Monthly Archives: February 2021

Celebrate Valentine’s Day at the Heartbreak Café – Re-release of the 80s series by Janet Quin-Harkin

Heartbreak Café Book cover and coffee cup with hearts

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone – I hope today sees you having time to read a favourite book or three.

Today also marks the re-release of the Heartbreak Cafe series by Janet Quin-Harkin which follows teen Debbie Lesley as she takes on a new job, and a new way of living, after her parent’s divorce.

I was gifted book one – No Experience Required – for review and I’m so glad I was. As a 42 year old – I may now be closer to Debbie’s parents’ age but these books were around when I was nearer Debbie’s age – or perhaps a little bit before because sadly they are not ones I remember reading. I was busy reading Sweet Valley High in the early 90s instead.

About No Experience Required

Deborah Lesley’s comfortable life in Northern California is suddenly turned upside down. Her family is breaking up, there’s no longer the family home she grew up in and she finds herself having to grow up, and find a job at the popular beach hangout Heartbreak Café.

Life is never dull at the Heartbreak Café and the dram for Deborah Lesly only continues once she starts work. Theres Joe Garbarini for start who runs the café when he’s not at school and whose sarcasm is almost enough to make Debbie walk out of a job she very much needs. But she’d ready to prove Joe wrong and stick to the job, she needs the money after all.

About the Author

Janet Quin-Harkin first found success as a picture book writer, winning several awards. She was then asked to write a teenage series and Heartbreak Café was born! The first in the series No Experience Required was an instant success when it was originally published in the eighties. By the time the third book came out she was selling half a million copies. Since then Janet has gone on to become a New York Times bestseller. Writing under the pen name Why Bowen, she is the author of the historical Molly Murphy and Rpyal Spyness mystery series. She has won the Agatha Best Novel Award and was nominated for the Edgar Best Novel. Janet is British and divides her time between California and Arizona.

You can visit her website at www.rhysbowen.com

What I Thought

This at once took me back to my childhood but in an odd way also seems like it could have been written today. Only a few things firmly placed it in the past, the lack of mobile phones, and turns of phrase such as neat. It’s such an easy read and reminded me of a time when I would read multiple books in a day (at a little over 200 pages it is very easily digestible). One thing I wasn’t so keen on was the slight undercurrent of fatphobia and sadly I think that’s something that does still exist today. The mentions were very brief and mild but they were still present.

Main character Debbie was great to follow, her arc from spoilt rich girl to independent teen allowed plenty of room for growth and the dynamic between her and Joe, snarky and fun is what I like to read. She has insight and awareness but is still a teenager who sometimes acts before she thinks.

Debbie has her toes in two worlds – one is a country club, Harvard aspiring one with a Quarterback future lawyer boyfriend, and in the other she lives in an apartment and has a new part time job to pay to keep the car she had in the first world. But which one does she fit in? Can she belong to both?

Her parents are both present and absent in her life but I am glad they don’t disappear altogether and the angst and upset of divorce runs through this book. I couldn’t help but empathise with her mum.

There is lots of humour too – particularly when Debbie is trying to cook burgers for the first time – I definitely would not wanted to have been her first customer.

The secondary characters are intriguing and I hope they come to the fore more in later books because they definitely have their own stories to share. We definitely only scrape the surface with them in this book which centres firmly on Debbie, even Joe has more to him than we see here.

All in all this was a light, fun read and took me back to the polyester uniform of my first job (supermarket rather than café). If you like YA/teen contemporary then I’d definitely recommend picking these up.

The Heartbreak Café series is published by Ellfie Books the YA and Teen Imprint of the publishers Ellingstar Media.

Book 1 – No Experience Required

Book 2 – The Main Attraction

Book 3 – At Your Service

Book 4 – Catch of the Day

Book 5 – Love to Go

Book 6 – Just Desserts

In this hit eighties series about teen life in northern California, themes of friendship, work, family, divorce, and love are ever present. From movie makers coming to town and surprising romances, the Heartbreak Café series will transport you to a retro California, full of sun, surf, and heartbreak.

It’s author says “I always had a special place in my heart for Heartbreak Café. It seems very real to me (actually it was modelled on a real café in Capitola CA) and I saw it as a place that was where paths crossed and people came out changed. In spite of its humour it had serious underpinnings and a message that is timeless. That’s why I’m so thrilled to see it back in print.”

This is Not the Jess Show by Anna Carey – Publication Day Review


About the Book


The year is 1998, and like any other teenager, Jess Flynn is just trying to get through her junior year without drama… but drama seems to keep finding her.

Between a new crush on her childhood best friend, and her younger sister’s worsening health, the only constant is change – and her hometown of Swickley, which feels smaller by the day.

Swickley is getting weirder by the day too. Half the population has been struck down by a mysterious flu. Conversations seem to end awkwardly when Jess enters the room. And then one day, a tiny, sleek black device – with an apple logo on it – falls out of her best friend’s backpack and lands at Jess’s feet.

But the first iPhone won’t exist for another nine years.

Suddenly Jess has more questions than answers about her own life. And as she races to uncover the truth about her family, her friendships, and her town, one thing becomes clear: we all have our own version of reality.

Black Mirror meets My So-Called Life in this fast-paced, timely novel about separating fact from fiction – and the lengths one girl will go to live on her own terms.


About the Author


Anna Carey is the author of Blackbird, Deadfall, and the Eve trilogy. She lives in Los Angeles.


What I Thought


It is quite hard to review this book without spoilers so you may not wish to read my review until you’ve read the book.


A quick summary is that this is a pacy young adult satirical thriller with a focus on real relationships.


First up let’s talk about the title. “This is not the Jess Show” sounds exactly like something a parent would say to their self obsessed teen. But what if it was the Jess Show?


The blurb describes this as “My So Called Life” meets “Black Mirror” and – spoiler – I would add in meets “The Truman Show” (the book has already been optioned for film too). I am a huge MSCL fan and a teen of the 90s so I very much got all the references, e.g. Party of Five, Dawson’s Creek etc (although oddly enough no Jared Leto fangirling appears in this book – did anyone else copy Angela in trying to drink their coffee black with 3 or 4 sugars because he did? …No…just me!).


The flu that is mentioned in the blurb is only a small part of the story so if you are sick of reading about pandemics then thankfully you don’t need to avoid this book. As a medically inclined person I googled the condition that Jess’ sister has mainly because I wanted more detail about what issues it causes. I won’t tell you what I found!


Jess’ circumstances provide a platform for a critique of social media/influencer culture, reality versus portrayed reality, and it also explores what bringing children up in the public eye is like. I think I’d have appreciated a little more subtlety in some of the character portrayals but in having more stereotypical characters the satirical message is made clearer.


I was surprised how calm and non-plussed Jess was throughout much of the book – she definitely did not take her teenage angst lessons from those 90s shows.

At its heart though there is a strong focus on true relationships and Jess and the two main characters she connects with do have you rooting for a happy ending for them all.


But if this is the Jess Show how easy is is it to turn off?


Thank you to Black Crow and Quirk for the gifted copy for the purposes of an honest review.

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