cover image The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living

The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living

Louise Miller. Viking/Dorman, $26 (352p) ISBN 978-1-101-98120-7

At the outset of Miller’s endearing debut, 32-year-old pastry chef Olivia Rawlings loses her job after she drops a tray of baked Alaska and starts a fire at the prestigious Boston club where she works. In need of comfort, she heads to Guthrie, Vt., to visit her best friend, Hannah Doyle, who lands her a job at the nearby Sugar Maple, a picturesque inn owned by the stern yet protective Margaret Hurley. As Olivia adjusts to her new life, her growing attachment to Margaret’s friends, the McCrackens—especially Martin, the fiddle-playing son—prompts her return to banjo and folk music. But even as she settles in and joins a contra dance band, she struggles to navigate the secrets, gossip, and long-held animosities that animate the town. Miller, a pastry chef herself, writes about food with vivid detail, but her rhythmic prose is even crisper when her interests converge: “From the stage you could see the lattice pattern the dances made, the couples weaving in and out like fluted strips of piecrust.” Miller also excels at characterization, revealing her protagonist’s complex pasts in subtle ways. Even minor characters such as Alfred, Olivia’s coworker at the Sugar Maple, and Henry, the ailing McCracken patriarch, are sharply drawn and memorable. Throughout, the novel’s empathetic spirit and unhurried pace allow it to grapple with grief, family, and belonging, while keeping the focus on Olivia’s difficult decisions. Agent: Alexandra Machinist, ICM Partners. (Aug.)