Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Review ~ Friendship Bread by Darien Gee

Friendship Bread: A NovelFriendship Bread: A Novel
Author ~ Darien Gee
Publisher ~ Ballantine Books
Publication Date ~ April 5, 2011

About the book ~

An anonymous gift sends a woman on a journey she never could have anticipated.

One afternoon, Julia Evarts and her five-year-old daughter, Gracie, arrive home to find an unexpected gift on the front porch: a homemade loaf of Amish Friendship Bread and a simple note: I hope you enjoy it. Also included are a bag of starter, instructions on how to make the bread herself, and a request to share it with others.

Still reeling from a personal tragedy that left her estranged from the sister who was once her best friend, Julia remains at a loss as to how to move on with her life. She’d just as soon toss the anonymous gift, but to make Gracie happy, she agrees to bake the bread.

When Julia meets two newcomers to the small town of Avalon, Illinois, she sparks a connection by offering them her extra bread starter. Widow Madeline Davis is laboring to keep her tea salon afloat while Hannah Wang de Brisay, a famed concert cellist, is at a crossroads, her career and marriage having come to an abrupt end. In the warm kitchen of Madeline’s tea salon, the three women forge a friendship that will change their lives forever.

In no time, everyone in Avalon is baking Amish Friendship Bread. But even as the town unites for a benevolent cause and Julia becomes ever closer to her new friends, she realizes the profound necessity of confronting the painful past she shares with her sister.

About life and loss, friendship and community, food and family, Friendship Bread tells the uplifting story of what endures when even the unthinkable happens.

My thoughts ~ 

Julia &  Mark ~ A young couple with a beautiful five-year-old daughter, Gracie. But the joy of having this adorable, spunky, bright, energetic child is masked by the pain they still feel, five years later for the loss of their adored ten-year-old son, Josh. Julia continues to struggle with day-to-day living, finding it difficult to move past the death of her son. She barely has enough energy to get out of bed and get Gracie to and from school, never mind make any effort when it comes to the rest of her family, her friends, or her marriage. Mark hasn’t been able to fully mourn as he should for his son as he has spent all his focus on helping Julia through their loss and worrying about her. Will he give in to the temptation of the beautiful new woman working for him, or will his love for his wife - despite the lack of affection and attention - be enough to keep him faithful?

Hannah & Philippe ~ They have just bought a sweet bungalow in this small town looking to settle down. Hannah was a cellist & Philippe a violinist with the Symphony. As a child prodigy, Hannah has been playing the cello since she was six. All of those years have caused her to have terrible back pains and have forced her to retire. However, Philippe has no desire or need to stop playing, or for that matter, to be with Hannah. Now Hannah must decide if she wants to fight for the man she thought she loved, or if she’s strong enough, for the first time in her life, to be on her own.

Livvy & Tom ~ Having lived large, they are now experiencing the pitfalls of the declining economy. First Tom’s car is repossessed, and then he loses his job. Just about the same time as when their journey into parenthood is about to begin. BUT, even though Livvy wants nothing more to be a mother, a tragic accident in her past leaves her with feelings of guilt and doubt. If she couldn’t save one of the things that meant the most to her in this world, how could she protect her own child? Can she move past these feelings of guilt and embrace what should be the happiest time of her life?

Madeline Davis ~ She is a widow without a family of her own. She never really loved Chicago. Not the cold weather or the people. But something draws her to this quaint little town, and the next thing she knows, she is signing on the dotted line, buying a Bed & Breakfast. She turns it into Madeline’s Tea Salon. Things are quiet and slow, and Madeline wonders if she’s made a mistake in opening it. Could this be another mistake in her life that she may live to regret? Or will she be able to find the strength to reach out and make amends with someone in her past?

Edie & Richard ~ She is a journalist who writes feel-good stories for the local paper, with dreams of that “big” story that will get her name out there. She has moved to this small town to be with her boyfriend, Richard, the local GP. Will she be happy here in small town America, or does she need the bright lights of the big city?

Avalon, Illinois is typical small-town America. Everyone knows everyone. While life is simple and somewhat uncomplicated, there are still secrets, hopes, regret, and pain. Sometimes with little hope of ever moving on. Until one day when a plate is left on the porch of Julia and her family. A plate with a few slices of bread, something that looks like mush in a bag, and instructions on how to make the Amish Friendship Bread (you have to mix/squish the bread for X amount of days, add ingredients in on day X and then mix/squish for a few more days – baking on the 10th day. Then you take and separate three cups and keep the fourth for yourself – always having a starter). Julia wants nothing to do with it, but Gracie begs her to make the bread, and so sets in motion a chain of events that will affect not only these main characters, but everyone in their entire community. Can this little bag of mush bring together these women as friends and confidants? Will this act of baking and sharing be the prompt that all of these women and their families need to move forward in their lives, to accept the tragedies of the past and find hope in their future?

The main characters in the book are Julia, Hannah, Livvy, Madeline, and Edie. But throughout the book are chapters about other members in the community, like Mark the therapist, Clinton the copy machine tech, Clyde the pharmacist, and A.A. the bike shop owner. While some readers may find these chapters unnecessary and detracting away from the central characters and their stories, I enjoyed them. They showed us not only what the concept of the Friendship Bread stood for, how it affected not only Julia, Hannah, Livvy, Madeline, and Edie, but how it affected the community as a whole. And when another tragedy befalls a neighboring community, we see how this one simple act of kindness, of sharing your Amish Friendship Bread starter, can bring everyone together to pay it forward and change the lives of many. Friendship Bread is a beautiful story of old loves, new friends, and the repairing of tattered relationships. It should be read slowly ~ savored like your favorite desert.

Click HERE to read an excerpt


Darien Gee divides her time between Hawaii and the West Coast. She lives with her husband and their three children. Her next novel set in Avalon will be available in 2012.

Like Darien on Facebook
Visit the Friendship Bread Kitchen website
Follow Darien on Twittetr