Most of Jenny Colgan’s novels have a few things in common: feisty, determined women who need a change of scenery, a business in need of help, fabulous out-of-the way locations in UK or Scotland or the islands north of UK, and men who aren’t typical romance heroes. “Sweetshop of Dreams: A Novel in Recipes” doesn’t disappoint.
Rosie Hopkins is not living her dream life. She’s working as an auxiliary nurse, which isn’t really described although we understand that an auxiliary nurse is not as skilled as a registered nurse, and she’s living with her boyfriend of seven years in their small flat in London. He takes her for granted, and she’s been waiting years for him to propose or show in some way that their relationship is permanent, but Gerard is more the kind of guy who wants to be catered to rather than a take-charge type.
So when her mother calls from Australia, where she lives with Rosie’s brother and his family, and asks if Rosie can go to the small town of Lipton, far from London, and help her great aunt, Rosie is not thrilled. It’s summer and she needs to find a new job; she loves London in the summer, and she doesn’t know how Gerard will manage without her for a month or two. But in the end, Rosie agrees to go, and we lucky readers get to ride along as Rosie learns about life in a small, rural town far from the city and Starbucks.
We also learn about Lillian Hopkins, Rosie’s great aunt, who grew up in Lipton and took over the family sweetshop after her father died. Through alternating narratives, we learn about Henry, the love of Lillian’s life, and the mistakes she made as a young woman — mistakes which she hopes Rosie doesn’t repeat, mistakes that cost her much happiness, although we do learn that her life was filled with friends and lots of sweetness, not all of it from the sweetshop.
Colgan excels at describing small town life and sharing the picturesque nature of the winding lanes, tall hills, ever-changing weather, and sheep-dotted valleys. One of the pitfalls of reading Colgan’s romances is that we have an overwhelming urge to go online and book a plane ticket to whatever location we’ve been reading about because each and every one sounds so beautiful, so filled with wonderful people, and so unique that we must see it in person. Lipton is no different. Lillian lives in a cottage next to Hopkins Sweets and Confectionery. “The cottage was absolutely tiny, like something out of a fairy tale. It really did have a thatched roof with a dormer window and smoke coming out of the chimney…”
The sweetshop is no different. Through Colgan’s words, we see the vintage shop, dusty and neglected, and we witness Rosie’s determination to bring it back to its former glory. The inhabitants of the town are thrilled to see the sweetshop back in business, too. We learn about candy with delightfully exotic and inviting names like chocolate limes, gobstoppers, Edinburgh rock, and sherbet lemons. Rosie quickly makes friends with the local young and handsome doctor, who tricks her into visiting a recalcitrant young man who refuses to have his rather serious wound cared for. Rosie’s brash nature doesn’t let her take no for an answer, and soon she’s helping Stephen with his wound, helping an obese man lose weight, befriending a six-year-old boy whose mother is rather neglectful, and weaving her way into the heart of her great aunt Lillian. There are other characters, including the farmer and his horrid wife, the lady of the manor, Lady Lipton, and handsome farmer Jake. Will Rosie sell the sweetshop and put Lillian in a home, or will her life take her down a different path? We know the answer almost from the start, but that doesn’t make the journey any less enjoyable.
There’s no mystery to solve, there’s no twist at the end, but rather, like a true Colgan romance, this story works its way to a sweet and satisfying ending. No villains to be found in these pages, but rather some people we admire and others we dislike — just like real life. In these pages, we can be assured of only happy endings. Even for Lillian.
This review was first posted on Bookreporter.com.