Caldwell-Vanity-Fare250x375Reviewed by A.D. Cole

Molly Hagan is forty, in the middle of a divorce, and in desperate need of a job. She’s also mother to a six-year-old boy, has a degree in English literature, and has a self-deprecating sense of humor. All of which qualify her as a very ordinary human being and a very boring heroine. We all want to relate to the hero/heroine, true. But we don’t want to read the literal story of our own lives. At least I don’t.

In chapter two, the plot finally begins. A friend offers Molly a marketing job based on nothing but his unfounded faith in her and her apparently singular ability to make puns. This is the hook of the novel and what caught my eye. The job is for a new bakery owned by an up-and-coming star chef. The baked goods to be featured will all have literary names such as Dorothy Parker House Rolls or Adventures of Huckleberry Pie. Who wouldn’t love that? Pastries and literature. There’s nothing better.

For that reason alone, Vanity Fare may be worth reading. There are certainly moments of redemption here. There are a couple of laugh-out-loud moments. The primary love interest is a hunk. And there are recipes in the back for the pastries mentioned in the novel (those rolls will be featured at my next family dinner, in fact). But overall, I was disappointed.

In the spirit of the main character, who spends much of the novel writing out lists about what she hopes to do with her life, what she loves about herself, etc…I shall list for you the reasons for my disappointment. In no particular order.

1. The main draw to the character is supposed to be her sense of humor. Snarky, is what you’d call it, even if, like me, you hate that word. But the humor comes off as heavy-handed and bitter. The literary and pop culture references which proliferate, are for the most part unoriginal.

2. The inner conflict is boring. Sure, she comes to the very valid and reasonable conclusions that the divorce isn’t her fault, she’s allowed to love herself, and she can make it on her own. But the path that leads here is mundane. She looks in the mirror and reflects. She re-hashes her problems with her best friend. She re-hashes her problems with her therapist. She makes a list. She re-hashes her problems with her other best friend.

3. The therapist doesn’t declare Molly healthy when she discovers this sense of empowerment. Instead, she declares her healthy only after she “moves on” and finds a man. What kind of message is this? And why is she pushing a woman who hasn’t yet completed her divorce back into the dating game?

4. Finally, there were just some basic timeline inconsistencies that I found disappointing in a novel accepted for publication. For instance, in one chapter her husband is coming on Monday to retrieve his ring. But in the next chapter, he comes on Thursday and no mention of a change of plans. There are several mistakes like this which made the order of events difficult to follow.

I can’t say that Vanity Fare is unequivocally bad in all ways. Obviously someone liked it. But it’s not one I would recommend. Except for the recipes in the back. Which look pretty darn good.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆ 

A.D. Cole is a homeschooling mother and aspiring romance novelist. She lives in the Ozark foothills and spends her free time reading, writing, baking and pondering life’s little mysteries.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by William Morrow Paperbacks. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.