If the word “book” came up in certain circles, someone would mention it. That’s an understatement. Rather, finding a book recommendation list that didn’t include it would be like changing the name of Mount Rainer to Mount Dryspot. Impossible. Then a friend started having monthly dinners.
This thing was serious.
The problem was, the cover intrigued me—the title didn’t. The Saturday Night Supper Club. I could only picture some 1960s housewife trying to up her hostessing skills by making canasta night a bit more “posh.”
Some people went on and on about the detailed descriptions about food. I yawned at the thought.
What can I say? Sometimes a girl is stupid. After all, I wrote an entire book that mostly takes place in a cafe myself!
A few months later, I saw a chance to review an upcoming book. The title intrigued me—Brunch at Bittersweet Cafe. The synopsis grabbed me as well. I zipped off my request for a review copy seconds after I read about it, but I couldn’t help but feel like something felt familiar.
Then it arrived and I saw the subtitle. A Supper Club Novel.
I mean, this wasn’t just a book about a cafe. This would be a… a… foodie novel! Would I have to read that first one? And most of all…
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Can You Really Write a Great Novel about Food?
Not having read The Saturday Night Supper Club, I bought it and was determined to start this one off with full knowledge. But I didn’t have time. I’d promised to review this by today, so I started reading.
Look, I expected it to be a good book. How could it not? Everyone and I do mean everyone, raved about the last one. I didn’t see a single person state that it was just “okay.” People avoid books for different reasons, not just because they think the book will be bad. I just didn’t think I would be interested.
Yeah. Guess what I’ll be doing today? Yeah. Not working on what I should be. I’ll be huddled up under the covers, reading The Saturday Night Supper Club. Ahem.
Written with an authentic tone in every aspect of the story, Carla Laureano doesn’t just give you a fabulous story, she transports you out of your house and drops you into the Denver, Colorado foodie scene.
I’m no professional, not by a long shot, but I could feel the tension of the bread as it rose, sense the dip in humidity and the need to adjust. Even more than that, Laureano made me experience the difference between baking on a commercial scale and as an artisan.
Then there are the characters.
In Melody, she created a young woman who most of us can relate to more than we think. The insecurities, the boldness, the uncertainty, the confidence—the crazy, mixed up mixture of all of that and more. It’s a beautiful, realistic portrait of someone we all know. Perhaps a friend, maybe a family member, or perhaps some part of ourselves—whoever it is, we recognize and watch her come to life on the pages.
Each of the other characters has equally fine layers that reveal themselves as the story unfolds. You want to root for everyone. And, well, pretty much everyone makes you want to slap them, too—except perhaps Talia. I didn’t ever want to slap her. Maybe because she wasn’t in it long enough?
Just to be clear—in my book, wanting to slap characters is a good thing. It means those characters could walk into your life tomorrow and be lovable people who, like all humans, occasionally do things that irritate the socks off you. It’s winter. I’m all about the socks in winter—nice, soft, fluffy, fuzzy ones. Just in case you were curious.
But this book isn’t all food and floundering people.
There’s also authentic spiritual content. Just as she did with people, Ms. Laureano kneads spiritual truths into her story exactly where it will give the biggest punch. None of the elements were overworked. None fell flat.
Yet, like a perfect loaf of bread, if you look close, it isn’t perfect. One side is a little rounder than the other or perhaps a bubble near the surface left a tiny crater to give it texture and interest. The flawed characters misinterpret, misunderstand, and even misuse Scripture to their individual purposes. Just like your friend at church or your best friend does.
You know, I’ve seen a lot about how this book will make you hungry. People talk about the amazing food and how there aren’t any restaurants like The Bittersweet Cafe anywhere near them.
I kind of agree—and totally disagree.
Because you see, I did get hungry, too. I did. However, I got hungry for a deeper, clearer taste of God’s Word. I ached to see what He said about relationships—us with Him, us with each other. It didn’t end there. I also got hungry for relationships. The misunderstandings, the stepping into and out of each other’s lives and business. Holding people aloof when you’re trying to figure things out—sometimes without realizing you do it.
So me. All of it.
One of the most beautiful bits of the book shows once it’s all done.
You finish reading, put it down, ponder. Brunch at Bittersweet Cafe isn’t even an exciting book. Instead of one dashing scene to the next, it meanders through the lives of the characters—pauses to take a closer glimpse here and there, and then saunters back down the sidewalks to the next stop.
Never once does it feel slow or draggy. I turned each page with eager anticipation for the next, and then I strolled along with the story, nodding when it pointed out something of particular interest—simply reveling in spending time with it.
You know. Like a great date.
When I requested a review copy of Brunch at Bittersweet Cafe, I had no idea of the journey it would take me on. This is more than just a contemporary foodie romance. It blends the best elements of women’s fiction and romantic fiction and folds them gently together so you almost don’t notice the separate and distinct flavors and textures. Yes, there’s a guy meets girl and a happily-ever-after. Technically, that’s romance. But there is also that woman’s journey… learning who she is and what makes her tick.
Here, Laureano shines because each character (mostly women) both learns how the others tick as well as themselves.
So… can you? Can you really write a great novel about food? Certainly. I’ve no doubt about it. But only if you take a lesson from Carla Laureano and make sure it’s also about interesting people on journeys to discover who they are and what the Lord has for their lives.
Tiny caveat to my recommendation: If you are bothered by knowing that Christian characters are tempted to do what is wrong, and that in the past they’ve chosen that wrong, there are elements that may bother you. Personally, I thought Laurano did a fabulous job of showing that Christians aren’t immune to temptation and that repentance is possible and necessary.