Friday, January 22, 2016

What I Read in March 2015 Part VI

What I Read in March 2015 Part VI ...

Sweetshop of Dreams  by Jenny Colgan -- Women's Fiction/Contemporary Romance

Sweetshop of Dreams: A Novel with Recipes

Rosie Hopkins enjoys her work as an auxiliary nurse in London and her boyfriend Gerard, so why would she want to leave to take care of an old great-aunt she's barely ever met? So what if she's between jobs right now and so what if Gerard hasn't proposed in 7 years of dating? Well, great-aunt Lillian helped provide for Rosie's family and now she needs help selling her house, sweet shop and finding a nursing home so Rosie heads to the wilds of Derbyshire to care for Aunt Lillian. Rosie finds a caustic old lady in need of more care than she's willing to admit, unpredictable weather and unfriendly locals. She'll be out of there in two weeks - tops. As the weeks go on and the seasons change, Rosie slowly falls in love with the sweet shop she's restoring with her own sweat and tears. She also discovers Aunt Lilian is actually happy to have Rosie around and the locals aren't quite so unfriendly, with the exception of Stephen, a deeply wounded young man who refuses to get help for his problems. Rosie sets about to fix all her problems before going back to her life in London. What if part of her doesn't want to go back? In the 1940s Lilian was a motherless girl helping in her family's sweet shop and wishing boys would notice her. A local farm boy continues to tease Lilian and she's puzzled by his behavior. It takes a tragedy for her to realize her true feelings but by then it may be too late for another girl has her sights set on Henry as well. Then there's the war which has taken too many young men. By the time the war is over, Lilian feels years older and nothing will ever be the same again.

I liked parts of this book but not the whole story. I really liked the informational blurbs about candy, candy shops and recipes. We don't have any stores like that here in the U.S. where I live. There are a few "penny candy" stores around but they sell commercial retro candies which are largely different from the luxury, hand made sweets in the novel. The Hopkins' shop reminded me of Honeydukes in Harry Potter. I want to go there! I also really liked Lilian's story and would have preferred a novel just about her. It is an emotional coming of age journey that almost made me tear up in places. I did not like Rosie's story all that much. Not only was the end predictable but the central romance promised didn't arrive until too late. By that point I didn't want Rosie to have a romance. It happened too fast to make a lot of sense and wasn't developed well. The story was cute until about 3/4 of the way through. There's a semi-graphic sex scene that felt out of place in an otherwise sweet story. It ruined the novel for me. If the relationship had been developed better the scene would have been touching.

Lilian is the only character I really liked in the novel. She's strong, resilient and wise. I liked her caustic wit and how she constantly had to be in charge no matter what. I felt really bad for her when circumstances did not make for a happy life. Actually, the big thing was kind of stupid and I didn't like it but it gave the story extra depth and kept it from being too cliched. I liked Rosie when she first arrived in Derbyshire. She was awkward at times, but kind and always meant well. She really started to come into her own. She's very much like her Aunt Lilian. However, the story went downhill whenever her love life was brought up. She's stupid about men and doesn't know what will make her happy. She never had a dad in her life so she didn't have a functional relationship to model hers after but that doesn't excuse putting up with what she did. She comes across as a whiny loser. If the story had focused on her job and what she wanted out of life, it would have worked better for me.

I hated all the men in this story. Gerard is an overgrown child who creeped me out with his petulance and constant comparisons to his Mum. Jake is a player; Moray is kind of a jerk at times Stephen is whiny and self-centered, and Henry was kind of a player too. I wasn't rooting for Rosie to get together with any of them. The only male character I liked was Simon, a six year old boy. He's so nerdy and socially awkward it makes him endearing.

If you have as big a sweet tooth as I do, you may want to read parts of this book! 

A Mortal Curiosity (Lizzie Martin, #2)
Mortal Curiosity (Lizzie Martin #2) by Ann Granger-Victorian Mystery/Historical Romance

After the events of the first novel, Lizzie Martin finds a new, temporary situation in Hampshire as a companion to the young Mrs. Craven. Lucy Craven has recently lost a child and her husband is in China on business. She's in the care of her elderly aunts and in need of some young companionship. Along the way Lizzie meets the charming, dandyish Dr. Lefebre, a man who notices as much as Lizzie if not more. She's not sure what to make of him but he's an enjoyable travel companion. Upon arriving in Hampshire Lizzie discovers that all is not right. Lucy insists her child was stolen and not dead but no one believes her. Lizzie is horrified to discover Dr. Lefebre is a doctor of the mad and believes he has come to inspect Lucy. When Lucy discovers the itinerant rat catcher dead in their garden, she panics. Lizzie is sure Lucy didn't do it or at least she doesn't think so, but when Lucy's previous behavior comes to light, along with other family secrets, Lizzie wonders whether Lucy is guilty after all. Inspector Ben Ross is uneasy about Lizzie going so far away. When he gets the summons to investigate in Hampshire he's convinced Lizzie is in trouble. Will he be able to solve the mystery so far from his home turf and get Lizzie back in London where she belongs?

This mystery is less captivating than the first. I figured out the mystery pretty quickly and wondered why Lucy or Ben didn't see it sooner. I guess I read too many 19th century mysteries! I think at least Ben should have figured it out. I wasn't surprised by who or why at all but I still stayed up late to see how it all turned out. Lizzie's relationship with Ben takes a back seat to the mystery but Ben is ready to take their relationship to the next level. Lizzie is less sure she wants to be married to a policeman. Most of the book is told from Ben's point-of-view, which I didn't really like. It's his statement and very matter of fact. He doesn't like the descriptions of scenery or seemingly unrelated indictments that Lizzie is fond of recalling. One small section is told by Sergeant Morris, which I also didn't care for. The author is excellent at describing how everything looks, sounds and smells and I prefer Lizzie's point-of-view. There's also too much info dump in this novel. The bits of history are often unrelated and told in long passages, usually inside Ben's head or from one character to another. I skimmed over that part since I read the first novel and wanted to get down to the mystery.

I still really like Lizzie. She's more forthright than before and not willing to hide it. I like that she speaks her mind and she's willing to keep an open mind. She deals with difficult circumstances quite calmly and rationally. I like how she knows just how to deal with other people and get them to open up to her.

Ben is a little less rational. He's more matter-of-fact when it comes to investigating but when it comes to Lizzie, he loses his head. I find him a little cold and impersonal. I'd like more interaction with Lizzie and to see a softer side of Ben.

As for new characters, Lucy is difficult to like. She's very young and childlike. She's innocent yet not. She acts spoiled but she's not. I ended up feeling sorry for her. She's never experienced a loving family or a functional relationship. She's moody and temperamental as most teenagers are, but she's had a tough life. I hope she finds happiness in the future. Her aunts are soooo stereotypical. They're plucked from Victorian tradition: A Little Princess, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Emily of New Moon, Cranford - in other words one is the alpha sister and the other is meek and mild. Or so we're meant to believe. I wasn't sure that all was as it seemed at first. I didn't care for either of the aunts anyway. I wasn't sure what to make of Dr. Lebebre. On one hand he seems charming and kind but on the other hand, he's an "alienist." I think he's a modern psychologist struggling to be understood in the Victorian era when common practice was to take social deviants, especially women, label them mad and lock them up forever. He seems compassionate and caring. I think Lizzie was rather unfair to him at the end.

Those who are interested in the history of mental illness and what constitutes behavior indicating someone is mentally ill will like this book. It raises good questions.

I'd like to read the other books in the series if I can to find out what happens next.

mention of inappropriate reading material for a young lady found hidden in uncle's desk
grisly murder details
discussion of mental illness -minor violence

No comments:

Post a Comment

Leave comments and or suggestions for QNPoohBear, the modern bluestocking.