Promotional blurbs say that readers of Nicholas Sparks, Jan Karon, and other books featuring a heart warming story and a charming small town atmosphere such as The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society will enjoy Mary Simses's first novel The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop and Cafe. Reading those advance praises and seeing the irresistible cover peaked my curiosity, so despite having a hefty stack of "must read" books at home, I couldn't leave a recent trip to the library without Simses's book.
When I sit down to start a book and look up in what seems like mere minutes to find I am approaching page one hundred, one of two things has happened.. One, I have been reading a children's novel. No matter how well written, I seem to speed right through those books.
The other reason (the one applicable here) is that the author has cleverly and yet effortlessly created a story that has drawn me in so deeply that I've simply left "home" for another place and time. Simses, in her first novel, has selected small town Maine for that escape. New York lawyer Ellen Branford has come to tiny Beacon in response to her grandmother's last wish that she deliver a letter to someone from her grandmother's secret past. Ellen quickly registers at the local inn whose accommodations are definitely several "stars" below the expectations Ellen and her fiance have become accustomed to. Her attention is drawn to an old pier and she decides to take a walk before attempting to hand deliver the letter. One misstep and Ellen finds herself being pulled out to sea despite being a strong swimmer. Seconds pass, thoughts of certain death fill her mind, even as she attempts to swim to shore. Then she sees someone from shore swimming toward her and rescue seems likely.
If I laid down the basic plot elements of this title, you would most likely say, "Oh, another chick lit book. Girl must choose between old boyfriend and new guy. I've read that story dozens of times before." And you would be right, but it is the WAY that Mary Simses tells the story that will entertain you. You will laugh when the whole village begins calling Ellen "swimmer" after her near drowning. There is even a newspaper photo of Ellen spontaneously kissing her handsome rescuer. When Ellen first sees the photo on the front page, she buys all five hundred copies so her fiance will never see the photo. I especially liked the way the author developed our understanding that Ellen was high strung, with a career and life that was just slightly too controlled. Simses accomplishes this with the tiny details-- the indulgence of a cider doughnut, a dart game, and later a simple pair of jeans. And then there is the intriguing story about her grandmother's past -- nothing sinister or dangerous, simply the story of one dream fading and another replacing it. But don't you wonder what are the stories that your grandparents or parents never shared?
Although the two stories are nothing alike, the writing in this novel reminded me of Ellen Airgood's South of Superior. Both are first novels; both female authors do commendable jobs of creating setting and making it an integral part of the story. I hope that Simses returns to Beacon, Maine. I am sure there are some stories that the new Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop and Cafe can tell.