Cooking Up a New Life

A Boston pastry chef and Grubstreet Novel Incubator alum serves up a sweet debut.


The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living by Louise Miller

Published by Pamela Dorman Books, 342 pages, $26

From the start, even when pastry chef Olivia’s baked Alaska accident sets a Boston Brahmin club on fire, there is a kitchen coziness to this book. After that blaze, Olivia flees to Vermont, where her friend Hannah helps her find a cooking job working for the snippy, formal Margaret at the Sugar Maple Inn. The small town of Guthrie, gossipy and tight-knit, welcomes this appealing newcomer, who whips up wondrous desserts and is invited to play banjo in a local band.

Olivia has her eye on the fiddler of that band, the charming yet slightly elusive Martin McCracken, who has returned to Guthrie from Seattle to care for his ailing father, Henry. Olivia becomes a favorite of the McCracken family, connecting gently with Henry, who gives her a treasured but unplayed dulcimer. Olivia has a saucy air, but she’s grounded too. Her cross-generational simpatico ease and her gathering affinity for small-town Vermont make us wonder why Martin stops at a kiss. Meanwhile, a pie-baking contest starts to stir up painful romantic secrets from the past.

Author and real-life pastry chef Louise Miller keeps the plot dancing along, deftly combining cheer and uncertainty. And as her sophisticated urbanite settles into her new country life, she invites us into its pleasures. Surprises abound, including revelations that deepen the relationship between the haughty Margaret and her cheerful yet cheeky employee, whom she always calls “Miss Rawlings.” Throughout, we’re treated to many delicious descriptions of recipes that lend the book a literary sweetness.

From Page 293: Vermont in June is like Oz. The mud-caked slush of spring gives way to green fields dotted with yellow dandelions and black and white cows. On the road to the Sugar Maple I rolled down the windows to drink in the aromas of fresh dirt and cut grass. I felt full to bursting, like an overripe tomato, and connected to every living thing.

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