Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Emma's Review: Sunshine at the Comfort Food Cafe by Debbie Johnson

Reviewed by Emma Crowley

My name is Willow Longville. I live in a village called Budbury on the stunning Dorset coast with my mum Lynnie, who sometimes forgets who I am. I’m a waitress at the Comfort Food Café, which is really so much more than a café … it’s my home.
For Willow, the ramshackle café overlooking the beach, together with its warm-hearted community, offers friendship as a daily special and always has a hearty welcome on the menu. But when a handsome stranger blows in on a warm spring breeze, Willow soon realises that her quiet country life will be changed forever.

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Many thanks to Harper Collins Ireland for my copy of Sunshine at the Comfort Food Café to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.

It sounds like such a cliché but the Comfort Food Café series of books really do give you a warm, comforting feeling inside and inspire the feel good factor. Sunshine at the Comfort Food Café is the fourth in a series that just gets better and better with each book. Just when you think how can Debbie Johnson do it again, she only goes and throws an entire different angle to the story and leaves you feeling that you again have read an incredible book. This one in particular is very emotional and I'm sure will strike a deep chord with many readers. The fact that each book focuses on a new character or someone who has been waiting in the wings and now steps into the spotlight is what keeps this series fresh and highly readable.

I love how we are kept up to date with the stories of characters who may have been the main feature of the first three books but still new characters are allowed to shine, basically it's not a rehash of the same story over and over again. There was such an ingenious way of recapping on characters in this book for those that are new to the series which also acted as a gentle refresher for old fans. Not that I needed it as these characters and this setting are not ones that will leave your mind the minute you finish reading. Unlike other books I have read in this genre.

I can never find any fault with the Comfort Food Café series. All the characters are unique, some are quirky as in Edie May but all do provide plenty of laughs and humour whilst the people that need comfort, solace, advice or even acceptance are afforded this too. This special café perched high on a cliff top overlooking Budbury is a gathering/meeting place where the doors are always open, a chair always available, the coffee is brewing with delectable cakes and treats on offer. But most of all a sensitive, kind ear or a warm embrace when needed the most can easily be made available. It's found a place in my heart and with this new book that piece has only further widened to embrace Willow and her incredibly emotive and heart wrenching story.

Oh Willow, how you spoke to me directly from page one and throughout the story and this feeling never left me. Many personal memories came to mind when reading Willow's story and I think many readers will feel the exact same way whilst reading. I felt as if Willow was sitting next to me getting everything over her chest and what a difficult situation she finds herself in. But still Willow is a fighter but maybe now its time to let the doors open and allow help in. For continuously working through things on our own may not be best for all involved. Willow's life is one of constant multitasking. She works in the café and runs her own cleaning business but also on the home front life is not that easy. Her mother Lynnie is suffering from Alzheimer's and it is getting progressively worse, the days or moments of lucidity are getting few and far between.

The anxiety Willow feels only ever increases as she does not know what each day will bring. Will Lynnie wake up and know her today? Will she come out of her bedroom in the mornings in some outfit that really shouldn't be worn outside the front door? Locking every window and door at night for fear of her mother's escape is not something that should be on a young girls mind. But this is life and the daily reality for Willow and she will always do it for she loves her mother so deeply and if the roles were reversed Lynnie would do the same for Willow. Her sister Auburn and brothers Van and Angel have flown the nest. Angel is teaching in Scotland and when he did return to see the situation at home he couldn't get out the door fast enough. Both Auburn and Van travel the world from place to place inspired by the nature of their upbringing. If it had been me I would have been demanding more support from my siblings surely Willow shouldn't have to do everything on her own. Having every minute of every day accounted for. Life is for living, for being spontaneous and free but for Willow that is sadly not the case.

Willow's friends at the café are her support system, her backbone, when things get really tough she can turn to them and they will be there waiting. Laura, who is manger of the café is forever providing food when Willow just can't muster the energy after a long day. Cherie, owner of the café and married to Farmer Frank is full of wisdom and compassion. She will never replace Lynnie for Willow but still wise words and ideas are always on offer. Edie May, approaching her 92nd birthday although at times she comes out with the most cracked sayings, provides the balance of humour and wit to the more serious issues being described.

The one thing missing from Willow's life is romance, not that she is complaining about its absence or running out looking for it at every available opportunity. Still it would be nice to have someone to cuddle up to at night, someone to share her burden with in the absence of her siblings. The old house on the hill Briarwood, once a former children’s home and now abandoned for many years, has been bought but by who? The Budbury grapevine is a buzz with who it could be. Employed to clean out the house, Willow meets the new owner Tom Mulligan and his dog Rick Grimes. Bella Swan, Willow's dog, is instantly smitten. Might Willow too have the same feelings for Tom?

God Tom was just the best male character I have read about in ages. He wasn't brash or in your face, he just felt like this was an ordinary man you may chance meet and someone you could fall in love with. He wasn't up on some pedestal never reachable or attainable. He never felt out of Willow's league so to speak and when they realise a connection from childhood it meant all the more to the pair. Tom openly admits he is geeky and loves technology. He doesn't shy away from what he loves in life but overall he is shy and doesn't like to interact with people he does not know. He is awkward around people and has a strong preference for solitude. So to strike up such a friendship instantly with Willow was surprising for him. But maybe the point in time in their lives was right for Willow and Tom to meet.

The banter and one liners that flew back and forth between the pair was just brilliant. Everything just felt so genuine about the two meeting at Briarwood. Tom might just be the person who makes Willow see that she should just pause and take time to appreciate the way the world is at that exact point in time rather than constantly worrying about what the future may bring. What Tom does for Willow was so romantic and demonstrated the feelings he is beginning to develop for her. OK initially I thought she was right to feel angry but Tom could see the bigger picture at play and that underneath it all whether she realised it or not, Willow really was crying out for help.

The abrupt arrival of Auburn to Budbury could really have set the cat among the pigeons but Willow coped with it admirably. Auburn, now a pharmacist was very much a closed book. Clearly there is something bothering her but we are given no clues as to what. Does this mean Auburn will be the focus of a future book? Oh I do hope this will be the case. Even Kate with her young son Saul, who steps in and minds Lynnie when needed. She too seemed an enigma and that there is room for her story to be told. So much then begins to happen for Willow and the story of her mother and that of Tom become almost as one. Life is still not easy and indecision plays a big part in Willow's life. I felt both myself and the community of Budbury could see what needed to happen. But was Willow willing to let go and allow more people and opportunities into her life? Was her control too strong or will she begin to weaken? I mean this in a good way as I don't thinks he could have kept things going on her own the way she had been up until the point when we meet her.

The residents of Budbury and the friends in the café are all allies and cheerleaders in life and this is demonstrated to perfection in this book. There are lots of life lessons and morals to take from this fantastic story and to say I was completely absorbed in Willow's life would be an understatement. My only regret is that I read this book way too quickly and now I am left bereft at the fact I will have to wait some time to hear more from Willow and co or even someone else. This book was pure class from beginning to end that has left me screaming more, more, more please Debbie Johnson.

All book titles in bold are Amazon UK Affiliate links which will earn me a few pence if anyone clicks through and makes a purchase - any money earned will go towards buying books or gifts for giveaways.

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