A Kate Hewitt romance is a welcome thing. Hewitt writes her characters with insightful psychology. Their dilemmas are believable and well-developped. She writes with a light touch, making the reader chuckle with affection even as she sheds a tear or two. Her latest Willoughby Close, Christmas-romance incarnation is Cupcakes For Christmas, a trite title for a romance that tackles some difficult issues.
Olivia James, at near-40, is a spinster, having never committed herself to husband or family, even though she lived in London and dated for years before returning to Wychwood-on-Lea to run her now-retired mother’s bake-shop, Tea On the Lea. Hero Simon Blacklock is newly arrived in Wychwood, living with his sister, teaching music part-time at the local elementary school and playing his cello at church concerts. Simon walks into Olivia’s shop to buy a cupcake, answering the call of Olivia’s Christmas bakes promotion, “The Twelve Days of Christmas”. Olivia has been working hard to raise the shop’s profile and drum up business. The cupcake promotion is one of several events that run throughout the novel with a scrumptious Christmas-baked-goods theme.
Simon, of course, is less interested in the cupcakes than Olivia. He returns to the shop time and again and he and Olivia strike up conversations and make tentative steps towards a date. Simon and Olivia are quiet, careful characters: no lightning bolts of visceral lust strike them. Instead, Hewitt offers two lonely-used-to-being-alone people making hesitant steps towards connection and commitment. Nevertheless, their burgeoning relationship has some lovely romantic scenes: a drink and wings at the pub, a droll skating date, and a Christmas-tree chopping and decorating scene.
Sadly, while I loved Simon and Olivia together, they don’t spend that much time ensemble. Simon tends to “disappear” for days, leaving the confidence-light Olivia to wonder if he really is interested. In the meanwhile, Olivia also struggles with the new-found realization that her mother, Tina, is exhibiting strange, disturbing lapses of memory. Tina lives in a retirement home nearby and Olivia and she are close. They share that special, tight bond only a single mother and only child do. Tina’s road to dementia is a difficult one to navigate for them. Hewitt does a wonderful, heart-wrenching job of portraying the fear and loss experienced by Olivia and Tina: Olivia’s struggle with her mother no longer being the one who takes care of things, and Tina, with her confusion and, in her lucid moments, mourning her loss of self. But Hewitt also offers, maybe not hope, but equanimity, her narrative impetus always moving towards taking things one day at a time and finding joy in the good moments.
Simon and Olivia’s relationship progresses in fits and starts: lovely and affectionate when they’re together. Simon is beautifully supportive and understanding about Tina and makes sure he and Tina strike a friendship. But his mysterious disappearances are a strain. Hewitt again does not disappoint: the reasons behind them are very human and vulnerable, nothing alpha-chest thumping at all. By the end of the romance, Hewitt gives us a family: with difficult circumstances to steer, but with the strength of being together and living well for the joyful times, while pulling together for the bad. It’s a humble little romance novel, with delightful Christmas touches, and written in the true spirit of the season: to delight in each other, love each other, and look towards the dark together. Miss Austen and I thought it wonderful, indicative of “a mind lively and at ease,” Emma.
Kate Hewitt’s Cupcakes For Christmas is published by Tule Publishing. It was released on October 25th and may be found at your preferred vendor. I received an e-galley from Tule Publishing, via Netgalley.