Monday, May 23, 2011

The Bake-Off - Beth Kendrick


The Bake-Off
Beth Kendrick
New American Library

 Fiction

Linnie Bialek and Amy Bialek Nichols are sisters with nothing in common.  Linnie was a childhood genius who took all her parents’ time and attention.  Amy, the older sister, spent a lot of time with her Grammy Syl.  When she complained, her parents explained to her that Linnie just needed them more.  Things didn’t turn out quite the way everyone expected, though.  Amy is a soccer mom of toddler twins, a dental hygienist married to a dentist.  Linnie deals blackjack in a Vegas casino. 

Linnie also has a roommate.  When the roommate’s brother steals an antique brooch, Linnie will do anything to get it back.  Except, of course, tell anyone the truth.  Or call the police and report the theft.  She manages to get the pawn ticket and tries to play poker to win the thousands of dollars it will take to redeem the heirloom.  That fails.  Enter the indefatigable Grammy Syl.  Grammy Syl would like her granddaughter to join her in a baking contest in New York.  First prize is big money.  Linnie is desperate enough to accept.  Amy goes along for Grammy Syl.  And, it must be said, for the opportunity to sleep peacefully past the crack of dawn.  Then Grammy Syl drops the bomb.  She won’t be participating.  The sisters will do it together.  Obviously, it’s a ploy to reunite the girls, but neither one feels she can say no.

It’s really hard to feel sorry for Linnie, although we’re clearly supposed to do so.  Not only was she born a genius, she’s model-gorgeous, too.  Her childhood was one long science fair, and she claimed that she’d be an M.D. before she could legally get a drink.  When all that falls through, she retreats to a seedy apartment in Vegas and, because she can’t face anyone, spends years there.  This is what some might call karma.  She’s completely insufferable at the outset of the story, and only softens a bit by the end.  I think I was supposed to like her by the end, but the truth is that I was just used to her at that point.

The bake-off setting and story is quite fun, especially since neither one of the sisters is anything of a cook.  Some of the contestants are ferociously competitive, some are underhanded, and some are just there for the fun and the trip to New York.  Amy gets her own little story arc, and it’s a lot more convincing than Linnie’s.  Sadly, there’s less to it.  Grammy Syl is obviously the glue that holds this whole thing together.  She was far and away my favorite character, keeping on the right side of the ‘eccentric old lady’ line.  It would be nice to think that a week in a hotel for a baking contest could repair the damage wrought by short-sighted parents and decades of mistrust.  Possibly not terribly realistic, but that’s why fiction is fun.

Rating: 7
May 2011
ISBN# 978-0-451-23310-3 (trade paperback)

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