13 August 2015
Blog Tour: Book Review: The Art of Baking Blind by Sarah Vaughan
In 1966, Kathleen Eaden, cookery 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 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 façade shouldn't slip.
As unlikely alliances are forged and secrets rise to the surface, making the choicest choux bun seems the least of the contestants' problems. For they will learn - as Mrs Eaden did before them - that while perfection is possible in the kitchen, it's very much harder in life."
Available to buy now.
I love discovering new authors, so when I was invited to be part of the blog tour for author Sarah Vaughan's debut novel The Art of Baking Blind, I jumped at the chance! I love books set around cooking, so knew that I would absolutely love reading this one! The cover is really cute too, quite striking and I eagerly began reading it. I managed to finish the book in a couple of evenings, no mean feat considering it's the summer holidays and I'm busy all day and tired at night - yet I had to keep reading this book and found out how it was all going to end.
The book is based around 5 different cooks, all part of a baking competition to find the new Mrs Eaden - a baker from the 1960's who released well-loved cook books. The 5 contestants are each different and going through varying stages of their life, but this just fires their desire to win the overall competition! I loved the way the 5 contestants are weaved into the story, each changing as the competition hots up, as well as dealing with the trials and tribulations in their personal lives. My favourite of the cooks was Vicki, a teacher who has become a stay at home mum to her young toddler son Alfie, and is struggling making the transition. I loved how Vaughan writes her story - her guilt at not fully enjoying being at home with her child, her want to get back to work, juggling her child, husband, home as well as the baking competition. I could just relate to her story a lot, and she was featured heavily in the book.
As well as Vicki, there were 4 other cooks - Jenni, Mike, Claire and Karen. I also found that I loved reading about Jenny's story - her 3 daughters have grown up and flown the nest, and her marriage isn't the happy bubble it used to be, and she's struggling to cope with the transition. She turns to baking to keep herself busy, and you can see she has a real talent for it, as well as a confidence in her baking. I warmed to her a lot, willing her to seek her own happiness, especially when her husband wasn't so kind to her, and I know a lot of women will feel such anger on her behalf! The only male contestant wasn't actually featured much in the book at all, which was a shame and a bit of a missed opportunity I feel - he was almost just there as the token male but I would have loved to read more about his story - we find out less about him that we do any of the others, yet his story was deeply touching too.
Claire's story was also familiar - she had her daughter as a teenager, and has raised her alone (with the help of her parents), her daughter's father being somewhat absent. Claire wants to win to better their life, the prize money will help them hugely, and Claire definitely needs the confidence boost that the competition will bring her, Karen I couldn't warm to at all, she's clearly a very troubled woman, struggling with her teenage son and her own personal demons. The friendships that begin between the characters are well written, you can believe that these people would get on, and start to support each other outside of their baking times, and I cared about each of their stories, wondering who would come out as the overall winner of the competition.
What I really found that I enjoyed a lot about this novel was the realism within it. Yes, each of the characters are believable, but I almost found myself feeling their emotions alongside them as I was reading, completely being absorbed into their stories, and I definitely lost myself in their worlds more than once! As well as the competition set in the present day, there are regular flashbacks to Kathleen Eaden's life, as she is writng her famous cook book, which details her struggle to become a mother. Some of this is heart-breaking to read, obviously they weren't gifted with the medical advances we have today, so you can really feel Kathleen's despair as things go wrong for her time and again. Tying all these threads together is of course the baking, and there's all sorts in to make you hungry - cakes, breads, pastries - yum yum! Sarah Vaughan doesn't feature recipes, but instead focuses on the contestants techniques, their own spin on dishes, and her language brings to life in your mind the golden loaves of bread, gingerbread houses, pies and cakes too!
I really enjoyed this book from beginning to end, and I liked how the book moved around between the characters, allowing each of them to be built up as the book progressed, and focusing not just on them at the competition, but their personal lives as well. The way this was written with Kathleen Eaden's own story throughout too just added another dimension to the book, and I really didn't want to put it down once I had started reading. Sarah Vaughan's writing is brilliant, making the characters easy to follow, their stories compulsive, and the delicious food descriptions were just the icing on the cake! A super novel that I highly recommend.