Lately I’ve been having such a hard time finding my reading “groove”. I read a variety of different genres and sometimes, deciding what I’m in the mood for is easier said than done. I’ve started quite a few books over the past couple of weeks, only to abandon them because they just didn’t feel right. I’ve picked up countless library holds, and then brought them back not fully read. I definitely have favorite genres though, and there’s a certain style of fiction that I find absolutely comforting, which generally speaking, seems to always get me out of a reading rut!
I’m talking the light hearted, vaguely romantic, “chick-lit” type of fiction. Ideally set somewhere in the UK because I’m an unashamed Anglophile who has a serious longing for a place she’s never even been (don’t we all?). I read a lot of different genres and there was admittedly a point in time where I felt ashamed to admit that I enjoyed anything that would classify as chick-lit but really, I think it’s stupid that we should feel any ounce of shame for what we enjoy reading! I’ve come to embrace what I like and I feel much better for it. 🙂 When I find that nothing I try to read is really working for me, a little escapism from reality through chick-lit seems to always do the trick. Thankfully, I picked up The Cafe by the Sea, by Jenny Colgan from the library on Thursday because it has totally turned my reading mood around.
I’ve read one other Jenny Colgan book before (The Book Shop on the Corner), and now I have to say, that I want to read them all! Her writing is so enjoyable and it was so easy to devour this book, just like the last one. I actually had to force myself to go to bed the first night because I wanted to stay up all night reading. Admittedly, it’s been a long time since I’ve felt that kind of pull with a book.
Years ago, Flora fled the quiet Scottish island where she grew up — and she hasn’t looked back. What would she have done on Mure? It’s a place where everyone has known her all her life, where no one will let her forget the past. In bright, bustling London, she can be anonymous, ambitious… and hopeleslly in love with her boss.
But when fate brings Flora back to the island, she’s suddenly swept once more into life with her brothers — all strapping, loud and seemingly incapable of basic housework — and her father. Yet even amid the chaos of their reunion, Flora discovers a passion for cooking — and find herself restoring dusty little pink-fronted shop on the harbour: a café by the sea.
But with the seasons changing, Flora must come to terms with past mistakes — and work out exactly where her future lies…
There may be spoilers beyond this point!
I found the character development of this story to be rather excellent. The book was well paced with little aspects of different characters emerging as you progressed through the story, so there was always something to learn. The setting was also well developed – it was so easy to envision a place I had never been. I mean, I think it’s a safe wager that I’ve never been anywhere remotely similar to a place like Mure, yet I had a whole place visualized in my head. I feel like when the flow of both character and setting development is done well and carried throughout the story, it allows the reader to really immerse themselves in the story more. There’s always something to unpack and learn.
The island of Mure sounds lovely and quaint. It’s funny how a small town somewhere else can sound so wonderful and alluring, while I can feel such discontent for the smaller town I live in (perhaps because I don’t feel the sense of community that is generally a theme in stories like this one… which is a topic for another day). Of course, I don’t live in the UK or by the sea, so those are two glaring differences! I love how Colgan captures the complexities frequently facing smaller towns , with trying to sustain themselves (which in an international issue that translates easily). While in many ways these towns are romanticized, there is still realism involved. She achieves a good balance of the two.
There are the issues of empty storefronts, product accessibility, and the fight over the placement of the windmills. The islanders are wary of this man who has come to the island, taken over a good section of it and secluded himself there. Rightfully so! In all honesty, in reading earlier on in the book, I couldn’t help but feel like Colton was in some ways, acting like a certain orange idiot who I would prefer not to name… his name is referenced in the book, confirming my suspicions. Thankfully, Flora and others help Colton to connect better with the residents of Mure and he ends up becoming an integral part of the success of the island and its people.
This book handles its subplots well. There’s of course the main issue of whether or not Flora will go back to London, or if she will stay on Mure, reconcile with her family and make a life for herself there. But there are also questions revolving around other characters as well. The story never felt overwhelming and I found myself interested in the lives of all of the characters equally (with the exception of a few more minor characters like Jan and Inge-Britt).
In terms of how the book ends, I have to say that this is where a majority of my complaints lie. I felt that the book was so well paced, until we got to the end where it honestly felt like a drop off to me. I not only wanted more, but I wasn’t entirely pleased with how the story was brought together at the end. Flora ends up with Joel, which I was happy with because I think they’re good for each other, but after he came this far, he’s still going to be going to New York? I suppose in many ways that makes the story more realistic, as he’s not dropping everything for a girl who he’s only just started going with, but this being a fantasy world, I suppose I just wanted Joel to realize that he not only wanted Flora and a serious relationship, but that he also wanted this small island and to leave his former life all together.
HOWEVER, I do think that the way the story is wrapped up allows for a continuation quite easily. There are so many questions left to answer. Apparently, we can get more through one of Colgan’s other books – The Endless Beach? I have to admit, I’m a little confused as to the order of her books and which go together (especially since there’s that weird trend of giving books different names in different countries, which I will NEVER understand), so if anyone could clarify for me, that would be excellent!!
Overall, I’d give the book 4/5 stars. It was a light-hearted comforting read and really, exactly what I needed and wanted at the time. It wasn’t really too cheesy in my opinion, and I’d love to read more from this world to see how Flora is getting on! If you’ve read the book, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!
As usual you can always see what I’m reading by following me on Goodreads! I rate every book I read there, even if it’s not reviewed here. 🙂