A high-powered Manhattan attorney finds love, purpose, and the promise of a simpler life in her grandmother’s hometown.
Ellen Branford is going to fulfill her grandmother’s dying wish–to find the hometown boy she once loved, and give him her last letter. Ellen leaves Manhattan and her Kennedy-esque fiance for Beacon, Maine. What should be a one-day trip is quickly complicated when she almost drowns in the chilly bay and is saved by a local carpenter. The rescue turns Ellen into something of a local celebrity, which may or may not help her unravel the past her grandmother labored to keep hidden. As she learns about her grandmother and herself, it becomes clear that a 24-hour visit to Beacon may never be enough. The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop and Cafe is a warm and delicious debut about the power of a simpler life.
As soon as I read the description of Mary Simses’ debut novel and saw the luscious blueberry preserves on the cover, I knew I wanted to read this book. What I got was not quite what I expected, but enjoyable nonetheless.
When grieving Ellen arrives in Beacon, Maine, to deliver a letter from her dead grandmother to an old beau, the young New York lawyer doesn’t expect to be drawn in — not by her grandmother’s history, not by the down-to-earth, unsophisticated charm of the town itself, and particularly not by Roy, the handsome carpenter who rescues her from the frigid ocean.
The story is told in first person, so we see Ellen’s slow transformation from within. From her mortified embarrassment when her rescue from near-drowning makes the front page of Beacon’s small-town newspaper and turns her into a local celebrity to her excitement at discovering unknown aspects of her grandmother’s life, Ellen’s emotions ring true, if occasionally over the top. We see more clearly than she does that her sophisticated city life is not right for her, and that in Beacon she is free to find and become her true self.
I said that the book wasn’t exactly what I expected, and that’s true in several ways. First, I anticipated much more about the titular cafe. While it does play an important role in the book in an unexpected way, it’s not a significant physical location. Second and more important, I didn’t realize that for most of the book, Ellen is still engaged to fellow lawyer and man-about-town Hayden. Emotional infidelity in a protagonist is a trigger for me, something that can turn me away from the character if it’s not well-handled. In this case, I was able to accept it because Ellen tries so hard to convince herself she loves Hayden and to remain loyal to him. Still, it made for some uncomfortable moments for me as well as for Ellen.
It’s a tribute to the quality of Simses’ writing that I liked Ellen despite her confusion, her tendency toward pride, and a certain city-girl snobbishness regarding small town life in the beginning of the book. Those were more than outweighed by her better qualities: a deep love for her grandmother, loyalty, and something of an artist’s soul. Ellen is, like all of us, a flawed but fundamentally good person, one who ultimately chooses her own course from the heart.
While the book is primarily about Ellen’s journey, the secondary characters are well-drawn, particularly Ellen’s mother, who is a hoot. It’s easy to understand Ellen’s attraction to Roy, who has a good sense of humor and is caring and principled. Even most of the lesser characters come across as real, three-dimensional people; I really enjoyed Paula, the proprietor of the decidedly-not-as-advertised inn where Ellen stays while in Beacon.
The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop and Cafe will appeal to fans of Debbie Macomber and other writers of small-town fiction. Although there is some romance, it’s not the only focus of the novel, and there are no steamy scenes, making this more women’s fiction than contemporary romance. It’s worth reading for Ellen’s emotional journey and for the strong descriptive writing which is the novel’s other strength.
Rating: 4 stars
Category: Women’s fiction; Contemporary romance
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Release date: July 9, 2013
Book source: purchased
Links: Goodreads Amazon Barnes & Noble Kobo
About the author:
“I grew up in Darien, Connecticut and started writing stories when I was eight. I always loved to write but was too afraid I could never make a living as a fiction writer so in college I majored in journalism. I worked in magazine publishing for a few years and then went back to school to become a lawyer. After I graduated from law school and began working, I enrolled in an evening fiction writing class at a university in Connecticut, not far from where I was living. From then on, I was hooked. I wrote a lot ‘on the side,’ at night and on weekends, and managed to get several short stories published in literary magazines. Finally, I took the big leap and wrote a novel. I now live in South Florida with my husband, who is also my law partner, and our fifteen-year-old daughter, who is quite a writer herself.” (Goodreads biography)