I’m still on my chick lit special interest. My spreadsheet has grown, as has my library of “read” books, and wish list of “want to read” books. As mentioned, I have a decisive preference for UK chick lit, which I find particularly interesting because British accents and humor have always been a major deterrent for me. Now I can’t get enough tales of London lasses moving to remote British isles, ladies from Cornwall setting up B&B’s, and romantic tales of single moms heralding from the Irish or Scottish countryside and finding the self-respect and purpose they’ve always wanted. I enjoy the different nuances in English dialects; I used to hate not knowing what they meant, but now I see it as a fun game to guess based on context and then verify via Google. I’ve learned phrases like “oh blimey!” “Don’t be daft!” “We had a nice snog!” and other colloquialisms like “bloody awful,” “bollocks,” “gutted,” and “uni.”
The books have been great distractions after a bad dream, as a way to relax before bed, and as a dangled carrot to enjoy between bouts of hard word when I need a mental rest. I love all of the Jenny Colgan books, particularly the Little Beach Street Bakery series, the Cupcake Cafe series, and Rosie’s Sweetshop of Dreams series (sense a theme here? Speaking of which, I’ve also become obsessed with The Great British Bake Off, which theoretically should be no surprise given my longtime card-carrying member status of the Food Network fan club, but again, it was always off my list because the accents and slang exacerbate my ability to understand verbal language). Jenny Colgan has authored dozens of books and two of my other favorites are The Little Shop of Happy Ever After and The Bookshop on the Corner, both about the transformative power of books to mend broken hearts, ease one’s suffering by transporting him or her to another “world”, and open readers hearts and minds to alternative ways of life—so timely for my current love. I’ve read about 14 of her books and have several more on my wish list that I haven’t managed to get a hold of yet, given their limited availability stateside.
Carole Matthews also authors light-hearted beachy romances. I particularly liked Paper Hearts and Summer Kisses, a story about a single mom of a sickly and sensitive teenage son, who turns her passion into crafting into a company that gives her the freedom to spend time with her son and be creative. I also enjoyed two Christmas reads (think Hallmark Christmas romantic comedies) called Calling Mrs. Christmas and Wrapped Up in You. The Cake Shop in the Garden was also a fun story. Her books are fairly easy to get so I’ll be diving into many more if this special interest persists.
Cathy Bramley has been another of my favorites. She often writes about farms, running inns or cottages, and seeking a simpler life. Ivy Lane, the Plumberry School of Comfort Food, Appleby Farm, and Wickham Hall were quite enjoyable vacations and I got swept along with the characters’ lives and dreams. She has a new release —the Lemon Tree Cafe–that I can’t wait to get my hands on.
Other books in this genre I’ve recently enjoyed are The Little Book Shop of Lonely Hearts and Love and the Little Bookshop of Lonely Hearts, both by Annie Darling and again positioning little bookshops as vehicles to find love and connection in life, and Jenny Hale’s Christmas Wishes and Mistletoe Kisses, a sugary tale of holiday joy, romance, escaping your troubled past, and getting what you’ve always wished for. I didn’t really get into Alexandra Brown’s The Great Christmas Knit-Off, though, besides baking stories and bookshop plotlines, Christmas seems to be another common theme I enjoy. The Christmas Tail was cute and dealt with dogs, which is an easy way to win my vote. That book, along with The Canal Boat Café and The Blue Moon Guest House, was written by Cressida McLaughlin. Despite the food theme (a clear passion of mine) inherent in the Canal Boat Café, I actually preferred the guesthouse story. Many of these books are about inns and B&B’s and I seem to love those too, perhaps sparked by one of my favorite Hallmark movies of all time, All of My Heart.
Ali McNamara, like many of these other fun reads with predictable plots that can therefore be enjoyed mindlessly and calmly, penned The Little Flower Shop by the Sea, where again our heroine inherits a shop and brings it back to life and finds happiness and love along the way while fulfilling her duties. Ah, if only life were so easy as that described in these books: inheriting a plot of land or shop, initially intimidated or sad to give up one’s prior life, but then rising to the occasion and discovering more satisfaction and worth than ever imaginable through the journey! Lucy Diamond’s The Beach Café and Abby Clement’s Vivien’s Heavenly Ice Cream Shop also use the inheritance plot line, but warmed their way easily into my sweet-treat story-loving heart. A slight twist on the same basic plot appears in Breakfast at Darcy’s, where Darcy’s aunt bequeaths to her an uninhabited island off the coast of Ireland that will become Darcy’s only after she fulfills her aunt’s stipulations in the will, which entails living in the island for a year and bringing people with her to form a supportive and self-sustaining community. At first, Darcy doesn’t want to give up her successful London life for the slow, seemingly pointless and annoying ask of her aunt, but ends up falling in love with the life she builds … and the handyman! A cute variation on the same silly, unlikely plot. Still, I can’t emphasize enough how such carefree storylines and predictability (even through the “twists” built in) makes breezing through these books an easy distraction from the pains, problems, and realities of my actual life. I equate it to “guilty pleasures” enjoyed on TV and they aren’t the erotica type romance books with graphically-described sexual encounters. Like Hallmark movies, the final kiss is usually the extent to which they are sexually explicit, or vague implications of sex like that I remember from Bill Cosby’s face on the Cosby Show (now tainted in my mind with accusations against his character). So, I certainly wouldn’t call these books prolific literary gems, but they also aren’t smut.
Since this special interest began about two months ago, I’ve devoured about 50 of these chick-lit books and have at least that many left on my “want to read” list. As with all my obsessions, I never know exactly when it’ll cease to be a driving thirst in day that I can barely quench. Special interests, in my case, don’t really fade away; they start and stop equally at full throttle. I’ll go weeks, months, or years nearly single-mindedly obsessed and focused on the pursuit, every day trying to careen my mind to focus on obligations and other facets of my life (instead of solely diving into the interest that’s been drawing me into it like a powerful vortex) upon waking until bed. Then suddenly, one morning I will wake up and feel as uninterested or almost repelled against it as a similarly-oriented magnet. That’s happened with most, but not all, of my special interests; some seem programmed into my DNA and have stuck with me virtually my whole life. Because this is a rarity rather than the norm, I’ve learned to plan for an abrupt cessation of all interest. I try to limit my financial investment since we don’t have any excess to spend liberally on recreation. It would be a significant issue if I spent much money on any transient interest, let alone funds that are needed for necessities that then sits in the form of unused or stored purchases. Part of the thrill and challenge of my UK chick lit obsession is researching ways to get the books I want for free or at least very low cost. While I don’t think I’ve become a full-blown Anglophile, one thing this current kick has reminded me of is that tastes do change and by keeping an open mind, you can find pleasure in things you never had interest in. How rich and wonderful is the world in which we live? There are so many awesome and unique things to try, learn, and enjoy. Who knows what my next obsession will bring. For now, I have to catch up with a character named Posy and see if she can escape her troubled past and find love in life and joy in her café!