Meg Donohue knows how to whet an appetite and pay homage to a gal’s sweet tooth. Her first book, How to Eat a Cupcake (William Morrow Paperbacks, March 2012) unfolds over the course of a year, opening in June and wrapping up sweetly in May. The story is told from two perspectives and, while the protagonists duke it out, the reader feasts on some delicious cupcakes. Don’t read this book hungry.
Organic pear and chai tea cake topped with vanilla-ginger buttercream. Meyer lemon topped with delicate fondant birds. Moroccan vanilla bean and pumpkin spice. Classic lemon cake with a hidden heart of passion fruit filling topped with sparking curls of candied lemon rind. Key lime, red velvet, chocolate cheesecake, mocha, mint and dark chocolate, vanilla-chocolate, coffee, cinnamon-pear, and chocolate persimmon spice. All of the rich and tantalizing flavors you dream the best cupcakery would have are in this book. The million dollar question, then, is where can you buy some? Unfortunately, Donohue won’t reveal the inspiration. I tweeted her (@megdonohue) awhile back and she shied away from providing a name or revealing the inspiration for her fictional creations. (Hint: it’s definitely not the Magnolia bakery in NYC, though my hometown favorite Trophy comes close to her concoctions!) I, and fellow readers, will just have to be satisfied with her debut novel.
Annie Quintana and Julia St. Clair. Two women from the opposite side of the tracks. An accurate description, except for one tiny detail: they grew up together. Practically sisters, they went to the same high school and kept close despite a widening social gulf. That is, until a rumour started that Annie couldn’t shake. Thus, when Annie’s mother died, there was no reason for her to stick around and pretend to be best friends with Julia or grateful to Lolly and Tad St. Clair. If it wasn’t for her mother’s missing journal and recipes, Annie would never have come back to Pacific Heights or agreed to cater a St. Clair soiree. Annie and Julia: economic, social and physical opposites. How could they stomach to be in the same room together, much less run a business?
For Julia, life has always been a breeze. Though she knows her relationship with Annie is… troubled… she firmly believes they can forge ahead and run this business. In her book, Annie is the best with baked goods. And Julia? Well, she’s business savvy. She has money, connections and the right attitude. Treat, the cupcakery she plans to open with Annie, will be a smash success in San Francisco. The Mission won’t know what hit ‘em… until someone starts hitting back.
In July: “At that point, of course, I had no idea just how far – and how dangerously – the cupcakery would plunge us into the past.”
A bit of mystery and suspense, a lot of hinting and intrigue. Donohue delivers a sweet and savory treat to her readers. With characters that are rich and full of personality, much like Quintana’s cupcakes, appearances are deceiving. The characters are possessed with more depth, honesty and wisdom than I expected when the story first unfolded. Donohue presents a complex array of characters that are a refreshing deviation from the traditionally superficial and narrow genre of women’s fiction (often cheekily referred to as “chick lit”).
However, Donohue does write within the genre. A quick glance at the cover convinces readers of this: it is cute, whimsical and of a type à la Jennifer Weiner, Sue Monk Kidd, and Marian Keyes. The plot, although not without its twists and turns, is predictable yet pleasing. No skirmish is left unexplored or unresolved. By the end, there are no lingering questions or relationships to question. The tale is wrapped up prettily and its result satisfying in a romantic, Hollywood-esque way. The women are happy, and – unsurprisingly – have supportive, enviable types of men at their sides. The characters that don’t matter fade into the background while the more compelling relationships – romantic, platonic and genetic – vie for center stage. Annie and Julia may both be running away from something, but they can’t run forever if they want their happily-ever-afters.
Anyone looking for a lighter read this spring will enjoy How to Eat a Cupcake, especially for those readers who find pure delight in pastry. I may have picked this book for its cover, but I savored it for the characters – and their appreciation of a rich, handcrafted cupcake.