Meet me at the Cupcake Café (by Jenny Colgan)

I’ve read three books by Jenny Colgan in the last few years, and enjoyed them all; they’re light chick-lit with culinary themes and I quite like the style; so I added a couple more of her books to my wishlist a while ago, and received this particular one for my birthday - I’m surprised to find that it was two years ago; it’s taken me that long to pick it up to read!

‘Meet me at the Cupcake Cafe’ is the story of a young woman called Issy who works as an administrative assistant, but her passion is baking. She shares cupcakes with her colleagues at work, and the people she meets on the bus. She learned to bake from her grandfather, who, as the book starts, is suffering the early stages of dementia and is in a nursing home. However, on good days he can recall some of his special recipes, and he sends copies of them, with personal instructions, to Issy in the post.

Issy loses her job and also her boyfriend. After much soul-searching and research she decides to invest her redundancy money in a small shop, which she renovates, and turns into a café that specialises in cupcakes. The main part of the book is about the way she gradually builds up her business, and also includes a low-key romance, as well as tension when her boyfriend tries to ease his way back into her life.

I found myself disappointed at first. I don’t mind light and fluffy writing, and I enjoyed the cupcake recipes, which appear at the start of each chapter. But the viewpoint keeps switching from person to person; and there are quite a few people in the book, some of whom are more interesting than others. I don’t mind multiple viewpoints, but when - sometimes - it changed almost every paragraph, telling me what people were thinking and why they were doing certain actions, I felt myself frustrated as I couldn’t relate to anybody. I don’t know why the book’s editor didn’t correct this.

I also got a bit bored with the lengthy details about how Issy and her new friend Pearl went about renovating the cafe, and the various equipment and ingredients needed. Perhaps it was necessary to include these, but I skimmed quite a bit in the hope of getting to the story. It was very slow to start. As was the café...

However, around half-way through, a sudden potentially tragic incident turns out to be a tremendous boost for Issy and her shop, and things start to turn around. At that point, the book become more interesting, and various sub-plots started to come to life too: Pearl, who lives in a council estate, has been having a hard time with her little boy Louis, who is not making friends at his nursery. Helena, Issy’s flat-mate, is rather shadowy but starts to come to life, and a somewhat snooty woman called Caroline helps Issy and Pearl solve a difficult problem…

The characters are a bit stereotyped, but that has the advantage of making them more memorable. I liked Issy’s grandfather very much, and his gradual slide into dementia is poignant. Two-year-old Louis, too, is rather cute, although it’s a bit odd that his language and grammar do not seem to improve even when he turns three. Pearl and Caroline are very much caricatures of their type, and I didn’t find either of them particularly appealing, but Issy is likeable enough, if naive and rather a contradiction of confidence and despair.

I’m surprised to learn that this is considered an amusing book; I thought it light-hearted but found the digs at healthy eating rather unnecessary, and while I love cakes, the focus on high sugar eating was a bit depressing. Still, the writing - other than the viewpoint changes - is good, and in the second half, the book is very readable and difficult to put down at times, even though the outcome, both in terms of the shop’s success and Issy’s love life, are rather predictable.

Not too much bad language, and no details of bedroom scenes, so that’s good; however I was a bit irritated by the epilogue, which seemed to assume that readers would not already know how to make cupcakes. I found that rather condescending; then again, I’m not really the target audience for this kind of book.

This would be okay for holiday reading, and it’s evidently very popular; but I didn’t think this as good at the other books I’ve read by Jenny Colgan.

Review by copyright 2015 Sue's Book Reviews

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