Christmas at the Cupcake Café, by Jenny Colgan

Review published on December 14, 2012.Reviewed by Georgina Donlea

Nudge Reviewer Rating:

Following last year’s success of Meet Me at the Cupcake Café, Jenny Colgan reintroduces us to Issy Randall, devoted cake baker and owner of the cosy little Cupcake Café in north London. Issy has successfully created a thriving business against the odds, and has also finally found the perfect man, Austin. However, her seemingly charmed life suffers a major obstacle, when Austin’s job is under threat, and the only way to revive his banking career might have to mean a move to New York. How can Issy possibly consider leaving her beloved business, or contemplate life without Austin? Can both her café and her relationship survive?

Last year I had surprising success in selecting a festive book to read as winter set in, and so decided to follow suit in 2012. Christmas at the Cupcake Café has been written as a stand-alone book, but in the dedicated spirit of being fully informed, I went to the library and read Meet Me at the Cupcake Café first. While reading the preceding book is not essential, it does explain a lot about the backgrounds of the characters and their relationships. Issy continues to be fairly dreary, and Austin continues to be uninteresting. Helena, Issy’s best friend, has procreated since the first book finished, and her handling of the insipid spawn, Chadani Imelda, is exasperating at the best of times. At least this means that Louis, the young son of Pearl, Issy’s friend and employee, loses the crown of Most Irritating Child. Caroline, Issy’s other staff member, starts to mellow during this book, still offering a few rather splendid one-liners, but is overall a slightly more palatable version of herself.

On the upside, the Cupcake Café itself continues to be a sanctuary that I do believe I would relish if it actually existed. Jenny Colgan creates a soothing, inviting atmosphere, this time filling the café with the enticing aromas and decorations of the festive season. In gratification of all things cakey, the book is teeming with seasonal recipes that Colgan assures us are all personally tried and tested, making this more of a lifestyle accessory for a certain type of woman, rather than just novel.

The movement of locations between London and New York offers much-appreciated freshness to this second book. The Americans we meet, are, however, almost embarrassingly stereotypical. One character, Kelly-Lee, employee at a cupcake café in Manhattan, does have an entertaining thought process though. (She is approached from a different angle, and unlike the others, we learn much more about her through her thoughts than her speech or actions.)

The reality is that Christmas at the Cupcake Café is aimed at women who relish easy going reading held together by gooey, romantic frosting. Overall, it did not really float my boat personally, but I did become more interested than I expected to be on the matter of whether Issy and Austin’s relationship would survive. It is certainly festive, and funny at times, with a pleasant, girly front cover. Disregarding the gruesome Chadani Imelda and her mother, who never stopped irritating me, this is an effortless, unchallenging read that had no real impact on me. Jenny Colgan has written many books and received much praise from some camps, so there must be an appreciative market for her writing. Chick lit lovers may well enjoy Christmas at the Cupcake Café, but I doubt that its appeal will be universal. It is, however, a welcome gesture to spread a little festive cheer by adding a seasonal book to the shelves at this time of year.


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