Author: Stacey Ballis
Wedding Girl is a delightfully indulgent book. All in one, it’s an ode to comfort food, old black and white movies, specifically The Little Shop Around the Corner, and family. The Little Shop Around the Corner (1940) was remade into the 1998 blockbuster You’ve Got Mail and Wedding Girl gives nods to them both. It was a slow seduction, but Ballis totally won me over.
The story begins with a personal disaster. Sophie Bernstein, the child of nurturing, successful hippies (think of Sandra Bullock’s parents in Two Weeks Notice,) has her perfect life mapped out with the perfect man. The reader arrives on the day of her perfect wedding when Mr. Perfect not only leaves her, and all of the bills, at the altar, but elopes with their business partner to St. Barts. Feeling hurt and embarrassed is not a good combination. Sophie goes into a depression and lashes out at people who’ve been good to her. It results in getting herself fired. With massive debt to pay-off, Sophie sells her condo and moves in with her grandmother. Her behavior has gotten her black-balled so her only shot at some income is the forty year old neighborhood corner bakery. Her talents are sorely wasted on two kinds of cake, butter cookies and rye bread. But it’s a job. Sophie sums it up when she says, “I think maybe after everything that happened last year, after everything that was leading up to what I always thought was my dream fell apart—my dream job and my dream guy and my dream life—I just don’t know if I have it in me to dream that big again.” From there Sophie begins to rebuild her life and her skills, finding love along the way.
Unlike petite Margaret Sullavan and Meg Ryan, our heroine is a size sixteen. I loved that it was not an issue for anyone, including her love interest. In fact, she’s an emotional eater and actually gains some weight while she goes through life-changing stress. Sophie describes herself as, “…officially beyond voluptuous and well into lumpy.” She finds it inconvenient, but it’s blissfully not a major story point. It was a pleasure to read about someone talented and normal who wasn’t obsessed with her weight. Furthermore, long sections are devoted to menus, ingredients, cooking, and eating. I felt like I gained a couple pounds just from the descriptions of homemade Pop-tarts, chocolate babka, fig tarts with pistachio cream, challah bread, cakes, pastries, even grilled cheese sandwiches. By the way, Sophie uses my same technique of starting with a cold pan on low heat so the cheese gets melty gooey before the bread gets golden crispy. But I digress…
Wedding Girl is on the long side for a contemporary romance, and I, for one, appreciated that Ballis took the time finish the story. It didn’t feel too long, it felt done. Unfortunately, what I loved about it probably isn’t enough for a younger reader. I grew up watching old black and white movies with my mother on Saturday afternoons before “Creature Features” came on with classics like Godzilla vs. Mothra and The Creature from the Black Lagoon. My first crushes were on Cary Grant and the congenial Peter Lawford. (My husband looks a little like Ronald Colman.) I wanted to be Maureen O’Hara. If my kids see me watching an old movie today, they turn and walk out of the room. They’re not even willing to give it a try because its characters live in gray-scale. My twenty-two year old daughter wouldn’t understand, at least to the same degree, the movie references at the head of each chapter and throughout the story from the Golden Age of Hollywood. I loved them. Perhaps I’m just being pessimistic and readers like my daughter will be inspired to Netflix some of the movies highlighted.
Ballis does back her story with recipes for many of the dishes mentioned in the body of the story. I’m a very experienced home baker and I considered it due diligence in reviewing the entire book to make at least one them. I made the milk bread. It was ah-mazing. No seriously, it was yeasty and soft and fluffy. It was like a bagel had a baby with my dinner rolls. Bother to get the flaked sea salt if you’re going to make it too. You get these little crunchy zings of salt that dissipate in your mouth like cotton candy around this cloud of doughy bread. It’s heaven in your mouth. It is clear why these rolls play a significant role at a key plot point.
After the recipes are questions for book clubs. Normally I don’t like having discussion questions handed to me, but I can envision a book club where everyone takes a different recipe and they all get together to taste them and talk about the book. That would be my kind of book club. I was charmed. Wedding Girl gets high marks from me.
Top pastry chef Sophie Bernstein and her sommelier fiancé were set to have Chicago’s culinary wedding of the year…until the groom eloped with someone else in a very public debacle, leaving Sophie splashed across the tabloids—fifty grand in debt on her dream wedding and one-hundred percent screwed on her dream life. The icing on the cake was when she lost her job and her home…
Laying low, Sophie moves in with her grandmother, Bubbles. That way, she can keep Bubbles and her sweater-wearing pug company and nurse her broken heart. But when Sophie gets a part-time job at the old-fashioned neighborhood bakery, she finds herself up to her elbows in dough and reluctantly giving a wedding cake customer advice on everything from gift bags to guest accommodations. Before she knows it, she’s an online wedding planner. It’s not mousse and macarons, but it pays the bills. But with the arrival of unexpected personal and professional twists, Sophie wonders if she’s really moving forward—or starting over from scratch…
Release Date: May 3, 2016
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Format(s): paperback (416 pages), e-book
Book Source: Publisher/NetGalley