Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Traveling Tea Shop: A Novel by Belinda Jones

The Traveling Tea Shop: A Novel.  Belinda Jones. Penguin Group (USA). March 2015. 368 pp.  ISBN#: 9780425279601.

Laurie Davis gets a phenomenal opportunity – the chance to travel up the New England coast with the famous TV cooking star, Pamela Lambert-Leigh, the star of Tea Time With Pamela.  They are both British and totally enchanted with CAKE!  No, it’s not your average, store-bought, boxed style cake but hand-crafted, beautifully decorated and scrumptious-tasting cake, doughnuts, cupcakes or muffins! Yummy!

Laurie’s job is to canvas the best of these bakeries or shops in New York, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont. The planned new cookbook will cover each creative space, baking process and a description of what it’s like to taste each unique specialty cake in every location. Laurie will be both assistant director arranging visits and tour guide in the surrounding area of each location they visit. Sounds like a dream vacation, doesn’t it?  Not quite!

Pamela has insisted that her feisty mother, Gracie, be their driver for the project.  Gracie is no doddering, elderly lady but a feisty mother and grandmother.  She had a graced marriage, a fact that inspires Laurie who doesn’t exactly have the greatest love history.  Gracie will be driving a double-decker British bus; only Laurie doesn’t realize that Gracie drives every automobile like she’s competing at the Indianapolis 500 final competition!

Add to the mix that Pamela’s daughter, Ravenna, will be accompanying the group.  Ravenna is a very young woman a/k/a obstinate super-brat, to summarize, so nasty that if it were not for Laurie’s wise, sassy and funny responses, this reader would have quit reading; but Laurie saves the day and engages the reader so cleverly that one wants to keep flipping the pages to see if there’s a chance at redemption for this terror of a daughter.  In many other ways, Ravenna also triggers Laurie’s thoughts about her own troubled relationship with her own sister.

So what mouth-watering, standard or exotic cake will make you determined to travel?  This novel absolutely makes one want to go to each site to see the intriguing and beautiful area and test each delightful dessert?  Although this is a novel, the places and desserts are obviously well-researched and actually exist in reality!  No, it’s not a romance but just a lovely romp in which one gets to visualize and taste the best that New England has to offer!

Highly recommended reading, traveling and tasting!

The Reluctant Midwife: A Hope River Novel by Patricia Harman

The Reluctant Midwife: A Hope River Novel.  Patricia Harman. Harper Collins Publishers. March 2015. 432 pp.  ISBN#: 978006235824.

Nurse Becky Myers and her former employer, Dr. Isaac Blum, travel back to their origins in a small West Virginia town.  They are almost penniless and Blum bears the appearance of a mentally challenged individual who just stares and is totally dependent on Becky to feed, dress and change him on a daily basis.  Her own marriage has fallen apart as her husband was obviously suffering from what we now know is PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder, a violent aftermath of his war experiences.  Later he finds comfort elsewhere and Becky is left with nothing.

Add to this stark scenario the fact that it is the 1930s and the Great Depression in America is at its height when there are no jobs to be had and no food for daily sustenance.  The people in Becky’s world survive by sharing the little they have and the bond that establishes is deeper than even family in many instances.  Becky and Blum find a home in an old home abandoned by Becky’s friend Patience, who is now married and a practicing midwife.  Becky herself is a nurse but dreads practicing childbirth outside of the accepted venue of a hospital and even then she’s not so fond of that part of nursing.  She’s more comfortable assisting Patience as she used to do with Blum.  But necessity will draw out her skills and her ability to do what she hated. 

This is the story of Becky and Blum, who represented a wounded America struggling to survive disaster on a daily basis.  She will deliver children, medicate an asthmatic boy in crisis, set fractured bones and more.  Every scene is exciting, tension-ridden, and laced with first uncertainty and then care and compassion.  Healing is mental and emotional for all involved and even Blum occasionally comes out of his almost catatonic state.

The government, in this devastating time, is providing jobs through the CCC or Civilian Conservation Corps.  They establish camps to which the destitute draw, a motley lot whom Beverly will eventually nurse out of several disasters, including an horrific fire that almost destroys the camp’s buildings and homes of its employees.
The Reluctant Midwife is another Hope River Mystery which immediately engages the reader and is almost impossible to put down.  The town gives more than physical shelter to its residents, including some unsavory characters, and is more about opportunities for more than survival and includes some riveting secrets laced throughout the overriding medical plot.  Very nicely crafted, Patricia Harman and strongly recommended!