What I Read in August 2016 Part III . . .Summer at Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan--Women's Fiction
Two years after moving to Mount Polbearne, things are finally going well for Polly. She and Huckle (and of course, Neil) have moved into the lighthouse (so it needs major work, it's still charming and it's hers!), she's managing the two bakeries and business is booming since Mrs. Manse retired. Then, in one fell swoop, everything that could go horribly wrong does! Tarnie's widow Selina returns and befriends Polly. Polly wants to be friends but how can she with the terrible secret hanging over her head? Hucke's brother, Dubose, arrives from America, shirking his duties, which will have repercussions for Huckle. Then, Mrs. Manse dies suddenly, leaving nothing to Polly. Her sister Janet, the executor, sends her "businessman" son Malcolm to manage the bakeries. Malcolm can't tell the difference between fine, hand-crafted artisan bread and plastic-wrapped sandwich loaves and furthermore, he doesn't care! He's all about the bottom line and wants to turn Polly's beloved bakery into a factory. If that weren't bad enough, Patrick, the vet, is on Polly's case to release Neil into the wild. When tragedy happens, Polly realizes it's time to let go. How can she possibly move on after this series of devastating blows?
Jenny Colgan's books are "chick lit" done right. There's small town charm, humor, pathos and a sweet romance. (Anything more than kissing is implied or happens off page with brief mentions of characters having sex ). I really enjoyed revisiting Mount Polbearne and the characters. The setting is amazing and being a New Englander, the setting wasn't entirely exotic but I loved the causeway and the lighthouse and the homey feeling of Mount Polbearne. It reminded me a bit of how Cape Cod must have been before the canal and the Kennedys. What stands out about the town is again, when something terrible happens, they all band together. Even Polly and Hucke are now considered locals and form part of the community. Neil, the puffin, is like a little ambassador for the village. The descriptions are so rich and detailed I can feel like I'm right there.
The plot kept me engaged but at the same time annoyed me. I like a good happily ever after and I was a bit nervous to read this one but the lure of baked goods drew me in. I loved watching Polly bake. The author does an amazing job of filling Polly with passion and enthusiasm for baking. Polly has finally branched out a bit into pastries, which is good because I actually don't like artisan bread and DO prefer "plastic" sandwich bread (Wonder Bread-yummm!). Though Polly's true passion is for bread. This story is a little less happily ever after and more realistic than I would have preferred for the characters but at the same time, it did keep me reading. I wondered how Polly would overcome all those obstacles and what would happen. The ending is heartwarming and just lovely. It may bring tears to the eyes of some readers.
Neil is hands down my favorite character. I love charming animal companions and he's no exception. While I understand and agree with Patrick, it is tough to think about letting Neil go. He's such an integral part of the town and he's Polly and Huckle's child. What happens to him in this novel will have any animal lover gasping in shock and rooting against the odds. The author's note says Neil has a Twitter account but I've not looked at it yet.
I really wanted to like Polly because I did like her in the first book. However, I just really found her annoying. She was so whiny and never stood up for herself. I would have lost my temper more than once. I understand how she feels, failing once, and ashamed of failure, anxious to not fail again. I related to her determination to be independent but I felt she was being stupid at times. I would have made difference choices but that's OK because it's part of her character development. Huckle kind of annoyed me too. While Polly was all "woe is me", at least he was proactive in changing his life, though I felt he wasn't quite supportive enough of Polly. Huckle really felt bad for Polly and all she was going through but he never really voiced his feelings out loud. It was too hard. They didn't really communicate well about anything.
I wasn't crazy about Selina at first either. I did feel sorry she lost her husband but I think she lost him long before he died. She's trying to expel her demons the wrong way. Her character growth is good. She's trying to come to terms with Tarnie's death. I kept wondering how she would react to Polly's secret and how she would find out. I wasn't a big fan of how that played out.
I feel as Polly did towards Malcolm, however, Polly didn't handle things well with him. I felt a tiny bit sorry for him, especially at the end. Only a tiny bit though.
As I'm writing this, I am about to begin another sentence about another character who annoyed me so I'll just say the supporting characters were not my favorite but Kerensa and Reuben add some comic relief.
This book is meant to stand alone but I think readers should read the two books in order and I hope we get to catch up with Polly, Huckle and Mount Polbearne again.
Crowned and Dangerous by Rhys Bowen--Historical Cozy Mystery
As Georgie and Darcy are about to elope to Greta Green (so Darcy can make an honest woman of her when they finally have some alone time), they run into some major obstacles. First, a major snowstorm bars their way and then Darcy reads some shocking news in the paper : his father, Lord Kilhenny is accused of murdering the American who purchased his estate. Darcy sends Georgie back to Kensington and heads off to Ireland to be with his father. When he feels that it is inevitable his father will be hanged, he tries to push Georgie away so she won’t be tainted by scandal. Fortunately, Georgie is made of sterner stuff and she barges in on her fiancé’s family troubles. It’s a good thing because two minds are better than one when it comes to solving crimes. Darcy, Georgie and their friend Princess Alexandra Zamanska soon get to work to clear Lord Kilhennys name.
The plot of this book is pretty good. It’s not great though. I figured out the American man’s secret pretty quickly though I did not know which of the suspects did it and why. There was a big surprise at the end I didn’t quite see coming. The mystery was left a little bit unfinished. It lacked some of that adrenaline rush or excitement that comes when Georgie investigates alone. I just loved the literary references to Pride and Prejudice, of course, Darcy’s namesake. There are others as well that made me smile. I’m not sure how I feel about Darcy’s actions at the end. I hope it all works out for them.
The real stand out of this book is the excellent character development. Georgie has really come into her own. I feared a star-crossed lovers plot but she is determined to be the heroine of her love story and lead her own life the way she wants. Queenie haters will be happy she is absent from most of the story. I missed her comic relief. She is also growing and changing like Georgie. Even Binky’s character is developing. Fig is still Fig though.
The new characters include Darcy’s father, Lord Kilhenny, making an appearance at last. Darcy fears his father’s temper and crotchety nature will take a dislike to Georgie if they meet under these circumstances. He doesn’t know his father very well and it’s a shame. Zou Zou sizes him up right away and even Georgie know his bark is worse than his bite. His development was a bit much at the end. I’m not sure I buy that interesting development. I just loved batty Aunt Oona and Uncle Dooley. They’re classic British eccentric characters but also warm, welcoming and a lot of fun. The last new major character is Zou Zou, Princess Alexandra Zamanska. I didn’t really like her for the same reasons Georgie doesn’t. She’s the kind of person you want to hate but can’t because she chooses to ignore any negativity. The one other character in this book is Mr. Roach’s manservant. He seems weasely to me. Typical bad guy character but did he have it in him to kill his employer? Read the book to find out.