Monday, December 24, 2018

Book Review: Game of Pies

By Jami Deise

Romeo-and-Juliet type stories have been popular since… well, since before Romeo and Juliet, because everyone knows the Bard got his material from other sources. There’s just something so poignant about lovers who can’t be together because of their families, whether the source of conflict is religion, land, football allegiances, or baked goods.

Of course, a pie is never really just a pie, is it?

Prolific indie author Heather Wardell’s latest offering, Game of Pies, combines the classic Romeo-and-Juliet structure with Game of Thrones type machinations, and plenty of ingredients. (There are even fraternal twins, though thank God no twincest.) Thirty-somethings Kyle and Brittany have just moved in together, and when they throw their first family dinner party, they learn that their grandmothers have been feuding for sixty years. Their venue of choice: A pie-baking contest. Not the warm-and-fuzzy type, the grandmothers demand that Kyle and Brit beat them in the contest if they want to be together. Both loyal to their respective matriarchs, they give in… and then begin to doubt their loyalty to each other.

Although at first I had trouble getting into the book (the first chapter is crowded with too many characters and too much back story), as the story progressed, it became more intriguing. Narrated in first person by Brittany, she’s a likeable character who naturally sees the best in her own grandmother, Marilyn. When Brit learns that Kyle’s grandmother, Virginia, married Marilyn’s boyfriend Gary, it seems obvious who is the villain and who is the victim in the long-ago story.
Or is it?

As Brit and Kyle try (and don’t always succeed) to avoid becoming pawns in their grandmothers’ elaborate chess game, Wardell alternates these present-day chapters with sections from the past that detail the women’s teenage friendship and how it was derailed by their mutual crush on Gary. While I liked Brit a lot, I loved these chapters from the 1960s. The juxtaposition of today’s contemporary attitudes toward sex and women, to the mid-century mindset where women had no hope of a future better than a good marriage and their virginity was a prized possession, elevated this book from chick lit to social commentary. I would have liked to have seen even more from the grandmothers’ past – specifically, Virginia, who lost her only child in a car accident and ended up raising her daughter’s twins from babyhood. With the focus on the love triangle and the mutual dislike for each other’s grandchild, the grandmothers come across a bit one-dimensional.

While I read several of Wardell’s earlier books that focused on a reality TV competition and its effect on the participants, I’m a stranger to her current series of loosely interconnected novels, which she calls the Toronto Collection. As a writer myself, I’m bowled over by Wardell’s prodigious output. Indie writers gain a following by pumping out books like a machine, but she never sacrifices plot or character development for speed.

I thought Game of Pies would be a nice detour from my usual diet of psychological thrillers, but instead it was a good reminder that beneath the heart of every romantic comedy lies a spine of intrigue. When a couple is thwarted a happy ending, the consequences can reverberate for generations.

Thanks to Heather Wardell for the book in exchange for an honest review. Pre-order Game of Pies for only 99 cents on Kindle!

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