Book Review: The Cafe by the Sea by Jenny Colgan
“This place: it was freedom. Home and freedom, all at once.”
I read Jenny Colgan’s The Bookshop on the Corner last summer and absolutely adored it. So I was excited to read The Cafe by the Sea. I’ve had it on my shelf for a while and decided to read it while we were at the beach this past weekend. I do love how Colgan paints such beautiful settings of Scotland, this time in a fictional island called Mure. Colgan describes the island so beautifully that I am now dying to go to the Scottish Isles. The Cafe by the Sea is the story of Flora MacKenzie, a paralegal in London who has not returned home to Mure in three years. When her boss Joel (on whom she has a major crush) assigns her to a major client, American tech billionaire Colton Rogers, who has business interests on the island, Flora is forced to return home to her estranged family.
When Flora returns home, she reunites with her father and her three brothers on the MacKenzie farm. Since Flora ran away to London after her mother’s death three years ago, her brothers (like all siblings do) give her a hard time about being fancy and from the city. But things are not all sunshine and roses at the MacKenzie farm; the farm has too many expenses, and it looks like it could possibly go under. Flora’s brother Fintan is perpetually sulky and spends more time in the barn than out in the fields, much to the chagrin of the rest of MacKenzie men. Everyone is struggling in the wake of Annie MacKenzie's death, not just Flora. And it is not only the MacKenzie farm that has fallen on hard times; most of the shops on the High Street have closed, and people have fled to the mainland for jobs. Mure residents are not happy with Colton Rogers because he has not employed local folks to help build his resort on the Rock, instead outsourcing those jobs. Flora’s job is to convince the council that a wind farm should not be placed in front of Colton's hotel. It is proving more difficult than Flora expected to convince the people of Mure that Colton is a good guy.
When Flora gets to Mure, Colton doesn’t reach out to her for several days, and Joel is forced to fly up to arrange a meeting. While Flora is trying her best to curb her crush on Joel, Joel basically doesn’t even know she exists. However, as Colton is taken with Flora, Joel starts to pay more attention to her. But Joel’s brash, serious, lone-wolf personality doesn’t bode well for romance, and Flora finds herself spending some time with Charlie, who runs an outdoor adventure program for underprivileged children. During Flora’s first few days when she doesn’t have anything to do yet, she finds her mother’s recipe book and starts to cook and bake her mother’s recipes. Pretty soon it is not only a stress reliever for her, but it also helps her move past her grief by reconnecting with this part of her mom. When Fintan tags along with Flora to meet Colton and Joel, somehow Fintan ends up convincing Colton to open a cafe on the High Street, where Flora can bake and sell Fintan’s cheese. This is all a ploy to help Colton’s popularity with the Mure residents.
I blew through this book one afternoon at the beach, and while I normally read fast, I think I finished this one so quickly because of how light it was. Despite some heavy issues like grief and strained family relationships, The Cafe by the Sea was a fast and fluffy read. I liked the story overall, but it definitely wasn’t as good as The Bookshop on the Corner. It probably could be because The Bookshop on the Corner focused on books and a mobile bookstore, but I also think Colgan missed the mark with the two romantic leads for Flora. Charlie and Joel could not be more different, but neither one of them seemed to be a good match for Flora.
I adored Flora's brothers: Fintan, Innes, and Hamish. Fintan and Innes are the good-looking ones, while Hamish is described as a big guy who just works and eats all the time. You do you, Hamish. Innes' relationship with his three-year old daughter Agot was lovely to witness, especially since Agot's mother and Innes are no longer together. While we spend the most time with Fintan, Innes as the oldest snuck his way into my heart. Caring for the MacKenzie farm and his little girl, all while grieving their mother, would be enough to overwhelm the average person, but Innes just does what he has to in order to move forward. But Fintan was my favorite secondary character; I absolutely adored him. He just wants to spend time making cheese; I mean, who doesn't want to do that? Although for me, it would mainly be eating cheese all the time, but I digress. Fintan and Flora's relationship was sweet, and I'm glad Fintan was able to get a happily ever after because he deserved to be happy. I also loved how not only was this a story about family and love, but it was also about finding yourself and discovering your community.
I enjoyed The Cafe by the Sea, and if you are looking for a good beach read, definitely pick this up or any of Colgan’s novels, but especially The Bookshop on the Corner. I give this 3.5 stars.
Let me know what some of your go-to beach reads are!