I accidentally discovered Jenny Colgan in a second-hand bookshop. It turned out that her quirky, funny, heart-warming voice was exactly what I needed to get through that cold London (where I was living at the time) winter. I have been a dedicated Colgan fan ever since and, what I have observed is that, like a fine wine, she keeps getting better and better over the years, and continues to be exactly what I need – anytime!
Little Beach Street Bakery is Colgan’s latest romantic comedy. It is the story of Polly Waterford and her efforts to start over, to start afresh. When her graphic design business goes under, and her marriage fails as a result, Polly heads out of Plymouth, her hometown, to Mount Polbearne, a small, sleepy, seaside village in Cornwall – and the only place she can afford to pay rent. In an attempt to combat her frustrations and disappointment, Polly takes to her favourite pastime, baking bread.
Before long, Polly is baking bread for the village locals, secretly at first, and then under the scrutiny of Mrs. Manse, in the local bakery. As she starts getting to know the Mount Polbearne residents, Polly discovers that a bit of simplicity, sea air, following her passion, and a puffin named Neil are just what she needs to dim the memories of the life she left behind.
I loved this book before I even started reading it. Why? Colgan wrote her own blurb at the back of the book: a personal message to her readers, and something I’ve never seen before. A fantastic way to begin! Then, the enchanting novel I found within the book’s pages did not disappoint. In her more recent novels, Colgan has found a new signature, adopting a food theme (cupcakes, sweets, chocolate, and now bread), and as a chick-lit reading foodie, this totally appeals. And she includes the recipes, so readers can indulge in the actual goods as much as in her books.
While there may not be anything unusual about the plot – girl escapes disaster by running off to a small town where nobody knows her and she discovers herself and some delicious men and soon feels much better about life – it is the way the story plays out, and the typically Colgan-esque magic that sets this tale apart. I particularly enjoyed the way the sea featured in this book. It became a character in its own right, and provided the perfect backdrop for a slightly unusual cast of supporting characters, a bit of mystery, and Polly’s emotional catharsis.
All of Little Beach Street Bakery’s characters were well written, and even the very minor ones still felt authentic. Polly was relatable and interesting, and it was easy to slip into her shoes live vicariously through her. The fishermen were a refreshing addition to a chick-lit story, their rugged, relentless ways an example of a simple, straightforward way of life, a life Polly was coming to know – and love. Huckle, the Southern American beekeeper, was beautifully brooding, and his multi-millionaire friend, Reuben, was hilarious, so smug and overconfident that I couldn’t help but adore him. Kerensa, Polly’s best friend, was equally fun, and truly highlighted the contrast between Polly’s previous life and her new one. Then, of course, there was Neil, Polly’s rescue puffin, and a puffin that this story could not have been without, if only because of the entertaining jokes he generated.
So, in a nutshell, Little Beach Street Bakery is a gorgeous book with great characters and a plotline that reveals itself at the just right pace. In particular, I was pleased that the ending didn’t hurriedly rush to a close, as I often find with books of this genre, but instead came together tidily, and without running out of steam. For anyone who enjoys reading a well-written rom-com, the smell of freshly baked bread, and a bit of armchair travel, this enchanting trip to Cornwell is for you! And the answer is: yes, baking can mend a broken heart!