I am a voracious reader who loves to bake and enjoys books from almost every category of fiction, as well as biographies and memoirs.
Carmen is a single woman in her thirties from a small town in Scotland who never went to college and suddenly loses her job at a haberdashery, as well as her apartment. Her always-perfect sister, Sofia, offers her a room in the basement of her perfect house, as well as a new job trying to rescue a failing bookstore.
Sofia also needs help with her three kids since another is on the way soon. Carmen struggles to understand how to get along with her nieces and nephew since she was never really around them before. She was always too busy living the single life.
But when Carmen steps into the old, dusty bookstore, randomly “organized” by publication year or random subject matter like rabbits but not according to age groups, she is discouraged to find it an absolute mess. There is nothing but dusty old maps, spiderwebs, and dead flies in the windows, in contrast to the other nearby shops that are drawing in customers with their warm Christmas displays.
It’s up to Carmen to turn a profit and save the store that doesn’t even have a card reader, as well as the kind, sad old man who owns it and lives in the apartment upstairs.
The Christmas Bookshop is a perfect cozy winter holiday book for anyone who loves bookstores, romance, Scotland, or women’s empowerment stories interspersed with humor.
When Carmen took her nieces and nephew to the fair, they had many mulled wine stalls, and Carmen bought hot chocolate for the children. She also made it for them after the snowstorm.
At the Christmas party, they had lots of mulled wine. And at a coffee shop with a certain writer, the “scent of cinnamon was heavy on the air.”
To combine these flavors, I created a chocolate mulled wine cupcake with mulled wine spiced frosting.
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Mulled Wine Cupcakes With Spiced Frosting
For the cupcakes:
- 4 ounces/ 1/2 cup salted butter at room temperature
- 3/4 cup brown sugar
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup cocoa powder
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 2 large eggs at room temperature
- 1/2 cup red wine
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 2 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- 1/2 tsp plus 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1/4 tsp allspice
- 1/4 tsp ground clove
For the frosting:
- 3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
- 4 oz salted butter
- 4 tbsp red wine
- 1 tbsp milk
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp ginger
- 1/4 tsp cloves
- 1/4 tsp allspice
- Preheat your oven to 325°F. In the bowl of a stand mixer on medium-high speed, cream together the butter, sugar, and spices for 2 minutes. Drop the mixer to medium, add the wine, sour cream, vanilla and mix for 1-2 minutes until creamy. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda and powder, cocoa powder and salt. Drop the mixer to low and slowly add the dry ingredients, about 1/3 to half of the bowl at a time. When all are combined, add the eggs, one at a time, just until mixed.
- Line a cupcake tin with paper liners and scoop cupcake batter into each until about 2/3 full. I like using a large ice cream scoop. Bake for 18-20 minutes until you can insert a toothpick in the center of the largest cupcake and it comes out clean. Cool for fifteen minutes before frosting, preferably out of the tin (but wait until they have cooled at least 5-10 minutes before trying to remove them from a hot tin). Makes about 12-14 cupcakes.
- For the frosting, in the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, whip the soft butter with the spices on medium-high speed for 1 minute. Stop the mixer, add half the powdered sugar, the wine, milk, and the vanilla, and mix on low first for 1 minute, then increase to medium for 1 more minute. Stop it again and add the rest of the powdered sugar. Mix on low for 1 minute. Stop the mixer and scrape down the insides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, then increase to medium-high for 1-2 minutes, until the powder seems to have disappeared. Pipe onto cooled (at least 15 minutes) cupcakes. I used an XL star tip for these. Makes about 12-14 frosted cupcakes.
Book Discussion Questions
- What is a haberdashery and what types of things did Carmen sell there?
- How was working for Mr. McCredie different from working for Mrs. Marsh?
- What types of odd customers and requests did Carmen get in the bookstore? (Hint: Christmas Fish book and the lady who wouldn't leave and hated “capitalism.”)
- What was Oke a professor of and what was his real name?
- What is a Thundersnow and how did Carmen and her sister’s kids bond closer during it?
- Why didn’t Carmen and Sophia get along at first? Why didn’t Carmen and Skylar?
- What is a “suspended cup” of coffee at a coffee shop? Have you ever partaken in it or do you want to?
- How were Oke and Blair different and why did each appeal to Carmen?
- What is the Ormiston Yew and why was it significant for Oke (and later Carmen as well)?
- What is Camera Obscura?
- Why did making mouse decorations and wedding dresses give Carmen a sense of peace? What things did for each of the characters? What does for you?
- Skylar believed that if you “follow good practices” (eat the right things, do yoga and meditation, educate yourself, don’t drink alcohol or caffeine,) then you can stop from ever feeling fear or sadness or worry. How do these things help, but not completely solve those issues? How were she and Carmen perhaps each out of balance in this area?
- What are some of the interesting things about trees Oke told Carmen?
- What was wrong with Blair’s books, especially the Christmas children’s one?
- How did things end with him and Carmen versus Skylar?
- What was the connection between Carmen’s dreams about the train, an old photo, and Mr. McCredie?
- Oke thinks that happiness is “a by-product to being useful. If you do good work and are useful, that makes you happy.” What was happiness to Carmen at the beginning versus the end of the book? What is it to you?
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What to Read Next
- Other books in this Scottish Bookshop series are The Bookshop on the Corner and The Bookshop on the Shore.
- Other series by Jenny Colgan which also have Christmas books in the series are Christmas at Little Beach Street Bakery (Little Beach Street Bakery #3 ), Christmas at the Island Hotel (Mure #4), Christmas at the Cupcake Café (At the Cupcake Café, #2), and Christmas at Rosie Hopkins’ Sweetshop (Rosie Hopkins' Sweet Shop, #2).
- Books and stories mentioned within this book are The Jolly Christmas Postman, The Water-Babies, A Christmas Carol, “The Snow Queen” by Hans Christian Andersen, The Polar Express, White Boots, The Box of Delights, The Night Before Christmas, The Dark is Rising, The Shining Star.
- A story similar to Mr. McCredie’s and his parents can be found in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.
© 2022 Amanda Lorenzo