July 23, 2008

A Beach Book You Will Eat Right Up

Comfort Food, a novel by Kate Jacobs, fed my food-world loving soul. It will make a reader crave everything from muffins to octopus while following this tale chronicling the ups and downs of life on food television.

For those heading out to the beach or the porch and looking for culinary distraction it's a wonderful read. The food title caught my eye at the bookstore and compelled me to check out the synopsis. All the ingredients are there for a fun, warmly told story.

Comfort Food stars Gus Simpson, host of her own Cooking with Gusto! show on the fictitious Cooking Channel. She's 50 years old and has been at the cooking show game for a dozen years. But ratings are down. Breathing down her neck is a Spanish beauty queen, the fabulous but insecure Carmen Vega who wants nothing more than to be a celebrity chef. Charming Gus in the TV kitchen is her new assistant Oliver. Making her worry are her two grown daughters who are each flailing in her own way.

As Gus embarks on a new show with Vega as her new co-host, the tension is palpable. But at every turn there is humor that made me laugh out loud. A corporate team-building weekend turns the story poignant and raises the stakes for a cast that is very easy to like. The corporate trainer offers comic relief.

The characters are all smart and layered. Beyond the TV cooks, they include a reclusive neighbor with a fascinating background, an ambitious businessman who is also a forlorn lover and corporate types who run the network and its shows. The situations are yummy and funny and often adversarial.

Of course, there is the food with lyrical descriptions that make a person's mouth water and hunger for a lovely brunch or a Spanish feast.

I loved that the characters ranged in age from their 20s to their 50s and all had different life experiences, which brought richness to this book that is often missing in the chick-lit genre.

In a few ways the ending is predictable but it doesn't take away any of the fun.

This is the second novel by Jacobs, a magazine writer who penned the successful The Friday Night Knitting Club.

I listened to the audio book, which was performed by Barbara Rosenblat, my favorite narrator, tied with Jim Dale who did all the Harry Potter books. She wonderfully defines each character with a different voice and attitude so one never wonders who is speaking.

This book kept me company while driving to New York to pick up my son from his college orientation. I only wished I could have returned home and turn on my TV to watch Gus Simpson cook for me.

Food for Thought Gail Ciampa

Comfort Food, by Kate Jacobs, is published by Penguin Group and Penguin Audio. The Providence Journal

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