Book Review: Afternoon Tea at the Sunflower Cafe by Milly Johnson
Chick lit. There’s a million books out there claiming to fall under that genre. There’re a million literary snobs out there that claim it’s an easy genre to write. But, the truth is, for every ten chick lit books you could pick up to read, only one of them will be high quality. This is one of the one.
Afternoon Tea at the Sunflower Cafe has the classic click lit plot. Middle aged frumpy wife, Connie, finds out her marriage is a sham. Her hubby, Jimmy, is unfaithful, and has been for quite a while, and is about to leave her for his young mistress. As usual, frumpy wife blossoms when she hatches a plan to not only leave her husband, but also to start up a rival business that will destroy his career just as he has destroyed her marriage.
Yes, all sounds familiar, but somehow Johnson makes it all fun and fresh, as well as compelling.
Surprisingly, the family business in this case is cleaning. This seemingly mundane and boring choice of work place by Johnston actually brings lots of opportunities to introduce a range of supporting characters, given that there is a team of cleaners working for Jimmy and Connie’s respective businesses, as well as their many clients.
All the characters are well written and fleshed out nicely. Some make you cringe, some make you cry, some make you laugh, and some are downright scary.
Along with Connie, we follow two other female characters closely. Della, Jimmy’s company’s office manager, who has wasted several years by also being in love with Jimmy. Like Connie, Della has her own awakening to his personality and the reality of her unrequited love. And one of his cleaners, Cheryl. Unlike Della and Connie, Cheryl has no emotional attachment to Jimmy, but she has enough of her own man troubles to keep us engrossed. All three women are appealing, and I never once wanted to skip over a particular story line to reach one of the others.
I also enjoyed all this book’s potential beaus. I won’t say too much about them (spoilers!) but they all worked for me. Even Jimmy himself has potential. He’s not your cardboard cutout villain, and I appreciated that greatly.
I enjoyed the northern English setting. Johnson doesn’t give us endless descriptive passages, but we still get a nice feel of the place via the characters’ accents and slang.
If the cleaning business idea is putting you off, I must add that there is some food porn. Gorgeous descriptions of chocolate. Enough to make your mouth water and blow your diet just reading them.
If I had to nitpick on one thing, I would say it’s the title. It’s quite deceiving. It conjures the coffee shop setting, but apart from two or three gatherings at the Sunflower Cafe, which are basically trade union meetings for the cleaners, the cafe is not an important part of the novel. The sunflower theme is present throughout the book, however, and I can see why that word is present in the title, but the cafe idea, not so much.
I would still highly recommend this to those who enjoy the genre, and would definitely try another one of Johnson’s books. 4 ½ out of 5.