One of the debut novels I’ve been looking forward to this year has been Ruby Spencer’s Whisky Year by Rochelle Bilow. Set in the Scottish Highlands, it was giving me Outlander vibes… minus the time travel and historical setting, of course! Instead, it follows an American woman who’s ready for a career change. She quits her job and moves to a little town in Scotland so she can write a cookbook… and maybe make some new connections along the way.
Special thanks to the publicists at Penguin Random House and to NetGalley for providing me with an ARC of this book!
After 10 years as a successful food critic, Ruby Spencer is in need of a change. For her, this means moving from New York City to a small town in the Scottish Highlands, where she’ll spend a year writing a cookbook. Though she’s 35, she’s a bit lost in life, feeling unmoored and unsure of where her path will lead. Shortly after arriving in her new home, Ruby befriends some of the kindhearted locals, including a man named Brochan. Ruby may have expected her time in Scotland to be a temporary escape, but it may just become the home she always craved.
First things first: Ruby Spencer’s Whisky Year isn’t quite a romance. Or rather, it is a romance, but it’s also women’s fiction and a story of community and a coming-of-age novel for a woman in her mid-30s. It’s a big-hearted and tender story with a generous helping of romance, and though it’s not quite what I’d anticipated, it is a book I thoroughly loved.
The novel follows the titular Ruby Spencer from the time she arrives in the village that will be her new home for the next year. She’ll be living in a small cottage, and she’ll spend the first several weeks working on a proposal for her agent before she officially begins writing a cookbook. The only problem is that she doesn’t have a concise concept for her book just yet.
As Ruby gets her bearings, she befriends her older landlady Grace and several other locals. She eventually meets the town hunk Brochan, who is also in his 30s. Theirs is a tentative strangers-to-friends-to-lovers. It’s a slow burn, but eventually these two do get a little spicy. (Food pun intended.)
One thing I love about Ruby and Brochan’s relationship is that they’re both mature and level-headed. They’re in their mid- to late-30s, so it makes sense that they’re more sure of themselves and of where they stand in their relationship. Ruby and Brochan do run into problems—they don’t agree about everything, and there are some little secrets they’re each hiding—but ultimately they tackle these issues in a mature way. Well, maybe not the bigger issue that arises later on…. that may take some extra work. But overall, Ruby and Brochan fit together nicely, like two peas in a pod. (Second food pun intended.)
While the romance is a significant part of Ruby Spencer’s Whisky Year, nearly as important is how Ruby comes into herself, both professionally and as a woman who’s part of a community. She often talks about how New York never felt like home to her, and she craves someplace where putting down roots is what feels right. Through getting to know Grace, the mayor Anne, Brochan, and others in the town, Ruby builds a sort of found family and a much-needed sense of belonging. There is some need to save the town’s central meeting place, currently known as the Cosy Hearth, and it will take a community to make a difference.
Not everything in this novel totally worked for me. Some passages felt choppily written, and little too silly or quirky. But writing style is something I can usually overlook, especially if I like the story. Which I did. Like the story, that is. (That pretty much exemplifies the writing style I didn’t like, by the way. Choppy! Silly!)
As can be gleaned from the title, the characters spend a good amount of time drinking and talking about whisky. I don’t drink alcohol at all, so some of that went over my head, but the characters seemed happy, and that’s what matters.
Despite some disagreement with stylistic choices and a general disinterest in whisky, overall I really enjoyed this book. I loved getting to know the Scottish Highlands, away from the more touristic destinations and themes. Honestly, I would just love to spend a month or two with these characters while staying in a little cottage in Scotland. At the very least, I hope to do just that via another book in this world.
All in all, Ruby Spencer’s Whisky Year is a sweet and inspiring novel of love, family, and a sense of home. As a woman in her 30s who dreams of a new life in Europe, this book spoke to my soul. It’s a heartwarming debut novel, and I look forward to reading more from Rochelle Bilow. Maybe Lee and Kyle will get a love story of their own? My fingers are crossed, because I would love to spend more time with these characters and this Scottish community!
Get the Book
You can buy Ruby Spencer’s Whisky Year here – it’s available as a paperback, ebook, and audiobook.
|Ruby Spencer’s Whisky Year by Rochelle Bilow|
|Genre||Women’s Fiction; Contemporary Romance|
|Number of Pages||368|
|Format I Read||ebook (NetGalley)|
|Original Publication Date||February 14, 2023|
When a thirty-something American food writer moves to a Scottish village for one year to fulfill her dream of writing a cookbook she finds more than inspiration—she meets a handsome Scotsman she can’t resist.
Ruby Spencer is spending one year living in a small cottage in a tiny town in the Scottish Highlands for three reasons: to write a bestselling cookbook, to drink a barrelful of whisky, and to figure out what comes next. It’s hard to know what to expect after an impulse decision based on a map of Scotland in her Manhattan apartment—but she knows it’s high time she had an adventure.
The moment she sets foot in Thistlecross, the verdant scenery, cozy cottages, and struggling local pub steal her heart. Between designing pop-up suppers and conversing with the colorful locals, Ruby starts to see a future that stretches beyond her year of adventure. It doesn’t hurt that Brochan, the ruggedly handsome local handyman, keeps coming around to repair things at her cottage. Though Ruby swore off men, she can’t help fantasizing what a roll in the barley might be like with the bearded Scot.
As Ruby grows closer to Brochan and the tightly held traditions of the charming village, she discovers secret plans to turn her beloved pub into an American chain restaurant. Faced with an impossible choice, Ruby must decide between love, loyalty, and the Highlands way of life.
About the Author
Credit: Amelia Marie Photography
Rochelle Bilow is a romance writer, food writer, and writer writer. She is a graduate of The French Culinary Institute and has worked as a baker, a line cook, and the social media manager for Bon Appétit and Cooking Light magazines. Her articles about home cooking, restaurants, food news and trends, spirits, groceries, and products have been published in a variety of national publications, including: Eating Well, Food & Wine, Serious Eats, The Kitchn, and The Spruce Eats.
Rochelle’s first book, a romantic farming memoir titled The Call of the Farm, was published by The Experiment in 2014.
Ruby Spencer’s Whisky Year, her second book—and fiction debut—will be published by Berkley Romance in February 2023.
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