Nowhere but Home from Chachic's Book Nook. Intrigued by the pretty cover, I checked out the premise and realized instantly that this was a book that I needed to read. The protagonist, Queen Elizabeth (Queenie to friends) Wake, has spent most of her adult life moving from place to place. She's never settled in anywhere, especially since her temper and exacting culinary demands keep on getting her fired. Finally, she decides to move back to her hometown. North Star hasn't exactly been a safe harbor for the Wake women and now it's going to witness how Queenie confronts her ghosts.
The small-town girl who leaves home to find herself in the big city is a familiar trope, but Queenie's story has just the right amount of uniqueness and familiarity to it that I kept on reading. Her sister Merry Carole, who had an unsavory reputation after getting pregnant early, has never quite shaken old rumors, even as her son is named starting quarterback of the town's prized football team. Her old flame Everett Coburn -- the one who got away and broke her heart in the process -- is back again and looks eager for another shot. Her new job has her cooking final meals for convicted criminals, their last request before dying. All these elements made for a smooth yet very compelling read for me.
What really pulled me in were the final meals that Queenie would cook. Ms Palmer begins each chapter with notes of what Queenie is eating (Chapter 4 when she comes back defeated to North Star aptly notes 'Crow'), reminding us how food is an institution, especially in small towns. Food that unites a family, food that forgives a wrong, food that heals a soul. Queenie was given the burden of cooking for anonymous criminals and she made sure that these men and women were given some moment of peace before they died. I thought those scenes were very powerful images that resonated with me.
It's not too heavy on the romance and I like it that way. Ultimately, I think it is about Queenie coming to terms with her past: her family's reputation, her life decisions, her mother's death. Personally, I thought the romance part was like a sugar flower on the side of an already satisfying cake. It wasn't a bad sugar flower when you stop to consider it, but it wasn't the reason why I kept on reading this book nor did it seem to be very important to Queenie's journey. It had its heart-tugging moments but none as striking as those that Queenie faces on the job. Ms Palmer won me over with Nowhere but Home, and I hope to read her A Field Guide to Burying Your Parents next.