Thursday, November 29, 2018

Family traditions and women's hidden histories: Cathy Lamb's No Place I'd Rather Be

Cathy Lamb’s No Place I’d Rather Be is a multi-period saga that leans more heavily on the contemporary side of things, so it can work as a gateway for readers wanting to dip their toe into the historical fiction world. It intermingles the themes of cooking, family heritage, and strong women – and how broken bonds are relinked.

In 2011, Olivia Martindale returns to Kalulell (a small city modeled on Kalispell), Montana, after a two-year absence spurred by the breakdown of her marriage, for reasons not revealed until later in the book. Accompanying her are two girls, Stephi and Lucy, she hopes to adopt once their abusive, drug-addicted mother’s parental rights are terminated. All three are quickly swept up into Olivia’s family baking traditions (what they call “Martindale Cake Therapy”).

The Martindale women are tough and independent, and each has struggled to get where she is. There’s sister Chloe, a widowed paramedic whose teenage son, Kyle (a terrific character), has Asperger’s; mother Mary Beth, a divorced surgeon who encourages (in a lovingly pushy way) Stephi and Lucy’s interest in medicine; and her kind grandmother Gisela, a traditional healer and former nurse who works with Mary Beth in a family clinic.

Their personalities are oversize, and their dialogue sometimes over-the-top, but this story has a strong heart and manages to balance their eccentricities with a much more serious side. During a rainstorm at the family home, Olivia rushes up to the attic and rescues a taped-up old trunk from water damage. Within it, she discovers artifacts from Gisela’s past: a wedding dress, a 1940s nurse’s uniform, a menorah, and a singed, stained cookbook filled with handwritten recipes in several languages and old drawings. Gisela had never spoken of her parents or family in the Old Country, since their history clearly caused her pain. The stories of Gisela's own mother and grandmother, dating back to the 1890s along the outskirts of Odessa, are interspersed. As Olivia slowly uncovers what her grandmother endured seven decades earlier, can she also reconnect with her estranged, seemingly perfect husband?

For those who enjoy relationship-focused novels with a lot of sass and a dash of history, this book is a good choice to curl up with on a chilly autumn afternoon.

No Place I'd Rather Be was published by Kensington in 2017.  Thanks to the author for the review copy.

1 comment:

  1. Family sagas throw up such a lot if detail, especially from the past. So often hidden and then unearthed a treasure trove of history generally.