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Beth Kendrick’s THE BAKE-OFF is a szarlotka of a book­–sweet and potentially indigestible. Szarlotska, the Polish version of the French pastry Charlotte de Pomme, plays an important part in Kendrick’s story. It is the recipe Grammy Syl coerces her estranged grand-daughters, Amy and Linnie to enter into a into a baking competition the prize for which a cool hundred thousand dollars. Discerning readers will guess that Grammy’s objective is not money. Rather, it is the reconciliation of these two sisters  who are “as different as oil and water.” Burdened with an IQ of a hundred and eighty, gorgeous Linnie is self-righteous, priggish and unsociable. She lives according to rigid set of rules and she shares none of her sibling’s appetites. Married to a nondescript dentist husband with whom she produced a set of twins, Amy is a dental hygienist whose brilliant social skills seem to compensate for her average intelligence. Also important to plot advancement are a pair of villainous bake-off contestants, and a (ho-hum) dark handsome and wealthy hotelier. The background is a posh hotel in New York City where the bake-off takes place. Given a crash course in the art of making szarlotka, the twenty-something sisters, who had no prior training as bakers, end up as contest finalists. They arrive at the Big Apple to discover, in double-quick time, Important Truths, learn Great Life Lessons, bond like crazy, watch a porno flick, and find love-preceded-by-sex, though not necessarily in that order.

What is not to like about such a book? Surely there is a place for mindless escapism in literature. Not every novel written by Colette and Joyce Carol Oates qualifies as deathless prose. Jane Austen is not known for Sturm und Drang. The trouble is that the reader is entitled to have at least as much fun with a book as the person who wrote it. This reader certainly did not. Billed as “hilarious”, THE BAKE OFF comes off as studied and forced. Neither its characters nor situations have nuances. They seem to have been designed with demographics in mind. Does this make it a horrible book? Not really.. Not really. It is not significantly different from the novels that kept Georges Sand solvent and that made her avatars, Barbara Cartland and Danielle Steele very rich indeed. In an era when vampire fiction reigns supreme, there is no reason why THE BAKE-OFF should not become a bestseller. If it does, Julia Roberts will probably buy the film rights, vox populi being what is. The point is, if her public craves a mix of cliches and froth, why should Kendrick deprive it of its just desserts? In Amy’s immortal words,
” It’s just fucking pie.”
Clara Castelar



29 April 2011 0 Comments

To celebrate the UK publication of my new historical thriller MOZART’S LAST ARIA, I’m giving away shiny new hardcover copies of the book signed by me (I’d love to have Mozart himself sign it, but…). To win the book, all you have to do is follow me on Twitter. Then copy the quoted text below in the message line (so I’ll know you’re entering the competition). “Follow @MattBeynonRees to win #MOZART’S LAST ARIA in hardcover. http://www.mattrees.net/mozart.html” I’ll announce the winners on Twitter and there’ll be a special bonus prize for whoever re-tweets about this competition the most.
Tags:competition,historical thriller, mozart’s last aria, twitter
Posted by bookblogger at 3:51 AM


Hellebores bloom in the shadow of cedar tree and rose bushes. They match the discreet elegance of white and blue anemones and provide  a subtle counterpoint  to the brassy notes of tete-tete daffodils. It will be interesting to find out whether they will hold out until the green-eyed Irish Mist daffodils come into flower.  The latter were meant to partner  a white dogwood tree and the white lilacs Krasavitsa Moskow and Madame Lemoine. But the dogwood sulks this season and the lilacs have yet to bud. Deer and voles did away with the white bleeding heart, ornamental quince, Turkish tulips  and lily of the valley that might have been the beginnings of a moon garden. I take comfort in knowing that no gardener has ever died of heartbreak. Just when prospect are bleakest, one happens upon unexpected delights such as the humble hellebore blossoms half  hidden by a layer of last year’s dead leaves.