Monday, December 28, 2020

Jenny Colgan - Christmas at the Cupcake Cafe

Issy Randall, proud owner of The Cupcake Cafe, is in love and couldn't be happier. Her new business is thriving and she is surrounded by close friends, even if her cupcake colleagues Pearl and Caroline don't seem quite as upbeat about the upcoming season of snow and merriment. But when her boyfriend Austin is scouted for a possible move to New York, Issy is forced to face up to the prospect of a long-distance romance. And when the Christmas rush at the cafe - with its increased demand for her delectable creations - begins to take its toll, Issy has to decide what she holds most dear.
This December, Issy will have to rely on all her reserves of courage, good nature and cinnamon, to make sure everyone has a merry Christmas, one way or another . . .
Indulge yourself and your sweet-toothed friends with Jenny Colgan's new novel, simply bursting with Christmas cupcake recipes and seasonal sugar-fuelled fun.

Comment: I purposely planned to read this book around Christmas day because it would not only include Christmas and I thought it would be neat but also because I was positively surprised by how much more I enjoyed the book which precedes this one than what I had anticipated. I was quite eager to dive into this one and reconnect with all the characters I liked meeting in book #1.

The action of this book takes place, obviously, around the Christmas season and sees Issy and her friends/co-workers at the Cupcake Cafe, debating whether November is too early to start the Christmas decorations. Issy is a little stressed out because her boyfriend Austin is spending some days in New York, due to his work at the bank. She is also taking care of his younger brother Darny but the precocious boy isn't making things easier for her, especially at school where he often misbehaves. Issy wonders if things will be back to normal by Christmas but it seems as if the bank in New York might want Austin to relocate... what will happen to their HEA then?

I have to confess I ended up a little let down after finishing this story. It actually felt as if all the good elements which were part of the first book were put apart in this one, namely the idea of the cupcake cafe being the best spot in London and the unifying point between all the characters. I think the author did a good job making things happen in a way that the reader would have to accept the possibility of the main characters moving to New York - if that was where the story was going - while still leaving it clear that the cupcake cafe would always be there anyway - which is does!

The first book presented characters looking for something in their lives and the cute romance between Issy and Austin, although not the most detailed one, ended up being special. I hoped for more in this sequel, though, as much in regards to them as in how the secondary characters would evolve too. I have to say this is the part of the novel that disappointed me the most... things just go into this indecisive status, always something waiting to happen, and, in the end, too much left in the air.

The romance between Issy and Austin, deep down, follows the expectations, but looking at the big picture, they are apart most of the novel. They debate on being together if Austin's job forces him to move to America. They wonder if they can keep up a long distance relationship. They both feel selfish by wanting the things they do and what about them as a couple? While I could accept these things as realistic, as believable for the context, it was a bit too dramatically done, a little too much on the angst and worry. I was turning the pages but not feeling that happy or hopeful, despite the often cute scenes in the cafe or the sometimes amusing moments to break the tension.

Even the secondary characters had their challenges and, again, even accepting the more serious elements as something I tend to look for in books, the overall feel was one of doom ahead or that not everything would work for the them all. It's true that there is a HEA at the end, one that could be accepted and (probably) obvious from a certain point on and the author did find a way to put everything in the convenient place so that things would work out. However, it still left me..melancholic. It made me think about the first book where the end was like a reward after the (positively unexpected) difficulties which allowed things to become right for the characters. Now, instead, I felt the opposite...

I also didn't like the way things end. There's a HEA but not the one I'd have preferred. I suppose the author wanted to leave things open enough for possible follow ups or who knows, but the way things went was a bit depressing for me. Still, said in the right way, I could have more easily accepted it but the author  - in my opinion - didn't quite achieved the same balance here as I felt she did in the other book. In fact, several details which were so poignant and well done there now felt a level down here. I can only say I have the impression this story was rushed and, perhaps, badly planned.

All things considered, I would say this book is not really necessary... I think that the way things ended in the first one were, at least, hopeful and allowed me to imagine the kid of scenarios I wish could happen for those characters. I think this one was too depressing. As a side note, there are also recipes included in this book.

Grade: 6/10

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