Christmas at the Cupcake Café (by Jenny Colgan)

I’ve enjoyed the handful of Jenny Colgan books I’ve read so far, and added this one to my wishlist some time ago. I was given it for my birthday last year, then forgot to read it in December, as I had planned to. So I decided to read it when the weather’s hot and humid instead…

‘Christmas at the cupcake café’ is a sequel to ‘Meet me at the cupcake café’ which I read a few months ago. I had vaguely remembered the story and people concerned, but was pleased to find a useful overview at the start, reminding me of the key characters and their families. Issy is the main protagonist; she started a café with some redundancy money and used her extensive baking skills to provide delicious treats for passers-by.

This book starts a year after the previous one finished. Issy has moved in with her banker boyfriend Austin and his 11-year-old brother Darny. Things seem to be going well… except that Austin has gone on a visit to New York where it becomes more and more evident that he’s being head-hunted. But there’s no way Issy would leave her café behind, even though she has competent staff in the form of Pearl and Caroline…

As the title suggests, the story begins mid-November and takes us through December, culminating in a Christmas celebration, and - eventually - a satisfactory conclusion. I hadn’t seen where the plot was going, and certainly hadn’t expected the final scenes, but it worked very well.

Pearl is a single mother bringing up a delightful four-year-old; Caroline is - or was - very image-conscious and has little idea about what it means to have financial problems. And then there’s Helena, Issy’s best friend, who has a year-old baby whom she’s bringing up by a wide range of theories… and hasn’t acknowledged that she’s struggling.

They’re all caricatured to some extent, but their problems and worries are real, and I found some of their trials quite moving. The people in New York are stereotyped even more; I found this mildly amusing but can imagine that some from the United States might find it insulting.

I did find the same minor annoyance that I had with the first book; the viewpoint keeps switching, even within a scene, so we’re told what everyone’s thinking but have no chance to get inside anyone’s head. But still, I liked the feeling of going back to read about people I’d come across before, and I enjoyed the story.

It’s a light-hearted book on the whole, and makes very light ‘chick-lit’ style reading. Each chapter begins with a recipe, some of them real and some obviously intended as a joke. My favourite Christmas cake recipe is there, used by permission, and I was pleased to see that the author, in the guise of Issy, explains that this is the perfect recipe, one which should not be deviated from at all. I entirely agree.

I’m not sure I’ll try any of the other recipes, except perhaps the sticky gingerbread, which is quite different from the recipe I normally use, but they make a nice feature of the book. As with the first, there’s also a very basic guide for cake-making beginners at the back.

Overall I thought this an enjoyable read. It didn’t require any deep thought, and it was light enough that I finished it in just a couple of days. It stands alone but I think is better read as a sequel to the first ‘Cupcake cafe’ book, and would probably appeal to anyone who likes this kind of fluffy ‘chick-lit’ with a baking theme.

There’s some bad language but it’s not excessive, and in other respects the book is pretty much PG although I doubt if it would appeal to anyone under the age if about 15.

Review by copyright 2015 Sue's Book Reviews

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