A few months ago, HarperCollins started a campaign asking #WhoIsLilly. Lilly Bartlett was a debut author but she was the pseudonym for another, more established author. I took part in the campaign, tweeting out clues over the course of week or so, until the big reveal was made. Lilly Bartlett, author of the new book, The Big Little Wedding in Carlton Square, is actually Michele Gorman! I've been reading Gorman's books on and off throughout the years so it was so much fun to take part in the campaign. I never did manage to read the first Lilly book but did dive into The Second Chance Cafe in Carlton Square.
Here's the synopsis via Goodreads:
One chance isn't always EnoughWhile you don't necessarily have to read the first book about Emma, I would suggest it. I wasn't really confused about her life or anything like that but I wish I had been able to read how she and her now-husband Daniel, met and got married. I also suspect that would have given me even more insight into Emma's character instead of meeting her as she was a mother and trying to fit in opening a business around raising twins.
Everyone expects great things from Emma Billings, but when her future gets derailed by an unexpected turn of events, she realizes that getting back on track means traveling in a different direction.
She finds it in the closed-down pub on Carlton Square. Summoning every ounce of ingenuity, and with the help of her friends and family, she opens the Second Chance Café. The charity training business is meant to keep vulnerable kids off the streets and (hopefully) away from the Metropolitan Police, and her new employees are full of ideas, enthusiasm ... and trouble. They'll need as much TLC as the customers they’re serving.
This ragtag group of chancers have to make a go of a business they know nothing about, and they do get some expert help from an Italian who's in love with the espresso machine and a professional sandwich whisperer who reads auras, but not everyone is happy to see the café open. Their milk keeps disappearing and someone is canceling the cake orders, but it's when someone commits bloomicide on all their window boxes that Emma realizes things are serious. Can the café survive when NIMBY neighbors and the rival café owner join forces to close them down? Or will Emma’s dreams fall as flat as the cakes they’re serving?
This novel is definitely a rom-com with more lighthearted laughs and silly scenarios than actual depth, but there is so much heart in this book that the seemingly superficial nature of the story doesn't really matter.
I'm not totally sure why Bartlett chose to start the story in the present, go back in the past, and then work her way forwards to explain the story. It worked just fine but I don't know if I necessarily needed to know (other than from the synopsis) that someone was sabotaging her business before I learned how and why she was opening the cafe.
I did love that Emma was so committed to her trainees. She had two - one teenage boy and one teenage girl. They had had a rough upbringing and at least the girl, Lou, has a record (she'd been caught stealing). Emma's a bit hesitant about the teens but her heart is so big that she really wants to help them succeed. It's equal parts sweet, funny, and frustrating to watch as she trains these kids and tries to give them the tools they'll need to succeed in their future.
The Second Chance Cafe in Carlton Square is a quick and sweet read that's for anyone looking for a fun and lovely story. It'll make you smile and cringe, and probably start hunting for a cafe in your neighbourhood that's just like Emma's. I'm definitely going to be on the lookout for that cafe - and for Lilly Bartlett's next book!
*I received a copy of this novel from the author in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*