Considering all the rave reviews I read about The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs, I thought I would love the story. I didn't. I liked it well enough, I just didn't love it (especially not the ending). You can read my review here. Anyway, I wondered how I would feel about Jacobs' new book, Comfort Food. Would it be her first novel all over again? Or would she bring something new to the table with her sophomore effort?
Although there are definite similarities between the two books (mention of Kool Aid as hair dye, for one), Comfort Food stands on its own. In fact, I liked it better than The Friday Night Knitting Club. I'll get back to the whys in a bit...
Comfort Food stars Agustus "Gus" Simpson, host of food TV's popular Cooking With Gusto! show. The program airs in her living room, so Gus spends the majority of her time in her expansive home cooking, entertaining and plying guests with treats from her kitchen. A long-time widow, Gus has two grown daughters who still need babying, not to mention husbands. Organized and efficient, Gus has everything in her life under control. That is, until her ratings start to plunge. To boost the numbers, her producer decides to bring in a co-host in the form of ex-beauty queen Carmen Vega. The former Miss Spain knows her way around the network president's bedroom and, Gus reluctantly admits, the kitchen. Of course, that doesn't mean Gus has to take her usurpation laying down. Still, the on-screen tension on Eat, Drink and Be produces the desired effect - ratings spike, website hits skyrocket, and Gus' future burns brighter and brighter.
A freak snowstorm adds another element to the show, widening the cast to include: Aimee, Gus' older daughter, whose shoulders sag under the weight of responsibility; Gus' younger daughter Sabrina, who changes fiancees almost as often as she changes her shoes; Troy, Sabrina's still-pining ex; Oliver, the easygoing chef whose flirtations make Gus nervous; and Hannah, Gus' neighbor, who hides a painful past beneath her signature grey hoodie. Together, they make the show a success. Still, there's tension simmering between all parties, tension that threatens to boil over. During a weekend retreat to build team unity, conflicts come to a head with less than scrumptious results. While Aimee and Sabrina express long-held anger toward their mother, Gus gets a shock that will make her re-think her whole life and career. She is forced to ask the question that forms the backbone of the story: How far will a person go to get what they want, and is the sacrifice really ever worth it?
Like I said in the beginning, Comfort Food has a lot in common with The Friday Night Knitting Club - both books feature a strong, single mother who finds her passion, then uses it to create a successful career. Both protaganists are hardworking women who have to learn to give up some of the control in their lives in order to be happier, healthier human beings. Both novels also have a "club" feel, in which a large cast of characters each narrate a portion of the story, giving us insight into their different personalities. Despite the similarities between the books, there are also big differences. Comfort Food has a much stronger star, for one. Gus Simpson's personality is far more vivacious than Georgia Walker's, making her far more interesting. Also, I felt that Gus had more depth in general. Where Jacobs' first book seemed meandering to me, Comfort Food remained focused. The writing seemed smoother in the new book, and the ending was more realistic and satisfying than The Friday Night Knitting Club's conclusion. For all these reasons, I liked Comfort Food better. It's a solid book that stands on its own merits.
I was a little surprised that there were no recipes included in the book (I read an ARC - maybe that's why?), but even without the "whipped cream on top" this story bakes up as nicely as one of Gus Simpson's famous scones. Go on - take a bite. You'll love this satisfying read.