Book Review: The Cookbook Club by Beth Harbison

The Cookbook Club by Beth HarbisonTitle: The Cookbook Club

Author: Beth Harbison

Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks – HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: October 20, 2020

Genre: Women’s Fiction

One Sentence Summary: Reeling from her divorce out of the middle of nowhere, Margo decides to join a cookbook club where she makes new friends, and is given the chance of second love.

I love reading about food, so, when I saw The Cookbook Club and read it was about three women becoming friends, I jumped on it. Female friendship and food? It’s kind of a match made in heaven for me. I was also really curious to see how long Aja could hide her pregnancy. In some ways, this book was what I expected it might be, but, in other ways, it was very different and I’m stuck feeling a little indifferent even though my heart really wants to love this book.

The Plot: More of a Sweet Romance

It’s an ordinary day for housewife Margo, who loves to cook and make YouTube videos of healthy recipes for her parents and their senior citizen community, until her husband walks in and announces he’s moving across the country without her. Stuck with no idea how to support herself, and with her ex-husband’s late grandparents’ dilapidated farm house, she signs up for a new cookbook club, hoping to put her numerous cookbooks to good use. And she had the book.

Trista was a lawyer, but now runs a crumbling bar/restaurant. Desperate to turn things around, she starts a cookbook club to try out new recipes. Only Margo and a young woman called Aja show up, but the three become quick friends. They support each other as Trista’s business struggles, Margo deals with an old crush who is now renovating the dilapidated farm house, and Aja wonders how long she can hide her pregnancy from her wealthy boyfriend and his snobby mother.

I loved the idea of three women forming a cookbook club and trying out new recipes. Female friendship is the one thing I look for in women’s fiction, so I loved that this book involved three very different women somehow coming together and becoming friends. But it also branches out so each woman’s story is told. I liked that the reader gets to know each woman, her history, and what she’s trying to do with her life. It was fun seeing them interact, but, unfortunately, the story kept them apart most of the time.

As much as I wanted to love this story, there were several things that disappointed me. For one, the actually cookbook club was barely seen. There were some meetings, but most them came in the form of snippets at the end of each part. Most of the story was focused on Margo, which makes sense if this goes on to be a series, especially since there are men in Trista’s and Aja’s lives, but only Margo’s love interest gets his own chapters, making the rest of them feel irrelevant. Instead of feeling like women’s fiction, much less a cookbook club, it felt like a romance where the heroine just happens to have a couple of new friends to make the story longer. The story also moved way too fast. The chapters were short, the ending sudden, making me wonder if the whole purpose of the book was to just talk about food, because there’s an awful lot of food in such a fast story.

The Characters: Three Women, Plus a Few Men

As disappointing as the story was, I did really like the characters. Most of them are in their late twenties to early thirties, so it was a little easier for me to identify with them. They were a lot fun and they each had their moments that made them feel human, but there ended up being some thin threads that wound them together that felt a little weak. Each woman was able to stand on her own, perhaps a little too much, because their reliance on each other felt more like token gestures than a genuine need for female support.

I loved all of the women. My favorite, though, was Margo. I identified the most with her, especially since she married in her early twenties just like I did, and sometimes those “what if” thoughts are hard to dispel. I loved her enthusiasm for food and cooking, and can’t help but admire the well-stocked kitchen she has. It’s kind of my dream kitchen. I really liked Aja, too. She’s younger, so came off as more innocent, though she managed to get herself into an interesting pickle as she tried to develop her voice and let her needs and wants be known. I loved that her arc wasn’t so focused on romance, but on a young woman finding her own feet. Then there’s Trista, who was a lot of fun and enthusiastic. She made some rather interesting choices throughout the book, but it made her feel like one of those overly enthusiastic humans who rush headlong into things and hope for the best. And then there’s Lucinda, an older woman Aja comes to know, who was utterly fascinating and had a rich, deep history.

I’d like to say I liked the guys in the story, too, but we only really get to know one: Margo’s love interest, Max. He had an interesting story, but so much of his life in the story was taken up with mooning over Margo that it made him feel one dimensional and not as interesting as I would have expected. There are also a couple of guys in Trista’s life. It felt like they were building up to something, and then the book just ended. They seemed nice, but, as a reader, I felt like I was being held at a distance from them.

The Setting: Washington, D.C-ish

Most of The Cookbook Club is set in the Washington, D. C. area, but, by the end of the book, I’d completely forgotten. There was a strong suburban feel to it, a bit of a rural feel since the old farm house was extremely isolated, and no real big city feel to it. I don’t actually recall any landmarks of D. C. making their way into the story. I got the feeling where the story takes place was irrelevant and had enough of a mix to make the story make sense.

Overall: Cute, but Little Substance

The Cookbook Club is cute and has a wonderful idea behind it, but there was almost too much food and not enough substance. I liked that Margo, Trista, and Aja each had their own problems and were occasionally dependent on each other, but everything was just too easily solved for them so there was almost no tension in the story. It all felt almost storybook perfect. There were also some inconsistencies, little details that changed that made the story a little jarring. This story sounded so good and extremely delicious, but it disappointed in how easily everything happened, how rushed the ending was, and how it felt like the first in a series without touting itself as such.

Great if you enjoy: reading about food; quick reads; stories light on substance; romance; light, easy reads

Not great if you’re looking for: a substantial read; female friendship; books about a club getting together

How many cups of tea will you need?

3 cups will be fine

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Thank you to Netgalley and William Morrow Paperbacks for a free e-copy. All opinions expressed are my own.

Head over to the Bookshelf to check out my reviews of books from the Big 5 and self-published, indie, and small press books.

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