“Different weaknesses have different taboos. We’re none of us so very different from the other.”
We all have preconceived notions of things, of people and of situations. We have the idea that perfect hair goes with perfect faces and perfect lives. There’s a level of gloss in our view of things and part of it is our brain’s predisposition of classifying and grouping things to conserve mental space, but a lot of it is our own desire to believe what we want to believe.
While this is my take away from the book, it is also in many ways my predisposition when I first received the book from the mail. It was pink, frilly and screamed in all its pink-ness that it was chic-lit. As I began reading the pages I expressed to Myra how the book is not uninteresting, but getting to like Laurie, the main protagonist, is difficult. Needless to say I was fast into relegating this to chiclit, cheesy, hard to read book.
But the universe, as it has always been the case with me likes to trick me into believing I’m right about the book then hurling that big fat realization that I am totally mistaken. If the universe could speak, it would say to me “Told you, that book is FOR you no matter what you think.” So, thank you Pansing for putting this as one of the options on your booklist and thank you summary writer for packaging this book as about traveling and cake. Because who doesn’t like traveling and cake?
The novel begins with Travel-professional Laurie getting a job to assist Pamela Lambert-Leigh a cake-baking celebrity in her attempts to travel in the US for a cake-recipe exchange. However, Pamela comes in traveling not by herself but with the women of her family—her fiery mother Gracie and her “Kirsten Stewart” looking daughter, Ravenna—on a double decker london bus.
No travel themed book is without logistics. I have only traveled around Asia and my thoughts of visiting the US have always been towards seeing the East Coast; from New York to Ivy League universities. After discovering that this book was going to take me through the various states of my favorite coast in America, I was quite engaged. The author didn’t skimp on the details about each state and didn’t just give us the tourist view and details of each state. Jones gave her readers little secrets for each state, as well as trivia that allowed the reader’s journey through each state quite educational and picturesque. The added appeal of course was that this book was a road trip. Though this road trip came in big red double decker and not some cramped, tiny car, it still was a road trip. There were little stops that I enjoyed whether it was helping sailors or the first Dunkin Donuts. Jones was also generous in describing the places, from the Mansions of Newport, the sea in Maine and even the liveliness of Provincetown. I don’t know how accurate the author was in describing the places, but you get the distinctness of each place.
I like the fact that it was true to the travel part of the story, because it did feel like I was traveling and seeing the sites. The East Coast was definitely a wonderful backdrop for a story of an English cake lady and her family drama.
CAKE for CAKE
I am not as obsessed with cake as Laurie or Pamela is, but I do love to bake. This book was a treat. Strangely I knew most of the cakes they were referring to from the fairy cakes, marble cakes, whoopie pies to linzetorte. There was definitely a lot of sweets, but also a lot of drama that went with it. From cakes being sabotaged, rushing to make cakes and to binge eating. What is a story about sweets and love for them without a discussion on weight. There’s both a triumph and sadness in the way the author tapped into eating issues. There’s that self-loathing for loving cake and there’s that embracing of what one loves.
The cake part of the story appeals to those who appreciate the delicacy and the differences in each pastry. It also offers a window into the world of sweets, their stories and origins. For instance how the Red Velvet Cake was actually first made in the Waldorf-Astoria. As well as how the whoopie pie is the official dessert in Maine. In a way each state offered a cake in exchange for a recipe from England, the traveling teashop in truth captures what cooking and baking really is. It is a conversation that allows the receiver to make a recipe their own.
The Travelling Tea Shop is the diversion for a family that is falling apart (or in this case for a family trying to delay the falling apart). The drama among the Lambert-Leigh women that Laurie got caught on, as well as Laurie’s own family wounds simmer to a boil as the travel progresses. This novel isn’t short from snippy remarks, helplessness and tears. The drama isn’t too heavy nor is it too light. Jones takes the time to unravel the characters. She allows you to love the grandmother—Gracie for her feistiness and zest for life. It allows you to pity Pamela and at some point be irritated by her lack of will and it makes you despise Ravenna and her angst. Even Laurie, who seems to be the 4th wheel in the family drama. The wheels do turn when we get to meet Charles and Harvey who add warmth and wisdom to a trip that has gone from exciting to cold. They too get entangled in the drama, but seem to be level headed enough to untangle themselves and help the women on this trip to get over and move forward.
People travel for different reasons, but we all come back from it changed. Travel opens us to a world out there and for the Travelling Tea Shop it highlighted Harvey’s words which I quoted earlier. We discover differences as we travel, we widen our perspective and we discover something new. In the end, we find out not really what makes us different, but what makes us the same, because despite the trappings, we all are similar. We all have family dramas to deal with. We all have places we love, food we can’t live without and we all have dreams we wish we could fulfill.
The Travelling Tea Shop by Belinda Jones was a surprisingly delightful read. Its not too heavy nor too light, just right for tea time.