"The Bookshop on the Shore" Book Discussion and Ham and Cheese Corn Muffin Recipe
Zoe is an exhausted single mother living in a tiny, decrepit flat in London, working at a high-end daycare where she could never afford to send her mute four-year-old son. The impulsive father of her child is always off trying to make it as a DJ. When Zoe finally meets the child’s aunt Surinder, the woman is appalled at the way they live, and sees an opportunity to help two friends at once. Her best friend Nina runs a bookshop out of a beautifully renovated van in Scotland, and she desperately needs part-time help, since her due date is arriving soon. And for other part-time work, there is a father with three children living in an old family castle beside Loch Ness, who needs a live-in nanny for when his children are home from school. Everything seems ideal until Zoe finds out the reputation of the children—wild, ill-mannered, and tragically motherless; some say she ran away, but no one really knows what became of her.
At first, Zoe struggles in this much colder-weathered country, trying to sell books when customers ask for them based on obscure references such as a certain colored cover, or figuring out how to teach the Urquart children some self-control, rather than doing whatever impulses please them at the moment, or eating more than just toast for every meal.
A Scottish Mary Poppins meets the Sound of Music tale in a Gothic setting with a soiled castle, both in appearance and reputation, this book is perfect for anyone who loves a good story of overcoming life’s obstacles, and finding your place in a gorgeous new country. Comforting and dramatic, hilarious and frustrating, tells of one woman’s struggles and successes with unruly children, two new jobs, and a perplexing yet handsome new boss. This is the perfect book to snuggle into a cozy armchair with, along with a cup of tea. It’s sure to become a national bestseller. The Bookshop on the Shore
Perfect for fans of
- The Bookshop on the Corner
- Jenny Colgan
- Books, bookshops, and booksellers
- Gothic elements such as large old houses beside lakes, stormy weather, and mysterious characters
- Loch Ness
- Scotland, Scottish settings/culture (including Samhain)
- Overcoming obstacles
- Mental health conversations/improvement stories
- Romantic comedies/dramas
- Redefining families
- The Sound of Music
- Mary Poppins
- Nanny McPhee
Why had it never occurred to Zoe to tell her other mother friends how lonely or unsupported she felt? Why didn’t she realize that they felt the same way, despite their social media pictures and posts?
What was the primary food the children were living on? Why? How did Zoe help change that?
What was the problem with the children lying around doing nothing all day? How did giving them jobs and keeping them busy give them a sense of purpose and personal pride and benefit their mentalities overall? Are chores something all children should have?
Zoe wished that she had a superpower like Mary Poppins, to just snap her fingers and “make everything tidy itself up.” What did Mary wish her superpower to be? What do you think each of the other members of the household would have chosen?
Nina’s “comfort reading” while she was stuck in a hospital on bed rest for months was Anne of Green Gables, Agatha Christie, Peanuts comics, essays of David Sedaris and short stories of Saki. What would some of Zoe’s comfort reads have been (she did mention one that she read to the children)? What about Ramsey’s? What are yours?
When asked if he had ever seen the monster out on Loch Ness, Murdo replied with “Maybe.” He gave the same reply again when Zoe asked if that was what he had to say, otherwise no one would come out on tours with him. What do you think? Do you think it appeared to help the children later out in the rowboat in the storm?
Scotland is famous for its sudden-onset treacherous weather and storms, as well as its intense cold. Zoe thought “surely there couldn’t be anywhere else in the world where the weather changed so fast and so entirely.” Do you know of any other places where it does? (Hint: search Florida afternoon storms, or Florida rain storm meme)
What was the deeper explanation and more hopeful meaning for the carving over the front door of the house that read “sky, sand, loch, land”? How did it help remind Ramsey to treasure and look after things where he lived? (Hint: look at the quotes at the bottom of the page if you can’t remember)
The author of this novel “has herself always self-medicated with books,” and “cannot rightfully attest or deny whether this is a better way of dealing with ‘real life’ than any other.” Do you ever do this, and is it ever better than other ways?
Why did Mary try to “help” her pain by hurting herself? What was she hurting from?
What did it mean that Wilby the gardener and Mrs. MacGlone were on legacy at the house?
Who was the lord of the Samhain and what did that ritual involve? How and why did he get carried away with Zoe?
When did Hari start talking? What was his first word?
Who was Elspeth, and what had happened to her? How did this explain Ramsey’s odd absences?
How was medication able to help Mary, and also help the other children to be safe under the same roof as her?
How did a belated Halloween party help the children to make friends before they returned to school? How was Zoe able to pay for the party? How was this party different from the Samhain thrown at the castle?
The first food that Zoe taught Shackelton to make, which inspired his love for cooking and helped him turn from a video game addiction was muffins with “butter and little bits of cheese and ham and onion they’d found around the place, and he’d watched them rise up, golden and fresh in the oven and smelling absolutely delicious.”
Also, at the visitor center, Agnieska’s sandwich options were ham and cheese, or cheese, because “everyone likes ham and cheese.”
For this reason, I made a recipe for:
Ham, cheddar, and green onion corn muffins
Ham, Cheddar, and Green Onion Corn Muffins
- 1 cup all-purpose flour, preferably unbleached
- 1 cup yellow cornmeal
- 1/4 cup granulated (caster) sugar
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1/3 cup salted butter, melted
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 cup milk, (I used 2%), at room temp.
- 7 oz (about 1 cup) fully cooked ham steak, diced small
- 1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- (about 4 tbsp), 4 green onions, diced
- Preheat oven to 375° F. In the bowl of a stand mixer on medium speed, combine sugar and melted butter for one minute. In a separate bowl, sift or stir together the flour, cornmeal, and baking powder. To the mixer, add the milk and mix for one minute. Drop the speed to low and add half of the flour mixture a little at a time, followed by one egg. Mix for half a minute, then add the rest of the flour and the last egg. Mix on medium-low speed just until all the flour disappears. Stop the mixer to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl with a spatula if any of the flour is sticking to the walls of the bowl. Then add the cheese and green onions, mix on low for one minute, followed by the diced ham, and mix just until combined.
- In a paper-lined or well sprayed muffin tin (I add a little olive oil and a pinch of flour to each tin and swirl them with my finger or a basting brush), scoop the batter into the tins, about 2/3 full. (I use a large ice cream scoop for this). Bake in the oven for 15-17 minutes on the center rack, or until the muffins appear golden-brown around the edges. Allow to cool 5-10 minutes before eating. Makes 1 dozen muffins.
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Other books by Jenny Colgan include the bestseller The Bookshop on the Corner, which tells Nina’s story of how she obtained the van and began selling books to this tiny Scottish town. Other beginnings of her great series books with similar to the challenges for the main characters are Little Beach Street Bakery and Meet Me at the Cupcake Cafe.
Other authors mentioned in this book are Michael Lewis, Dickens, Philip Larkin, Noel Streatfield, Saki, David Sedaris, Agatha Christie, and the books Anna Karenina, Emma, The Chalet School series, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Knowledge of Angels, Peter Pan, The Hobbit, Anne of Green Gables, The Hotel New Hampshire, the Waverley novels, Up on the Rooftops, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, What Katy Did, The Magic Faraway Tree, Jack Reacher novels, The Princess and the Goblin, Lark Rise to Candleford, The Secret Garden, and The Magician’s Nephew.
Mary Poppins has some similarities to this book and is referenced in it as well.
Some other children with an unusual upbringing, an intelligent, bookish father figure, and a librarian who comes in to the house can all be found in The Awakening of Miss Prim.
At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen is a historical fiction novel that also includes a bit about the Loch Ness monster.
Other popular books set in Scotland are The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, A Dark and Distant Shore, Letters from Skye, The Shadowy Horses, To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon, The Changeling by Robin Jenkins, Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, and Lanark.
At first, Mrs. MacGlone seems much like, as is compared to Mrs. Danvers from Daphne du Maurier’s classic Gothic novel, Rebecca. Other similar elements are the large, spooky house with a secret tragedy and a lost wife, and a man who spends much time hidden away in his library. Another Gothic novel referenced is Jane Eyre, when the characters in this novel speak about keeping a wife in the attic.
Another young girl who is angry at the world about the loss of her mother and being forced into a new phase of life, though with her aunt as caregiver, and her aunt’s ailing foster mother as well in a small town can all be found in The Book Charmer, along with a librarian who can tell what book someone will need before they do.
“It was a very odd concept—that you could become friends with someone simply by examining their bookshelves—but nevertheless Zoe believed it fervently.”
“...not all battles are worth fighting.”
“There’s sad things in lots of lives. People get up every day and walk about with smiles on their faces who have been through things you and I could never imagine.”
“It must be so tiring to fight and to fight and to fight against the world; to be so angry and frustrated, every single minute of the day.”
“It was the kind of thing—a loss of dignity—that would make many men cross, and find it essential to cover up. Men that were really scary, that really did mean harm, couldn’t bear to be funny.”
“It’s to remind you... that you’re merely a trespasser on what has always been here and what will always be here. It’s a reminder to treasure it and look after it, and that worldly things —houses, cups, jewelry, all that stuff—don’t last and don’t matter...It’s hopeful. It’s saying, you will come and you will go, but these things that go on for ever are all around you; look how beautiful and wonderful they are. Sheaves from the field, fish from the loch, light from the sky and glass from the sand. Every day.”
“Sometimes you undeniably just wanted to read about something utterly awful happening to somebody who wasn’t you. It was part of being a reader, that books chased your moods, and it was Nina’s great skill to match them, like a sommelier matching a wine list to a menu.”
“She self-medicated with books.”
“I’m your dad! And I love you! And I will try to make things as right as I can...but you have to...you have to stay with me. You have to. You have to try. Even when you don’t want to. Even when it’s hard…”
“It’s what’s inside the book that’s special. The words you carry with you that are always there. The cover is just the cover.”
“You’ve changed everything. You don’t realize what you’ve done. You’ve turned it into a home. For...for all of us.”
“I think in this life sometimes you have to take what you can get.”
Questions & Answers
© 2019 Amanda Leitch