Sugar and spice.
Age: Young Adult
First Published: 1st December 2016
Date Reviewed: 8th December 2016
Having finished his A Levels, Simon was all ready to join his friends on their trip around Europe but when his mother has an accident he decides to stay home and continue working at the family’s tearoom. Lily has decided to spend the summer watching television shows and just enjoying herself but when she dives into the tearoom to escape an ex who won’t let go she and Simon get talking and soon she’s accepted a few shifts serving tea and cakes. When a new tearoom opens down the road the pair come up with a plan to promote their own, meaning they’ll be spending even more time together. It’s their last summer before university and Lily in particular wants to make it count.
Gingerbread & Cupcake is a contemporary young adult novel set over one summer that uses two first-person narratives to tell its story.
Watts’ distinctive writing style is here. Like her previous, How Do You Say Gooseberry In French?, she uses a winsome style, literary, accessible. This time, however, the change in characters means that it’s a rather different kettle of fish.
And not bad. Watts’ portrayal of contemporary British teens is very good and evidently time was spent getting it right. ‘Goes’ instead of ‘says’ (it could be argued it’s used too much but it does fit – it’s more a case of the usage being very noticeable because writers don’t often opt to do so) combined with a variety of types of phrasing means there’s a lot of diversity to the language. It feels real. This said, the characters are hard to define. Personality is mostly okay but there are times when it’s difficult to work out motives and there are occasions when cultural references don’t seem to match up so well with everything else. Character development is understandably contained to a couple of months; this book takes place during the summer and the ending is very open-ended. It’s more about progression than change, preparing mentally for that next stage of life, making decisions. As to the first-person narratives, Watts has her characters addressing the reader, as though they are reporting what went on. This falls fully in line with the dialogue and the chapters dart back and forth between them, moving seamlessly between Simon and Lily.
The book doesn’t have one main plot; it’s concentrated on characters. The setting means that it’s mostly day to day happenings which is fine although there are a few times when devices are used, such as when the shop suffers from a negative review when a journalist visits whilst the baker is away and few menu items are available – no one explains to the customers why they’re low of items.
It’s hard to say whether the relationship between Simon and Lily is successful or not. There is a limit to it set by the narrative, though things do seem at times to move too fast. It is a fair part of the book, however – again, Watts’ has put a lot of thought into it and it shows. Indeed there is a lot of showing in this book – if there is any telling it’s well hidden, so to speak. Dialogue rules here to great effect.
What works best in this book is the excellent portrayal of teens that people of any age will be able to relate to on some level. This is part of the reason the variety in the personalities works; Watts has looked at a small group of teenagers but she’s looked at them multiple times, from multiple points of view so that they appeal to as many people as possible. The writing is good to read; it’s the sort of text you can sit back and enjoy… though you might want to wait until lunch if you’re peckish. The devices and lack of a solid plot line weaken the book but the rest holds it together.
Gingerbread & Cupcake won’t appeal to everyone but to those it does it’s likely to be a welcome escape, a few literary surprises folded in. And if you do find yourself wanting something sweet as a result of reading it, the recipes for the cakes mentioned are included at the back.
I received this book for review from the author.
December 9, 2016, 5:19 pm
As long as they’re well-developed, I normally enjoy character-driven novels.
I read four different series (two by the same author) that always include recipes mentioned in the book. A fun addition and some of those I’ve tried have been quite good.
December 20, 2016, 11:44 am
Yes, some of the best books out there have little plot! That’s good to hear about recipes – I’ve read a couple of books with them included but not yet tried any. I suppose in many ways it’s a big part of the book.