I appear to be a on a kick of books that have female characters whose lives have fallen apart and they are struggling to piece them back together. That or this is simply the genre of the moment. The Union Street Bakery by Mary Ellen Taylor falls into that description completely – on several fronts.
Daisy McRae has been fired from her investments job in D.C. after her ex-boyfriend – the CFO – made disastrous bets that essentially brought the company to its knees. She has no money or prospects so agrees to move home to help her sisters run the family bakery that has been in existence since 1851.
Her sister Rachel is a master baker who is still reeling from her husband’s death of an aneurysm eighteen months earlier, while raising twin five year old girls. Her other sister Margaret still hasn’t finished her PhD in history and has to work at the bakery to support herself, while working another day job. Her parents have retired from the bakery due to health reasons, and their bread maker is also nearing his retirement.
With all this going on, no one has paid attention to the business side of the Union Street Bakery, and it’s hemorrhaging money, even with Daisy’s previous cash infusions. On Daisy’s first day back at the bakery – where she swore she’d never return once she graduated high school seventeen years earlier – an old customer comes in and adds some mystery. She tells Daisy that she had dreamed about her last night, walking along the river with her mama and the friend she used to have.
Daisy is taken aback, as she had been abandoned at the bakery by her mother when she was three years old and had never given up on the idea of finding her birth mother, much as she adored the parents who did raise her. And that imaginary friend? It was one of the ghosts who inhabit the house where she grew up – and where she once again lives. The customer dies of old age that night, but she passes along a journal from the 1850s that piques not just Daisy’s interest but that of her history obsessed sister Margaret.
The book follows them as they work to unravel the mysteries of Daisy’s birth mother and the S and J from the journal. Along the way, Daisy’s ex-boyfriend the CFO moves to Alexandria to open a bike shop in hopes of rekindling their romance. And there are ghosts, both that of Susie, the ghost Daisy grew up with and a man who does not want Daisy in the bakery.
Honestly, I could have done without the ghosts entirely. They are completely superfluous to the story in my mind, and they are more confusing than anything else. Their characters simply don’t belong in this book. That said, I still enjoyed The Union Street Bakery even with them there. There are other parts that didn’t strike me as fully fleshed out or in character, but they fortunately didn’t ruin the book for me. The relationship amongst the McRae sisters is one of those. At the start of the book, they are at odds and antagonists. With Daisy stepping in to run the bakery and usurping their power and making changes to try to regain the equilibrium of the bakery that her sisters had lost, one would expect more conflict and angst, but instead they are almost immediately best friends. The same goes for how Daisy handles contacts from her old business world. Her reactions to them are not at all in keeping with what I would expect.
That said, it was an enjoyable read, although I felt through much of the book as though Mary Ellen Taylor was setting the book up to have a sequel. At the end of the book, the majority of the questions were answered, but there were still several loose threads that were picked at throughout the novel yet not adequately covered, from Daisy’s birth mother to the ghosts to Daisy’s future. I would have liked to see a smoother plotting of the story, although I will admit to reading the book in under a day – so I obviously enjoyed it.
And yes, again with the trend of books about food to include recipes, The Union Street Bakery doesn’t disappoint. There are four recipes at the end of the book for the intrepid to attempt. I love this little addition, especially when the recipes come with stories about them from characters in the book, as they do here.
In the interest of full disclosure, I received a copy of this book for review purposes. I was not otherwise compensated, and all opinions remain my own.
Written by Michelle who can’t wait to try Mike’s Chocolate Espresso Torte recipe from the book. See what else she’s cooking up on her blog Honest & Truly! where each Tuesday’s post is a new recipe. You can also see what she’s been trying out by following her on Twitter where she is also @HonestAndTruly.