Two weeks ago, I featured Laura Schaeffer’s The Teashop Girls, a juvenile fiction novel about and for tea aficionados. A couple of days later, I started reading a new book that has the same kind of charm as The Teashop Girls. I would like to thank Pansing Distribution from Singapore for graciously sending us a review copy of Welcome to Rosie Hopkins’ Sweet Shop of Dreams. While I don’t normally read chick lit, I find Jenny Colgan’s novel delightful, full of heart, and with just the right amount of sweetness.
The novel revolves around city girl Rosie Hopkins who left her busy life in London to help sort out her Great-aunt Lillian’s sweetshop in a country village where everybody knows everybody else’s business. I chose this book because I have a sweet tooth. Although I prefer chocolates, I love any kind of sweetshop. I’d like to think of this book as Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory for adults, and I didn’t realize that this book—through Rosie’s character—would speak to me in more ways than one.
In her foreword, Jenny Colgan writes,
“This book is a way of chanelling my affections, really. It is my homage to the sweetshop; to Star Bars and Spangles and Refreshers and liquorice allsorts and gobstoppers and Hubba Bubba and Saturday mornings and playtime and friendship, and all the McCreadies of this world; to all those who are kind to nervous children when they only have pennies.”
A Bittersweet Tale of Family, Friendship, and Love
I enjoy reading books that present “a story within a story” narrative format. In her novel, Jenny Colgan beautifully intertwines the past and the present by juxtaposing Rosie’s life in the country village of Lipton with Lilian’s story during the war. It reminded me of the movie, Julie & Julia, wherein the stories of Julie Powell and Julia Child were told side by side.
The sweetshop in the book was more than a setting. It served as “witness” to Lilian’s life and struggles through wartime, her relationship with her family, and a love story that didn’t end happily ever after. Rosie’s main purpose of driving to the country was to refurbish the sweetshop so her Great-aunt Lilian has one less trouble to worry about, especially since Lilian was still recovering from her recent hip replacement surgery.
Rosie reminded me of myself, in a way. She left the hustle and bustle of the city and moved to the country, just like I did when I left beautiful and sunny San Diego to be with my boyfriend in South Carolina. Although the area we lived in wasn’t exactly what I’d describe as “country,” I could relate to the “culture shock” that Rosie felt when she arrived in Lipton. I felt the same way when I was still living in the Philippines and we had to visit the island where my mom grew up.
In addition to her big move, to what I’d like to refer to as her “leap of faith,” Rosie, like me, was a nurse. She lived in London, with her boyfriend, and had a job through an agency, and she left it all behind for someone she didn’t know anything about and a future that was full of uncertainty. Other readers might find Rosie’s character annoying or weak or underdeveloped. I thought she was brave. Rosie was reluctant at first but she learned to embrace the simple life in the country, built new friendships, and found a different kind of love. Although the actual story was not similar, Jenny Colgan’s novel also reminded me of Leap Year, a chick flick that also stars Amy Adams, who played Julia Powell in Julie & Julia. I enjoyed reading the book so much that I could picture each page like a scene from a movie, and it definitely would be in the likes of Leap Year and/or P.S. I Love You. (Yes, that movie with Gerard Butler.)
What makes the book even more beautiful to me was the transformation of Rosie and Lilian, how they were both changed by their serendipitous encounter. The two ladies knew nothing about each other. They weren’t thrilled about being in each other’s presence. The sweetshop business was quite a sensitive topic to touch on. That Rosie had to assist Lilian with her activities of daily living was a little awkward for both of them. In the end, it was all about family. Rosie and Lilian learned more about each other as the story progressed.
She couldn’t help it; she was interested in this girl. Determined and awkward, she reminded her of herself when she was young. Although, of course, they’d been very different in ages. But still, there was definitely something there. (p. 153)
Welcome to Rosie Hopkins’ Sweet Shop of Dreams was a good reminder of the workings of the Universe. We may never know what tomorrow brings, but there is always a reason for everything that happens to us. I don’t know if you can call it fate. Sometimes, we find ourselves stuck in an unfamiliar place, only to realize later down that road that it is a place we are always meant to be a part of. I found mine in a library. Rosie found hers in a quaint sweetshop in Lipton.
And there, too, inside every square inch of the little shop was covered—in sweets, in posters, in things Rosie hadn’t seen for years. There were little tins of travel sweets and jujubes, neatly piled up in pyramids; great glass bowls full of striped candy canes tied with bows; huge slabs of dark red Bournville chocolate and neatly stacked alternating boxes of Diary Milk and Black Magic. On the very highest shelves were the enormous, elaborate boxes of chocolates, in red velvet heart-shaped boxes with huge ribbons, completely covered in dust… Like an old apothecary’s shop, the back three walls were lined with shelves that held great bulbous glass jars filled with every imaginable sweet… (p. 83)
Jenny Colgan beautifully ends the novel with the following passage:
People think love should be popping candy; always surprising and exciting and fresh to the mouth. Or like dark chocolate; mysterious and adult and bitter. Or the tough candy shell of a Minstrel, waiting to be cracked; the friable crumbling burst of a honeycomb; spiky as peanut brittle; as painful as a sharp shard of toffee.
I think love is caramel. Sweet and fragrant; always welcome. It is the gentle golden colour of a setting harvest sun; the warmth of a squeezed embrace; the easy melting of two souls into one and a taste that lingers even when everything else has melted away. Once tasted, it is never forgotten. (p. 465)
Here’s a simple peanut brittle recipe that Jenny Colgan included in her book.
TOOTHPICKS. Keep handy.
4 oz unsalted peanuts
4 oz golden caster sugar
2 oz butter
4 tsp water
Spread the peanuts in a single layer on a buttered oven tray. Put the other ingredients in a saucepan and start to heat very slowly, stirring all the while. When the sugar has dissolved, increase the heat a little and stir more vigorously until a caramel is formed. When it reaches the correct colour, according to taste, take it off the heat, pour it over the peanuts and leave to cool.