I already put on five pounds just from reading this, my first note on The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living reads.
To bake or not to bake, that is the question. Then again, what’s the worst that could happen? Well, you could set the room on fire…
That is how The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living by Louise Miller begins. We are introduced to the main character, Olivia Rawlings, mid-catastrophe. Olivia is a well-known baker, a pastry chef extraordinaire, who seems to love, live and breathe her craft – apart from her casual affair with her boss. Her mother left when she was still a child and her father passed away when she was but a teenager. All she seems to have left is her job, her baking, and Hannah, her best friend. It’s to Hannah’s arms she runs when avoiding the ashes of her simmering recent past, and it’s from her leading hand that she finds her future.
I feel like I have been offered not a slice, but a universe-sized version of my all-time favorite cake. This book is comfort, is acceptance. It is not the kind of novel you simply love, it’s the kind of novel that returns the favor, loves you back.
The writing, oh the writing… it’s delicious. You can smell whatever is being confectioned; you can taste its flavor and feel its rich textures. These moments seem to be highlighted by Louise Miller’s clever change in pace. When Olivia is baking, no matter how complicated and/or chaotic the recipe is, everything seems to slow down as flour becomes snow. There’s palpable peace as Olivia walks into her private little world, her safe haven. You can feel her love, her passion, her dedication… just like when you watch Martin playing the fiddle through Olivia’s eyes, how you hear him through her very skin.
This novel is so sweet, so deliciously tender. It’s like a whisper, It’s going to be okay, love. Here, have a seat and a slice. Take a load off, a deep breath. You can do this.
Imagine you have inherited the recipe of your favorite pie. You find yourself alone, craving the comfort you have known it to always deliver. You have never tried baking it yourself, you never had to. You feel the need to have it, though, and there is no one to ask to do it for you – and so you try. You bring the ingredients to the counter and you start mixing them together, following the recipe and the familiar voice that murmurs the instructions through it. You seem to have created a little storm around you, but for a moment you don’t care. It’s ready to go in the oven. Doubt starts to creep in as you put it in. You let it eat at you for a moment before deciding on dealing with the before annoying mess that has now become a welcoming distraction. Your heart skips a beat at the sound of the timer. You watch it carefully as it cools off, thinking of everything and nothing. Then you take the first bite. You close your eyes and you can’t help but smile. It’s like coming back home.
That is how I would describe reading this book: trying to bring a recipe to life while dealing with the grief of having lost its original maker, the fear of disappointment and then… at last, hope, fulfillment, happiness.
You can tell that Louise Miller loves what she does. Not only is it evident in Olivia, it becomes obvious as it embodies the array of other characters – Margaret, Henry and Dotty being my favorite ones – that end up converting into family. I couldn’t be more grateful that Louise Miller decided to share this story – a well-deserved blue ribbon for you!
Do I feel stuffed? To be honest, I could have another slice. And another. And perhaps just one more for the way back to reality.
ARC provided by Pamela Dorman Books via NetGalley.
Coming out on August the 9th.