"Sheer indulgence from start to finish."—Sophie Kinsella, #1 New York Times bestselling author
A delicious rom-com about finding yourself and breaking out of routines, The Sweetshop of Dreams is full of tempting desserts, family secrets, and second chances.
Rosie Hopkins has gotten used to busy London life. It's...comfortable. And though she might like a more rewarding career, and her boyfriend's not exactly the king of romance, Rosie's not complaining. And when she visits her Aunt Lilian's small country village to help sort out her sweetshop, she expects it to be dull at best.
Lilian Hopkins has spent her life running Lipton's sweetshop, through wartime and family feuds. When her great-niece Rosie arrives to help her with the shop, the last thing Lillian wants to slow down and wrestle with the secret history hidden behind the jars of beautifully colored sweets.
But as Rosie gets Lilian back on her feet, breathes a new life into the candy shop, and gets to know the mysterious and solitary Stephen—whose family seems to own the entire town—she starts to think that settling for what's comfortable might not be so great after all.
Fans of British chick-lit authors Sophie Kinsella, Jennifer Weiner and Jill Mansell will find the nostalgic sweets and light-hearted romance in this book more than satisfying.
Also by Jenny Colgan:
Meet Me At The Cupcake Café
The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris
Praise for Sweetshop of Dreams:
"...delightful confection of a book"—Booklist
"Colgan's sweet tale is filled with humor, family, friendship and love...a fun, heartwarming book."—RT Book Reviews
"...a charming little tale of love and family."—Shelf Awareness for Readers
"...full of charm"—A Bookish Affair
"...a wonderful treat"—Charming Chelsey's
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About the Author
A former columnist for The Guardian, Jenny Colgan contributes regularly to national BBC radio and is the author of more than eleven bestselling novels, including her recent international bestsellers The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris published in 2014 and Welcome To Rosie Hopkins' Sweetshop of Dreams, which won the 2013 Romantic Novel of the Year award from the Romantic Novelists Association. She is married with three children and lives in London and France.
Read an Excerpt
This is a Scots term that translates as sour plums but in its original language imitates exactly the contortions of your mouth as soon as you pop one in.
More of an endurance exercise than a treat, this is a hard candy of exquisite, roof-of-the-mouth-stripping, bitter intensity; the occasional rush of sweetness comes as a blessed relief. Near-impossible to bite and still maintain an entire set of teeth, they are therefore the ideal purchase for the pocket-money-strapped child as, number one, they last forever, and number two, they are something of a rarefied taste and therefore require less sharing than other sweets.
Downsides include being a choking hazard, their bright green color, which renders them very visible to teachers, and their density-a correctly trajectoried soor ploom can knock out a dog from forty feet.
Rosie put the very peculiar book down. She was in any case sitting near the front of the bus, hopping up every now and again anxiously, trying to peer through the grimy windows. Why was the countryside so dark? Every time they left a tiny village with a few streetlights in the little, single-decker, green-painted bus with ripped, ancient leather seats-it looked like it should have been retired years ago-it felt like they hit a great sea of blackness, a vast wall of nothingness looming out of a few scattered remnants of civilization.
Rosie, a city girl born and bred, wasn't used to it at all. It was sinister up there. How could people live amid so much dark? She pictured the bus, the only point of light for miles around, trundling up and down hills, the only mark of civilization before what seemed to be a great, endless night. The few people who had joined the bus in Derby-old ladies, mostly, and a couple of foreign-speaking young men whom Rosie took to be farm workers-had all gotten off ages ago. She'd asked the bus driver, who had an enormous beard, to tell her when they got to Lipton, but he'd grunted at her in a noncommittal way, which meant that now she was hopping up and down nervously every time they entered a village, trying to figure out from his head movements whether it was this one or not.
Rosie stared at her reflection in the dark window of the bus. Her dark curly bob was held back with hair clips above a button nose full of freckles. Her large, soft gray eyes were probably her best feature, but now they looked worried, lost, and anxious. A large suitcase sat above her in the ancient luggage rack, feeling irrevocably heavy, reminding her that there was no easy route back. Other people's lives, she thought to herself, were meant to be full of excitement, of a feeling of lightness and freedom. Hers was just baggage. She checked her phone to ring Gerard, but there was no signal.
The bus chuffed and coughed up another endless hill into nothingness. Rosie had thought England was a small country, but she had never felt so far away from everything she had ever known. She glanced anxiously at the bus driver, hoping he remembered she was still there.
- - -
That last day at work, though. Really, when you thought about it, her mother couldn't have chosen to ring at a better time.
"Where the HELL is that sodding bedpan? What the HELL is going on here? What do you think you're doing?"
The young doctor didn't look more than about twenty years old, and absolutely terrified to boot. He was covering his terror by being aggressive; Rosie had seen it a million times before. She rushed to his side-every other nurse had disappeared from view-and he was trying to help an old lady who appeared to be reacting to the lancing of a particularly unpleasant boil by peeing the bed at the same time. Which would have been fine, but Rosie had only been on the ward ten minutes, and no one had bothered to give the agency auxiliary even the most cursory show-around. She didn't blame the staff nurses-they were up to their eyeballs-and there were different agency nurses in every day.
So she had tried to unobtrusively change sheets, bring water to those who needed it, take lunch orders, do the tea round, empty the bedpans and sharps boxes, and generally help as much as she could without getting in anyone's way, even though she'd worked a twelve-hour day in a different hospital across town the day before and was still absolutely exhausted. She was always too terrified that the agency would take her off their roster that she never turned any job down.
Meanwhile, the very young, rather posh-looking doc was getting positively hosed with pee and pus, which might, Rosie tried not to think, have been funny under different circumstances, but as it was, she managed to dart to another elderly patient and grab a large cardboard bedpan just in time, knocking it in front of the doc to catch the remainder like a doubles tennis player.
"God," said the doctor rudely. The old woman, in pain and upset, started to cry. Rosie knew the young doctor's type. Straight out of medical school, he had barely met a real patient before. He had spent years in nice lecture halls, being treated like the crème de la crème by friends and family for being a student doctor, and he was now getting his first unpleasant wake-up call in the real world-that most medicine was looking after the old and the poor, and very, very little was performing dramatic lifesaving operations on fashion models.
"There, there," said Rosie, sitting on the bed and comforting the old lady, who was a shapeless bulk beneath her humiliatingly open hospital robe. It was a mixed ward, and the young doc hadn't even pulled the curtains properly. Rosie did so now. As she did, she heard the shrill tones of someone who she could identify even at this distance as the head nurse.
"Where's that bloody agency nurse? They turn up, hide out drinking coffee all day, and make twice the wage of everyone else."
"I'm here," said Rosie, poking her head out. "I'll be right with you."
"Now, please," said the head nurse. "There's a mess in the men's loos you'll need to sort out. I'd put on some gloves, if I were you."
It had been a long, long, long day, not helped by getting home three hours after Gerard to find that, nonetheless, the breakfast dishes were still on the table, next to the huge pile of mail, and he barely turned around from grunting with a mouthful of pepperoni pizza and Grand Theft Auto. Their little flat needed a window opened. And, Rosie thought with a sigh, probably the sheets changed.
Frankly, the chances of her changing another pair of sheets today were very, very small.
- - -
So dark, Rosie thought, trying to make out shapes behind the streaky glass of the bus window. It never really got that dark in East London where she'd grown up. The streetlights and the cars and the hum of the noise of the traffic and the people and the police helicopter...then when Mum had left for Australia, she'd moved to St. Mary's, the hospital in Paddington, where you were never far away from sirens and people shouting and thronged streets. She thrived on living in the city, had always adored London, its shiny side and the dark side she stitched up on a regular basis coming in through emergency or postsurgery. She'd even liked the shabby nurse's lodgings she'd lived in, although buying her own place with Gerard had been...
Well, it was grown-up, she supposed. It wasn't quite what she'd expected-she hadn't remembered the meeting where she'd volunteered to do all the housework, but he did earn more money. And the fact that it was so tiny, with no prospect of a move on the horizon.
Still, that was adult life, wasn't it? And she and Gerard were settled now. A bit too settled. But settled. She could, it was true, do without all her girlfriends eyeing her deliberately when that Beyoncé song played. They'd been telling her for ages that if he didn't put a ring on her finger by their second anniversary, he wasn't serious and in it for the long term, and she had closed her ears and chosen not to believe them-Gerard was cautious and safe and didn't make big decisions lightly, and that was one of the reasons why she liked him.
But still, at the end of that long, long day, when her mother had called, she couldn't lie to herself that she was annoyed, cross, and feeling cheated, backed into a corner, and emotionally blackmailed-and a teeny-tiny part curious.
- - -
Their last night had been sweet and sad all at once. "It's only six weeks or so," she'd reminded Gerard.
"Yes, so YOU say," he said. "You'll be round-the-clock caring from now till the end of time. And I shall stay in London and waste away."
Gerard rarely looked like he was going to waste away. Round of head and tummy, he had a cheery countenance, like he was always on the verge of a laugh or a joke. Or a sulk, but only Rosie got to see those.
Rosie sighed. "I wish you'd come. Just for a bit. A long weekend?"
"We'll see, we'll see," said Gerard. He hated any change to his routine.
Rosie looked at him. They'd been together so long now she could barely remember when they first got together. He'd been at her very first hospital; she was just out of a nearly all-female nursing college and dizzy with excitement at the thrill of having a little money and a job. She'd hardly noticed the little jolly pharmacist, who turned up occasionally when drugs were late or rare or urgent and always had a quip, although she'd noticed he was kind to the patients. He'd made silly remarks to her, and she'd dismissed them as standard banter, until one night he'd joined them on a work night out and made it clear that he was actually a bit more serious than that.
The other, more experienced nurses had giggled and nudged each other, but Rosie hadn't minded about that. She was young, she'd had some pink wine, and she was open to new experiences. At the end of the night, when he offered to walk her to her Tube stop then tentatively took her hand, she suddenly felt alive with possibility, excited that someone could be so clear about how much he fancied her. She'd often found that kind of thing confusing before, crushing helplessly on men she didn't have half a chance with, ignoring chaps she later realized she might have had potential with.
Rosie often felt that she'd missed a meeting every other girl in the world had had when they were about fourteen about how boyfriends and girlfriends actually worked. Maybe the PE teacher had taken everyone aside, like she did with the period-and-BO talk, and briefed them thoroughly. This is how to tell who fancies you. This is how to talk to a guy you like without making a complete idiot of yourself. This is how to politely leave a one-night stand and find your way home. It was all a bit of a mystery to Rosie, and everyone else seemed to find it so easy.
Meeting Gerard at twenty-three seemed like the answer to her prayers-a real, proper boyfriend with a good job. At least it would get her mum off her back for once. And right from the start, he'd been keen. She was a bit taken aback to learn he was twenty-eight and still lived with his mother, but hey, everyone knew how expensive London was. And she enjoyed, at least to begin with, having someone to look after; it made her feel grown-up to buy him shirts and to cook. When, after two years, he suggested they get a place together, she'd been absolutely delighted.
That had been six years ago. They'd bought a tiny flat that they both felt too tired to do up. And since then, nothing. They were, if she was totally honest, in something of a rut, and perhaps a little separation might just...she felt disloyal for even thinking it. Even if her best friend Mike was always rolling his eyes. But still. It might just shake them up a little bit.
- - -
The bus driver grunted. Rosie jumped up, reaching for her bag, and followed his beard, which he'd nodded in the direction of a tiny pinpoint of light, far away. Rosie realized this must be the village and that they must be at the top of a big hill. Cripes, where were they, the Alps?
- - -
That day at work, Rosie had been wondering over the pepperoni pizza box for the thousandth time how she could expand Gerard's diet-she liked to cook, but he complained that she didn't make anything just like his mum did, so they ate a lot of takeout and frozen dinners-and thinking about her job.
She had absolutely loved working in the emergency room as an auxiliary nurse. It was busy and exhausting and sometimes emotional, but she was never bored and always challenged, occasionally ground down by the challenges of working at the sharp end of the National Health Service, but often inspired. She loved her job. So of course, they closed the unit. Only temporarily, then they were going to reopen it as something called a Minor Injuries Unit, and she was offered the chance to stay on for that-which didn't sound very exciting-or relocate, which would mean a longer commute. She'd suggested moving to Gerard, but he wanted to be close to his own hospital, which was fair enough. Even though an extra bedroom, maybe a little bit of outdoor space might be...Gerard didn't like change though. She knew that about him.
So, in the meantime, she was doing agency work, filling in for sick or absent auxiliaries wherever she was required, often at only minutes' notice. It had a reputation of being easy money, but Rosie knew now that it was the opposite of that. It was a grind-everyone used the agency staff to do all the absolutely worst, crappiest jobs that they might ordinarily have done themselves. The traveling was murder, she often worked double shifts with no days off in between, and every day was like the first day at school, when everyone else knew where things were and how everything worked and you were left scrabbling behind in the wake, desperately trying to catch up.
Then, that day, the phone rang. "DARLING!!!"
Rosie's mother, Angie, still, after two years, found it difficult sometimes coordinating telephone calls from Australia (there were only twenty-two years between them, so sometimes she was Mum and sometimes she was Angie, depending on whether Rosie felt like the younger or older person in the conversation). Early in the morning was usually best, but sometimes Rosie caught her mum and her younger brother Pip at the thin end of a long afternoon's barbecuing and beer-drinking in the sunshine, and with the children yelling down the phone too. Rosie felt sorry for them-she'd only seen Shane, Kelly, and Meridian once, and they were constantly forced to make conversation with their Auntie Rosie, who as far as they knew or cared had a huge wart and gray hair. It was tricky to chat. But now-Gerard was having his dessert, a large bowl of Frosted Flakes-wasn't a bad time at all. She picked up the phone.
Four, Rosie had found herself recently thinking darkly to herself. Four. That's how many of her friends had met someone and gotten married during the period she and Gerard had been dating, before they'd even moved in. And she'd ignored every single alarm bell. She'd been twenty-three when they'd met; young and carefree, it seemed now (though at the time, she'd been desperate to meet someone). Looking at it now, from the wrong side of thirty, the idea that all that time and all that love might not be leading anywhere sometimes gave her vertigo.
Rosie had heard them all talk about the good life down in Oz, the swimming pools in the back gardens and the lovely weather and the fresh fish. Her mother, whose patience was constantly stretched by Pip's three children and whose unflattering opinions on Gerard (not Gerard himself-he was perfectly pleasant-but his seeming unwillingness to marry, provide for, and impregnate her only daughter, preferably all by last Thursday) she rarely hesitated to share, was always trying to persuade her down under for a year or so, but Rosie loved London. Always had.
She loved its bustling sense of being in the middle of things; its people, all nationalities, jumbled together on the crowded streets; exhibitions and theater openings (although she never went to any); great historic monuments (although she never visited them). She just had absolutely no desire to give up her life and move halfway around the world where, she was sure, cleaning old people's bums was much the same and cleaning her nieces' bums for free would just be thrown in.
"Darling, I have a proposition for you."
Angie sounded excited. Rosie groaned mentally.
"I can't work down under, remember? I don't have the qualifications or the points or whatever it is," she'd said.
"Ha, oh well, who cares about that," said her mother, as usual as if there were no connection between her dad leaving and her failing half her exams that year. "Anyway, it's something else."
"And I don't want to...nanny."
According to comprehensive emails from her mum, Shane was a thug, Kelly was a princess, and Meridian was developing an eating disorder at the age of four. And since she'd moved in with Gerard and they'd gotten a mortgage, Rosie hadn't been able to save even the tiniest bit of her salary. She couldn't afford the ticket in a million years.
"I don't think so. Mum, I'm thirty-one! I think it's time I stood on my own two feet, don't you?"
"Well, it's not that," Angie said. "This is something else. Something quite different. It's not us, darling. It's Lilian."