Sophie Mayfield runs her grandmother’s small town bakery with a growing reputation for incredible breads and desserts. In order to increase her family company’s bottom line, she’s decided to take on a large distributor by underbidding for contracts with local businesses, and to her surprise – and exhaustion – it’s working. Using her grandmother’s recipes and relying on a strange but functional family of employees, Sophie is about to realize her personal dream: proving to herself and the rest of her family that her grandmother’s bakery was not a financial failure and a dream gone wrong.
Eliot Wright is the heir to Fulton Foods, the corporation whose contracts are disappearing. Under the brusque instructions of his uncle, the current president, he stumbles upon a way to insert himself into the bakery employee group – impersonating the chef they’ve hired when, at the last minute, the actual chef is a no-show.
I loved that some of the elements of this book were warm and comforting, like the family bakery setting. Only Sophie and her grandmother believe that the bakery has any potential; the rest of their family has pressured them to sell it for years. So creating a new family of people who believe in it, outside the actual members of her family, creates a community of unique characters who are as invested in the success of the store as the owners themselves. The succes they’ve had is precarious, too, since the bakery, and the grandmother, have had a long history of barely breaking even.
Sophie is the brains and the bravado behind the new turn in the bakery’s business plan, and her ability to identify and target potential contracts, as well as underbid their largest competitor, has created an entirely new operation inside the same old location. The same recipes with added motivation yield rising success.
But at no time is there this ridiculous fated destiny, this greater power motivating them to bake, bake, bake for it is what they were born to do! There’s no altruistic overblown pixie dust fate of “YOU MUST BAKE! Yeast is in your BLOOD! SUGAR IS YOUR LIFE FORCE! SPREAD THE JOY OF BUTTER!” among the women who run it. The bakery is work. It’s work they love, and they use recipes that are a family heirloom of experience and technique, but it is not an experience during which destiny and magical baker dust combine to protect them from the utter boredom of payroll, or the drudgery of cleaning. The bakery is a vocation, and a job, and it is an equal part of luck and labor that yield the success they’ve had so far. If Sophie had a motto on the wall, it’d probably be that ‘Luck is where opportunity and preparation meet.” Sophie works her ass off, as do her grandmother and the rest of their employees, and I had a lot of respect for her for that aspect of her character alone.
The problems I had with the story, though, outweigh the setting and characters I enjoyed so much.
First, as soon as Eliot and Sophie hook up, he starts calling her “Baby.” She’s an independent businesswoman, she’s smart, savvy, and ambitious, and the minute they experience the sugared heights of souffle perfection, she’s a cliched one-word pet name. Rubbed me the wrong way right from the start, and I kept waiting for Sophie to tell him to knock it off.
Then, once they’ve had their big fight and showdown, and he’s been revealed as the imposter, HE gets his boxers in a twist and decides that it’s time for their fight to be over. She needs to get over her anger and stop being pissed off at him. Add that to the nonstop Baby-itis and he seemed more like a domineering blowhard than a partner at the end of the story. Ironically, he embraced all the traits he dispised about his uncle—and used them against Sophie before and after his secret was revealed.
But the uncle really pushed the narrative over the top into cliched madness. Eliot reveals in bits the story of his childhood, and at any minute I expected him to say that his uncle had a thing against wire hangers, too.
The heavy-handed use of parallels wore me out long before I finished the book. poor? Noble! Rich? COld and bereft of humanity! Anything asociated with wealth was bankrupt, and anything depicting struggle and honest work was imbued with moral solidity. Fictionally reassuring but not at all satisfying as a conflict.
I could forgive Eliot’s feeling at home in the bakery kitchen, welcome and validated by the process of actually cooking with his hands and his experience instead of turning the mass production over to machines that bake by the ton. But the simplicity of Eliot finding a home was lost in the constant reminders of the value of home and family over the cold comfort of money, small business over conglomerates, nature vs. machine, butter vs. margarine, you get the picture.
By the end, overuse of cliche and tired plot tropes had turned this book from a story about a hard working heroine who builds her family business back up from bankruptcy into a top-heavy cake wreck with way too much spun sugar and not nearly enough substance beneath.