January 22, 2007

Bread Alone

Bread Alone by Judith Ryan Hendricks
Contemporary Fiction
Finished on 1/16/07
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

The smell of good bread baking,
like the sound of lightly flowing water,
is indescribable in its evocation of innocence and delight.

M. F. K. Fisher (1908-1992)

Book Description

The life of 31-year-old trophy wife Wynter Morrison suddenly changes course when her husband announces one evening that their marriage is over. Emotionally devastated and desperate for a change of scenery, Wyn moves to Seattle where she spends aimless hours at a local bakery, sipping coffee and inhaling the sweet aromas of freshly-made bread. These visits bring back memories of her long-ago apprenticeship at a French boulangerie, and when offered a position at the bakery, Wyn quickly accepts -- hoping that the rituals of baking will help her move on.

Working long hours among the bakery's cluster of eclectic women -- Linda, the irascible bread baker; earth mother Ellen and her partner Diane; and Tyler, the blue-haired barista -- Wyn awakens to the truths that she missed while living the good life in Hancock Park.

Soon Wyn discovers that making bread possesses an unexpected and wondrous healing power, helping her to rediscover that nothing stays the same... bread rises, pain fades, the heart heals, and the future beckons.

It’s been over five years since I first read Bread Alone. I enjoyed it quite well (gave it a B+ 7/10 Good rating) and looked forward to reading the sequel (The Baker's Apprentice) when it was published. Of course, that book sat on a shelf for a few years, but I finally decided to add it to my stack for this month's reading selection. As soon as I finished The Way the Crow Flies, I was ready for something light and fluffy. I picked up my copy of The Baker’s Apprentice, settled in with a cup of tea and a warm kitty on my lap. But before I even finished the first paragraph, I set it back down and grabbed my copy of Bread Alone. What a perfect excuse for a re-read. While I remembered the basic premise of the novel, most of the details were long forgotten, which was kind of nice. Felt like I was reading it for the first time. I didn’t want to start in on the sequel with a lot of mental gaps.

Bread Alone is an entertaining “beach read” in spite of the fairly predictable plot. I enjoyed the details about working in a bakery, as well as the romantic subplot. It’s always entertaining to read a book in which the setting is one in which I’m familiar. In addition to having lived in southern California for twenty years, I have also spent a bit of time in the Seattle area, so it was fun to read all the references to both locales. It’s been ages since I’ve tasted a cheeseburger from In-n-Out Burger, admired the beautiful hillsides covered in fuscia bougainvillea, strolled through Pike Place Market, or cruised the San Juan Islands, but I haven’t forgotten how much I enjoyed them. Reading about them is the next best thing. The author even mentions the beach town I grew up in (Del Mar, California). Don’t see that too often in novels.

As much as I love to cook and bake, I have never made a loaf of bread. Well, unless you count all the loaves I’ve made with my bread machine. But I’m pretty sure that doesn’t compare to mixing all the ingredients and kneading the dough by hand. Hendricks includes several recipes and my book is littered with Post-It Note flags. Ever the optimist, I hope to try my hand at at least one or two.

Re-reading a book is always a risk, but this proved to be worth the effort, especially since I wound up enjoying it even more than I did the first time around. The dialogue rings true and flows with ease. Certainly not great literature, but a feel-good beach read that’s sure to tempt anyone to try their hand at baking bread. Or move to the Pacific Northwest! I wouldn’t mind doing both.

I am going to learn to make bread to-morrow. So you may imagine me with my sleeves rolled up, mixing flour, milk, saleratus, etc., with a deal of grace. I advise you if you don't know how to make the staff of life to learn with dispatch.
Emily Dickinson, American poet (1830-1886)


  1. Les, thank you for bringing this book to my attention. I am always on the look out for books to read between heavies - this one looks like it would fit the bill.

    I have never made bread, but I can imagine that kneading it by hand would be therapeutic indeed. I used to work with clay and everytime I pressed my fists into the clay I could feel some of the tension leave my body - it was such a good feeling. I hope you do follow through with baking some bread, you'll enjoy it!

    Thanks for the lovely review, Les and congrats on completing your Jan book of the TBR challenge.

  2. Thanks to your comment Lotus, I just realized I was in error when posting that this was my #1 2007 TBR Challenge Read. I was thinking of the sequel, The Baker's Apprentice, rather than Bread Alone! I'll have that review posted in the next day or two.

    I'll be sure to post any bread recipes I try (that are successful) over on my food blog. I'm going to wait for until the weather warms up just a bit. Our kitchen tends to be quite chilly and I want to make sure the yeast/dough rises!

    Glad you enjoyed the review. Of the two, this is the better book. The sequel was a bit disappointing. But more of that in the coming days...

  3. I make bread quite often and it's one of the most satisfying things to do; simple, 'elemental' but so worthwhile!

  4. Anonymous7:55 AM

    I am so going to add this book to my bookmooch list. There is something so pure, so simple about making a loaf of bread by hand. I haven't done it in a while, but I think you have inspired me! Oh, and if you do make one, let us know how it comes out!
    - Stephanie

  5. Anonymous8:02 AM

    Oh, Les, what a delight it was to read your review. I could smell the yeasty bread rising and I could practically taste the warm bread when it came out of the oven. (I got the butter out of the fridge so it would be ready when the bread was.)

    This sounds like a perfect in-between book. Thanks for the review.


  6. Anonymous8:34 AM

    Oh, you've just successfully added another book to my wish list! LOL. This sounds like just the book I'd enjoy reading (especially since it includes recipes too!!). Have you ever read Laurie Colwin's books? She started out writing columns for Gourmet magazine...and she has a wonderful cookbook (Home Cooking) which is full of vignettes and comfort food recipes. I highly recommend it.


  7. What Wendy said. I was also reminded of Laurie Colwin.

    For some reason, I'm crochety in the way that weird-named characters (Wynter!) will put me off of reading a novel. But as I read the synopsis and thankfully, it was shortened to Wyn, which is still weird, but bearable in its brevity, I began to want to read this book. Love the epigram by MFK Fisher, who is on my TBR challenge list. Actually, even a loaf of *bad* bread baking smells wonderful. I should know...long story. Also love the Emily Dickinson quote. Thanks for the re-view. Sigh. Another book for the wishlist. You're such a bad influence, do you know?? I'm not complaining!!!

  8. Karen - I may try making a loaf this weekend. I'll let you know how it turns out!

    Stephanie - As I mentioned to Karen, I'm hoping to try my hand at baking bread this weekend. If it's a success, I'll post the recipe on my food blog (with a link on this one, as well).

    Mary - I'm glad you enjoyed the review. I do love the smell of baking bread, even if it's only from a bread machine. Nothing quite like real butter, melting on a warm slice of homemade bread. Yum. It just doesn't get much better, does it?

    Wendy - It's a good winter-time read. As I said, not great literature, but entertaining nonetheless. Thanks for the recommendation. I haven't read anything by Laurie Colwin, but I recognize the name. I'll have to peruse her titles next time I'm at B&N.

    Bybee - Thanks. Two recommendations for Colwin! Guess I should go shopping at B&N this weekend. :)

    You know, at first I didn't like Wynter's name either. But once abbreviated to Wyn, it didn't bother me anymore. Didn't really even give it a second thought.

    Happy to be a bad influence. :)


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