Pros:Fun food references, liked an 'older' main character
Cons:Nothing really 'peaked' in terms of the story
The Bottom Line: This is a mellow read, nice for a rainy afternoon or beach read; be prepared to want to do some cooking after!
I had never read Kate Jacobs before but while browsing at the library was attracted by the food on the cover, and the title of course. Comfort Food had a synopsis that seemed intriguing and interesting, a TV food personality up against career and family challenges. If nothing else there would probably be some great food references and descriptions! The edition I checked out was paperback, with colorful cupcakes on the cover.
Gus (Augusta) is a famous 'at-home' cook on a national food channel. Her show has given her comfortable wealth and a purpose as well as joy every day. She's about to turn 50, however, and gets the birthday surprise of her show being cancelled. She's offered another opportunity, however, but it means having to co-host with a former Miss Spain who is of course years younger and has the visual appeal that seems to be necessary in show business. She reluctantly agrees and Carmen, her new colleague, is as unexcited as her about the arrangement so of course there's plenty of conflict.
Gus's daughters live together but only mildly get along, classic flighty one vs. grounded one problems; they both seem to have issue with their mother as well, and this presents a more rounded version of Gus's life and conflicts, making a more real story. There's plenty of resentment and hidden emotions and words left unsaid in this family without a father/husband figure due to his unexpected death while still very young. Gus's best friend is a agoraphobic who lives next door and one of her other colleagues is an ex of one of her daughter's. What a fun group to throw together for a cooking show!
Of course the show is representative for the lives these people are living, want to live, or avoiding being a part of. The show really provides an opportunity for them all to meet new challenges and air some of their problems; not just on air, but within their new work environment. There is certainly a basic theme of 'not letting life get in the way of family or love/don't take people or time for granted' but it's not overly emotional; the biggest opportunity for it falls flat with the arrival of more 'bad news' for Gus, and although we see the pieces get somewhat picked up later in the novel, apparently that conflict wasn't the author's key to the story.
Perhaps the key was merely enjoyment, because Comfort Food was an enjoyable read. The problems Gus and her friends and family face, while troublesome, are not the more serious and they seem to get past them relatively unscathed. Enough conflict to move the story along, but not enough to drag down the overall pleasant mood of the story. There are some funny moments and some romantic moments, but in general this is the tale of a women who starts out by facing 50 and comes out stronger and more confident and more in charge of her life than she was in the beginning, despite everything that happens, including her look back on the decisions she'd made in her earlier years.
It's a fairly easy read, with a lot of (sometime overly descriptive) food references that make for some mouthwatering page turns. There are a couple of recipes at the end, but disappointingly they are not of the more tempting dishes referenced in the story. There's also a book club guide in the back, but the few questions I looked at almost seemed to demand the reader to overthink the book. While I enjoyed it, I was not at all moved to better any relationship or situation in my own life. Perhaps I am difficult to move...but there's nothing life changing about Comfort Food, it's just interesting and soothing, a nice beach read.
384 pages Paperback
Berkley Trade 2009
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