Fortysomething Grace Holm-D’Angelo is newly divorced and trying desperately to corral her teenage daughter, Emma, while attempting to carve out a life for themselves in Los Angeles following their departure from Chicago. After dealing with her ex-husband’s indiscretions, Grace is doing her best to restart her life on the west coast. Thanks to Ken, also a transplant to L.A. and one of her best friends from high school back in New London, Wisconsin, she has landed an exciting but high-pressure job behind the scenes of a vampire TV show, “The Lost Ones.”
Despite the hectic pace, Grace is engaged in her work and trying to make a go of it. But when Emma starts acting out and getting into trouble, Grace wonders if she needs to focus more of her attention on her daughter. Before she has time to figure out just how to do that, she is summoned back to Wisconsin after her other close friend, Leeza, succumbs to breast cancer.
"THE RECIPE BOX is a sound fiction debut from Sandra Lee, combining a sweet story of mothers and daughters, friends and lovers, complete with some of the most mouth-watering recipes peppered throughout."
Once back in New London, Grace feels torn as she tries to help her friend’s family, reeling from the death of Leeza, as well as keep Emma in check. But maybe the problem isn’t Emma. Perhaps it’s a case of history repeating itself. After all, Grace hasn’t set the best example of how to be an ideal daughter. Her own relationship with her mother, Lorraine, has been long fraught with tension and resentment. Noticing Grace’s issues with Emma, Lorraine remarks: “She reminds me of me. And of you. We’re alike, whether we like it or not, Grace, and whether or not you want to admit it to yourself. We’re mother, daughter, and granddaughter. We’re strong women, all of us. Sometimes that gets us into trouble.”
Once a formidable baker in her teens, Grace hasn’t properly cooked or baked anything in years. But when the local bookstore needs a boost in sales, she decides to drag her old apron out of retirement and start baking again. She promptly enlists the help of Emma and Ken, who has also returned to New London, and quickly becomes an item with the bookstore’s cute owner, Tim. Once Emma is given this task, Grace immediately notices a change in her: “The answer had been under Grace’s nose all along. When given something meaningful to do, Emma had risen to every occasion.”
Seeing that there is much to be done here, Grace decides that it’s best if they stay in New London for the summer. It’s the end of the school year, and her show is about to go on hiatus, so the timing couldn’t be better. This way, she can be there for Leeza’s husband and baby daughter, give Emma a more stable environment, and perhaps work on her frayed relationship with her mother. It seems like the best decision for all involved. While attempting to get Emma up to speed in school, she asks local teacher/volunteer fireman Mike Lund to help tutor her so she can take her final exams here in Wisconsin. Mike proves to be a godsend, both for Emma and for Grace, as this handsome jack-of-all-trades provides a nice romantic distraction, which is long overdue.
If grieving a friend, trying to engage your rebellious teenage daughter, repairing your relationship with your mother, and dealing with your ex-husband’s engagement isn’t enough, matters are further complicated when Grace’s old flame, Von, re-emerges. Grace must revisit some painful scenes from her past if she’s to move forward into the future. Certain secrets come to light, and she has to decide how to handle the sensitive information she has discovered. Quickly she learns that “Finding yourself is like the best recipes. The ingredients are there, but what you do with them is up to you.”
THE RECIPE BOX is a sound fiction debut from Sandra Lee, combining a sweet story of mothers and daughters, friends and lovers, complete with some of the most mouth-watering recipes peppered throughout. (You will want to make the Blood Orange Sheet Cake immediately!) Like many recipes, perhaps there are one or two superfluous ingredients (there is practically every life crisis on display in this story), but still, it mostly stays on track, delivering a satisfying read that hits the spot.
Reviewed by Bronwyn Miller on July 3, 2013