Monday, January 4, 2010

'Comfort Food' Offers Perfect Way to Start the New Year

So you're laying in bed, cozy with a quilt (and perhaps a dog at your feet)... It's snowing outside, or at the very least it's so cold you don't want to budge from underneath the covers. That's what my New Year's weekend was like. I started off the New Year right by participating (somewhat) in a New Year's Read-a-thon sponsored by Kristen at Bookworming in the 21st Century. I didn't really get a chance to read much on New Year's Eve until later, then I dove straight into a comfy read -- Kate Jacobs's feel-good novel Comfort Food. I was immersed in Jacobs's book for most of the next two days (both New Year's Day and January 2nd), then I completed it late that second night. I spent the last day of the read-a-thon with a New Book shelf find from my local library, Richard Powers's The Echo Maker. It's a deeply interesting read -- kind of a cross between Carolyn Parkhurst's The Dogs of Babel: A Novel and Dean Koontz's The House of Thunder... And yes, I realize that on paper those two have absolutely nothing to do with one another. Just trust me (and wait for my final word on that novel after I finish it).

But back to Comfort Food. Such a lovely read. Not literary or pretentious, just a good plot and likeable characters. How often I find myself searching for only that -- a good storyline & characters I actually care about. Jacobs delivers just that in this book. Augusta "Gus" Simpson is a CookingChannel star who came from a tough background and fought her way to the top. She is successful because she's put in the time -- twelve years, to be exact.

Gus finds herself becoming less and less relevant as new technology (think video-chatting with viewers in mid-stir) & pretty faces move in and good old-fashioned cooking and entertaining are being pushed out. She finds herself in a position where she must compromise or walk away, and compromise she does. Rising network star Carmen Vega, a former beauty queen who isn't afraid to sleep her way to the top, walks into the CookingChannel studio and gives Gus a run for her money. Also included in the action are Gus's grown-but-not-grown-up daughters, a neighbor who has spent her life running from scandal, a Wall Street stockbroker-turned-chef, and various CookingChannel executives who are in it only so long as their bank accounts are growing.

Gus is the epitome of Food Network (ahem, CookingChannel, I mean) stardom -- down home, but a performer in truth. However, in Comfort Food she's forced to make a choice between keeping her personal life separate (and her on-air persona "clean") or giving the viewers what they want -- the real-life Gus Simpson, with all her flaws laid out for the television camera to capture.

Jacobs gives readers quite a few interesting subplots, and there is plenty romance spread around among the characters. All in all, it's a winning combination of pop culture references, well-rounded characters, and good storytelling.

Jacobs is also the author of The Friday Night Knitting Club series, which has been optioned by Universal Studios for an upcoming movie.

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