Carole serves up a slice of life with her new paperback The Cake Shop in the Garden
Bestselling author Carole Matthews lives life to the full and seems to find inspiration for her riveting romantic fiction novels everywhere. She has lived in Milton Keynes with her other half, Lovely Kev, for fifteen years and many of her entertaining books are set in the new city.
Carole’s most recent yarn, The Cake Shop In The Garden, features the area of Milton Keynes (or “the Costa del Keynes” as she affectionately calls it when chatting on social media) near the Grand Union Canal. The sights, sounds and domestic situations within a sprawling house in the pretty (and fictitious) village of Whittan spring off the page as soon as chapter one begins.
Fay Merryweather runs a popular cake shop from her beautiful garden. She whips up delicious treats, ensures her customers feel completely at home and tends to the grounds — all while also looking after her belligerent, bed-bound, mother. It quickly becomes obvious that this protagonist could take a leaf out of our Carole’s book when it comes to seizing new opportunities and taking responsibility for her own happiness.
At forty-one years young, Fay is rapidly finding herself sliding into middle age. She is forever pulling on a comfy old cardigan; getting all dolled up is a distant pipe dream. She spends her days rushing around caring for everyone but herself. She is limping along in a barely lukewarm relationship with staid, forty-five-year-old local council planning officer Anthony Bullmore.
Fay derives as much satisfaction as she can from the cake shop. Fay’s Cakes evolved after she began selling baked goodies from her late father’s dilapidated narrowboat, the Maid of Merryweather, which is moored at the bottom of the garden. Ideally, she would prefer to see her devoted dad’s pride and joy back on the water properly in all its former glory. In fact, she would love nothing more than to take to the helm herself and sail away from all her responsibilities. Unfortunately, for reliable, risk-averse Fay, such notions are little more than pure fantasy!
However, when handsome Danny Wilde cruises into her life, Fay soon finds herself questioning every decision she has ever made. A full decade younger than Fay, Danny sets Fay’s heart all of a flutter and the feeling seems to be mutual. As deeply-buried Merryweather family secrets are uncovered, Fay does not know which way to turn. Will she finally find the strength to put her own hopes, dreams and desires first?
This book was perhaps not quite as uplifting as I initially imagined it would be. Fay is a slightly frustrating personality and the tale is more of a meander through one woman’s decision-making process than an action-packed narrative. Nonetheless, it proves impossible not to warm to Fay as Carole’s descriptive first person prose deftly conveys the thoughts and emotions experienced when responsibilities weigh people down to the extent that their life is no longer their own.
As disheartening as Fay’s story becomes at times, the diverse cast of characters that Carole has created to surround her add plenty of vibrancy and amusement. Sassy young Lija is outspoken and stomps about in a somewhat intimidating manner, clothed head to toe in black. However, to balance her sharp tongue she possesses a heart of gold. That and her gift for baking ensure that Lija is a loyal worker and friend to Fay. Her presence also adds some much needed fizz to compensate for Fay’s more lacklustre moments.
Fay’s mother is cantankerous and hard work. Her golden girl is Fay’s younger sister Edie. In Mrs Merryweather’s eyes, Edie is the shining star of the family. The bed-bound matriarch is totally unaware that Edie is self-centred, unemployed, kept by a married man and fond of drinking heavily and indulging in recreational drug use. Of course, Fay ensures that their mother’s impression of Edie remains untarnished.
In stark contrast to Fay’s mother is cake shop customer Stan. This ninety-three-year-old war veteran is a true gentleman who never grumbles. He is appreciative of Fay’s culinary kindness (making sure he gets a wholesome lunch everyday) and quietly offers her his support all the way through the book.
Fay welcomes plenty of eccentric canal people from the boating community for a cup of tea and a slice of cake in her pretty dining room or in the gorgeous garden. These characters are all depicted with Carole’s usual detail and wit.
Obviously, we must not forget Danny Wilde himself. Carole’s latest leading man is sure to make you swoon, ladies!
Significantly, Carole Matthews is never afraid to tackle proper issues. Although known for her light, romance-driven approach, her stories do feature some serious topics. In The Cake Shop In The Garden the themes of ageing, loneliness and the relationship age gap feature.
I did find that of all of Carole’s books to date this one felt like it was pitched to an older audience. As a twenty-something-year-old I could only relate to some elements of the story but I still enjoyed the narrative. Presumably, someone of more advanced years ought to find even more to connect with!
Ultimately, The Cake Shop In The Garden is a well-written tale of romance, friendship and family. It reminds readers that life is for living and we must navigate our journey so that we sail in the direction we choose, rather than letting ourselves aimlessly drift.
To buy The Cake Shop In The Garden, or to find out more about it, visit Carole’s website.
This review is also featured on Total MK.
Georgina Butler is a journalist, a dance writer and a dance teacher who specialises in teaching classical ballet. She previews and reviews productions, writes features and interviews people from the world of dance.