Review: Love at Café Lompar by Anna and Jacqui Burns
This week I have taken a romantic trip to fabulous Montenegro, a world away from the usual humdrum weekly routine of school runs, food shops and house cleans. I have been transported to the sights of new towns and the tastes of delicious foods. I have sipped ice cold white wine with new friends and gazed happily out to a beautiful coastline.
And all from the comfort of my own sofa! That’s right, I have been whisked away to Café Lompar, a restaurant brought to life by the waves of the Montenegrin Adriatic within the pages of a book. Pure bliss.
Love at Café Lompar is the debut novel by daughter/mother duo Anna and Jacqui Burns. Written during Lockdown 2020, it is a far-flung cry from the ‘Stay at Home’ mantra that was required at this time. It exudes another life that is vibrant, colourful, and full of the ups and downs that romance fans expect and enjoy from this popular genre. And, rightly so, this book has been shortlisted for the Katie Fforde Debut Romantic Novel Award, with the ceremony being held on Monday 7th March in London. Best of luck, ladies!
Love at Café Lompar is both upsetting and uplifting in equal measure. It follows the lives of mother Grace and daughter Kat who discover, after his sudden death, that ideal husband/doting dad Dan had another family overseas (cue the drama). The two women decide to go to Montenegro in order to unearth the truth of his betrayal, ‘This was a place for love, for proposals and weddings, couples and happy families. Our hurting hearts were awkward and out of place’.
Despite being heartbroken that her dad was less than perfect, Kat is over the moon to get to know her brother Luka. She now has life changing decisions to make, both professionally as a chef, and in her less than perfect world back home in the bottle neck of London (cue hunky bronzed Montenegrin guy).
Meanwhile, Grace starts to make sense of her marriage to Dan and begins to create a new life for herself. Along the way, she discovers that even she cannot escape the lure of Café Lompar (cue middle aged woman coming into her prime to the backing soundtrack of Beyonce’s Run the World (Girls) albeit with much worry and hesitation).
Throw into this mix the beautiful ‘other woman’ Rosa, a tantruming chef, a moody ex-boyfriend and a handsome golf pro, and you have all the ingredients for a sizzling summery read!
It is wonderful to see the relationship between Grace and Kat develop and strengthen throughout the novel, and how, within their loss, they are brought closer together. It is uplifting to feel the bond of family fuse and tighten despite the devastatingly rocky start. This novel shows us that relationships can be found in the unlikeliest of places.
It is made all the more poignant as Anna and Jacqui Burns wrote this whilst living apart from each other during Lockdown, emailing each other a chapter at a time and Zooming each night.
This story really does hone in on what is important and to know that humans can and will bond and thrive in the most testing of situations. ‘This was it now. We were family. And family was everything’.
It is commendable just how well Anna and Jacqui were able to bring the authenticity of Montenegro to life despite only having visited there briefly on a cruise in 2019. On a whim, I messaged them via Instagram and had the privilege of asking the pair about their novel.
‘We were both blown away by the breath-taking views,’ Jacqui replied. ‘It really is a beautiful country, an undiscovered gem, and no other commercial novels have been set there.’ So how did they manage to capture Montenegro so well? ‘We drew on our memories of the Bay of Kotor and the rest was researching and imagination, we loved becoming armchair tourists.’
During the months of Lockdown, they pored over maps and images, researched travel sites, enjoyed recreating recipes that could become Kat’s trademark ‘fusion food’, and enjoyed choosing Montenegrin names for their characters.
The ceremony for the prestigious Debut Romance Novel Award is swiftly approaching and both Anna and Jacqui are excited! ‘We’re both absolutely delighted and in disbelief’, they swoon. ‘Our editor Janet at Honno and all the Honno team were thrilled.’
Despite some nerves, both writers are looking forward to attending the awards, and how lovely that mother and daughter get to experience this together, flattered to have got so far.
Not only that, but there is a sequel out in June this year to look forward to. ‘Kat and Grace are both very close to our hearts and feel like old friends,’ the writers explain. Without giving anything away, there is much more to look forward to in the lives of the characters, including some things that will surprise the readers. Well, I for one can’t wait!
Love at Café Lompar is a story of trust, forgiveness and beyond all things, love. So, kick off your shoes, pour yourself that drink and enjoy Kat’s infamous Café Lompar Buzara Seafood Stew.
The recipe is included at the end of the novel, ‘Perfect for a summer evening with wine and a gorgeous sunset!’ and enjoy the company of Grace and Kat as an armchair tourist.
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