The Travelling Tea Shop by Belinda Jones
Published May 22, 2014 by Hodder & Stoughton
Format: e-ARC from Netgalley.
Laurie loves a challenge. Especially if it involves anything beautiful, baked and frosted. The brief is simple: With three other women, Laurie will board a London bus – kitted out as an English tea shop – on a deliciously different road trip of the USA.
Their mission: To bring home-grown classics like Battenberg, Victoria sponge and scones to the land of cupcakes, whoopie pies and gold-leafed chocolate sundaes. And to show them how a real cup of tea is made. All of the women have their own secrets and heartaches to heal. As well as a grand appreciation of cupcakes, there’s also the chance for romance… But will making whoopee lead to love? (Goodreads)
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My rating: 3/5
The Travelling Tea Shop is one of those novels that should come with a warning: “Don’t read when hungry.” When Laurie starts researching cake destinations to which the tour with the UK pastry chef Pamela will take them, she says: “I could barely keep from licking my laptop.” My Kindle almost suffered the same fate. From the Red Velvet Cake to Boston Cream Pie, from pink cupcakes to whoopee pies, the story covers all the famous cakes of the North-Eastern US. I would have loved a recipe or two as well – just so I could share in the fun and tasting, since there’s not much chance I’ll be eating an authentic New York Cheesecake anytime soon.
What bothered me slightly was that the beginning of the novel started off like it was a New York City guide. Us non-New-Yorkers do dream of visiting the Big Apple and we know it’s magical (we’ve seen the movies and read the books), so I’m not sure we need another full-out rave about the Central Park and the pure joy of walking the streets. And it’s not just the NYC that gets the dreamland treatment. There are ways of easing the reader into the experience so that the main story remains unobscured by the descriptions of the place.
This “tour guide” mentality is, of course, part of Laurie’s personality – she acutally is a travel agent – but the frequency of the data-spouting monologues put me off slightly. Another style-related problem I found were the beginnings of chapters (which, admittedly, might have been changed in the print version, since mine was an ARC!): Chapter 17 starts with: “And so to the foodie side of things…“; Ch. 18: “And so it’s back down to earth at the supermarket…”; Ch. 25: “And so we enter Cape Cod…” It’s not the end of the world, I know, but it’s just something the editor – not the author, who is over-immersed in her work anyways – should probably have picked up on.
I enjoyed the descriptions where I could feel the country much better (here, they’ve just arrived in Newport): “Suddenly the ocean below us comes into view and I tumble in love at first sight. Sapphire sparkling waters expand out as far as the eye can see. To our left the starched white kerchiefs of sailing boats glance across the water’s surface, curving around the headland, to the right the pointy masts of moored boats cluster around a lush harbor.” Isn’t this nice? Also: “The path ahead of us is spilling over with fragrant honeysuckle, delicate pink day roses, clusters of blackcurrants and sprays of miniature daisies.” So pretty! Here’s a briar rose just for you:
And so to the romance. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.) The romance in The Travelling Tea Shop was one of the highlights for me. I LIKE (really, really *like*) stories where the characters sort of drift towards each other, where they like each other before jumping each other’s bones. And Belinda Jones got this just right here.
The one issue I had with (minor) character portrayal were gay men (there were no gay women mentioned, as far as I could tell): the exuberant 40-year-old pink-shirt-wearing pink cupcake baker is the perfect example for this. Laurie says: “I don’t mean to sound prejudiced in any way, but the world would be a very dull place without gay people. They’ve got the whole joie de vivre thing down.” I agree, the world would definitely be poorer if we were all just grey and drab and straight, but I fear that this reduction of gay men to happy-go-lucky partygoers who like to bake cupcakes and air-kiss isn’t really doing anyone any good.
The rest of the characters – not just the love interests, but most of them – were very human, which isn’t all that easy to find in romances where delicate damsels in distress and hulking alpha-males predominate. Laurie is a professional who makes her own money, stands on her own two feet and has a good brain in her head. I hate the silly women in some of chick-lit (The Shopaholic series comes to mind – I mean, do people really act like that?), and was pleasantly surprised when Laurie was nothing like them. Gracie the meddling grandmother was also a star, as was Pamela’s angsty twenty-year-old daughter Ravenna.
The summary: the style could use some polish, but the characters and the yummy cakes make up for it.
I’ll finish this with my favourite quote from the book: “The only F-word on this trip should be frosting.” Yes, Laurie, and I think we should definitely extend that philosophy to our everyday lives.
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I received this e-book from the publisher for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.