comfortfood“Gus Simpson adored birthday cake.  Chocolate, coconut, lemon, strawberry, vanilla – she had a particular fondness for the classics.  Even though she experimented with new flavors and frostings, drizzling with syrups and artfully arranging hibiscus petals, Gus more often took the retro route with piped-on flowers or a flash of candy sprinkles across the iced top.  Because birthday cake was really about nostalgia, she knew, about reaching in and using the senses to remember one perfect childhood moment.”

I was interested to read another of Kate Jacobs’ books, especially since this one is not centered around knitting.  I wanted to “get to know her” as an author and read a work that I wasn’t interested simply because it was favorable to one of my favorite hobbies.  Wonderfully, I wasn’t disappointed.

Gus Simpson is a character who feels like she’s a little bit based on Martha Stuart – classic, perfect, and the one you turn to when you don’t want something adventurous but something homey and simple – like a comfortable sweater.  Her shows are a staple on the Cooking Channel and she feels though she’s set for life.  It doesn’t matter if she thinks her daughters’ lives are a bit of a mess, she’ll always have the show.

But when Gus’s ratings drop, she is forced to share a live show with the beautiful, young, and cut-throat Miss Spain – Carmen Vega.  All Carmen wants is what Gus has, the chance to be a cooking tv starlet.  The show becomes a very unwelcome change in Gus’s life: her daughters are both on the show with her, alongside her youngest’s ex-boyfriend, a charming and good-looking food producer, and Gus’s neighbor who is in hiding from her past.  And soon it seems they’re the next reality tv show sensation.  But the heat of working with all the people she feels she needs to be perfect around will produce something in Gus that no one expected.

I was a little wary of reading this book after reading “The Friday Night Knitting Club”.  While I liked “Knitting Club,” it wasn’t all that I hoped it would be.  The story felt a little bit disjointed, as though Jacobs had one thing in mind for the story and then changed her mind 2/3 of the way through.  This novel had none of that feeling.  The entire story built up to the changes that Gus found she needed to change in her life, using things from everyone’s past to illustrate how we can get in a rut or take things in our lives for granted, or even just need to have a little more confidence that we’re doing the right thing.  Each person’s past is a vital part of the grand story of the novel, with none of the characters less interesting than anyone else.  No one emerges as the true antagonist at the end, everyone is simply human…which in my book, is a great quality for a written character to have.

“Comfort Food” was written by Kate Jacobs and published in 2009.

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