Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Books Read: The Plumberry School of Comfort Food/Comfort and Joy by Cathy Bramley

Verity Bloom hasn't been interested in cooking anything more complicated than the perfect fish finger sandwich, ever since she lost her best friend and baking companion two years ago.

But an opportunity to help a friend lands her right back in the heart of the kitchen. The Plumberry School of Comfort Food is due to open in a few weeks' time and needs the kind of great ideas that only Verity could cook up. And with new friendships bubbling and a sprinkling of romance in the mix, Verity finally begins to feel like she's home.

But when tragedy strikes at the very heart of the cookery school, can Verity find the magic ingredient for Plumberry while still writing her own recipe for happiness?

This year has been a bit of a rollercoaster for me personally for various reasons so every time I try to make plans with regards to catching up with reading and reviews on the blog something else comes along to throw a spanner in the works.  And that has certainly been the case for reviewing Cathy Bramley's latest book The Plumberry School of Comfort Food which I actually read at the end of August for the Food and Drink feature month.

What I love about Cathy's books is that she creates characters that you find yourself rooting for, in this instance Verity who finds herself at a low point in her life with regards to her job and her relationship.  But fortunately for her she's given the opportunity to get away from it all when she receives a call for help from Gloria.  And so she sets off to the Yorkshire village of Plumberry to help Gloria set up a cooking school despite having lost her love of cooking following the death of her best friend Mimi, Gloria's daughter, who she used to make cookery videos with when they were teenagers. Has this challenge come at the perfect time for her?

From the moment Verity arrived in Plumberry she finds herself in the heart of the community, meeting locals and helping Gloria and her colleagues to get the school up and running.  I'm not a baker, or even a great cook, but I totally loved reading about the exploits at the cooking school and the introduction of the hunky Irish chef Tom certainly didn't hurt either.  Throw in some competitions, rivalry amongst the contestants, and a TV crew and you have all the ingredients you need for an entertaining read.  

With each book that Cathy is writing she seems to be growing from strength to strength and is fast becoming one of my favourite authors.  I know that when I pick up one of her books I'm guaranteed a feel-good read but that's not to say that they're all sweetness and light and nothing bad/sad happens as that is certainly not the case.  In this book in particular there was one storyline that literally floored me as I didn't expect it to end the way it did, I was expecting a different outcome to the one I got. 

As I've mentioned in reviews before I'm not a fan of reading serials so am glad I waited to read this as a complete story as I would definitely have been impatient at wanting to know what happens next especially at the end of part two. 

But the one good thing about reviewing this book so late is that Cathy has already published a follow-up novella Comfort and Joy which provides readers with an update to life at the cookery school, review below. 

It’s been a busy year for Verity Bloom at the Plumberry School of Comfort Food, but Christmas Eve is finally here. With delicious treats all wrapped up and the ingredients packed away, Verity is looking forward to a relaxing few days with her new boyfriend.

Good food, family and friends – it’s a simple recipe for true comfort and joy, and all Verity’s friends in the village are full of excitement about the holidays too.

But the weather has other plans in store… Relentless rain leads to a power cut that spells disaster for many of Plumberry’s residents. It’s starting to look like this year’s celebrations could be a total washout.

With dreams of a perfect Christmas dashed, will the last of the festive cheer be swept away in the downpour? Or can the cookery school create a Christmas miracle for everyone Verity holds dear?

I for one am a fan of follow up novellas which enable us readers to catch up with some of our favourite characters, so when Cathy Bramley tweeted earlier in the year to say that she had written a follow up to The Plumberry School of Comfort Food I immediately pre-ordered a copy as I couldn't wait to see what Verity had been up to since we last met her. 

When we last visited Plumberry, Verity and Tom were busy getting to know one another and setting up their respective businesses, and now several months on they are looking forward to spending their first Christmas together away from demands of the cooking school and restaurant.  But it would seem that nature has other plans for them as the village is under threat from torrential rain, flooding and power cuts.  Will Christmas be ruined for everyone or can the villagers pull together to make the best of the hand that has been dealt them? 

Comfort and Joy was a wonderful delight from start to finish, it was great to see the camaraderie at this time of adversity as everyone brought something to the table, literally and metaphorically.  Despite this being a novella Cathy was able to fit a lot of different storylines into one, without it feeling overpowered, which enabled us to catch up with old friends to get closure but also introduce us to a few new characters for good measure.

Although I'm sure that Comfort and Joy could be read as a Christmassy standalone story, personally I would recommend reading The Plumberry School of Comfort Food first as you'll then realise that this novella is a fitting conclusion to these wonderful characters that Cathy has created. 

And for fans of Cathy's books it would appear that we're in for some more great stories from her as she has a new book White Lies and Wishes coming out late January plus a new serial The Lemon Tree Cafe, the first part currently scheduled to be published in March. 

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