Roisin Meaney channels the best of one of my favorite authors, Maeve Binchy. Set in Ireland, her novel Semi-Sweet: A Novel of Love and Cupcakes boasts charming characters, a lovely small town setting, and a deftly-woven plot. Semi-Sweet is the Irish equivalent of a cozy mystery, minus the mystery. I suppose you could categorize it as "chick lit", although I often dislike that term; still, if ever a book fit that bill, this one probably did.
Meaney calls on a large cast of characters to populate Semi-Sweet. Although cupcake shop owner Hannah is arguably the novel's main character, her fictional town of Clongarvin is speckled with equally interesting characters: her parents, Geraldine and Stephen; Geraldine's boss Alice and Stephen's fellow dentist Tom; Hannah's best friend Adam and his sister Nora; Hannah's ex, Patrick and his new (pregnant) girlfriend Leah; Leah's mother (and Geraldine's fellow bridge player) Fiona; and musicians Wally, John, and Vivienne.
Readers get a glimpse into all of these characters lives, from their triumphs to their extreme failures. Through her rich characters, Meaney fairly brings Clongarvin, Ireland, to life.
The plot is (as most plots are) based around a series of problems, most of which sort themselves out in one way or another as the novel moves along. Hannah has just opened a cupcake shop, a daunting task in the slow economy. Almost at the same time, Patrick leaves her for his pregnant mistress Leah. Leah's mother Fiona is not exactly thrilled with either her daughter bearing an illegitimate child or with facing Hannah's mother Geraldine at bridge club.
To help with her expenses after Patrick leaves, Hannah's best friend Adam moves in with her and rents his own apartment to his sister Nora, freshly home from living in America. Alice and Tom face problems brought about by Tom's constant drinking. The musicians from the local wine bar insinuate themselves into the other characters' lives with one love affair after another. Geraldine and Stephen are almost narrators in the novel, as no action revolves around them, but they provide commentary on all the other characters' escapades.
Semi- Sweet and the town of Clongarvin are charming, as is Meaney's cast of characters. I highly recommend this novel, especially if you enjoy books set in Ireland as much as I do. Bonus: the cupcake recipe included at the novel's start.