Friday, January 9, 2015

Book Review: What Would Mary Berry Do?

By Becky Gulc

Anyone who read the blog tour post for Chick Lit Central from Claire Sandy (a.k.a. Bernie Strachan) will know that she is a very witty writer indeed, and I had the pleasure of being sent her novel, What Would Mary Berry Do?, for review.

As one of the seven million or so weekly viewers of the Great British Bake Off (in which Mary Berry is a judge) and being a keen amateur baker myself I was immediately enticed by the title and cover, I couldn’t wait to get started. If I’m honest, because it clearly states that Mary Berry does not feature in the novel, and hasn’t endorsed it, I did wonder though whether the title may be over-suggestive and a case of clever marketing rather than particularly featuring Mary as such. But what’s it all about?

"Marie Dunwoody doesn't want for much in life. She has a lovely husband, three wonderful children, and a business of her own. But her cupcakes are crap. Her meringues are runny and her biscuits rock-hard. She cannot bake for toffee. Or, for that matter, make toffee.

Marie can't ignore the disappointed looks any more, or continue to be shamed by neighbour and nemesis, Lucy Gray. Lucy whips up perfect profiteroles with one hand, while ironing her bed sheets with the other. Marie's had enough: this is the year it all changes. She vows to follow - to the letter - recipes from the Queen of Baking, and at all times ask, 'What would Mary Berry do?'

Husband Robert has noticed that his boss takes crumb structure as seriously as budget cuts and with redundancies on the horizon, he too puts on a pinny. Twins Rose and Iris are happy to eat all the half-baked mistakes that come their way, but big brother Angus is more distant than usual, as if something is troubling him. And there is no one as nosey as a matching pair of nine-year-old girls...

Marie starts to realise that the wise words of Mary Berry can help her with more than just a Victoria Sponge. But can Robert save the wobbling soufflé that is his career? And is Lucy's sweet demeanour hiding something secretly sour?" (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon UK.)

This is one of the funniest books I’ve read in a long time and I’m sure it will delight any "Bake Off" fan, as well as anyone who enjoys baking, or even just the idea of baking, or anyone who simply enjoys food…most people! I loved the way the humour felt effortless and real, there were so many times when Marie’s home was being described that just sounded like my own (bit of a mess). Marie’s relationships with her husband and children again seemed so vividly described, always with great humour, with for example her teenage son Angus speaking ‘less than a child raised by orangutans’.

Although baking is featured quite a lot there’s a lot more to this book, covering things like bullying, ‘restructuring’ at work, adultery without ever feeling heavy whilst not belittling these difficulties.
For me this is a perfect, light, humorous read that I’m sure many people will relate to and enjoy. Marie and her family are great characters to spend time with, as well as their neighbours and work colleagues (Marie’s longstanding work colleagues are great!), all fleshed out nicely with some interesting twists and turns along the way. One of the things I particularly liked about this novel was the fact that Marie and Robert’s children are quite prominent in the novel, the mischievous but caring twins and the typical brooding teenager in Angus who we see go on quite a moving journey in the novel with readers gaining further insight into his life through email exchanges with the mysterious ‘stargazinggirl’. I felt like we got to know the whole family really well.

As for the baking element, this doesn’t disappoint. Marie essentially decides to become best friends with Mary Berry’s Baking Bible, working her way through different recipes with a view to eventually outshining her nemesis of a neighbour Lucy at the next school fete. No, it doesn’t feature any specific recipes as such; this doesn’t matter, the book still oozes charm and the warmth you get when you watch the "Bake Off" and as someone who enjoys baking but doesn’t always get fantastic results, I was with Marie all the way, especially when she gets herself into a situation where she has to tackle a croquembouche for a friend’s wedding cake! (Not that I’ll be attempting one of these anytime soon.)

I didn’t know until I’d finished reading the book that Claire Sandy is just one name Bernie Strachan writes under. It doesn’t surprise me that Bernie is working on a sitcom given how funny she is, but I was also pleasantly surprised to see that she had written one of my favourite books of last year which was The Valentine’s Card under the name of Juliet Ashton, another fantastic book! I for one will be keeping an eye on Bernie’s website from now on to see what work she has coming up as I’m definitely a fan of her work.

Thanks to Pan Macmillan for the book in exchange for an honest review.


Janine said...

Wonderful review

Nova said...

this book sounds wonderful!!!