Book Review: The City Baker's Guide to Country Living by Louise Miller
"You have a say, young lady. Don't you forget it. And don't wait too long to decide. Not making a decision is making a decision."
I am here for all of the food memoirs and food fiction; the only downside is how hungry you get while reading them. I read Amy Reichert’s The Coincidence of Coconut Cake last year, and since then, I have really enjoyed reading more food books. I had heard great things about The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living, so I grabbed a copy from Book Outlet and their Black Friday Sale. The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living centers around Olivia Rawlings, a pastry chef who has bounced from job to job, and how she ends up as the pastry chef at the Sugar Maple Inn in Guthrie, Vermont.
Livvy Rawlings is an acclaimed pastry chef working at the exclusive Emerson Club in Boston. But when she accidentally sets the room on fire, she decides to flee, which has been her modus operandi throughout her life. So she goes to visit her best friend Hannah in Guthrie, Vermont. While she’s there, Hannah snags Livvy a job as the new pastry chef at the Sugar Maple Inn working for the stern Margaret Hurley. In Guthrie, she meets a whole host of friends, but she is particularly fixated on Martin McCracken, who has come home from Seattle to help take care of his ailing father, Henry. The two of them embark on a tentative friendship, but the large McCracken family, particularly Henry and Dotty, quickly embrace Livvy as part of their family.
As Livvy and Margaret tend to butt heads at the Sugar Maple Inn, Livvy discovers that Margaret isn't telling the whole truth about why she keeps hiring pastry chefs to take home the Blue Ribbon for Best Apple Pie at the Coventry County Fair. Margaret’s main competition for the last few years has been Jane White, but to Livvy, it seems like there is much more to the story than just apple pies. And like in just about every small town, everyone in Guthrie seems to know everything about everyone else. Livvy is bound and determined to figure out what the deal is with Margaret and Jane. But there also seems to be something about Martin that no one wants to share with Livvy. I have read a lot of novels that take place in Southern small towns, but this one was one of the first I have read that is set in New England. It seems like small towns are pretty much the same everywhere. Everyone knows everyone else’s business and gossips, but will do anything to protect their own.
The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living is a story about finding yourself. Sure, there’s romance, friendship, and lots of sweets, but really it is about finding where your home is. And let’s just say, Miller’s description of Vermont makes me want to go there immediately. She describes the fall and winter so beautifully that I am dying to visit. It would not be a bad place to call home. But will Livvy stop fleeing every time something gets difficult and actually settle down in Guthrie?
Part of why I enjoyed this book so much was the way Miller described the Sugar Maple Inn (I pictured the Dragonfly Inn in my mind at first!) and how she described the food. My mouth was watering the whole time Chef Alfred and Livvy were planning the Harvest Dinner. Everything sounded amazing, and so I wasn’t surprised to learn that Miller is actually a pastry chef herself. It seems like such a great life, baking and writing books. Good for you, Louise Miller. I also loved that she included an apple pie recipe in the back. I can’t wait to attempt at some point.
I loved the secondary characters in this book. Chef Alfred is such a delight; he really likes Livvy, but also is a good friend to her. Margaret is a delight; she’s hard to crack, but such a sweetheart on the inside. And the way she cares for Dotty and Henry and the rest of the McCracken family is so wonderful. But my favorite secondary character was Henry. I can just imagine Livvy walking into the McCracken house and Henry immediately warming to her, wanting to teach her all about the fiddle and dulcimer. Henry provides a fatherly presence to Livvy when she needs it, but also gives her advice as a friend. I loved the McCrackens; their big family seemed so loving and caring.
If you are into food memoirs and/or food fiction, then The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living is for you. It’s heartwarming, light, and fun, and it makes you want to start baking. I give it 4 stars. So excuse me, while I go catch up on The Great British Baking Show!
What are your favorite food memoirs or food fiction novels?