“The Café by the Sea” continues Jenny Colgan’s string of lovely, light stories about women who need to take charge of their lives and make difficult changes. In this story, it’s rather the reverse — or it appears to be at first.
Flora MacKenzie has fled the tiny northern Scottish island where she — and her ancestors going waaaay back — were born, to live a “modern” life in London working as a paralegal for a large law firm. It becomes apparent from the start that Flora has no desire to go home. Absolutely none. Moreover, there appears to be a reason, not shared, why she can’t go back.
But when a billionaire client demands that he needs someone from the tiny island to go there and help him with his resort plans, Flora has no choice. Her boss, Joel, insists that she go. Flora has had a crush on Joel since she started at the firm, but it’s also made clear in the book that Joel is a player. He’s tied to no one woman, and in fact doesn’t want any kind of relationship.
But a savvy reader also knows that Joel is an important character in the story. Part of it is told from Joel’s point of view — and that’s a dead giveaway.
Flora must decide what is important in her life. While on assignment at home, she discovers her late mother’s recipe book, and it turns out that Flora really enjoys recreating the much-loved and delicious foods her mother made throughout their childhood. She feeds her three brothers and her aging father — all of whom have not done well since her mother’s death.
What readers love about Colgan’s books, and what she provides in great detail in this one, are descriptions and facts about life in rural, exotic places. Life on this very northern island in Britain is not like standard British fare. There is the never-setting sun in summer and the dark in winter. There are the legends of selkies (seals who turn into humans) and because of Flora’s coloring — very pale skin and almost white blond hair — she fits the legend.
Colgan provides a local love interest to make things not very predictable (although Joel has a point of view), and she shares what life must be like on these rural, distant islands where one must get there by boat or plane — islands where everyone knows everyone else, their history, and most of their secrets.
Laugh along with Flora, and cry a bit with her, too. Root for her as she struggles to figure out what is important enough to fight for and what she must do to be happy. Enjoy the story, the setting, and the charming romance. Isn’t that what never-ending summer days are all about?
Please note: The review is based on the final, paperback book provided by William Morrow, the publisher, for review purposes.