Sisters Amy and Linnie grew up skirting around each other, watching as the chasm between them split beyond repair when they were teens. As adults, Linnie — once a beautiful genius on the path to greatness — has settled for dealing blackjack in Las Vegas, where she scampers about in tight-fitting uniforms and ponders where she went awry. Popular wild child Amy has settled into a life of domesticity with her husband, a successful dentist, and their twins, but she wonders if her happy life is really “enough.”
Neither sister is concerned about the incident that separated them for good — not anymore, anyway. But their grandmother Syl, a sassy Polish immigrant, is determined to end the hostilities . . . and all over a delicious, flaky and irresistible apple pie.
Secret Sisterhood Szarlotka is the prized recipe passed through generations of the Bialek family — and now it’s Linnie and Amy’s turn to prepare it. Grammy Syl has entered the same baking competition for years but, with a few well-placed fibs, it’s the sisters who arrive to prepare the szarlotka before a team of judges in New York City. Linnie is desperate for cash and Amy is desperate for a respite from her busy family life — so what’s it going to be? Make up and bake up — or fail and bail?
Beth Kendrick’s The Bake-Off is a sweet, fun and entertaining look at family, love and the perfect pastry. Kendrick immediately drew me into the Bialeks’ world with tales of Linnie’s unfulfilling life in Vegas and Amy’s frazzled days in Connecticut. Each woman was sympathetic, colorful, interesting — a fully fleshed-out and compelling character. I could sense the discord between them — anyone could, of course — but there was something tangible beneath the surface: love. And a sense that they wanted to repair what was broken between them . . . but didn’t know how.
Enter Grammy Syl. What a lovable, hilarious woman — and a devoted matriarch of their family. Syl’s undying hope that her granddaughters would reunite is endearing even when it seems ill-advised, and I could definitely imagine a determined grandmother scheming to bring her family back together in just this way. It seems like the tension between Amy and Linnie is insurmountable, but is it? I didn’t want to think so. Kendrick does a wonderful job of making the issues real without overwhelming us with drama.
In fact, for a novel about a baking competition, the drama was anything but cheesy; it was fun. After the sisters arrive to make with the famous szarlotka, their competition is willing to do anything for a cut of the $100,000 grand prize. Tai and Ty Tottenham are The Bake-Off’s villains — a husband and wife duo not averse to sabotage. Watching Linnie and Amy navigate around them was very amusing.
At the heart of the story, though, is the apple pie that brings the girls together — and my mouth was watering at descriptions of the perfect crust and tart filling. Amy and Linnie’s relationship progressed beautifully and left me feeling tender and warmhearted for my own sibling, and I think that’s what Kendrick would want. Though I wasn’t a huge fan of the love story that developed partway through, it didn’t bother me much. My eye was on that pie.
Fans of women’s fiction, foodie fiction and novels about sisters will delight in Kendrick’s descriptions, vivid characters and fast-paced, hilarious dialogue. A book that often had me laughing aloud — and wiping away a tear at points. Recommended.
4 out of 5!