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REVIEW:  Sweetshop of Dreams by Jenny Colgan

REVIEW: Sweetshop of Dreams by Jenny Colgan

Sweetshop

Are you a licorice or peppermint fan? Melt-in-your-mouth caramel or sticky saltwater taffy? Nothing invokes nostalgia like an old-fashioned candy shop. But nostalgia isn’t really Rosie Hopkins’s thing—not with her busy London life that includes fantastic friends and her boyfriend, Gerard. Even so, Rosie does her Aunt Lilian a favor and takes a job in her small village sweetshop. As Aunt Lilian struggles with the idea that it might finally be time to retire from the business, a long-kept family secret makes life in the sweetshop a lot more interesting than Rosie had anticipated…

Dear Ms. Colgan,

I enjoyed “The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris” earlier this year so much that I jumped at the chance to try another one of your books. And it’s about sweets and chocolate as well, albeit from the English side of the channel. I don’t think you can go too far wrong with a book with lots of chocolate in it.

The openings to each chapter are a lovely, funny trip through British sweetie-dom. It makes me want to try each one – work my way through a sweet shop as it were. I take it these are from the astringent, no nonsense point of view of Aunt Lilian. I loved Aunt Lilian and took to “hearing” her in my head as voiced by Eileen Atkins. Lilian is a hoot. Dry humor abounds through the book as seen in her sarcasm. I also like her lifelong friendship with Hetty and how the Lady is shown as slightly down at the heel with holey jumpers, aged vehicle, dog and drafty great country house.

Yet it’s not all acerbic wit from Lilian as her sweet, sad youthful love story shows. Mixed in with the present day action, it presents the quiet life in the village during the war years and how many things haven’t changed that much in the intervening decades. One thing that stood out to me about Lilian’s lifetime there running the sweet shop is how she knows everyone’s favorite treats and has remained so beloved by all there.

The other story here is that of Rosie and it’s chick-lit but not. Rosie actually likes her nursing profession, has a boyfriend and no intention of staying in Derbyshire longer than is needed to help Lilian get back on her feet, clean the sweetshop and sell it. But then – and I enjoyed seeing this too – country life starts to grow on her, so to speak, despite her initial reservations and the drenching she seems to get when she can’t anticipate the weather.

You switched things around on me with the ultimate hero. I was all set thinking we were going one way when I began to get the hint that there would be a change in direction. Initially I enjoyed Rosie’s encounters with the hero. There were definite sparks flying and they didn’t start out romantically. But, here’s the thing. Once Rosie realizes who her Prince Charming is, he looses his charm, and even his snark. He becomes less than who I think Rosie deserves and never does offer up an apology that I think she also deserves.

Too many things get wrapped up too neatly in the last pages of the book. Villains and neglectful mums get told off. Lilian faces down a long time rival after settling into the perfect place and Hero gets back into Rosie’s good graces too easily. I adored the first half of the book but the second half just didn’t live up to it. B-

~Jayne

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REVIEW:  Betrayed, Betrothed and Bedded by Juliet Landon

REVIEW: Betrayed, Betrothed and Bedded by Juliet Landon

betrayed-betrothed-and-bedded

THE GAME OF LOVE IS A DANGEROUS ONE IN THE COURT OF HENRY VIII…

Betrayed by an ambitious father, forcibly betrothed to the handsome yet enigmatic Sir Jon Raemon and soon to be bedded by the covetous King Henry, Virginia D’Arvall is the female pawn in a masculine game of desire, power and lust.

Ginny is determined to keep her honor, but in these dangerous courtly games, she will need to have her wits about her like never before. Will she realize that in Sir Jon she may just have all the love and protection she needs to survive?

Dear Ms. Landon,

Recently I’d been thinking of how long it had been since I read a Tudor era book which lead me to try and recall what I might have in my TBR piles and files to satisfy my era itch. Then Lo and Behold a scan of the current Harlequin Historical offerings yielded this cover and (the slightly cringe worthy title) “Betrayed, Betrothed and Bedded.” Perfect timing. It’s also been a while since I read an arranged marriage plot. This trope usually only works for me in a historical and I like it best without any Fated Mates stuff so the book was a double treat.

First off, I thought it had good period feel. There’s cold, sweat, lots of laces to deal with on the clothing, slow travel, loyal retainers, bulky headdresses, not much mention of bathing unless one was hot and sweaty and travel stained, arranged marriages and a lusty king. It’s also a sad view of childhood and the way most parents would view small children as better off barely seen and not worth much interest. Of course the way parents manipulated and ordered even adult children around is hard to imagine these days. Marriages are power and dynastic unions in which love has little part.

Intrigues are front and center and the flavor of every day with the Howard family angling for power again while the nasty Thomas Culpeper tries to shove Ginny under the King’s nose in place of the woman he loves? lusts after? However half of Ginny’s family won’t win any awards for the way they tried to slide into favors based on the King’s plan to turn her into his mistress once she was safely married. The way the other half attempts to shield her from the King’s bed lead to some chilling scenes of frightfully close calls and fears for their ultimate safety.

The descriptions of life at court have a “you are there” vibe which allows us to see how the vapid sycophants who surrounded the king were at his beck and call while they schemed and plotted. It seems that court life was an endless round of courtiers attempting to fill their days and amuse the King. I also enjoyed the sympathetic view of Anna of Cleves and have always wondered if she ever realized how lucky she was not to have caught Henry’s interest. To me, this stuff was the true strength of the novel.

The romance and relationship of Jon and Ginny felt weaker. When they first meet, Ginny feels she’s fallen in love at first sight. Later thoughts of Jon lead me to believe he felt the same way. A socially advantageous marriage Jon enters instead then causes Ginny much heartache before his wife dies in childbirth. Then she becomes snubs him at court before their marriage is arranged. Ginny then weathervanes about how she feels for Jon. It’s almost “in this chapter I’m supposed to hate him” followed by “oh, now I love him.” But she is a young woman with little experience in men or falling in love so I suppose it makes sense even if it does get annoying trying to keep track of which way she feels today.

I also got tired of the “Big, Dark Secret that Jon can’t possibly tell her until he feels she trusts him” hanging over the story. When it’s revealed, it does make sense why he would wait to tell her something that could be used against him – after all she is young and not as adept at hiding her feelings from other courtiers. And the dark politics swirling around court wouldn’t lead to easily trusting when tomorrow you could lose your head. Still the fact that we come so close to the truth yet no one fills Ginny in on Jon’s first wife felt a bit of a tease after a while.

My final grade is a bit of this crossed with a little of that. The romance is frustrating as it seems to circle back around over old ground a few times before finally getting home. But the behind the scenes view of a spoiled King to whom one did not say no and how events and lives could turn on a penny and said King’s whim was truly frightening. B-

~Jayne

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