Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Review: The City Baker's Guide to Country Living

Summary: A full-hearted novel about a big-city baker who discovers the true meaning of home—and that sometimes the best things are found when you didn’t even know you were looking

When Olivia Rawlings—pastry chef extraordinaire for an exclusive Boston dinner club—sets not just her flambéed dessert but the entire building alight, she escapes to the most comforting place she can think of—the idyllic town of Guthrie, Vermont, home of Bag Balm, the country’s longest-running contra dance, and her best friend Hannah. But the getaway turns into something more lasting when Margaret Hurley, the cantankerous, sweater-set-wearing owner of the Sugar Maple Inn, offers Livvy a job. Broke and knowing that her days at the club are numbered, Livvy accepts.

Livvy moves with her larger-than-life, uberenthusiastic dog, Salty, into a sugarhouse on the inn’s property and begins creating her mouthwatering desserts for the residents of Guthrie. She soon uncovers the real reason she has been hired—to help Margaret reclaim the inn’s blue ribbon status at the annual county fair apple pie contest.

With the joys of a fragrant kitchen, the sound of banjos and fiddles being tuned in a barn, and the crisp scent of the orchard just outside the front door, Livvy soon finds herself immersed in small town life. And when she meets Martin McCracken, the Guthrie native who has returned from Seattle to tend his ailing father, Livvy comes to understand that she may not be as alone in this world as she once thought.

But then another new arrival takes the community by surprise, and Livvy must decide whether to do what she does best and flee—or stay and finally discover what it means to belong. Olivia Rawlings may finally find out that the life you want may not be the one you expected—it could be even better. -- Pamela Dorman

If a book comes from the Pamela Dorman imprint, you can pretty much rest assured that I'm going to read it. Case in point: THE CITY BAKER'S GUIDE TO COUNTRY LIVING by Louise Miller. This book sounded positively adorable. So sweet, in fact, that I would have read it regardless of the imprint. Pamela Dorman's name on the spine just was the icing on the cake. Pardon the pun!

THE CITY BAKER'S GUIDE TO COUNTRY LIVING tells the story a Olivia Rawlings, a pastry chef in Boston who has found quite a bit success. When she drops her baked Alaska and catches the dinner club on fire, she decides it's time to escape from the big city. She heads to Guthrie, Vermont, where her best friend Hannah lives. Just by chance, she finds a job at the Sugar Maple Inn working for the prickly Margaret Hurley.

Margaret also just happens to have an old sugarhouse on her property where Olivia can live while working at the inn. It's quite the adjustment for Olivia, both because Margaret isn't the easiest woman to work for and because Guthrie is very different from Boston. It isn't long before Olivia realizes that Margaret really hired her because she wanted to win the blue ribbon for the country's apple pie contest.

Olivia, with her brightly colored hair, is surprised by how quickly she fits into this small town world. Her co-workers at the inn are extremely welcoming, and it doesn't hurt that she finds a "friend" in Martin McCracken, a man who has moved back to Guthrie to help take care of his sick father. She falls in love with both Martin and his family and realizes that she might finally have found a home with this small town community.

However, a few things happen that cause Olivia to have to make some very difficult decisions. Will she pack up and leave like she's always done in the past or face her future and the uncertainties head on?

I found THE CITY BAKER'S GUIDE TO COUNTRY LIVING to be absolutely delightful. It really is a perfect read for this time of year... and by that I mean the fall season! I loved Olivia, even when she was being kind of stupid! And I also loved the quirky cast of characters that lived in Guthrie. The story was sweet and hopeful, and it just left me with an overall good feeling!

One thing I really appreciated was how well the author captured the essence of the characters, especially Olivia and Margaret. Olivia was far more complex than I was expecting from a novel like this... as was Margaret, and I thought the dynamic between them was extremely well done. On the outside, they couldn't have been more different; however, as the novel progressed, I found that they had more in common than first appeared.

Another aspect of this novel was how well the author played to readers' senses. I was also pleasantly surprise by this aspect of the story because it was the author's debut novel and she was a pastry chef in her prior career. Obviously, she has some major skills! Her descriptions of Vermont brought the small town to life for me as did her details about folk music, banjos, and fiddles. However, it was her descriptions of the food that made my mouth-water. Apple pie is probably my all-time favorite food, and I could almost taste her pies. Fortunately, she included her recipe in the back of the book!

Finally, I loved how this novel focused on what's important in life -- family and love. In many ways, this story as Olivia's coming-of-age novel; and it was a treat (pardon the pun, again!) to see how she was able to discover not only important things about herself but also about others. It was almost as if she matured enough to let others love her. What a beautiful love story -- and I don't just mean in a romantic way although that was pretty special too!

THE CITY BAKER'S GUIDE TO COUNTRY LIVING would make a fantastic book club selection. Can you imagine how fun it would be if everyone brought a different dessert based on ones that were mentioned in the novel? There is a reading guide available with eight questions. I've probably already alluded to these themes, but some of the topics you could discuss include food, community, belonging, family, tradition, grief, guilt, parent/child relationships, friendship, and forgiveness.

THE CITY BAKER'S GUIDE TO COUNTRY LIVING is a delightful read. I highly recommend it to foodies and fans of women's fiction!

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.


bermudaonion said...

This sounds delightful! I always love books set in small towns like that and when you add a bakery, I'm in heaven!

Carole said...

Hi there, looks like a good one! It would be great if you added your review to the Books You Loved: September collection over at Carole's Chatter. Cheers