Simmer and Smoke by Peggy Lampman

Simmer and Smoke

A Southern Tale of Grit and Spice
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A poor country girl and a fashionable city woman learn about life in a tasty novel that blends romance and recipes.

Alabama native Lampman has experience in the gourmet-food industry and previously wrote a food column for the Ann Arbor News and MLive. In her debut novel, she presents likable Georgia characters who have a similar love for culinary delights. The chapters alternate to recount the dreams and worries of two women who have nothing in common other than their appreciation for quality ingredients. Twenty-four-year-old Shelby Preston barely gets by in the small town of Coryville, a couple of hours outside of Atlanta, as she raises her 6-year-old daughter, the charming, one-eyed Miss Ann. She lives with her 44-year-old mother and her mother’s lover, and, as she says, “We are the living, breathing stereotype of a white trash family; as common as pig tracks.” But Shelby was the best student in her high school English class (a rather unconvincing explanation for how she writes and speaks so well) and has an ambition to become a chef. Meanwhile, in Atlanta, the wealthy 38-year-old divorcée Mallory Lakes writes a food blog, which she sees as a refuge after being fired from the Atlanta Sun newspaper. She pines for her former beau, Cooper, who dumped her, and often pals around with her friend Catherine, nicknamed “Itchy,” who works at an upscale grocery called Grasso’s. Shelby snags a job there, and she follows a convoluted but ultimately satisfying path to a better life. She eventually meets the women of the Squash Blossom Farms and shares two tragic events with her food-blog guru, Mallory. Lampman’s often poetic prose can sometimes be overwrought (“Distant sonic booms, sporadic and celebratory, reverberate and the flag hangs limp in the heavy, humid air”), but readers likely won’t mind. Overall, her engaging voice helps to lighten the story’s batter of plot coincidences. The author has Shelby and Mallory confide to readers in turn in first-person segments, but occasionally Miss Ann’s refreshing voice pipes up as well. Lampman also beefs up the text by weaving nearly two dozen Southern dishes into the story (“Hoppin’ John,” “Chicken Gumbo Ya-Ya,” etc.) and provides their recipes in an appendix.

A sweetly told saga bubbling with appealing characters and food-related talk.

ISBN: 978-1-5084-9884-1
Publisher: CreateSpace
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2015


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