The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living, by Louise Miller (2016)

The City Baker's Guide to Country LivingI love fish out of water stories, and this one has great appeal (though it is primarily a romance). When Olivia Rawlings accidentally sets fire to the swank Boston restaurant where she is both pastry chef and mistress to the married owner, she sensibly takes refuge out of town with her best friend Hannah, who now lives in small-town Guthrie, Vermont. Pregnant Hannah wants her buddy to stay and swiftly finds her a temporary job as the dessert chef at the town’s inn. It even comes with a sugar shack that Livvy can live in with her rambunctious dog Salty. It’s a big switch for Livvy, and the fit is awkward at times, given her penchant for sudden Manic Panic hair dye changes and her f-bombs in a Christian community. Fun! Miller is a pastry chef herself and draws on her knowledge of the industry in this first novel to create an appealing protagonist with a strong personality and just the right amount of weaknesses and poor judgment. I particularly enjoyed the sharp dialogue between Livvy and her new boss Margaret Hurley, the curmudgeonly owner of the Sugar Maple Inn. The first half of the book was great – mouthwatering descriptions of desserts, and an appreciative understanding of the appeal of small-town living. But the narrative shifts too far too quickly into a full romance mode. A little more interaction with Hannah throughout would balance the treacly love story, which overshadows other dramas in the small-town life that gives this novel its soul. It’s very hetero and reinforces traditional marriage/home/baby conventions. There’s a strong Christian undertone that collides with the f-bombs. I enjoyed it despite the heavy dose of romance which I wasn’t expecting, and it has appeal for a specific subset of city refugees and wannabe homesteaders, I suppose. My thanks to publisher Pamela Dorman Books for the advance reading copy provided through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.
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