Lattes! Books! New York City! I felt I couldn’t go wrong with Megan Caldwell’s Vanity Fare, a novel that promised witty literary references with a side of scones (man, I love scones). But in the end? I couldn’t help but feel like I’d prepared to tuck into a really great piece of pie and found myself handed slimy kidney beans instead. They were filling, yes . . . but not what I’d been craving.
Now that 40-year-old Molly Hagan is staring down the barrel of impending financial insecurity, a writing gig penning food-related copy for a new bakery seems like the answer to her fervent prayers. She can keep her 6-year-old son fed, care for her bankrupt mother and begin to rebuild post-divorce.
The job working with Simon, a handsome pastry chef expanding into the American market, starts out a little rocky — especially when the charming Brit can’t help but flirt with Molly, who tries hard to project polish and professionalism. But soon business tensions, divorce tensions and sexual tension with another man — the stoic but secretly warmhearted Nick, an assistant of Simon’s — threatens to boil over. And Molly must figure out how to keep it all together.
So, starting with the good, the New York setting and encroaching restaurant opening — near the New York Public Library! — was delightful. I loved the sights and smells depicted in the city, even if Molly seemed to spend half the book riding the subway to meet business associates. Seriously, why all the subway talk? I guess we’re supposed to get that Molly is a Working Mom, you know, and it’s not easy for her to bop around Manhattan like all these other unattached wealthy nitwits. But by the third or fourth depiction of Molly donning a black outfit and commuting from the suburbs, I started to feel a little stabby.
Much of this book, in fact, made me feel stabby. Simon was a jerk. Nick was . . . well, not really a jerk, but still not someone I could tolerate for very long. Nondescript. Vanity Fare had promise but could have chopped off a good fourth of the story, and Molly’s time talking to a therapist was so tedious. Overall, it was just long. And unsatisfying.
I did narrowly finish, mostly due to the setting and foodie talk, but didn’t feel anything for Molly. We just never gelled. And because I never bonded with her or felt interested in her journey, most of the book began to feel like a slog. It was all just . . . eh. A room-temperature glass of milk.
But stars for food-related copy that begins each chapter: Yeast of Eden, Tart of Darkness. Though it wasn’t enough to save this one for me, I definitely dug the creativity.
2.5 out of 5!