Friday, February 10, 2012

The Baker’s Daughter by Sarah McCoy

Title: The Baker’s Daughter
Author: Sarah McCoy

Genre: Fiction (Historical / WWII / Germany / Nazis / Contemporary / Immigration / Texas / Bakeries)
Publisher/Publication Date: Crown (1/24/2012)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Okay to liked.
Did I finish?: I did -- I was halfway through this book without realizing it -- it reads very fast!
One-sentence summary: Parallel stories of two women facing their own grey areas in life -- Elsie, a German woman during WWII, and Reba, a contemporary American woman dating a Border Patrol agent.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction, Immigrant Stories

Do I like the cover?: I do! I don't think it has anything to do with the story at all, but it's wicked pretty!

I'm reminded of...: Camille Noe Pagan

First line: Long after the downstairs oven had cooled to the touch and the upstairs had grown warm with bodies cocooned in cotton sheets, she slipped her feet from beneath the thin coverlet and quietly made her way through the darkness, neglecting her slippers for fear that their clip might wake her sleeping husband.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow for sure -- this would be a great novel for book clubs as there are so many facets that beg exploration and discussion.

Why did I get this book?: The pretty cover!

Review: I started this book and felt a bit stony about the story: the writing felt kind of casually journalistic, like an A&E piece in a local paper, and rather snobbily I thought this might be a topical, fluffy read. After picking up the book yesterday morning in bed, I had my nose in it on my walk to the subway, and I settled in once seated on the train. When my commute ended, I was irritated at having to put my book away -- and stunned to see I had raced through more than half the book. What I initially wrote off as something simplistic turned out to be an engrossing, engaging, and moving exploration of love, family, obligation, and the terrible grey area we live in.

Modern-day Reba, a reporter with emotional damage and an eating disorder, interviews a German baker on Christmas traditions. The German baker, Elsie, remembers only the Christmas in 1944 when she went to a Nazi party, got engaged to an SS officer, and tried to leverage that power to help a few people she could. Reba is engaged to a by-the-book Border Patrol Agent whose feelings on immigration are shifting and changing as he continues to face the reality of the immigration crisis in the US.

I definitely expected some simplistic acknowledgement of the gray areas in history -- not every German was a Nazi, not every undocumented immigrant is a criminal -- but McCoy's story tackles more than that. Without getting pedantic or uncomfortably political, her characters wade through intense emotional challenges that would best anyone, and as I was reading, I found myself empathizing with just about everyone. There were no handy villains to hate on; the world Elsie and Reba live in is sticky, and I so appreciated McCoy's articulation of that. All the secondary characters were vivid, which made me care so much more, as I was as invested in them as Elsie and Reba were.

The book closes with recipes, the ones featured in the narrative, which is wonderful because ohemgee, the food descriptions made my mouth water. I raided my local Danish bakery at one point because I was, like Reba, absolutely craving the baked goods.

This would make a great book club pick -- so many facets to invite conversation and discussion -- and it would make a good gift for someone who isn't sure they like historical fiction. This is an easy novel to read despite the complicated story and I have to applaud McCoy for presenting these stories in a human way.


  1. Any book that causes the reader to make a bakery run is good in my book! I have this on my wish list and hope to get it at some point. Trying to clear some books out first.

  2. I have heard so many good things about this book, and really want to give it try. I am hoping that I can present it to my book club with as much enthusiasm as you did and get them all on board to read this one. I bet there would be tons to discuss, especially since nothing seems to be black and white in this story. Excellent review today. I really enjoyed reading it!

  3. I've heard great things about this book, and cannot wait to read it later in the month for my tour date.

  4. Me too with everyone else - everyone seems to be raving about this one. And I bet I would react like you did too (a trip to the bakery required!)

  5. I was going to pass this one up but I think I might have to check it out!

  6. Sounds like there was a great deal to talk about in this book, even though it might not have been an absolute favorite for you. Thanks for being a part of the tour.

  7. I hope I get to it soon. Sounds good.

  8. That last thing you say makes me wish I had a bookclub :(

  9. This story sounds more captivating and powerful than I expected. While I was reading your review the idea of not being able to control who you fall in love with or simply love popped into my head. I've read some other reviews recommending this book. The fact that you were able to relate to and empathize with most of the characters impresses me. I love books with good, strong characters and it sounds like this one has many. The recipes at the end are a welcome perk. I also love that you went to the Danish bakery while reading...a woman after my own heart!

    A wonderfully enjoyable review, Audra, thank you!

  10. You had me with "no handy villains to hate on" -- I love when books are deliciously ambiguous and I don't know how to feel about characters! Being handed a villain (perhaps even with an evil glint in his eye) feels like a cop-out to me. I'm big on humanity. I'm definitely interested to read this one!

  11. I liked this book way more than you did I think (well, I loved it actually) but I also went into it not expecting it to be as deep as it was.

  12. I have been seeing so many great reviews of this book but never realized it had an immigrant theme. Thanks for linking this review up for the Immigrant Stories Challenge.