There is a new-ish trend in foodie novels to include recipes either throughout the bo0k or at the end. Not completely new since Nora Ephron was doing it in the 80’s with Heartburn. One of my favorite authors/bloggers is full of great recipes as well as tips and tricks for home cooks and budding foodies. She has a great perspective on flavors and her books combine my favorite things, cooking, reading and wine (okay, I add the wine myself!).
Book#12– Out To Lunch, Stacey Ballis
Synopsis: Jenna and Aimee have been BFFs for over 20 years. They met in college and became fast friends, closer than sisters and eventual business partners. Now Jenna is semi-retired after she and Aimee sold their event planning/catering company for millions. For the last 3 years she has dedicated her time to Aimee who developed a rare disease, and now Aimee has died and Jenna’s world is completely changed. She hasn’t just lost a friend, she has lost the person in her life that knows her best, can help her through anything and keep her from feeling alone in the world.
In her will, Aimee has given Jenna financial custody of her husband, Wayne. Wayne is something that Jenna has never really understood about Aimee. He is a clumsy, geeky, Sci-fi fan who only eats 11 things and is always cooking up crazy business schemes; the opposite of the wise and ever elegant Aimee. Jenna can’t imagine what Aimee was thinking! She vows to give it 1 year before turning Wayne back over to the lawyers. But Jenna begins to soften towards Wayne and actually accept his friendship. With Wayne’s quirky presence, her strong support group of friends and Aimee’s conscience-like voice in her head, Jenna starts to heal from her losses and move forward with her life sans best-y.
My Impressions: There is a lot going on in this book! There is a real depth to the story and the relationships between characters. I think the best example is the relationship between Jenna and Aimee that exists for the reader in Jenna’s head. She is always allowing Aimee’s voice (or the Voix, as she calls it) to come through when she is juggling something that she may have hashed out with Aimee, or that Aimee may have weighed-in on as best-ies tend to do (for our own good, of course!). It may only be Jenna’s way of coping, but having Aimee tell her what to wear or who to date is her way of dealing (or not) with the loss. Much of the time, the banter comes down to ‘yeah, well I’m dead so…’ which is actually more funny than morbid.
The evolving relationships with Jenna and Wayne and Jenna and others (significant and less so…) is interesting to observe as well. She really comes out of a shell of comfort that she created around herself with Aimee and becomes a stronger and an admittedly more likable person as the story evolves. Interestingly, all of Jenna’s friends are very likable right off the bat and you can appreciate how they tease out the best in her. If this is intentional on the part of the author, it’s very subtly done so you can see her grow as a character and adapt to such a huge life change rather than just overnight decide to be this different person that everyone told her to be. I guess I appreciate the realness she brings to this aspect of the story.
One side of the writing style that where I’m not a super-fan is the instructional ‘Jenna puts on a cooking show’ sections. Don’t get me wrong, I love the recipes and the foodie descriptions of elaborate meals and unique cultural comforts. I also love this author for her blog where she does just that, explain step-by-step how Stacey does “X.” (BTW, Ms Ballis, thank you for live-tweeting your Thanksgiving prep, for sharing your left-over transformations and out-of-this world go-to’s for chocolate cake and one pot pasta, and for your mutual distaste for hipsters and pumpkin spice!) But in my fiction world, I just want to story to flow a little more and not feel like I should be taking notes. That said, I love love love the back section full of recipes and additional narratives from the story to try out for my self! I’ve been making the same dark chocolate cake from Bon Appetite for my boyfriends’ birthday for the last 3 years, but this March he will definitely get a Blackout Elevator Cake! I’m making Salad Bar Soup all winter long, and Dutch Baby pancakes are my new guilty pleasure! Another fun the side of Stacey’s books is the tie-in to her previous book, Off the Menu, which I also recommend. (Follow Stacey Ballis on her blog here: http://thepolymathchronicles.blogspot.com/ )
Why you should read it: This is a book about friends and love and finding your way, with and without both. It’s about exploring your passions and turning your dreams into a bigger, better reality. It’s about embracing things you may not understand for the people you love, and discovering why they love them. This is a feel good story, whether you relater to the characters or cook the recipes; it’s comfort food for mind and body!
Book# 12 in the bag!
“I cannot remember the books I’ve read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson