Reviewed by Emma Crowley
Kitty Cartwright has always solved her problems in the kitchen. Her cookbooks are her life, and there isn’t an issue that ‘Cooking with Aspic’ can’t fix. Her only wish is that she had a book entitled ‘Rustling Up Dinner When Your Husband Has Left You’.
Forty years later…
On Rosemary Lane, Della Cartwright plans to open a very special little bookshop. Not knowing what to do with the hundreds of cookbooks her mother left her, she now wants to share their recipes with the world – and no amount of aspic will stand in her way.
But with her family convinced it’s a hare-brained scheme, Della starts to wonder if she’s made a terrible decision. One thing’s for sure: she’s about to find out…
At the risk of continuously repeating myself or sounding like a broken record as they say I am really loving the current influx of books which feature a bookshop in their title, I can't get enough of these sort of books as each of them have been unique and compelling. The Bookshop on Rosemary Lane is the first in a planned trilogy from Ellen Berry, well really it is popular author Fiona Gibson writing under a new name which I didn't realise until I had started the book. I had only previously read The Woman Who Upped and Left by Fiona Gibson and found it to be a good read if slightly flat in places. Within a few chapters I found the author writing under a different name must have a good effect because I could feel that this was a much better read than the book I had read before. The writing was tighter and there was no messing about with long winded scenes that didn't need to be there or unnecessary stretching of the plot. It was a much more enjoyable read and I think fans of the author will enjoy this story yet she will also earn a few readers along the way who enjoy this genre of book. Sure if you mention book or bookshop in the title you are on to a winner almost straight away.
The Bookshop on Rosemary Lane has the most simple, sweet cover that catches your eye and makes you want to dive straight in and discover the world of Della and the cookbooks she has inherited. My one thought though before I started reading this book was could it live up to the same standards set by Jenny Colgan and Veronica Henry who both released books this year featuring bookshops and which in my mind were sublime reads? The bar in my opinion had been set very high and I hoped that Ellen Berry's book would reach the same dizzying heights.
In the beginning Kitty lived in Rosemary Cottage with her daughter Della and a vast collection of cookbooks. Cookbooks from every author you could conceive of, cookbooks for every occasion, every mood and every time of year. They were her passion and held promise of treats and adventure. In the kitchen the hub of the house Kitty creates delicious meals as cooking is her solace and comfort in times of trouble. Della knows her mum is lonely and yet despite having two other children, Jeff and Roxanne, she is still pining for the husband who left her. At times Kitty can turn to the bottle to seek support and drown her sorrows but she always has her cookbooks which were so dear to her heart and soon they become the same for Della. Fast forward many years later and Della is all grown up and married to podiatrist Mark and has a daughter of her own Sophie who is just about to fly the nest for college. Della has a happy enough life and enjoys working in the gift shop of the local castle but things are about to change on all fronts for Della and times ahead will test her to her core. Can she emerge stronger out the other side and will the collection of cookbooks be her source of guidance and inspiration?
When we meet Della we are given a background to her life and where she is now but sadly Kitty has just died from cancer and Della is the one left to pick up the pieces. She has been the person who looked after Kitty when she needed it most. Jeff and Roxanne live away and breeze in at the last moment when all has been done. I'm sure most people will recognise this as we all have people in our families who carry on in this manner. Della must now come to terms with her mother's death and that begins with clearing out and selling the cottage which was her childhood home. The only question is what to do with all the cookbooks which inspire so many memories for various reasons? Della decides to take all 962 cookbooks to her own home much to the consternation of her family in particular Mark. Della regards the cookbooks as away into another world, an escape from everything in her hum drum life but Mark doesn't feel the same way.
To be honest I found from the outset Della was a bit subservient to Mark, she never really stood up to him and allowed him to make sly remarks regarding the books. If he was any way nice or connected to his wife he would have being fully supportive of her no matter what she decided to do. Mark seemed so preoccupied with himself and his 'golf days' that little care or attention was given to Della and in her period of grief this was where she needed her husband the most. Surely the role of the husband is to support and agree with his wife in any situation she may find herself in? Believing Della is far too impetuous is not good enough reason to back up someone. Sometimes we need a bit of spontaneity in our lives and when that opportunity arises we should grab it with open arms in order to try and succeed or even if we fail we will have learned from our mistakes?
Della has a brainwave and to some it may seem reckless and a spur of the moment thing but I thought she was right in seizing the day. A shop has come up for lease and what perfect use than to turn it into a cookbook shop. I admired Della for wanting to try something new especially as things in her personal life were about to change. Della has plenty of upheaval in her personal life and the clues were all there for the reader to uncover the truth. It was a horrible, nasty situation she finds herself in and you wouldn’t wish it on anyone but I wanted Della to rant and rave and stand up for herself. At times she just seemed a little weak and let people walk all over her, I wanted to see her gain strength but it came a bit too late for me.
The title suggest that the majority of this book would focus on the bookshop and to be honest this was slightly misleading, yes there is a bookshop featured but it is not the centre of the story more so Della's personal life. The bookshop element really only came into play towards the end of the book and as a reader when you are waiting and waiting for something to happen regarding the title and inspiration of the book it's disappointing to see it feature so little until the majority of the story had unfolded. It was too rushed towards the end and I would hate to think that is all we will hear of the bookshop unless it will have brief mentions in the next two books. This has happened to me recently with another book where holiday is mentioned in the title and yet the holiday never happens until more than 60% of the way through the book and truthfully it is frustrating.
The book was enjoyable enough in the beginning but despite the better writing than the previous book I had read it didn't fully hit the spot for me. The whole concept of The Bookshop on Rosemary Lane was excellent but unfortunately it lacked that little something to elevate it to the heights of the Jenny Colgan and Veronica Henry as I have mentioned previously. I wasn't as gripped as I normally would be with a book in this genre and maybe it was the fact I didn't fully engage with Della and found her to be weak until push really did come to shove. Also as I have mentioned the lack of specific focus on the bookshop as well. Saying that this is a very very easy read and if you are looking for something not too taxing for the summer months then this is the book for you. At the time of writing the Kindle price is only 99p so you can't go wrong at that price. Although this book was half and half for me, I still would be interested to read the next two planned books in the series The Bakery on Rosemary Lane and The Bistro on Rosemary Lane just to see how they compare to the first.
Many thanks to Harper Collins- Avon for my copy of The Bookshop on Rosemary Lane to review via NetGalley and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.