Having read some interesting and thought provoking books lately I thought it was about time I picked up a light, easy to read novel. In my rather large "still to read" pile that I have been given, swapped or purchased at the local charity shop I had this book. I had been leaving it as the title didn't sound that appealing and I had also never heard of the author but I thought that it might be just what I needed at this time.
The cover looked a bit twee with a fancy tea-pot set on a purple tablecloth and rather insipid green writing but as the expression goes, you shouldn't judge a book by its cover.
Sharon Owens was born in 1968 in Omagh. She is now married with one child. She is currently working on her seventh novel and I believe this may have been her first one. It was originally published in 2003.
Muldoons Tearooms have remained unchanged for many a year. The current owners, Daniel and Penny Stanley are living a repetitive predictive life in a quiet backstreet. Daniel can produce the most amazing desserts and because of this there is a loyal customer base for the tea house. People pop in every day but what is going on in their lives outside of Muldoons? What are they dreaming and planning whilst indulging in their strawberry cheesecakes? Are people's lives as straightforward as they appear?
Penny Stanley is very dissatisfied with her lot. She married young with high hopes and now finds herself working as a drudge in the business her father gave her and her husband as a wedding present. She knows that she wants things to change but it is out of character for her to stand-up to her husband. Is it a baby, a new hair-do or a new romance that will give her what she needs?
Daniel Stanley is an extremely cautious man, several years older than his wife. He has developed miserly ways from his childhood and he can't see the damage that he is causing. He seems happy to make stunning cakes but to ignore his wife.
Sadie is an overweight dogsbody who is being used by both her husband and his family. She sneaks in to Muldoons to indulge herself with some comfort eating but she knows that things at home are not as they should be.
Brenda is a young struggling artist who lives next door to the tearooms. She is frequently short of money and is always waiting for the day her talents will be spotted and her paintings will start to sell. She is also hiding a secret love but eventually she confides in Penny.
Henry has an extravagant wife who he loves but has little in common with any more. He drinks his coffee and dreams about the garden he has lost and the money his wife has spent trying to impress her friends.
Beatrice and Alice are twin sisters who have remained unmarried. They spend their retirement doing good works locally and are delighted when their dedication is rewarded.
The book begins with an introduction to Daniel on an ordinary working day. It was obvious from the outset that this book would be based around the characters that frequent the tearooms. I found that most of the characters were very simplistic and not particularly interesting; they were very obvious; struggling artist, overweight housewife, bored husband, slightly eccentric twin sisters etc. Most of them were not particularly intriguing and their behaviour could be predicted the majority of the time. The interactions between the characters were not very natural so the whole thing came across as very two dimensional.
The only exception to this rule is the character of Daniel. Here I felt the author had actually taken some time to think of a history for the character and how that would have affected his future life. He was less predictable and also less likeable in many parts of the book but that did add a degree of interest. His actions were sometimes surprising.
I think I also struggled with the ages of the characters, Brenda was supposed to be very young but her behaviour seemed inappropriate, Penny also seemed much older than her years as well.
I have seen the idea of trying to run parallel stories with some intertwining parts used before. However although authors like Maeve Binchy can craft this formula well, it is not easy to keep all elements of the stories compelling. This novel just didn't bring things together very well; I started to be glad that the chapters were so exceptionally short to keep the pace moving.
I thought the ending was about what I expected, loose ends were tied up but there were no surprises.
Overall this was a harmless enough read but it would not inspire me to pick up any more of Sharon Owens work. It is not a bad book and I would pass it on to a friend to read as well but I also can't say that it was very good. I really quite like reading good chick-lit but this just didn't give me the sort of characters or the fast paced storyline that I prefer in this type of read.