“Welcome to Rosie Lee’s cafe in the heart of the East End – where there’s not an avocado, slice of sour dough or double-shot no-foam soy milk caramel latte on the menu!
Rosie-Lee’s owner Abby is a woman without a plan….and her beloved little cafe is business with a serious lack of customers. The Rosie Lee’s fry-up is legendary, but cooked breakfasts alone – however perfectly sizzled the bacon – aren’t going to pay the bills.
Fast approaching forty and fighting a serious case of empty nest syndrome, Abby realises its not just her menu that needs a makeover. And when Jack Chance, her The One That got Away, saunters through the cafe doors and back into her life things definitely look set to change…
Abby has always believed a cup of strong builders tea makes everything better, but Jack’s reappearance is a complication even the trusty sausage sarnie can’t resolve….”
This has turned out to be a tough book to review, as I have mixed feelings about it. I’m still tussling with it a bit but, for better or worse, these are my thoughts.
There is a proliferation of books set in cafes at the moment and from the title, cover and blurb of this book you might be expecting it to follow certain conventions that have sprung up around these books, but you’d be wrong to do so. The cafe setting is completely incidental to the storyline, it really is not the focus or the driving force of the plot. I am not saying this as a positive or a negative – it depends entirely on why you have picked up the book.
This is a book about family and how complicated those relationships can be and how it affects every aspect of our lives. Abby’s family life growing up can best be described as dysfunctional. Her father disappeared when she was in her teens, her relationship with her mother was always difficult and her best friend and first love, Jack, moved away just when she needed him most. Abby fell pregnant at 19 and ended up with a baby to raise alone. However, Abby has pulled herself up by her bootstraps, determined to give her daughter Lucy a more stable upbringing than the one she had, despite being a single parent. She has succeeded in doing this with the help of her brother, but Abby’s romantic life is non-existent, her relationship with her mother irreparable and her cafe in financial difficulty. The Jack walks back into her life and Abby’s life becomes even more complicated.
As Abby struggles with unresolved feelings for Jack and tries to find out why he left without a word all those years before, the secrets that Abby’s family have been keeping begin to unravel and she has to reassess everything she thought she understood about her past.
This is a book that has some real emotional depth and explores some complicated issues. I was pleasantly surprised at the places the plot took me. However, the problem I had was that, at the same time, the main character Abby displays some very contradictory superficial and immature behaviour that I found difficult to reconcile with the other aspects of her story. In addition, I was struggling to buy into Jack’s behaviour as a sympathetic romantic lead. I will try and expand on this in a way that will make sense without containing any spoilers.
Abby has managed to build a stable life for herself and her daughter from a young age without the support of either of her parents or a partner. Her daughter has turned out to be a wonderful young woman, so Abby has obviously dealt with her less-than-perfect situation in a way that has proved positive for her daughter despite huge obstacles. When all the family secrets start to come out of the woodwork, she manages to take them in her stride and deal with them fairly sensibly and rationally, which would lead you to conclude she has a certain level of emotional maturity.
At the same time her actions around Jack exhibit the opposite. She acts like a teenager, unable to make up her mind how she feels from one minute to the next, egging him on then pushing him away. This behaviour is repeated over and over to the point where it started to become irritating. She seems incapable of having an honest adult discussion with him about the past and how she feels. Her reasoning for not wanting to be with him mostly seemed to be that he was too rich and good looking for her. This was coupled with far too much focus on how physically attractive she found him every time he came near her – the point was laboured to the point of tedium – and I felt that this did Abby an injustice. I actually believe that she has more emotional depth and maturity than that. I could understand her insecurities about re-starting a relationship with an old flame given the changes the intervening years had wrought on her body. I could understand that she might not trust him not to abandon her again given his past form. These were motivations that were hinted at and would make more sense as valid reasons for avoiding getting involved to me but they were undermined by the rest of her thought processes which seemed inauthentic for a woman of her age and experience. I don’t know if the author was deliberately giving the impression that Abby’s romantic development was stunted as a result of her circumstances, maybe that is the generous assumption to make. I’m still undecided.
Jack’s motivations were even harder to fathom. He hasn’t seen Abby for 25 years but then, following a chance meeting, he is suddenly obsessed with her to the point of refusing to leave her alone, despite frequent requests by her that he do so. We are supposed to believe that he has been in love with her for the whole intervening period, but he has never made any efforts to contact her during that time, despite the fact that she is living in almost exactly the same place as she did the last time he saw her and would be very easy to track down. . I think his sudden relentless pursuit of her was supposed to be romantic and protective but he was so persistent in the face of rejection that it bordered on the edge of stalker-ish, especially given the less than savoury behaviour of her ex. My feelings about him were ambiguous at best.
This book moves on at a cracking pace with plenty of events thrown in to push the story along. In fact, so much had happened by the time I was fifty per cent of the way through that I wondered what could possibly be left to carry the book on to the end but it did not let up. I really enjoyed the momentum of this book and the twists and turns of the plot, it definitely packed more punch that the gentle food-based story you might be expecting from its wrappings. I think it was a shame that some of the emotional developments didn’t match up to the rest of the story.
This is the author’s debut novel and it shows real promise, despite some of the issues I identified above. I think this is a book that will appeal differently to different readers and someone else picking up this book will read it in another way and not have some of the misgivings I had. I recommend that you read it and reach your own conclusions. It is a complex story that deserves attention and feedback and is more than the sum of its cover and title.
I apologise for the length and rambling nature of this review, I think it is an accurate reflection of my many and complicated thoughts about this book.
Secrets and Tea at Rosie Lee’s is out now and you can buy a copy here.
Thank you to Aria and NetGalley for my copy of the book which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.
About the Author
Jane has reached the age now where she no longer tells people her age! She’s old enough to legally be able to do everything and that’s all that matters. ‘Secrets & Tea at Rosie Lee’s’ is Jane’s debut novel. Born and brought up in London’s East End, she now lives in Lincolnshire with her family. Thankfully she recently discovered the joys of mail order pie, mash & liquor, so she can relive her youth anytime she feels like it!
Although writing stories was something that Jane had always done, she never thought anyone would pay her to do it so she focussed on learning to act instead, figuring that this was a much more reliable way to earn a living. Sadly, her career as an actress was shortlived, actually it was non-existent, so she turned her attention to another reliable line of work – Cable Television! This was where Jane managed to finally get paid (badly!) doing something she enjoyed – writing. She began with scripts for a series all about Serial Killers (imaginatively entitled ‘Serial Killers’) and then moved on to a series of history documentaries. This series never saw the light of day in the UK but Jane has been informed that it used be very popular with insomniacs staying in hotels in the Far East. This may or may not be true.
She is currently working on her second contemporary novel for Aria Fiction.
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