Saturday, July 29, 2017

Wish fulfillment

I reviewed Jenny Colgan's The Book Shop on the Corner a few weeks back; and having enjoyed that book, I decided to pick up a couple more by the author. She definitely writes to a formula: Each of her heroines is of a certain age, has been "made redundant" from her job, as the Brits say (i.e., she was laid off, let go, fired), and has come up with some ingenious idea to go it on her own. Each book has some kind of romance as part of the story, and the protagonist has to get past the bad relationship(s) to discover the good one. But even with knowing how predictable the stories will be, I thoroughly enjoyed reading both of the others (plus a sequel to one).

The second one I read was Little Beach Street Bakery, which was reviewed here by one of our summer reading club participants. The next was Meet Me at the Cupcake Café, and although the set-up was essentially the same, the locale and rendition were different enough to be engaging. And who doesn't like a hard-luck-turned-around story? Whoops, that's a spoiler. But with books like this, you pretty much know how they're going to end...

Nonetheless, this had some unusual details that I enjoyed. I think the success of Colgan's stories depends upon a few things: Creating just the right situations to start them off; incorporating creative passions (in this case it's cupcakes, but in the other two it was books and bread-baking) with which many people can identify; and getting her diverse group of characters spot on.

In Cupcake Café, Issy Randall has been working hard at her city job and secretly dating her boss, Graeme. Suddenly, and without warning, the parent company tells Graeme he has to make a bunch of people redundant, and to Issy's shock, she is among them. Her roommate, Hannah, tells her she needs to view this as a wake-up call about the state of her relationship with her lousy boyfriend, but Issy is stubborn and has to learn for herself just what kind of guy Graeme is. Meanwhile, feeling depressed with no job prospects to speak of, Issy bakes cupcakes while thinking back to a happier time when she lived with her grandfather, who in his heyday was a master baker. Now Grandpa Joe is living in a retirement home, getting a little vague, and Issy never knows whether he will recognize her from one visit to the next; but he still remembers his glory days, and occasionally, in an alert moment, he writes out one of his recipes on a postcard and mails it to her. When Issy sees a storefront in her eclectic neighborhood that would lend itself to her dream of opening a little baked goods shop, she daringly takes her severance pay and makes it happen, with the help of a loan from an attractive (but somewhat aloof) banker and a couple of quirky employees. There are lots of disasters, a load of self-doubt, and some romantic missteps that put the bakery in jeopardy, and one can only hope it comes right in the end.

The elements that were particularly pleasing in this book were Issy's relationship with her grandfather; the friends and supporters she gathers as she pursues her dream job; and the reader's secret hope of a resounding comeuppance for her vile ex-boyfriend. There's a lot of humor, too, and as a bonus, some great cupcake recipes to try, if you, like Issy, are a whiz in the kitchen. This was a great interlude-type read, a wish-fulfillment escape from a hectic schedule, perfect end-of-summer reading. If you like the books of Sophie Kinsella or Helen Fielding, try Jenny Colgan.

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