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For anyone who ever had a dream
Meet Me At The Cupcake Cafe - Jenny Colgan
Member Name: Holland1
Meet Me At The Cupcake Cafe - Jenny Colgan
Advantages: Believable characters, lovely atmosphere, lots of sub plots, recipes included
Disadvantages: None for me
The book revolves around the main character Issy Randall, who is made redundant from her boring 9 to 5 office job, and decides to use her payout to start a cupcake café. She is a natural baker, having inherited her grandfather's flair for making delightful cakes and pastries, and she is spurred on by her grandfather, who is now in a retirement home, posting her recipes before he forgets them all. This is the basic premise of the book, although there are a lot of sub-plots such as Issy's love interest, her best friend and flatmate Helena, her relationship with her unreliable flighty mother, and the support and encouragement she receives from her grandfather, who ran several successful bakeries before he retired.
The main character, Issy, is a real delight in this book. Although I did fear she may turn into a Bridget Jones style spinster who became obsessed with "needing" a man in her life, I can honestly say she had a lot more substance than that, and it was nice to see her character develop throughout the book. At the beginning, she reminded me a little of myself, big on dreams but low on self belief. As she sets about starting her own business, it's quite painful to see how clueless she is. She has no idea of the financial or legal aspects, and as for marketing, well at one point I just wanted to take her by the shoulders and give her a good shake! She decides to go for a "soft launch", which, coupled with the fact she keeps giving cakes away, seems to set the business up to fail. But as things turn round it's nice to see her toughening up and becoming more confident in her ability. She starts doing things for herself rather than to impress anyone or prove a point to the men in her life.
Although the main character is very strong, I really enjoyed many of the additional characters in this book. Issy's flatmate (and long suffering best friend) Helena is a strong, opinionated, tell it like it is kind of person, which is just what Issy needs in her life when she's being indecisive or self pitying. Issy's grandfather is weakening with age, and this constantly runs as a background story. Her boyfriend Graeme is a bit of a prat, and it's a classic situation of waiting for her to realise he's not worth her tears.
There are many other characters who play a part in this book, including the café employees, her bank manager, and the estate agent. However insignificant a character appears, Jenny Colgan has a way of presenting them so vividly, you get a real feel for the character and it all helps to bring this story to life. For example, the estate agent, Des, doesn't feature hugely in the book, but each time we meet him we're told a bit about his background, and his disillusion with life after being kept awake all night by his crying newborn.
I was very impressed with this book, and would rate it much higher than bog-standard chick lit. The characters, as I have touched on already, were really strong and helped me really get a feel for this novel. I cared about the characters, and wanted a happy ending for Issy and her flatmate. The atmosphere of the book is lovely, it just makes you want to curl up on the sofa with a hot chocolate and covered with a cosy blanket!
I think the plot really helped me to relate to this book and the main character, as I work a 9 to 5 job I care little about, and dream of running my own business doing cake decorating or crafting or one of my other creative hobbies. So I completely understood the frustration Issy felt, and how satisfying it must have been to be given an opportunity to live her dream and make a living from something she enjoys. There are enough sub-plots to make you want to keep turning the page, but not too many that you get confused or overwhelmed.
The layout of the chapters was unusual, and added a little something extra to the book in my opinion. Each chapter begins with a recipe which has been sent to Issy by her grandfather. He is posting her recipes to help her run her business, and wants to get them all down on paper before he starts forgetting them all. There is a little bit of humour dropped into the recipes, and they are all viable recipes which Jenny Colgan says at the beginning have been tried and tested. I haven't tried any myself, but I thought this was a nice addition, as it's likely that anyone who enjoys baking will have their enthusiasm reignited after reading this book.
The ending of this book left me slightly confused, until I realised that it was done in such a way that leaves it open to have a sequel. It could be read as a standalone novel, but anyone interested in knowing what happens next will be pleased to know that the follow up to this book, "Christmas at the Cupcake Café" is due to be released on 25 October 2012. I can't wait!
(This review also appears on Ciao under the username Gingerkitty)
Summary: Fabulous book, can't wait for the sequel!