On Saturday I responded to an ad on freestyle to pick up a box of romance novels for free. I really just intended to use them for BookCrossing, as I am not a huge fan of romance novels, but to my surprise and delight they turned out to be chick lit books. Now, I am not a huge fan of chick lit, but the recent summery weather has me in the mood for summer reads, and chick lits usually fit the bill.
What I like about picking up free boxes of books (or for a very small price), is that you never know what you will get. I used to get free or very cheap boxes of books a lot when we still lived in Toronto, but Saturday was my first experience here in the UK. I always love coming home with the books and sprawling them out on the ground, sorting them between ones I’d like to read and ones I would pass on. Surprisingly, this box had a lot of books I wanted to read. I never really know what is good chick lit and so I tend to stick with the same authors who I know I will like. But when a book is free…why not try it?
And so it happened that I sat down with Welcome to Rosie Hopkins’ Sweet Shop of Dreams yesterday. I hadn’t expected much from this book, as I said, I am not a huge fan of chick lit. However, I was pleasantly surprised.
The book is about Rosie Hopkins, an auxiliary nurse who temporarily moves from her beloved city of London to the small town of Lipton to deal with her aunt who broke her hip. The instructions from her mother are clear: sell her aunt’s sweet shop and use the money to get her settled in a good old age home. However, things are rarely that straightforward in life. Before long, Rosie is involved in a few of the town’s issues and as she learns to appreciate life in a small town, she is forced to confront her real feelings for her boyfriend.
Rosie’s tale is interspersed with flashbacks to Lillian’s life (Rosie’s aunt). The reader gets an inside look at why she stayed in Lipton and why she continued to run the sweet shop.
As I said above, this book really surprised me. My experience with chick lit is that it is often badly written with flat characters and a too soppy plot. This book, however, had real flesh-and-blood characters who are true to themselves. The story of Lillian was heartbreaking (it literally made me swallow some tears here and there) and not too sappy where it easily could have been. Which probably has something to do with how strong and hard Lillian is, but that again is due to the writing skill of Jenny Colgan. Rosie’s personal development, while somewhat predictable, did make sense to her as a character and felt very genuine. I also have to give Jenny Colgan props for not making Gerard, Rosie’s boyfriend, an utterly useless and easily unlikeable character, which is a trap that a lot of writers fall into.
Lillian’s story was beautiful too. I am not usually crazy about flashbacks, I am too impatient for those, but Lillian’s story was so interesting and so sad, that I liked it as much – if not more than – Rosie’s story. It also gave the reader a good feel of what a small English town was like during Wold War II, without dwelling too much on the fact. I thought that the story was written very subtly, and it was all the more heartbreaking because of it.
The ending of the book is a bit predictable though. Of course Rosie ends up staying in Lipton and running the sweet shop (it’s even in the title) and of course she dumps her old boyfriend and finds love in the small town. What did surprise me is who she found said love with, I felt a bit like the writer changed her mind at the last minute, as it was a bit abrupt. But it was a good change of mind, as it made it a bit less predictable.
All in all a good summer read and I would definitely recommend it.