Welcome back to the blog tour for The Cake Therapist.
This is a deliciously-looking and delicious-sounding book that was brought to my attention earlier in the year, and I'm so glad I had the chance to read it.
I'm confident that you're going to love Neely's journey as much as I did. Read on for my thoughts and a giveaway!
Paperback, 304 pages
Expected publication: June 2nd 2015 by Berkley
Format read: ARC via publisher
Claire “Neely” O’Neil is a pastry chef of extraordinary talent. Every great chef can taste shimmering, elusive flavors that most of us miss, but Neely can “taste” feelings—cinnamon makes you remember; plum is pleased with itself; orange is a wake-up call. When flavor and feeling give Neely a glimpse of someone’s inner self, she can customize her creations to help that person celebrate love, overcome fear, even mourn a devastating loss.
Maybe that’s why she feels the need to go home to Millcreek Valley at a time when her life seems about to fall apart. The bakery she opens in her hometown is perfect, intimate, just what she’s always dreamed of—and yet, as she meets her new customers, Neely has a sense of secrets, some dark, some perhaps with tempting possibilities. A recurring flavor of alarming intensity signals to her perfect palate a long-ago story that must be told.
Neely has always been able to help everyone else. Getting to the end of this story may be just what she needs to help herself.
Debut author Judith Fertig introduces us to Claire "Neely" O'Neil, a pastry chef who has left her unsatisfying, dramatic life in New York, to return to her hometown of Millcreek Valley. Neely is going to finally pursue her lifelong dream of owning her own bakery, aided by her extraordinary gift of being able to taste feelings.
As Neely builds her business, while also reuniting with family and old friends, she realizes that her gift is one that can both enrich her cakes and also help the world around her. She begins tasting the feelings of would-be brides and lovelorn professors, and quickly stumbles upon a decades old mystery that she can help solve...
While The Cake Therapist may be Judith Fertig's debut novel, it certainly doesn't read like one.
From the first page of the book, Fertig skillfully enfolds the reader into the warmth of Neely's journey, as she goes back to her hometown to pursue her own life. And whereas other books with similar beginnings may have dejected heroines, Fertig makes it very clear from the get-go that Neely is no damsel-in-distress; she's refreshingly skilled, determined and ready to use her gifts to make a difference. It's a unique positivity that definitely sets the tone for the rest of the novel.
The positivity only continues, as the bakery begins to thrive and grow. Fertig is confident and teasing in her writing as she emphasizes Neely's personal growth as she reconnects with old friends, and how delicious-sounding (and ever changing!) menu begins to gain a loyal following. Through Neely's eyes, we see that there is a certain magic to her work, and food can very often comfort, soothe and unburden the soul.
There's one particular instance in which Fertig gently reminds Neely - vis-a-vis a customer - how food can be the key to unlocking truths about us that we don't always understand, which begins to grow in importance, as Neely grapples with a sour flavor in her mouth, and determinedly deals with her own less-than-perfect past.
Readers will likely appreciate the fact that despite having experienced more than her fair share of challenging obstacles - especially romantic ones - Neely is strong, positive and never gives into the urge to mope. Instead, she uses those obstacles as personal motivation to do better, and to learn more. Unsurprisingly, this attitude not only attracts a positive circle of friends (and a cute love interest!) but also helps her change the world of those who aren't so fortunate as well.
Running parallel to Neely's story, is a slightly more complex story about two sisters that begins in 1908. While Fertig does a strong job of unfolding the life and background of those two sisters, it takes a few chapters before connections between past and present are apparent. However, Fertig eventually ties the stories together in a way that's both heartbreaking, and ultimately very rewarding.
Neely may have left New York alone, but she ends up in Millcreek Valley with friends, family and a changed life. Both her strength and natural empathy for the world around her, makes her a sympathetic, likable character in a book that's a perfect way to kick-off the summer reading season.
Strongly recommend for fans of Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke, and Mhairi McFarlane.
About the author:
Judith Fertig is an award-winning cookbook author whose food and lifestyle writing has appeared in more than a dozen publications, including Bon Appétit,Saveur, and the New York Times. Judith attended Ecole de Cuisine La Varenne in Paris and the Graduate Summer Workshop at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She teaches cooking classes across the country and lives in Kansas City. The Cake Therapist is her first novel.