Monday, April 07, 2008

Bread Alone and The Baker's Apprentice by Judith Ryan Hendricks

My neighbor Tabby is one of those smart souls who doesn't collect the books she reads, she gets them from the library, reads them and returns them. She is thus spared from having bookshelves cluttering every room of her house, and having those shelves bulging with double-and-triple stacked books. She does, however, keep a few books that she really loves on hand to re-read and share with friends.
I happened to be at her home last week for a lovely cuppa tea (She is of British heritage, so she knows how to brew a proper pot of tea) and we got to talking books and life, and astrology. We happened to be discussing Geminis, and I told her about my best friend Muff, and how interesting life with her was when we were in college, then going to Ireland together and our many years inbetween as best buddies who were close enough to be sisters. It turns out that two days later, I'd hear from BJ, Muffs brother, that she died in her sleep on the morning of March 29. So my conversation about her was somewhat prophetic.
But I will write more about that later.
Meanwhile, Tabby wrested two books from her bookshelves by Judith Ryan Hendricks, called Bread Alone and the Bakers Apprentice and told me that she'd enjoyed them so much, she felt I would delight in reading them as well. I read through Bread Alone the day Muff died, and took Bakers Apprentice with me on the airplane to Iowa, where I was going to attend Muffs funeral.
These novels, which take place mostly in Seattle, were slice-of-life tomes, about a shallow and obnoxious Los Angeles native who seems to have no real will or mind of her own, until her husband starts having an affair and throws her out of her home without so much as a by-your-leave. She discovers that she has one talent, and that's for baking bread. She happens upon a thinly disguised Macrina Bakery in downtown Seattle and ends up as their breadmaker. She meets quite a rogues gallery of characters, from the punk Tyler to the hottie bartender Mac, and grows as a person tremendously while getting her divorce. The prose in the novels was very like the prose of a journalist, which was one of Ms Hendricks previous professions, and the plots, though rambling and seemingly as unfocused as Wynter, the protagonist, manage to get her from point A to point B in the requisite amount of time. By the sequel, Bakers Apprentice, Wyn is much more of a full-blooded person who can manage what life throws at her without collapsing in a heap or running to her mother or her best friend. It's that growth and that ability to move forward and learn from her mistakes that makes Wyn such a rich character and so fascinating to read. There was tremendous comfort in reading Wynter's story, and in watching her change and grow up while running a bakery. Unfortunately, the final chapter of the book is left somewhat open-ended, so we don't know if Mac and Wyn are going to marry and live happily ever after, or if their relationship will implode again, but I have a feeling Ms Hendricks left the couple hanging for a reason. I bet there is another book coming, filled with drool-worthy bread recipes and more scenes from the lives of the quirky people Wyn has gathered around her.
I'd recommend this book to foodies and chick-lit readers who want something with a touch more depth than the average struggle and romance with an HEA ending.

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