Monday, March 30, 2015

Book Review: The Traveling Tea Shop

By Becky Gulc

Belinda Jones is one of those authors I enjoy following on social media, particularly the adventures of her dog, ‘Bodie on the Road’ on Facebook. I loved Belinda’s novel, Winter Wonderland (reviewed here), so I was very happy to review to her latest novel, The Traveling Tea Shop. This was released in the US earlier this month and is Belinda’s 13th book, most of which have been labeled as offering the reader a "vacation-for-the-price-of-a-paperback."

Here is the synopsis:

‘A delectable tale of love, friendship and cake...

Laurie loves a challenge. Especially if it involves tea-time and travel. So when British baking treasure Pamela Lambert-Leigh needs a guide on a research trip for her new cookbook, she jumps at the chance.

The brief:
Laurie and Pamela - along with Pamela's sassy mother and stroppy daughter - will board a vintage London bus for a deliciously unusual tour of the USA's East Coast, cruising from New York to Vermont.

Their mission:
To trade recipes for home-grown classics like Victoria Sponge and Battenburg for American favourites like Red Velvet Cake and Whoopie Pie.

All the women have their secrets and heartaches to heal. As well cupcakes galore, there's also the chance for romance...

But will making Whoopie lead to love?’ (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon UK.)

A mixture of cake and travel, well it sounded like a combination I would truly enjoy, even if I was on a diet when reading this. I was frustratingly salivating throughout, so the baking descriptions clearly worked for me!

I was so pleased that this book’s lead character (Laurie) is someone I had met and liked during Winter Wonderland; even Krista the lead character from that novel features in this one. I like it when books cross over like this. Laurie is an ambitious, down-to-earth and very likable character, she’ll give as much as gets in any given situation and we see that particularly with her relationship with the ‘stroppy daughter’ in this novel, Ravenna. This is actually my favourite relationship in the book.

I enjoyed finding out more about Laurie’s back story and perhaps even wished this was brought into the present a little more than it was, I suppose I felt a difficult family situation for Laurie was discussed in the novel but then quickly addressed in the epilogue. As our main character, it was Laurie I was most interested in so I was keen to learn if and how the situation would resolve itself in more detail, however I understand it would have maybe got in the way of this fabulous trip round the East Coast.

In this kind of novel it’s important to get a good sense of place and Belinda yet again delivers on this. She uses real rather than fictional locations and venues throughout, which I personally enjoy about Belinda’s writing. As the characters are on a tour, factual information is, of course, going to be presented. Laurie is their tour guide, and Belinda herself is a former travel editor and this shone through. I did enjoy much of the information, particularly in terms of film history and the history of some classic recipes, as I enjoy baking myself. However, there was perhaps a little too much factual information at times, sometimes it didn’t feel like it sat naturally, particularly in dialogue, and I’ve gone over this in mind as to why because I knew I was going to be joining the ‘tour’ so to speak. I guess there were just a lot of places covered and several characters were delivering the information at times, it just felt a little forced on occasion, but as I say, overall I enjoyed the factual side of things.

One of my favourite characters in this novel was Gracie, the grandmother. She’s also a no-nonsense kind of woman who has a huge heart and I was sad when events led to her leaving the tour early, as the early chapters of the novel with her in were amongst my favourites. Thankfully Gracie still features in the remainder of the novel and has a little romance of her own.

If you love finding out about new places and have a sweet tooth I think you will particularly enjoy this novel. Belinda Jones is definitely an author I would recommend for taking you on a trip without even leaving home.

Thanks to Penguin Random House for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Belinda Jones: