Summer at the Comfort Food Cafe
by Debbie Johnson
Publishing Date: 1st May 2016
Source: Copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley, thank you!
Number of pages: 293
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
The brand new book from best-selling author Debbie Johnson will make you laugh, make you cry, and make you raid the pantry in the middle of the night…
The Comfort Food Cafe is perched on a windswept clifftop at what feels like the edge of the world, serving up the most delicious cream teas; beautifully baked breads, and carefully crafted cupcakes. For tourists and locals alike, the ramshackle cafe overlooking the beach is a beacon of laughter, companionship, and security – a place like no other; a place that offers friendship as a daily special, and where a hearty welcome is always on the menu.
For widowed mum-of-two Laura Walker, the decision to uproot her teenaged children and make the trek from Manchester to Dorset for the summer isn’t one she takes lightly, and it’s certainly not winning her any awards from her kids, Nate and Lizzie. Even her own parents think she’s gone mad.
But following the death of her beloved husband David two years earlier, Laura knows that it’s time to move on. To find a way to live without him, instead of just surviving. To find her new place in the world, and to fill the gap that he’s left in all their lives.
Her new job at the cafe, and the hilarious people she meets there, give Laura the chance she needs to make new friends; to learn to be herself again, and – just possibly – to learn to love again as well.
For her, the Comfort Food Cafe doesn’t just serve food – it serves a second chance to live her life to the full…
The first thing that comes to my mind is that each book by Debbie Johnson is better than the previous one, though I’m not sure how it’s possible, as they are all brilliant. I especially loved Debbie’s „The Birthday That Changed Everything” – it was a hilarious yet very touching read, but „Summer at the Comfort Food Cafe” is just like that! I’ve spent reading the last chapters of this book crying like a crocodile but not because it was so sad – on the contrary, it was so uplifting and promising and full of hope, and so touching, but still with the characteristic Debbie’s humour and I just loved this story. So there. Debbie Johnson is for sure at the top of my favourite authors list and I hope she’ll be writing such great books for a long time.
I promised myself I won’t be comparing books but I can’t not. Sorry. Especially as I still am mentioning „The Birthday That Changed Everything” at every opportunity. This book, and „Summer at the Comfort Food Cafe” are very similar in tone and characters, yet they are different to each other. I can’t help thinking that this new release is much more mature in tone and is a little bit on the more serious side but nevertheless, it is also full of humour, fantastic one – liners and larger than life, full of life characters (not only human characters. Oh my. You’ve no idea how much I cried. I skipped this chapter, to be honest, because I knew I won’t stop crying for hours).
Debbie Johnson’s writing style makes you feel very welcome and throws you into the heart of the story immediately. I was hooked from the page one and I would read this book in one sitting if I had it in paperback and not in ebook – I am reading my kindle books usually in bed and I am often so knackered that I am able to read only few pages, no matter how good the book is. I loved the beginning of this novel, which is in a form of a letter that Laura’s written in a reply to a job advert, and where we learn almost everything about her, her situation, her family and background, and where I actually already fell in love with her and wanted to be friends with her.
Laura was so perfectly developed. Her feelings of uncertainty, grief and pain were so palpable and tugged at all the right heartstrings but what I most loved about her is that, after those two years of being a single mum, of closing herself in a shell, she finally starts to grow in confidence, to see that future may have something on offer for her and that she and the kids deserve it. She opens to other people, comes out of her comfort zones and while she’s never going to forget and to stop loving David, she starts to take some steps forward, with a little help of the cafe, Cherie and Matt of course. She’s transforming before our eyes, and while we get to know her as a grieving widow, kissing a photo of her late – husband and sleeping with his dressing gown, we leave her with the feeling that she’s ready for the new, happy future. The author has brilliantly and with lots of feelings described the process of Laura’s grieving and made her both special and normal.
I also loved how Ms Johnson portrayed the family life and how they all tried to cope – better or worse – with all the new situations that life was throwing at them. It felt so genuine, and the characters were so honest in the way they acted and talked. The children were just like the children at their age should be, and Laura was just like a mum should be, and I loved their interactions. Debbie Johnson can absolutely perfectly describe teenagers that are run by the hormones. She did it in an unforgettable way in „The Birthday That Changed Everything” and she did it again in „Summer at the Comfort Food Cafe”. She brilliantly captures the teenage souls, with their likes and dislikes and she knows what it is that make them cool and up – to – date. Lizzie was the moody one who hated her mum and brother and the whole world actually, and never leaving the house without her phone. But she’s not as gloomy as it sounds, she’s lovely and very innovative and she only needs a little trust to spread her wings. Nate is lovely, too big and cool for a cuddle in the public, but not in the privacy of his home, and he totally knocked me out at the end of the book with his clever speech. There is also Laura’s family, especially her sister, and their phone conversations were so hilarious, but also so heart – warming, and you just could feel this special sisterly bond between these two.
Moreover, there are so many background characters, characters that enter the scenes for only a moment or two but they all feel so important and they are inseparable part of this novel. All of them had their own stories to tell and I loved how the author treated them all with respect and feeling, and adored how they all were in need of the comfort food made for them at the Comfort Food Cafe. Their presence added so much depth to the story, and awoke so many emotions, but also fun. But now, ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Matt… Awww, Matt… The local vet and the first person that Laura gets to know at her new place, of course in a very embarrassing situation let me tell you, but let’s focus on Matt again. There was something so very special in him that made him perfect in my eyes. Sure, he had his flaws (probably!) but altogether I think I would exchange Matt for my husband (psssst!), even though my husband bought me more than one puppy in my life. He was just so human, our Matt, and I think I have a little crush on him. I absolutely adored the blossoming, awkward romance between him and Laura, the dancing around each other but without the never ending will they/won’t they that is so often over – done, no, here it was lovely and believable, and not so obvious!
The book is divided into weeks that Laura and the children spent at the cafe, and each week’s header hints at what we can expect in the next chapters, and believe me, when Laura tells in one of the headers that it is the week she’s going to cry mostly, I was crying with her. The descriptions are so fluent but not over – descriptive, they are colourful and vivid and brings all the places, people and things to life. I loved the idea of the Comfort Food Cafe itself, a place in Budbury that offers – yes! – comfort food but also solace and where everyone is heartily welcome. This cafe, and the wonderful setting that Debbie Johnson has so wonderfully brought to life, with all the vivid descriptions of all the places and weather, just made me want to go on holidays and maybe stay in such a place for ever – so if you know such place, please kindly let me know.
„Summer at the Comfort Food Cafe” is about new beginnings and about being brave enough to give these new beginnings a new chance, even though there are things that you think can stop you or if you fear the future. And it also shows that we should trust our instincts and other people as well, because they are by nature good and willing to help. It is uplifting, optimistic and made me look in the future with hope. I was totally impressed with this book and I loved every minute I spent in the company of the characters. The cafe was a place where you could feel safe and the whole story was sweet, charming, uplifting and true to life. It was fast – paced, bubbly, funny and emotional, and the blossoming romance, that doesn’t get control over the whole story was believable and charming. A truly delicious read – also because of this gorgeous food at the cafe (please give me the variation on the yoghurt that Laura has made!!!), poignant but also full of humour, a lovely story of a small family moving forward and healing but not forgetting about the past told in a very gentle way. Just the kind of read that I adore and will recommend to everyone.