The Christmas Café (by Amanda Prowse)

I hadn’t previously heard of Amanda Prowse, although it appears that she is quite a prolific writer of the kind of fiction that appeals to me. I think it was Amazon that recommended this book, perhaps based on the titles of other books I had enjoyed, and after skimming the reviews I added it to my wishlist. I was given it a few weeks ago, and thought it would make a good read as we came to the end of the busy Christmas/New Year season.

It turns out that ‘The Christmas Café’ isn’t really about Christmas at all. Nor does it begin in a particularly uplifting way: we meet Bea, a lively women in her early 50s, as she says a final goodbye to Peter, the husband who has looked after her and loved her for over twenty years. We quickly realise that although she loved him too, he was not the father of her son Wyatt, and that there was a lasting passion from her youth, for someone unavailable.

After this prologue, we move forward a year and meet Bea in her everyday life in Australia. She’s the owner of a small restaurant, and very much enjoys her work. However she feels a bit isolated from her son and his family. She adores her teenage granddaughter Flora but feels as if she hardly ever sees her, and she finds it difficult to love her daughter-in-law Sarah. Then, out of the blue, Flora comes to stay after some trouble at school…

Most of the book is a story of exploration, of learning to accept one’s past, and take steps towards resolving problems or finding truth, even if they seem difficult or risky. Bea is something of a technophobe, but is determined to get online; Flora helps her in this, and she comes across a forum for small restaurant owners around the world, and starts an email conversation with the owner of a cafe in Scotland, which leads to a growing friendship and eventual meeting.

The writing is good, with - in my view - the right amount of description and plenty of believable dialogue. Viewpoints switch perhaps a bit too often, often within a scene, but somehow I didn’t find it intrusive. While I had easily guessed one of the slight twists in the story, others were unexpected and cleverly done. The ending is perhaps a bit too neat and tidy, yet it wasn’t impossible, and I always like books with encouraging, positive endings.

I very much liked Flora as a character; yet it’s not really a book for teenagers, or even young adults, though some might enjoy it. Bea is the main character, and as a woman of similar age, I found myself understanding and empathising with her throughout, even though she has quite a different personality from mine. I’m glad that there’s a growing trend for lively fiction about middle-aged women, and this was an ideal book to read at bedtime during a busy period.

Review by copyright 2016 Sue's Book Reviews

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