MIRA, $12.95, ISBN 1-55166-753-3
Contemporary Fiction, 2003
Recipes for Easy Living is one of the increasing numbers of Americanized chick-lit books that see our heroines moving deeper and deeper into honky-tonky land. Curtiss Ann Matlock has a head start over the likes of Annie Flannigan, however: her latest book in the third entry in a series that started in 2001. If you have been following the previous two books, you will be familiar with our heroine Marilee James (now Marilee Holloway), her husband Tate, and their family consisting of Willie Lee, Marilee’s special-needs son from her previous marriage, and Corrine, Marilee’s niece. Home is the small town of Valentine, Oklahoma, where Marilee and Tate run the town newspaper.
This third instalment of the Valentine series is set near Christmas. Corrine is thirteen and she is coming to terms with having a warm and loving family with Aunt Marilee and Papa Tate. She has a crush on a cute guy, she’s getting in the mood for Christmas, so what can go wrong? Well, how about her mother Anita coming down to mend the rift between her, Corrine, and Marilee?
This book is so thick with apple pie values and small town homilies that I sometimes feel suffocated by the relentless love and sunny and happiness everybody in this place – barring one or two meanies that will come to their senses at the end of the day – display with an uniformity I find rather disturbing. Anita shows up only midway through the book, so there are a lot of wholesome smalltown cheer and love that the reader will have to wade through to get there. And even then, the story’s determined perkiness casts no doubt in my mind that there will be a neat and simple resolution to tie up all loose ends. Everybody will be friends and family again, and wow, life is so-ooo-ooo good in Valentine.
Do I like this book? Well, somewhat. The writing is good and the book is very readable. Recipes for Easy Living however comes without any emotional complexity or poignant issues in relationship that all the hallmarks of this author’s books in the past. This book is a safe, predictable book filled with typical small town anecdotes and homilies that I suspect the reader must be really enamored with this kind of scenes to really enjoy this book. A happy story isn’t such a bad thing but in this case, this one is just too saccharine at places and too much like a flat and simple greeting card for my liking.