Meet Me at the Cupcake Cafe
I was never really a part of the cupcake trend. I mean, of course I ate them but I have been eating them since childhood. I didn’t go into the fancy cupcake-only bakeries because I am a woman who likes her options. Regular bakeries offered cupcakes and they also offered tarts, pies, cake slices, and cookies. Why limit your taste buds? But this book made me want to find one of those trendy little shops with fancy cupcakes and gobble down a dozen of the delicious delicacies.
Issy Randall has an ordinary life. She loves her flat, with its outrageous pink kitchen that she bought herself. She doesn’t love her job, which is in estate sales. She bakes incredible cupcakes, which people at her bus stop and work gobble up. Her grandfather, who taught her to bake and gave her those recipes, is losing his battle with dementia which is breaking her heart. She has a handsome, successful boyfriend who drives a sports car and looks like a dream. She has to keep him a secret because he’s her boss and they can’t be seen in an office romance. When you take the good with the bad and balance them out they come out even.
In one day those scales tip – in the wrong direction. It’s a cold rainy morning and Issy has to stand at the bus stop getting wet. When Graeme, her boyfriend, picks her up, he takes her only close enough to the office for her to still get soaking wet on the walk in. At the morning meeting – to which Issy is late after having to dry off via the hand dryer in the lady’s room – Graeme announces there will be reductions. Issy isn’t completely surprised when she receives the email laying her off, but she is good and angry. Storming into Graeme’s office she lets him know how she feels about being let off without any warning from him. Then she has to storm off and wonder what she will do with the rest of her life.
After attending a redundancy course and receiving absolutely no help whatsoever Issy finds herself wondering if it isn’t time to turn her life in a new direction. And she does it. She opens a café, hiring Pearl, a girl she met in class, as her only employee. What is brilliant about this portion of the book is that it isn’t easy. Issy has to learn a good deal about business and a good deal about being a boss. The first weeks at the café look like they will end in dismal failure and it is only as Issy listens to Grandpa Joe – and gets a few lucky breaks – that things really take off. Slowly, her shop becomes an important part of the neighborhood – a refuge for estate agent Des and his baby, a place to go for Mina and her young daughter, and a place to where banker Austin Tyler finds himself inexplicably drawn. Is he just trying to ensure he made the right decision in giving this lovely young woman a loan? Or is it the girl herself who is the draw?
I loved just about everything in this novel. Issy, her best friend Helena, and the characters who become an important part of their lives are all warm, vibrant people. Issy is sweet but not zany, forgiving but ultimately nobody’s doormat and she is vibrant and homey and fun. Graeme, who had been anything but appreciative when he had her, quickly begins to notice her absence in his life. That is no surprise – Issy has the kind of personality that just makes things better. It’s not that she’s a Susie Sunshine always looking on the bright side but that she genuinely cares and has a knack for communicating that care in just the way you need it. I absolutely adored spending four hundred pages with her. She made them fly by.
And since we are speaking of Graeme I’ll add that I loved how the author handled him as well. When the story begins Graeme is a selfish, self-important jerk. His good looks and success have completely gone to his head making Issy the only person who truly sees the good in him. Not surprisingly, Graeme finds that he is a happier, better person when she is in his life. In the end that realization isn’t quite enough to fix him but it is enough to give us hope that he can be fixed. That is such a pleasant departure from the evil ex of so many romance novels who has to be completely irredeemable to explain the heroine having any kind of trouble with him.
Austin, the new possibility, is almost as terrific as Issy deserves. A young man taking care of his much younger brother, Austin often finds himself at wits end regarding how to handle everything in his life. He doesn’t let not knowing the perfect thing to do stop him – he does his best and just keeps on moving. He has a dry, sweet sense of humor and warm heart. His cluelessness about things makes him endearing rather than dumb or annoying. I half fell in love with him myself.
And it is fun to see who Issy winds up with. Will she go for the old guy, who needs improving, or the new guy who seems perfect? Most experienced romance readers will probably guess but the author left me in enough doubt to be truly pleased by the ending.
The author also does an excellent job of mixing her trendy subject into a lasting, warmhearted tale. The book isn’t about cupcakes, although they appear often throughout the story; it is about dreams and the importance of the relationships in your life. In many ways, it’s about having a life as opposed to just going through the motions of living. It’s about loving the imperfect you and realizing that there is a perfect place for you.
I enjoyed this one so much it was very nearly a DIK. The drop in grade came from something that happened with Graeme towards the end and the rather abrupt ending to the story. Fortunately, Christmas at the Cupcake Café finishes the story. I am so happy to be able to recommend this novel for anyone looking for a warm, sweet tale. It is like a cupcake for the soul.