Thank you, Penguin’s First to Read, for this pretty little read! The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living by Louise Miller is a debut novel, and Louise Miller is a pastry chef herself so this is a real treat (pun intended).
Enter Olivia, 30-year-old pastry chef extraordinaire who flambées her way out of a job when she accidentally sets the trendy Boston club she is working at on fire. Always known to be a bit wild, her fiery exit brings Olivia to the sleepy town of Guthrie, Vermont, home of her best friend Hannah who happens to know about a little inn on the hill looking for an extraordinary pastry chef and apple pie maker. When surly innkeeper Margaret Hurley of the Sugar Loaf Inn offers Livvy the job, she has no choice but to accept that her life will be tied up in little town Vermont until the Boston fire brigade forgives and forgets. She’s not cut out for small town life along with its gossip, but what choice does she have?
However, there is good people and a good time to be had in sleepy Guthrie. Livvy rediscovers her passion for playing the banjo, working with people that actually care, how to make the perfect apple pie, and maybe even the secrets to her own heart. An affair brought about Olivia’s ruin, but can she find a new kind of love and maybe even a home here?
This was a solidly adorable story of a girl finding herself and in the meantime finding love. At face value, this story is perfect for those two aspects. Olivia has a clear character arc that is at times painful, but at others a remarkable look at how people pick themselves up when they are down. She goes from enjoying the fast and the loose to finding roots in both the place and the people, which is something most people can’t say by 30 years old. The love story is also endearing if a bit rocky for me- some of the aspects of her and mysterious Martin’s budding attraction are things that I find frankly unacceptable. The love story is also a little formulaic, but then again many good love stories are. The portrayals of how restaurant people act around each other, particularly romantically, is very true but was a little in your face for my liking. (Personal issue.) I liked best how Miller described the landscapes and the food- beautifully done. Made my mouth water and my feet want to ramble their way to Vermont.
My only issue with this novel besides some minor plot points is the writing itself. Louise Miller’s debut novel is very solid for her first, but there are some places that she could polish up. The detailed descriptions of restaurant terms at the beginning of the book (e.g., “front of the house” versus “back of the house”) are lengthy and unnecessary since between context clues and culture, most people can figure it out. (Again, this may be a personal issue, since I worked a long time in restaurants and don’t want to read about it.) In general, an overuse of telling instead of showing was present, but still not as bad as many first-time writers. Her use of the first person is done fairly well, but sometimes Olivia’s dialogue doesn’t line up with her mannerisms, which is a little unsettling.
All in all, I came for the cute description of the plot and funky name, I stayed for the great descriptions and recipes (Yes, there’s recipes at the end!) 3.5 stars, rounded down only because the wording kept getting in my way of full-on suspension of disbelief. Three out of five waves and out today, perfect timing for you to hit the sand with a comfy romance in hand!