Title: Ruby Spencer's Whiskey Year
Author: Rochelle Bilow
Length: 368 pages
Date Of Publication: February 14th 2023
Rating: 5 Stars
Please enjoy this excerpt from
Ruby Spencer's Whiskey Year
Ruby Spencer was absolutely, positively sure about three things. 1. Quitting her job and moving to a random town in the Scottish Highlands for a year to write a cookbook was the craziest thing she had ever done. 1.5. (Would ever do.) 1.75. (( The crazy thing was the Scotland part, not the cookbook part.)) 2. In all her thirty-five years, she had never lived anywhere as beautiful as this tiny stone cottage, overgrown with ivy and moss, with its sweet mint-green door. 2.5. Even if it didn’t have a kitchen. 2.75. Hahahahaha. 3. After two delayed flights, a canceled one, an overnight snooze on a bench in Heathrow Airport, and one missing piece of luggage later . . . her armpits absolutely, positively stunk. Ruby set her canvas duffel on the cool floor, closed her eyes, and inhaled deeply. God, I smell awful. On her next breath, she focused her attention on the cottage around her. She wiggled her toes inside her Keds and shimmied her shoulders on the exhale. The air inside the cottage smelled sweet and heady, like cinnamon and smoke, black tea leaves and vanilla. Which was nice. Which was much better than her armpits, which smelled like curry and garlic. She kept her eyes shut as she listened for the tiny sounds that tend to hide in old stone Scottish cottages. To her right and slightly above: the wind whistling through the chimney and into the hearth. In front of her and through the window: gentle clucking from a flock of hens scratching at the ground. Behind her, the creak of the heavy wooden door she’d left open, swinging on its hinges. To her left: nothing. But wait—Ruby pressed her fingers into her palms and bit the inside of her cheek. A frenetic scamper, followed by a squeak. A mouse! Ruby’s eyes flew open and she laughed. The mouse had gone, but, she surmised, not for long. “Of course,”she said, running her palm down her messy fishtail braid. “I would be disappointed if there weren’t mice.”Next, Ruby held her arms out by her sides and felt the air on her skin. It was mid-April, and the Highlands were still chilly, but, as mentioned, she was a bit ripe. She had stripped down from her three-season traveling jacket and sweater to jeans and a cotton camisole, and the breeze was a treat. The air inside the one-room home she had agreed to rent—Sight unseen! After a few short phone calls with the owner! For a whole year!—hung cold from years of vacancy. But it was thick with potential. Ruby could tell that much was true. She sniffed a little and caught heather on the breeze. Classic Scotland, right there. It’s just like I imagined, she thought. Ruby wondered what other Scottish stereotypes would prove to be true. She hoped the one about strapping bearded men who guzzled whisky and whispered sweet nothings was. But maybe she had just been watching too much Outlander. Her mind trotted past the image of a sexy Scot kissing her against a pile of oak barrels to Benjamin. She immediately cringed. No. Mustn’t think about Benjamin here. The man had occupied far too much of her brain space for far too long. The breeze picked up again and Ruby was pulled into the present. She reached for the sweater she’d tied around the duffel straps and slipped it over her head. It was cream colored and cable-knit, long in the sleeves and reached halfway down her thighs, but it was soft and comfortable, perfect in the way that favorite sweaters always are. She looked around and drank in the scene. There was a massive stone hearth, almost large enough to hold the height of her five-foot, two-inch frame. The fireplace dwarfed the rest of the cottage. Or perhaps anchored it? Hard to say. It was big. Directly across from the door Ruby saw a dusty window held together by thin timber muntins; one of the glass panes was missing and was nailed over with a wood board. This was the sort of thing that would have driven her mad in Manhattan, an injustice that would’ve had her hollering at her landlord for a replacement and reduction in rent. But she was in Scotland! So now it was charming, and she didn’t have to be angry about it. In front of the window sat a bed to rival the hearth. It was made from wood, like every other piece of furniture in the cottage, with an enormous head- and footboard, and thick posts for legs. It looked like it weighed a ton. Two tons? Numbers were not Ruby’s strong point. The mattress was covered in a white sheet and a worn velveteen green quilt that looked about a trillion years old. Again: super charming. Because, Scotland. Spread across the quilt, at the foot of the bed was a real sheep’s pelt. Ruby touched it with her fingertips and brought them up to her nose; she could smell the lanolin. There were plenty of pillows, both functional and furry, piled against the headboard, giving the whole bed a look that was at once soft and wild. Ruby kicked off her shoes and flopped onto the mattress. It was surprisingly comfortable, although she would’ve dealt with it no matter what. Having sold all her earthly possessions and moved across an ocean, she didn’t have much room to be picky about details like beds and mattresses. On the other side of the cottage, pushed up against the stonework, was a small writing desk and minuscule chair. A tapestry throw was artfully draped over the desk. On top of that, a tapered candle in a brass holder and a delicate vase holding a few yellow cowslips. Ruby reached off the bed and rummaged in her duffel bag for her dictionary, which—okay, yes, she had brought a dictionary in her carry-on luggage. And, yes, she realized ten minutes into her wait at the security check that it had been a monumental (and monumentally heavy) mistake. The thing of it was, Ruby really wanted to make a fresh start here: not just to write a cookbook but to become the sort of person she wished she was. The sort of person she never got around to becoming in New York. The sort of person who, when reading novels and encountering a word she didn’t know, looked it up in an actual dictionary, rather than grabbing her phone and googling “meaning of alacrity”or whatever. To be clear, not the sort of person who immediately exited the dictionary.com app and spent the next forty-five minutes blacking out on Instagram’s explore tab. Not naming any names, but . . . ugh. Ruby’s life had become very stale and very uninspiring over the course of the last few years. The dictionary felt like—what? A reminder of that intention? Sure. Let’s go with that. Anyway, she placed the dictionary—Oxford, not Merriam-Webster, because, Scotland—on the writing desk. There. Transformation complete. She was now a calm and stable human who could do hard and good things, like move to the UK in her midthirties and learn new words. The cottage couldn’t have been more than eight by eight feet; if Ruby wanted to, she could cross the whole thing in one big step (and a half). But how did they measure things in Scotland? Centimeters? Ruby wasn’t positive. She had a moment of panic. How could I have moved to a country without knowing their units of measurement? Ruby grabbed her phone to google it. Wait. No Wi-Fi in the cottage. Right. She’d look it up later. It probably didn’t matter that much, honestly. What did she need to measure? She was only writing a cookbook. Sigh. She stretched her arms over her head, then brought her hands down underneath her sweater. She scratched her rib cage and yawned, bone-tired from the international flight, the train ride from Glasgow Airport to Inverness, the taxi ride from the station, and the polite touch-base conversation with the cottage’s proprietor, Grace Wood. “It’s perfect,”she murmured to herself now, curling up into a small ball in the center of the bed. The door caught a lively gust and slammed shut with a thud. Somewhere along the baseboard, the mouse exclaimed in surprise. Ruby pressed her palms together and tucked her hands underneath her cheek. She imagined the rodent wearing a miniature kilt and drinking from a thimble of whisky. Scotland is going to be great. Everything will work out. This was definitely not a mistake. Nope. Not at all. No mistakes here. Not a single one. Ha ha. And then, even though her brain very much wanted to keep thinking about the cottage; about her future cookbook; about awful Benjamin; about how she’d earn enough money to live here for a year; about why the hell she’d thought a cottage with no internet would be charming; and about every single embarrassing thing she’d ever done in her whole life, exhaustion overtook her body. Her fringe of dark lashes fluttered once, and she was asleep. •••When Ruby woke, it was dark. How long had she been sleeping? The cab had dropped her off at the pub shortly after noon; it couldn’t have been much past one when she drifted off. She rose and fumbled around the walls for a light switch. The fixture on the ceiling crackled and sparked a few times before it settled into a dim glow. Two weeks ago, a rustic cottage in the small town of Thistlecross was all she could think about. And she was finally here. She was about to spend an entire year exploring Scotland and drinking whisky. So why did it suddenly seem . . . less awesome? Harder? Ruby needed better ambiance; that would help, for sure. She found a box of matches in the desk drawer, struck one, and lit the candle. Light threw itself against the stone walls and made dancing shadows. “Oh, that’s nice,”she said, and rifled through her bag for a toothbrush and some clean jeans. Ms. Wood had set a pitcher of water on the windowsill, along with a ceramic mug. Ruby filled the mug and drank it down, then brushed her teeth. There was a small bathroom tucked in the southern corner of the cottage. She’d shower later. Eventually. She wasn’t in a rush; there didn’t seem to be anyone to impress in Thistlecross. She slid into her shoes again and walked outside, around to the back and surveyed her domain in the dark, stretching her legs and doing a couple of yoga poses to move her spine. Buck up, girl. You wanted this. Why had she wanted this, exactly? Ruby had figured that the minimalist setup and a “closer to nature”existence would help her write her cookbook: reduce distractions and keep her focused on the task at hand. Plus, it seemed romantic and poetic. Very Walden Pond. Very literary. But had Thoreau had a small pub nearby? Ruby seemed to recall some sort of story about him doing laundry at his mom’s. Ugh. Just like a man. She looked around for the hens; it appeared they had retired for the night in the coop near the rowan tree. Ruby ducked back inside and shrieked. One of the hens had decided to roost in the cottage instead of its perfectly decent home, and was perched on a bedpost. (Mental note to close the cottage door in the future.) She approached the hen, who careened around the cottage. What was she going to do . . . catch it? No. That was absurd. She could not. She would not. Maybe she could just guide it out of the cottage. Ruby smacked her hands together to startle it into action, which resulted in her clapping after a hen and shouting “Go home! Go home!”for no less than seven spins around
Quit your job...check!
Move to Scotland...check!
Try to write and sell a cookbook...check!
Fall in love with the town hottie...check!
Try right wrongs, save a town and its landmarks...check!
Live happily ever after...maybe!
This book is utter light and happy "girl adventure," "let fate be your guide" romantic fabulousity.
Ruby has a very relatable newbie's naivete about the people, places, and things Scotland.
Which serves to provide readers with the perfect person to cheer for.
The relationships that she builds with not only the townspeople but the town itself is so endearing that you want to move there.
And as for leading man, Brochan.
Can we say dreamboat?
Along with the additional plot thickeners of his past. And her present relationship with the town mayor. And the loop that makes to his past.
And let's not forget the WHISKEY!
This book is nothing less than romantic GOLD!
In fact, there are so many great characters in this book whose back stories and HEA's I would love to see written.
Thank you to Netgalley and Berkley for providing the review copy upon which this honest review is based.
Rochelle is a professionally trained cook and food writer and has worked as an editor at Bon Appétit and Cooking Light Magazines, as well as a line cook, a farm cook, and a wine spokesperson. She holds a grande diplome from The French Culinary Institute, and her food writing has been featured in a variety of national publications, including The Kitchn, Serious Eats, and Spruce Eats.
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