In SECOND HELPINGS AT THE SERVE YOU RIGHT CAFÉ, two people are brought together by their love of morning coffee and sugary pastries but just as they start getting to know each other, their dark pasts and unexpected secrets threaten to unravel their burgeoning relationship. Set in the aptly-titled Serve You Right Café against the backdrop of Western Massachusetts, the story of these two developing lovebirds make friends with the others around them — from the owner of the cafe to its diverse range of patrons — and they share mutual support as they attempt to deal with a looming mystery.
The best part of this novel is its vividly descriptive setting. Author Tilia Klebenov Jacobs’s details about the cafe create a warm, homey, and delicious atmosphere — one that beckons and entices readers. From the beginning, Jacobs proffers the scene: whole bananas, cut cantaloupe in glowing orange cubes, and strawberries with yogurt and granola, juice and milk in boxes with straws glued to the sides in plastic sleeves. Emet filled the whipped cream canisters and Eden loaded the coffee machines. Eden Rose put fresh flowers in bottles and cases that hung on the walls in the darker corners, because “they seemed to make the shadows brighter.” Not only does this fruitful description make the scenery brighter, but so too do the main characters: the owner of the Serve You Right Café, Eden Rose and her chef, Emet First.
Eden Rose is the type of hospitable mom and pop shop owner who knows everyone who comes into her cafe, makes small talk, and doles out homemade goodies and fresh-brewed beverages. Emet is a kind pastry chef with magical hands when it comes to assembling scones and pies, but he has a dark secret that he’s guarding carefully because he fears it will jeopardize his future with Mercey, the woman he meets and gets the courage to ask out on a first date. Unbeknownst to Emet though, Mercey and Eden Rose both have their share of secrets as well. The themes of the story paint a portrait of redemption and, like its title, the rare beauty of second chances. Their interactions show that they all want to help each other avoid suffering alone.
The characters are likable and the setting is incredibly distinct, but the storyline itself is not as interesting. The big conflicts seem to get resolved pretty easily and the culprit of the mystery surrounding the characters is as wildly mean-spirited and unlikable as the main characters are likable. It seems like the town, the cafe, and its inhabitants are all pleasant people with unpleasant pasts, but they work hard to preserve the status quo of their present time and are rather happy-go-lucky as a result of the different kinds of second chances that they have been rewarded. Thus, the conflict does not feel as high-stakes as it could be because the characters are all constantly looking out for each other and working together in their attempts to outsmart the bumbling villain. Overall, Jacobs’s strengths are really in her holistic description of the cafe setting and creating the world in the corner of the east coast.
SECOND HELPINGS AT THE SERVE YOU RIGHT is a very quick read with a thoroughly enjoyable setting and nice characters with sweet dispositions (with the main exception being the villain of the story who is the complete opposite of everyone else around him). The backstories of the characters complement their sunny present lives and though the overall mystery unfolds in a rather predictable and simple manner, the characters are still very much worth rooting for. The Serve You Right cafe is a place where readers will enjoy getting a taste of unexpected romance and a dash of suspense.