Bread and Butter by Michelle Wildgen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Three brothers plus two upscale restaurants—does it equal a recipe for disaster?
In Bread and Butter we’re introduced to three brothers who love everything about food. Leo and Britt, only a year apart, have operated Winesap for over a decade in their aging, industrial hometown just outside of Philadelphia. It’s been hard work educating the local palate through trial and error, but at last they feel they’ve reached a nice balance with their established clientele and are financially successful. Britt, formerly in public relations, takes care of the front and keeps things running smoothly and tastefully, but he puts on his best face for a beautiful and sophisticated regular gourmand, Camille. Leo, a divorcee married to his job, takes care of the paperwork and makes sure his hardworking staff is happy, especially their capable chef Thea, a single mom. Unfortunately their flighty pastry chef Hector has become rather tired of their patrons’ favorite chocolate cake and has flown the coop.
Enter baby brother Harry. He returns home after years of graduate school, failed love affairs, and working in a restaurant on an island in Lake Michigan. Harry wants to start his own place to show off his epicurean tastes. Leasing a run-down building in an area on the cusp of being re-gentrified, Harry envisions a hip new eatery that will help his hometown make a comeback. Once Hector defects to work at Harry’s place and Britt is convinced his little brother’s idea isn’t as crazy as it seems and becomes a partner, the three brothers find themselves at odds—financially, creatively, and romantically. Can sibling rivalry ruin a fine dining experience?
Bread and Butter is jam-packed with the minutiae of the restaurant business, but it doesn’t come across as a Food Network documentary. Wildgen creates fragile but loveable characters who will inspire foodies to keep turning pages even while their hungry stomachs are rumbling.
Secret of a Thousand Beauties by Mingmei Yip
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Scarlett O’Hara has nothing on Spring Swallow! This young heroine in 1930s China has to endure many tragedies, lost husbands, poverty, and hard work in order to survive. At the age of seventeen, she is forced into a ghost marriage—a marriage to a dead man she was promised to before both of them were born. She bravely runs away, but the choice she makes to leave her village is more than daring—it is dangerous. How will she fend for herself?
Spring Swallow meets another lost soul who takes her to a house on the side of a haunted mountain. There she becomes an apprentice to Aunty Peony, a cold and calculating master embroiderer with a dark past. She learns the “secrets of a thousand beauties” in the Su tradition of embroidery and experiences conflicts of jealousy and betrayal with the other “sisters” as they work on an embroidered painting to enter a competition. Spring Swallow’s walks on the mountain bring her to the notice of a young revolutionary, Shen Feng, and at last she feels she has found true love. But nothing is easy for Spring Swallow. She faces more challenges and disappointments as her lover goes off to follow his dream of a better China.
Rich in detail, the story feels like it takes place one hundred years or more earlier than the 1930s, as the characters are steeped in ancient superstitions and fear of ghost hauntings. The characterization of Spring Swallow as a capable young woman who follows her heart is its biggest draw and should please readers of women’s fiction.
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