Monday, February 29, 2016

Little Beach Street Bakery - Jenny Colgan (Little Beach Street Bakery #1)

Little Beach Street Bakery (Little Beach Street Bakery, #1)This is a book that undeniably falls into the category of "chick lit."  That is, a category of light, fluffy reads that might have like, two serious moments in them, but feature heroines that charm everybody who meets them and are unfairly trodden upon, but win upon the masses with their spunk and good looks, get the guy, and turn their lives (which typically start in some sort of dead end) into ones that anyone would be jealous of living.  In this case, that heroine is Polly.  She and her boyfriend Chris ran a graphic design company that failed, leaving them bankrupt.  When the bank seizes their assets, including their flat, Polly is left looking for somewhere else to live.  The only place that she can find that's in her price range and isn't absolutely terrible (only a little bit terrible) is in the town of Polbearne, which sits on a quasi-island that's connected to the shore by a causeway at some times and is cut off by the tides at others.  Due to this quirky feature, Polbearne is pretty much deserted.  Polly moves there anyway, hoping for inspiration to make a change in her life, and begins spending all of her time baking breads, which turn out to be illicit because the proprietor of Polbearne's only bakery is also Polly's landlady and isn't very nice about Polly threatening her business.

There are romance plots here, two of them, which Colgan handles by just writing one of them out of the story altogether in what seemed like something a little too convenient and a little too overwrought, something clearly designed to yank at a reader's heartstrings.  The other one isn't really every developed; it's just suddenly there, and then gone, and then there again, and then gone again, and then there again.  All the see-sawing got a little annoying after a while; I didn't see any real point to Polly's stint in America and think the plot would have been better served by eliminating that entirely.  As it was, I was left wishing the characters would just make up their minds already so we could get on with everything else.  The supporting characters in this were charming, though Polly was, in the manner of chick lit heroines, a bit too annoyingly perfect.  All of the problems that came her way were someone else's fault; her bankruptcy was the fault of her boyfriend, her persecution the fault of a bitter old woman (Colgan pretends that other people on in Polbearne treat Polly like an outsider, but they really don't), her second failed relationship the fault of the other party, and so on.  Polly never actually has to take responsibility for her own decisions--but then again, she never makes a bad one!  This is the kind of fluffiness I'm talking about when it comes to chick lit; the few darker moments are just thrown in by outside forces and have minimal lasting effect on the heroine.

As an American, I also can't help but be a little affronted at how Colgan portrayed the American characters in the novel.  Is that what she thinks Americans actually act like?  Is that what she thinks we talk like?  Polly makes light of this at a few moments, but the joke is ultimately beaten to the point of a dead horse, and while the other supporting characters at least have a couple of dimensions to them, the American ones are pretty much cardboard cutouts of stereotypes, which seems a bit unfair to me.

Honestly, the most interesting part of this book was Polly's struggle to do her own thing regarding her bread and then, ultimately, the bakery itself.  This part came across as more realistic than the relationship aspects, and it was absolutely mouth-watering at times, making me want to go off in search of some focaccia myself.  I ultimately had to settle for a rosemary boule and some whipped garlic butter from Whole Foods, but still--I love books with a food aspect, and Polly's breads, while simple, sounded utterly delightful.  Added into the quaint atmosphere of Polbearne, I think this could have been a really strong book without the love triangle pieces--in fact, probably stronger than it was with them.  This book had its charming points, but ultimately I don't think it had a compelling enough story or characters to make me really want to seek out the sequel.

3 stars out of 5.

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