wins the argument to have the wind farm moved from in front of The Rock to instead in front of his personal home. They leave the council meeting to attend the harvest celebration – a bunch of debauchery – and as Flora is out celebrating, she sees some familiar lights. She takes off to the airport where she finds Joel (he has taken Colton’s private jet) and they return to the Presidential Suite at The Rock. And in the end, there’s happily ever after.

Verdict: 3.5 Stars

Like I said at the beginning, I liked the setting. This book made me want to visit the Scottish Isles immensely! The love story was a bit average, but the rest of the story was definitely enough to pull its weight. I would definitely recommend this as an upscale beach read.

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Filed under 3.5 stars, Book Club

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