THE SECRET'S IN THE SAUCE, the first book in the Potluck Catering Club series, revolves around six friends from an earlier series, The Potluck Club, who decide to start a catering business in their small Colorado town. Each character's secret is revealed as the story unfolds, and each learns the value of turning to God with their secret, using His guidance to take action. Insecurities, heartache, joys and trials are intertwined amidst preparations for a wedding shower for one caterer's daughter.
Six main characters --- each with extended families, some with stepchildren or half-sisters, and one with a long-lost son --- make for a challenging read. To add to the complexity, the chapters bounce back and forth between different character points of view. I think fans of the original series would probably have an easier time keeping track of who's who.
We start with Evangeline, daughter of the town's late mayor and newly married to Vernon, the county sheriff. At 58 years old, Evangeline is a wife for the first time and married to the man she has loved since age 12. But in his younger days, her man married one of her best friends and together they had a daughter, Donna, who is now Evangeline's stepdaughter and also a member of the catering club.
Donna is a cop like her dad and has two guys vying for her attention. One is Wade, with whom she has a past, and the other is David, son of Vonnie, a fellow caterer. David was whisked away from Vonnie at birth by her mother, who craftily arranged his adoption to a famous Hollywood actress and told Vonnie that her baby died. After the actress succumbs to cancer, a now young adult David moves to his birth mother's town and becomes a paramedic. When Donna rebukes his advances, David starts dating her half-sister, Velvet.
Vonnie, mother of David, has her hands full caring for her ailing mother. Her son, with whom she was recently reunited, is dating a girl she doesn't like, and with good reason. The girlfriend (Velvet) is disrespectful and sarcastic. Vonnie would like to see David hook up with Donna.
Lisa Leann, a feisty Texas transplant, is more or less the head of the catering club and runs a bridal shop. She is a first-time grandmother who longs to be near her daughter and new grandson who still live in Texas. Before Lisa Leann and husband Henry moved to Colorado, she had an affair with a man in the church choir. She broke it off before moving, ready to start fresh in Colorado, but discovers that her sin has followed her…in more ways than one.
Goldie enters the scene happy enough for a few pages, until a phone call comes and shatters her world. Her beloved father has died, and she must fly to Georgia to be with her family and attend the funeral. In addition to coping with her grief, Goldie is struggling to trust her adulterer-turned-Christian husband, who is trying to show her he has truly turned over a new leaf.
And finally, we have Lizzie, whose mother is experiencing the first stages of Alzheimer's while her husband is on leave from work, taking his sweet time to recover from surgery as he spends long days parked in front of the television. Lizzie's son, daughter-in-law and grandchild have moved in until they can find a house. Like her husband, they don't appear to be in any hurry. The stress of taking care of mom, putting up with her husband and having her house a little too full for too long leads Lizzie down a dangerous path.
In a poignant conclusion, each comes forward with their secrets and sins, knowing they can lean on God and their circle of friends when the going gets tough.
Reviewed by Susan Miura on September 1, 2008