Reviewed by Emma Crowley
Becca Fletcher hates Christmas so much, she’s considering getting ‘Bah Humbug!’ tattooed on her forehead. She has her reasons for being Little Miss Grinch; Reasons that make this the very worst time of year for her.
Now, though, she can’t avoid her version of ho-ho-hell – because she’s travelling to the Comfort Food Cafe to spend the festive season with her sister Laura, and her family. She’s expecting mulled wine, the smell of pine trees, 24-hour Christmas movie marathons and all kinds of very merry torture.
But little does Becca know that the Comfort Food Cafe is like no other place on earth. Perched on a snow-covered hill on a windswept bay, it’s a place full of friendship; a place where broken hearts can heal, and a place where new love can blossom. It’s a place where Becca’s Christmas miracle really could happen – if only she can let it…
I simply adored Summer at the Comfort Food Café and knew when I read the last word that there was more that could be told in the story of the café and the people who work there and those that grace it with their custom. So I was delighted to see Debbie Johnson didn't keep her fans waiting long and is back with a novella Christmas at the Comfort Food Café. I did think this was a full length novel until I checked the page numbers on Amazon and then realised it was a novella but still it reads as if it is full length so much was packed in, yet none of the story lines ever felt rushed or there just to fill the pages. When the cover for this book first popped up on Amazon I couldn't contain my excitement firstly because a return visit was definitely needed as I have mentioned and secondly because this cover is just stunning. It's colourful yet simple and fits in with the previous cover and gives you that warm Christmassy feeling and really gets you thinking just what is in store for the characters now that Christmas is nearly upon them. Has much changed since we last left them or are things the same as ever? Will there be a few twists, turns and surprises in the run up to Christmas? Sure it wouldn't be Christmas without some small amount of stress or chaos thrown in for good measure. It's been said time and time again when it comes to follow ups to books that said book can be read as a stand alone and the same can be said for Christmas at the Comfort Food Café as all the characters back stories are subtly slipped in within the first few chapters. Although a slight niggling at the back of my mind says do read the first book just to appreciate the magic and feel good feelings the café and the characters inspire in you. I'm not quite sure I would feel the way I do about this Christmas story without having read the first book. I probably would feel I am missing out slightly but that's just my personal preference. On the other hand if you read this story you'll more than likely want to rush straight out and buy the summer story.
Once you begin Christmas at the Comfort Food Café it's like returning to old friends and although a few months may have passed in their worlds since you read the last page it's like time never happened and we easily slide back into their lives. The focus previously had been on Laura and her children, Nate and Lizzie. as they spend a summer running a Cornish café perched high on the hilltop for the lively yet caring mother figure of Cherie. Laura's circumstances had changed dramatically but Summer was the time her little family unit needed to begin living again and with the help of Cherie and a whole host of other characters that is exactly what happened but in the most genuinely loveliest way possible. Now the focus turns to Laura's sister Becca who was mentioned briefly through a phone call previously. We get a glimpse into Christmasses past in the Fletcher household in which the girls parents always want a lovely Christmas for their family but Becca is regularly the one to ruin the most magical time of year. Becca hates Christmas with a passion, she either throws a strop or tantrum if things don't go her way or else isolates herself from the family. As she grows older she embarks upon a path of total self destruction through drugs, alcohol and just her general persona. This is in total contrast to Laura who is always calm, sensible and someone who makes the most of life and as she grows older she marries childhood sweetheart David. Laura is mature and always the good girl where as Becca 'chose chaos- she (Laura) chose marriage and kids and being a suburban goddess. Or maybe those roles chose us. I don't really know'. I did think Becca just needed to grow up and just get over herself and throw away such a blatantly hostile attitude to Christmas and even life itself. She seemed so pathetic not to be able to enjoy and embrace the most wonderful time of year. I found it quite hard to feel any sympathy or likeability for her but it's only as the truth slowly simmers to the surface that all my previously held opinions went flying out the window and her reasons for acting the way she did became truly justified. I hoped with her visit to Dorset and the café that the magic that worked so well on Laura could do the same for Becca.
Becca really hates Christmas but she loves her sister more and is willing to visit. She lives alone and likes her own space and solitude but when she arrives at the café the characters slowly get underneath Becca's skin and she may just have a change of heart. 'Against my will, I am being dragged away from the comfortable urban buzz of my flat in Manchester and my shallow but safe existence and, more importantly my entirely Christmas free lifestyle'. Becca was such a complex character with so many issues that didn't make life easy for her. Her heart and mind were never at peace allowing her comfort and happiness. Worry dominated her life. She seemed so down on herself and could never fully let go and just be happy as the past was constantly dragging her down affecting how she lived and embraced the present and future. 'My sister was meant to be in love. Meant to be in a partnership. I'm not. I can barely tolerate my own company, never mind anybody elses'. All the feel good feelings present in the first book were here in abundance and for new readers I'm sure they will experience the charm and warmth of the eclectic café and its owner Cherie.
I enjoyed how the focus of the book shifted to a new character and their personal troubles yet we still got to keep an eye on old familiar faces such as Frank and his relationship with Cherie and lovely 90 year old Edie still very much stuck in the past for her own reasons yet always enjoying the charm and camaraderie of the Comfort Food Café. There were plenty of other people who made a reappearance and hunky Sam provided the eye candy and maybe sparked a glimmer or two in someone's eye when they needed it the most. The descriptions of the food served in the café were present as well and just as mouthwatering as ever. My only problem was I felt in parts the book didn't feel very Christmassy until towards the end but on reflection the subject matter was very serious in tone so the author had to balance this alongside the fun and frolics the time of year brings. Thankfully this was managed well with the Christmas wedding and the descriptions and minute details were perfect and complemented the overall storyline very well.
Christmas at the Comfort Food Café didn't disappoint at all. At times with sequels to books one does wonder whether the same magic can be recreated or has everything been said and done in relation to characters? Had Laura's story been enough or was a return visit to the café needed at all? In answer yes it was a very much welcome return and I enjoyed every minute of this festive read so much so I read it an hour or two one evening. It didn't matter in the slightest that I read this in September and didn't wait until nearer to Christmas. My impatience and longing to know what happened next prevented me from leaving this wonderful novella languishing long on my Kindle. I do think there is room for just one more story from these characters that would round everything off nicely. I hope Debbie Johnson feels the same and will provide us with more tales from the Comfort Food Cafe. It's an inspiring, heartwarming place that has a real community feel and everyone who either works there or visits feels the same. They love and support each other and Becca although cold hearted and hurting at first can't but fail to see it has a charm and a healing, enchanting atmosphere that will help anyone who needs it. This deserves to be consumed in one go preferably with a glass of mulled wine and chocolate at your side in the run up to Christmas. You won't be sorry you picked it up.
Many thanks to Harper Impulse via NetGalley for my copy of Christmas at the Comfort Food Café to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.