Book Review: Summer at the Comfort Food Cafe by Debbie Johnson

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Title - Summer at the Comfort Food Cafe
Author - Debbie Johnson
Publication Date - April 29th 2016
Publisher - HarperImpulse
Format - Kindle Edition (Provided by publisher)
Pages - 293

The Comfort Food Cafe is perched on a windswept clifftop at what feels like the edge of the world, serving up the most delicious cream teas; beautifully baked breads, and carefully crafted cupcakes. For tourists and locals alike, the ramshackle cafe overlooking the beach is a beacon of laughter, companionship and security - a place like no other; a place that offers friendship as a daily special, and where a hearty welcome is always on the menu.

For widowed mum-of-two Laura Walker, the decision to uproot her teenaged children and make the trek from Manchester to Dorset for the summer isn't one she takes lightly, and it's certainly not winning her any awards from her kids, Nate and Lizzie. Even her own parents think she's gone mad.

But following the death of her beloved husband David two years earlier, Laura knows that it's time to move on. To find a way to live without him, instead of just surviving. To find her new place in the world, and to fill the gap that he's left in all their lives.

Her new job at the cafe, and the hilarious people she meets there, give Laura the chance she needs to make new friends; to learn to be herself again, and - just possibly - to learn to love again as well.

For her, the Comfort Food Cafe doesn't just serve food - it serves a second chance to live her life to the full...

It has been SO LONG since I last dived into a novel by the wonderful Debbie Johnson. In fact, I'm sure the last book I read by this author was Cold Feet at Christmas and that feels like a lifetime ago so, when I spotted Summer at the Comfort Food Cafe available to request, I was unable to help myself, and let's not get started on that gloriously delicious cover! All in all, this was a read I was incredibly excited about and I couldn't wait to tuck in!

Will you think me weak if I confess that Debbie Johnson had me crying into my pillow with just the second chapter of Summer at the Comfort Food Cafe? It's true, I was. We're told in the blurb that Debbie's leading lady Laura Walker is a widowed mum-of-two, and before the wings of this story are able to spread and take flight, the reader is brought up-to-date on all that has happened in Laura Walker's life so far. Or, more specifically, we're told about the death of her husband David, and how it's affected Laura and her children's lives to date. I can't tell you why this affected me so much. I've read about heartbreak and tragedy so many times within books. I'm not much of a crier. It normally takes a great deal of connection between the characters and myself for me to be moved to tears, but Debbie Johnson seemed to reach that part of me without me spending a fair few chapters getting to know her characters, which is incredible really. I was sniffling into my pillow as my partner lay snoring softly beside me. I turned to look at him and wondered what I'd ever do without him. As Laura sifts back through her memories of her time spent with David, her one and only love, I could feel my throat tightening and that stupid lump lodging itself into place. It got to me. Really got to me. Perhaps it was the down-to-earth, real and engaging manner in which Debbie Johnson revealed Laura's story? Whatever it was, it struck a chord with me and I knew I'd want to be Laura's cheerleader throughout the remainder of the book.

Rather than getting straight into it, the opening of Summer at the Comfort Food Cafe begins with an ad from the cafe itself, written by a woman called Cherie Moon.
The ad goes on to list the requirements needed in order to apply for the position. At this point, we don't know anything about the woman behind the ad, but it's intriguing to say the least. Swiftly followed by Laura Walker's letter of reply, she begins to tell Cherie Moon why she's perfect for the job and what's happened in her life to lead up to that moment. I absolutely bloody loved this. It made the cafe seem all the more real, and just that little bit magical. After all, the ad isn't the sort of ad you'd expect to read.
'The successful applicant will be naturally friendly, be able to boil an egg, enjoy a chat and have a well-developed sense of empathy with other human beings. Good sense of humour is absolutely vital.'
At this point, it became clear to me that the Comfort Food Cafe was like no other cafe I'd come across before. I could not wait to see what was in store for Laura Walker, and after her letter of reply comes to an end, Debbie Johnson slips the reader beside Laura and her children in the car, for week one of their new adventure in Dorset.

To say that I loved Debbie's characters in this book would be a massive understatement. There is something addictive about Johnson's style. The flow of her writing is smooth like melted chocolate, and the descriptions sprinkled on top like tiny chunks of honeycomb. It wasn't only the loss of Laura's husband which drew me to her, it was her personality. She was funny, without realising it, and had me giggling away numerous times throughout reading. She loved her children dearly, she loved their dog Jimbo dearly, and she was ready, although a little shaky, to try her hand at something new, and perhaps work her way towards a new beginning. There was no doubt about it that she missed David. When she spoke about him I was practically in love with the man myself. They'd been together pretty much forever, and the emptiness she felt from his absence had me sniffling all over again, because Debbie just described it so perfectly. I wanted, more than anything, for Laura's life to get better. For her to learn to laugh, love and smile again. Her children, Nate and Lizzie, added a whole new dimension to this story, and I loved how the author explored the relationships between each of them. There were moments of hysterical laughter on my part, because the story just felt so damn real and down to earth.

During Laura's time in Dorset, she encounters a number of people who, in turn, bring something new to her life, whether that be a lesson to be learnt or just a much-needed friend. Taking up her position in the cafe opens up a brand new world to Laura in which she's expected to provide comfort and a listening ear, alongside serving bacon butties and scrummy milkshakes. There's also an incredibly dishy man who goes by the name of Matt, and I was excited to see what role he would end up playing in Laura's life. With the cafe and her new friends revealing their stories to her, Laura's own problems gradually begin to lose their precedence in her mind and it was a wonderfully uplifting thing to witness as the reader.

All in all, Summer at the Comfort Food Cafe was an exceptionally beautiful story, full of warmth, hope and learning to live again. It had moments of heartache, of love and longing, but also of happiness and laughter. It spoke straight to my heart and when I finished this book, I felt like I was saying goodbye to some truly wonderful friends. Debbie Johnson told this tale in the most tender of ways but still managed to make me smile and snort and laugh out loud. Laura's story captured all of those things we should treasure in our own lives and urges us to hold onto them even tighter than before. Life can change in the blink of an eye, but that doesn't mean we can't go on. With the help of our loved ones, friends, and even complete strangers, it is possible to carry on, and be happy.

Becca's Books is awarding Summer at the Comfort Food Cafe by Debbie Johnson with five of my bookish stars. This book was everything that I'd hoped it would be and more. The perfect book to lose yourself in while the hours slip by unnoticed. I cannot wait to read more from Debbie Johnson.


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