The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living by Louise Miller
Livvy Rawlings, a Boston pastry chef, has her life go up in flames when she drops a huge baked alaska. Retreating to her friend Hannah in small-town Guthrie, Vermont, she gets a chance to bake at the Sugar Maple Inn, where owner Margaret is known for her award-winning apple pies. Livvy has a history of making bad decisions, about men, hair color, working and drinking too much; but what she really wants is a family. She finds one on an apple orchard/Christmas tree farm with the McCrackens, from frail Henry to his welcoming wife and handsome son Martin, who invites Livvy (who improbably plays banjo) to join a local band. I didn’t really understand why she spends so much time with the McCracken family when pregnant Hannah really needs her, but I think the author wanted to show how flawed and real Livvy is. Livvy briefly returns to Boston, but is no longer a city girl, and returns to Guthrie to bake a wedding cake, and more pies. A pleasant vacation read that was good but not great. Small-town life with its quirky residents, well-drawn descriptions of food and music add to this first novel’s appeal, along with Livvy’s huge dog, Salty.
The Sparrow Sisters by Ellen Herrick
An unusual first novel, an excellent readalike for Sarah Addison Allen fans. Set in a seaside town on Cape Cod, the three Sparrow Sisters run a plant nursery, and youngest sister Patience makes herbal remedies for the town. When doctor Henry Carlyle moves to Granite Point, he is skeptical of Patience’s talents. Neither Nettie nor Sorrel has ever married, and the three sisters live in the house they grew up in. When tragedy strikes, Patience’s remedies come under suspicion, and many of the men in Granite Point turn against the sisters. Magical realism is strong but never stated in this book, as Patience’s moods seem to affect the whole town, just like her ancestor Eliza Howard. In spite of the turmoil, one sister falls in love and another gains an admirer. The tone of the book changes, which makes for an unsettling reading experience. I’m expecting small town charm, quite a bit about plants, some romance and magic, and that’s what the first half of the book is like. Then it turns darker, melancholy and suspenseful, with the ending rather uncertain. But that makes for a memorable book, with more depth than a typical cozy mystery or romance.
The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry: A Novel by Gabrielle Zevin
This isn’t the charming, feel-good book I was expecting from the publicity. The writing style is engaging and I found the book difficult to put down, but the tone is bittersweet with occasionally very funny sections. This is not a predictable book, and has more depth than I expected. Definitely a memorable read with wide appeal.
A. J. Fikry is a curmudgeon, although still in his 30s. Mourning his wife’s death in an accident, he has retreated from life. As he owns a bookstore on an island near Nantucket that is a problem, especially after the rare book he was saving to fund his retirement goes missing. He is very particular about the kind of books he will stock, and new publisher sales rep Amelia Loman finds him a tough sell. Then Maya, a little girl, unlocks the key to his heart, and the bookstore gradually becomes a community gathering place. I especially enjoyed the transformation of local police chief Lambiase from an infrequent reader to a passionate reader who leads a book discussion group. Eventually A.J. even finds love, as does Lambiase. Suggested for readers of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and fans of bookstores everywhere.