Audiobook Review: The Christmas Surprise by Jenny Colgan

Title: The Christmas Surprise (Rosie Hopkins’ Sweetshop, #3)
Author: Jenny Colgan
Narrator: Pearl Hewitt
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication date: 2014
Print length: 272 pages
Audio length: 8 hours 51 minutes
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Library
Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

From the New York Times bestselling author of Little Beach Street Bakery and The Bookshop on the Corner comes a delightful holiday tale full of sweetness, love, heartbreak, and happiness—perfect for fans of Debbie Macomber and Elin Hilderbrand.

Rosie Hopkins, newly engaged, is looking forward to an exciting year in the little English sweetshop she owns. But when fate deals Rosie and her boyfriend Stephen a terrible blow, threatening everything they hold dear, it’s going to take all their strength and the support of their families and their friends to hold them together.

After all, don’t they say it takes a village to raise a child?

Perhaps I was pushing my luck with a SECOND Christmas-themed book, but since the books in question are the 2nd and 3rd books in a trilogy featuring characters and a setting I love, it was awfully hard to resist.

Note: Some spoilers ahead, since otherwise I can’t really talk about the book, the series, and why I felt the way I did about this 3rd book.

The Christmas Surprise picks up right after Christmas at Rosie Hopkins’ Sweetshop. Rosie and Stephen are newly engaged and blissfully happy in their little cottage next to the sweetshop in their country village of Lipton. Their close friends are engaged too and planning a fancy wedding, the sweetshop is thriving, Stephen is loving his teaching job at the village school, and Rosie’s great-aunt Lillian is ruling the roost at her senior living home. All is well.

But not for long.

After a surprise pregnancy (about which Rosie and Stephen are elated) ends in miscarriage, Rosie is plunged into despair, especially upon learning that a future pregnancy will be extremely unlikely without intervention such as IVF — way beyond their means.

A surprising email leads them in a new direction. Years earlier, Stephen had volunteered with Doctors Without Borders as a teacher in an African village, and he’s heard from his contact there that the young daughter of a family he became close with is expecting a baby, and the family would like him to be the godfather. Stephen and Rosie begin raising funds for the village and the family within their own small community, but then decide that a trip to visit might be just the thing to break them out of their low times.

It wasn’t a shock by any means to see how this all turned out.

The book of course ends on a happy, jolly note, with just about everyone getting a sweet and happy “ever after”, but it does take some effort to get there. Rosie and Stephen face financial challenges that seem to drive a wedge between them, there’s a major disagreement over medical treatment for their baby, and ongoing difficulty with Stephen’s aristocratic mother’s seeming indifference and coldness toward their new little family.

Naturally, there are also tears of joy, village-wide celebrations that include moments of chaos and comedy and silliness, and plenty of laughs and small-town craziness to go around.

Overall, I enjoyed the book, but felt a bit on edge with the Africa storyline. First off, it’s always just “Africa” — as if the continent is one big entity. Why not identify a country? The descriptions are all generic outsider views — the bustle and color, the heat, the lack of modern amenities in a remote village. Rosie and Stephen swooping in and saving the day smacks of white saviourism, and when a snooty mom back in Lipton refers to Rosie’s actions as “colonial privilege”, I didn’t think she was far off.

I mean, of course it was lovely that they adopted this newborn who was essentially given up on by his birth family, but it felt a little too pat and condescending for my comfort — even though it did result in the happiness that the characters were so desperately in need of.

I’m not sorry I read/listened to this book, since I really do enjoy the characters and the entire town of Lipton, and was happy to see everything wrapped up with a pretty bow by the end. Still, it stretched my tolerance in parts and the ultra-happy ending, while predictable, was also a bit too pat and deliberately joyful for my taste.

Then again, there was simply no way I wasn’t going to finish the trilogy, and ultimately, it’s been a fun, sweet reading and listening experience. I can’t say no to Jenny Colgan books, and I’m glad to have spent time with Rosie and her adorable little sweetshop!

Book Review: The Last Emperox by John Scalzi

Title: The Last Emperox (The Interdependency, #3)
Author: John Scalzi
Publisher: Tor
Publication date: April 16, 2020
Length: 336 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The collapse of The Flow, the interstellar pathway between the planets of the Interdependency, has accelerated. Entire star systems—and billions of people—are becoming cut off from the rest of human civilization. This collapse was foretold through scientific prediction… and yet, even as the evidence is obvious and insurmountable, many still try to rationalize, delay and profit from, these final days of one of the greatest empires humanity has ever known.

Emperox Grayland II has finally wrested control of her empire from those who oppose her and who deny the reality of this collapse. But “control” is a slippery thing, and even as Grayland strives to save as many of her people from impoverished isolation, the forces opposing her rule will make a final, desperate push to topple her from her throne and power, by any means necessary. Grayland and her thinning list of allies must use every tool at their disposal to save themselves, and all of humanity. And yet it may not be enough.

Will Grayland become the savior of her civilization… or the last emperox to wear the crown?

Bravo to John Scalzi for this masterful conclusion to an entertaining and exciting sci-fi trilogy! Not every trilogy sticks the landing, but The Last Emperox absolutely does.

The story picks up right after the end of The Consuming Fire, as the Interdependency’s existence is threatened by the collapse of the Flow, the impossible-to-explain time/space stream that connects the various star systems of the empire. The Flow is what allows humankind to survive, since the empire was designed specifically to make each settlement and star system not self-sustaining, but dependent on all the others. As the Flow starts to disappear, the worlds of the Inderdependency will find themselves cut off and lacking vital resources, and unless a solution is found, the people there will be doomed to a slow, inevitable extinction.

As if that weren’t enough to deal with, Emperox Grayland II, the supreme leader of the Interdependency, has already survived a couple of assassination attempts and failed coups, and her future’s not looking too great either. Despite the threat to their very existence, the noble houses can’t seem to stop their endless backstabbing and manipulation, each attempting to grab as much power as possible for themselves, without worrying too much about the fate of the billions of commoners whose lives are at stake.

As always, John Scalzi’s writing is full of snark and snappy dialogue, as well as complex political machinations and intricate science fiction scenarios to drool over. Also, I just get such a kick out of his unique names for characters, including two of my favorites, Senia Fundapellonan and Nadashe Nohamapetan.

(To be clear, Nadashe Nohamapetan is a terrible person. I just love her name.)

My favorite character (although it’s hard to choose) would have to be Kiva Lagos, who is super smart, totally kick-ass, and never met a sentence that wouldn’t be better with a few f-bombs. I love this interchange between her and Senia (who’s speaking first here):

“It’s not a great idea to be too in love with your own cleverness.”

“What are you, my mother?”

“If I were your mother, I’d use the word ‘fuck’ more often.”

“It’s a perfectly good word.”

“Sure,” Senia said. “Maybe not as every other word that comes out of your mouth, though.”

“I don’t even hear myself saying it, half the fucking time.”

Senia patted Kiva. “I know that. You’d hear it if I used it as much as you did.”

“No I wouldn’t.”

“Fucking yes you fucking absolutely fucking would.”

“Now you’re just exaggerating.”

“Not by much.”

I won’t go into plot developments, because I don’t want to ruin anyone’s fun. I will say, though, that the ending goes in a way I never would have imagined, and it totally threw me for a loop! It’s cool, though, and makes sense, and even though the story comes to a satisfying close, I’d love to get an update on these characters and this world down the road and find out how it all worked out for them in the long run.

The Interdependency is, plain and simple, a great, funny, exciting, intricate sci-fi space opera. I had a blast reading these books. Read all three!

Interested in The Interdependency? Check out my reviews of books 1 & 2:
The Collapsing Empire
The Consuming Fire