The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan
Nina was just let go from her job as a librarian in the city, where they want young college grads who know more about marketing than finding the perfect book for readers, as Nina does. So she purchases a decrepit white van from man in a tiny town in Scotland, and discovers that the landscape there is what she's spent her whole life yearning for, well, that and the handsome, midnight train driver who leaves books of Russian poetry on a tree limb when he passes by. Nina decides to fix up the van and use it to sell the books she's been hoarding for years, which could often be found toppling down the stairs of the apartment she shared with a roommate named Surinder. But the moody landlord of the gorgeously renovated barn she lives in might lose his entire farm to a bitter ex-wife who left him for their interior designer. The Bookshop around the Corner will make you want to pack up for the Scottish countryside and sit beneath a giant oak tree reading your favorite books, or look for the girl in the white van who knows exactly what story you need to read next, no matter your age or interest.
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Jenny Colgan has numerous funny, insatiable novels that will have you craving everything from chocolate to cupcakes, as well as more details of the intricate lives of her heroines. Her New York Times bestsellers and International Bestsellers are: Little Beach Street Bakery, Summer at Little Beach Street Bakery, Meet Me at the Cupcake Cafe, and The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris. She also has 3 Christmas novels available. Her latest novel is The Cafe by the Sea.
Sarah Addison Allen’s novels are very similar in style and making you crave various delectable delights, including romance. Some of her most popular novels are: Garden Spells, its sequel, First Frost, The Sugar Queen, Lost Lake, and The Peach Keeper.
Nina mentions MANY books, authors, and even famous literary characters. Some of them include: Little Women, The Knife of Never Letting Go, The Lark Rise to Candleford trilogy, the Outlander series, Nancy Drew, Moll Flanders, Fair Stood The Wind For France, Georgette Heyer, Norah Lofts, All Creatures Great and Small, the Faraway Tree books, the Harry Potter Series, Swallows and Amazons, and My Life as an Astronaut. Unfortunately, the book most frequently mentioned in this novel, the children’s story Up on the Rooftops, is entirely fictional.
On the bus on the way to look at the white van which would change her entire future, Nina had a bit of rest stop vending machine food, a little tart called a Cherry Bakewell. these are usually comprised of a buttery tart crust, an almond cream layer, cherry (or sometimes raspberry) preserves, and topped with sliced almonds and glace cherries. These cupcake versions are a buttery almond cupcake with a cherry jam center, almond frosting, and garnished with maraschino cherries and sliced almonds.
Cherry Almond Cupcakes with Cherry Preserves Centers
- 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) salted butter, softened to room temperature
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 2 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 cup plus 5 tbsp milk, divided
- 1/2 tsp, plus 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract, divided
- 2 1/2 tsp, plus 2 tsp almond extract, divided
- About 12 tsps cherry preserves or jam
- 4 cups powdered sugar
- 24 maraschino cherries, (for garnish), optional
- Sliced almonds, (for garnish), optional
Cherry Preserves Centers in Almond Cupcakes
- In the bowl of a stand mixer on medium low, cream together 1 stick of butter and the sugar. Once fully combined, add the eggs, one at a time, and 1/2 tsp vanilla extract and 2 ½ tsps of almond extract. When all those are mixed together, add half of the flour, plus the baking soda and powder. Stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, then turn the mixer on low, add the ½ cup of milk and allow it to incorporate, followed by the rest of the flour. Scoop batter into cupcake liners until about two thirds full, then bake at 350° for 18-20 minutes, or until you can insert a toothpick into the center of the cupcake and it comes out clean of raw batter. Allow the cupcakes to cool ten minutes on a baking rack.
- To fill the cupcakes, take a very small ice cream scoop or melon baller and use it to scoop out a small circle from the center of the cupcake, being sure not to go all the way through. If you do dig too deep, just take some of the scooped cupcake and push it back down into the hole. Using a teaspoon, place about half a teaspoon (or more, if you like lots of cherry preserves) of cherry preserves into the hole in each cupcake. I also added a quarter teaspoon of the maraschino cherry juice on top of the jam, but this is entirely optional depending on how much you like the flavor of maraschino cherries.
- To make the frosting, in the bowl of a stand mixer on medium speed, beat the two sticks of butter until smooth. Drop the speed to low and add 2 teaspoons of almond extract, then two cups of powdered sugar, one at a time. Scrape down the insides of the bowl if the frosting is creeping up the sides, or if there’s some powdered sugar sitting in the bottom of the bowl. Carefully pour in the 5 tablespoons of milk, followed by the 2 remaining cups of powdered sugar, and continue to mix on the lowest speed until everything is fully incorporated. Pipe onto cooled, filled cupcakes, and garnish each cupcake with a maraschino cherry and sliced almonds.
Cherry Bakewell Almond Cupcakes
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Nina always liked to feel that Little Women was close by in a crisis. Why do you think this book gave her such peace? Did anyone else in the story have an “automatic comforting device”? Are there any books that make you feel the same way Nina did about Little Women, perhaps a favorite go-to?
Why wasn’t Nina deterred by the old man who wouldn’t sell the van to a woman as little as her? How did she get around this and still manage to acquire it? Were there any loopholes attached?
Why did Nina love to have books around her and especially to recommend books to others? Do all book lovers have a bit of this in them?
How was it that “someone Nina had met so briefly, under such extraordinary circumstances, should turn out to be able to pinpoint exactly what Nina was feeling” with a poem written in another language?
Why did Marek say that “Poetry is good for people in strange lands”? Is there something about poetry’s format or content that made him think so? Are certain poems or styles better than others for this? What do you think might have been Nina’s favorite poem before the one from Marek?
Why did Nina choose the name “The Little Shop of Happily Ever After” for her mobile bookstore? What did Surinder think of it, or Lennox? Was it an accurate name in any way?
Nina noticed that the goriest serial-killer series always went to the most mild-mannered looking of people. Why was it that “the more sensibly dressed the person, the more unutterably depraved they liked their fiction”? What part did clothes versus literature preferences play in this book?
Surinder told Nina that she liked “to appear a pushover, but inside you’re as tough as boots.” Nina admitted that everyone’s different from how they look in the inside.” How was that accurate about Nina, but not Surinder? Who else was different on the outside, and were there reasons for that?
Why did Griffin want the new librarian position so badly, then greatly regret acquiring it? Would Nina have ever fit in there, and why or why not?
- At one point, Nina was working a lot of overtime, and told Griffin, “I only think in books. So I’m working too hard and it’s like Hard Times, then I go home and it’s Cold Comfort Farm.” How are these titles appropriate for her work and home life? What title would Nina have given to Surinder’s life, or Griffin’s, or Lennox’s? Can you think of any humorous titles for any of your current life situations?