Tansy Poole lives in London with her fiance, Justin, but her heart lies in the village of Sticklepond with her great-aunt Nan who has been more of a mother to Tansy than her own mother had ever been. Tansy’s relationship with Justin has become miserable. Tansy wants to get married & have children. Justin keeps putting off the wedding & wanting her to lose weight & dress more conservatively. Suddenly he wants to change the things that make Tansy who she really is. His mother is also a nightmare who spends far to much time in their flat tidying up & throwing away Tansy’s belongings. Tansy writes & illustrates children’s books but her heart’s desire is to use her passion for shoes & weddings to make a living.
Aunt Nan has been running the family shoe shop in Sticklepond forever but now that her health is failing, Tansy spends more time with her & discovers that Nan is going to leave her the shop. Her plan to move to Sticklepond to be with Nan is made easier by her realisation that Justin isn’t going to make a commitment & if she wants to have children, she needs to make some difficult decisions.
After Nan’s death, Tansy & her best friend, Bella, open Cinderella’s Shoes, a fantasy of a bridal shop specialising in vintage & over-the-top fairytale shoes for brides. The new shop is a lot of hard work & Tansy’s equilibrium isn’t helped by the discovery that her new next door neighbour is Ivo Hawksley, Shakespearian actor & her first love. Ivo has retreated to Sticklepond after the tragic death of his wife in an accident & he spends his time hacking away at the overgrown garden & playing mournful classical music in the evenings. He’s also reading his wife’s diaries which leads him to reassess their relationship & what he wants to do in the future.
Tansy & Ivo’s combative relationship (he objects to her crowing cockerel, her dog attacking his cat & the doorbell of the shop playing Here Comes the Bride very loudly. She objects to his mournful music, his melodramatic habit of quoting Shakespeare every time they meet & the fact that he dumped her many years ago) gradually turns to friendship. Ivo takes Tansy’s dog, Flash, for evening walks & she tries to encourage him to eat by pressing delicious food parcels on him. Justin, however, isn’t taking his dismissal quietly & wants to move north to be closer to Tansy, much to her horror. Tansy’s two stepsisters (just as horrible as Cinderella’s) do all they can to disrupt her life & even Aunt Nan has a few surprises from beyond the grave. Add Bella’s fraught relationship with her parents & budding romance with Neil & a proposal to build a retail park near the village that would threaten local businesses & you have a funny, romantic story that’s a lovely way to spend a lazy afternoon.
Trisha Ashley’s Sticklepond novels have an enthusiastic following & in Chocolate Shoes & Wedding Blues we meet several characters from the previous books, A Winter’s Tale & Chocolate Wishes. I’ve also enjoyed her Christmas novels, The Twelve Days of Christmas & The Magic of Christmas. All Trisha’s books have a fairytale flavour to them. The villagers of Sticklepond are an eccentric lot but they’re a real community with shared values & a shared vision of the future of the village. Tansy, like many of Trisha’s heroines is a wonderful cook & spends what little time she has left over from running the shop baking all sorts of goodies as well as brewing the mysterious Meddyg, a mead-like drink from a secret family recipe that can cure anything from melancholy to the plague. This is a delightful book full of humour, romance & food. What more could you ask for?