“What’s the secret ingredient to your happiness?
Laura Griffin is preparing for an empty nest. The thought of Number 11 Lark Hill falling silent – a home usually bustling with noise, people and the fragrant smells of something cooking on the Aga – seems impossible. Laura hopes it will mean more time for herself, and more time with her husband, Dom.
But when an exposed secret shakes their marriage, Laura suddenly feels as though her family is shrinking around her. Feeling lost, she turns to her greatest comfort: her grandmother’s recipe box, a treasured collection dating back to the Second World War. Everyone has always adored Laura’s jams and chutneys, piled their sandwiches high with her pickles . . . Inspired by a bit of the old Blitz spirit, Laura has an idea that gives her a fresh sense of purpose.
Full of fierce determination, Laura starts carving her own path. But even the bravest woman needs the people who love her. And now, they need her in return . . .”
I’ve noticed a trend in the books I’m picking up recently towards central female characters that are, shall we say, not in the first flush of youth. I’m not sure if this is because more books are being written and published with older women as the focal point or that my tastes are changing and I am drawn more to novels featuring characters I can relate to as my age increases, possibly it is a combination of the two. Either way, I think it is a positive change and something to be celebrated.
I spent yesterday, my forty-sixth birthday, indulging myself in a my favourite pastime (reading, of course!) and the the book I chose was Veronica Henry’s latest novel A Family Recipe. The main character of this book is Laura, a forty-something woman who is faced with finding herself again after her children flying the nest and a shocking family revelation combine to knock her life off the track it had been trundling along for twenty years. As a woman with rapidly maturing children, relationship upheaval and a major career change behind me, there was a huge amount in this book to which I could personally relate and, as a result, I was drawn into Laura’s story immediately.
I suspect any woman of a similar age reading this is going to find herself able to sympathise with a least one aspect of Laura’s life and this is the skill in Veronica’s writing. Her stories, in this and her previous novels, are built on the personal experiences and domestic dramas of ordinary people and, as a result, her characters and their travails are easy for her readers to relate to. We recognise them and, consequently, care about them – an essential ingredient for a really successful novel.
There are actually two timelines running through this book, and two main characters. We have Laura in the modern day, – trying to find her feet during a rocky time in her life and falling back on the comfort of her family’s traditional recipes to ground her – and Jilly, one of Laura’s ancestors – living at the time of the Blitz in Bath and using the same recipes to comfort herself through the fear and grief of that terrible time.
Veronica weaves the two threads together beautifully to demonstrate the influence of our family on us and the importance of those ties of blood and love to hold us together in times of need. Veronica was inspired to write the novel by her own box of family recipes and the personal connection to the story is palpable in the pages. This novel feels so authentic, so full of passion and love, it is impossible not to get drawn in. I was totally enmeshed in the lives of the characters to the point of tearfulness on more than one occasion and I have been left with a feeling of warmth and tenderness at the end. I love Veronica’s work, and I think this might be my favourite yet.
The beauty of this book is helped along by setting it in the gorgeous city of Bath and Veronica manages to bring that gracious city to life with her deft descriptions. I know this is another aspect of the book that is very personal to the author and her love of the city shines throughout.
All in all, this is a perfectly crafted book, one to treasure and return to whenever you are looking for an uplifting story of family, friendship and food.
A Family Recipe is out now and you can buy a copy here.
Thank you to NetGalley and Orion Publishing for my advance copy of this book which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.
About the Author
Veronica Henry has worked as a scriptwriter for THE ARCHERS, HEARTBEAT and HOLBY CITY amongst many others, before turning to fiction. She won the 2014 RNA NOVEL OF THE YEAR AWARD for A NIGHT ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS. Veronica lives with her family in a village in north Devon.
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