Tuesday, May 5, 2015

*Challenge Review* The Art of Baking Blind by Sarah Vaughan

Genre: Fiction/Chick Lit
Published: May 5, 2015 (Originally published July 1, 2014)
Pages: 416
Ages: 14+


There are many reasons to bake: to feed; to create; to impress; to nourish; to define ourselves; and, sometimes, it has to be said, to perfect. But often we bake to fill a hunger that would be better filled by a simple gesture from a dear one. We bake to love and be loved.
In 1966, Kathleen Eaden, cookbook writer and wife of a supermarket magnate, published The Art of Baking, her guide to nurturing a family by creating the most exquisite pastries, biscuits and cakes. Now, five amateur bakers are competing to become the New Mrs. Eaden. There's Jenny, facing an empty nest now that her family has flown; Claire, who has sacrificed her dreams for her daughter; Mike, trying to parent his two kids after his wife's death; Vicki, who has dropped everything to be at home with her baby boy; and Karen, perfect Karen, who knows what it's like to have nothing and is determined her facade shouldn't slip. 

As unlikely alliances are forged and secrets rise to the surface, making the choicest pastry seems the least of the contestants' problems. For they will learn--as as Mrs. Eaden did before them--that while perfection is possible in the kitchen, it's very much harder in life.


I received a copy of this book through the Goodreads First Reads giveaway program. I originally started reading it while cooking dinner, waiting for water to boil for spaghetti because it was sitting on the kitchen counter and handy. I was pretty much immediately drawn into the story, although not to the extent that I ruined dinner fortunately, and soon decided to make it my focus book (because I always have several books going at one time, but one that I focus on.)

I think a large part of the appeal of The Art of Baking Blind for me is that it combines three of my favorite things: reading, baking, and reality television. Like most reality t.v. competitions, we're introduced to the characters and I immediately related to two of the five contestants. I saw parts of myself in both Vicki and Jenny, so I was cheering for them, but Claire's sob story made me feel quite sorry for her, and I started rooting for her as well since winning the competition would obviously drastically change her life. It was really hard for me to decide who I most wanted to win, and it just got harder as I got to know the contestants better. Almost everyone was a winner in the end, even though only one of them actually won the competition.

While the contest to find the next Mrs. Eaden provided the connection between the characters, the book focused more on their personal lives, which is an aspect we miss from most reality shows in real life. The part I enjoyed the most about this was seeing Kathleen Eaden's life interspersed with the lives of the contestants, even though most of it was heartbreaking. It seemed to me that she wrote her hopes and dreams into her columns and her book, but like the contestants, she hid her emotional turmoil from the cameras, seeking solace in baking.

Being an American, I had a few issues with this book. It's written in English, so I should understand it no problem, but British English is a slightly different beast than American English with it's own slang and some different definitions and spellings for some words. For one thing, I have a very different idea of what constitutes a biscuit than the British do. For me, a biscuit is a heavy, buttery flavored bread typically served with fried chicken or a thick cream gravy. To the British, it's a cookie, a sweet treat. My image of a traditional English tea with biscuits has been turned completely upside down by this book. It seems much more enjoyable now that I know biscuits are essentially cookies though. My other issue is that I don't know what the word "bolshie" means (my computer doesn't even recognize it as a word, it just got autocorrected), and I wasn't really able to derive the meaning through the context clues in the story. These aren't really complaints though. The book is set in England, so it should use British English, these are just my observations about differences.

There are two things I would have loved to have seen in the book though that were missing. First, I'd love to see some of the actual recipes made in the book. I actually want The Art of Baking by Kathleen Eaden to be a real book that I could buy, because I would. But barring that, I would have loved to have gotten some of the recipes in an appendix or something, so I could try them out. I realize I can Google them, but it wouldn't be quite the same, and I wouldn't know for sure if they were the exact recipes used for this book and that's important to me. The other thing I would have liked is a glimpse at the lives of the contestants after the contest is over, say 6 months or a year down the road. I'd love to see how the winner is coping with being the new Mrs. Eaden, and how the other contestants personal lives have changed or not from their experience. Actually, I think I'd love to see a whole book about the life of the new Mrs. Eaden.

Overall I give this book 4 out of 5 stars because it sucked me in and kept me intrigued, and even managed to drag a few tears out of me. I would recommend it to fans of shows like Master Chef and Hell's Kitchen. I'm definitely interested in seeing more from this author.

Buy the Book

About the Author

Sarah Vaughan read English at Oxford and went on to be a journalist. After training with the Press Association, she worked for The Guardian for 11 years as a news reporter, health correspondent and political correspondent. She started writing fiction after deciding to freelance. The Art of Baking Blind - published by Hodder (UK and Canada), St Martin's Press (US) and translated into eight languages - is the result. She lives in Cambridge with her husband and two young children and is currently writing her second novel.


I was not able to fit this book into my book bingo challenge because it would have felt like a lie to say it was from my TBR (even though that is technically true according to my Goodreads TBR), since I picked it up to start reading randomly. It fit into the Popsugar reading challenge quite well though. I used it to fulfill my book set in another country category, because England. 

Other categories this book would fulfill include:
A book published this year
A book by a female author
A book based entirely on it's cover (there's a reason I picked it over the other books on my kitchen counter)
A book set somewhere I've always wanted to visit
A book that made me cry (just a couple tears, but they happened.)
A book by an author I've never read before

And I'm half tempted to say it's a book originally written in a different language because I suspect some of the terminology was changed to make it more American friendly, and British English and American English are almost different languages at times. 

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