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The Summer Kitchen    by Karen Weinreb order for
Summer Kitchen
by Karen Weinreb
Order:  USA  Can
St. Martin's, 2010 (2009)
Hardcover, Softcover, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

Nora Banks lives well in a high-falutin' neighborhood with everything a woman could want - a loving husband; a to-die-for home with all the right furnishings; three wonderful little boys and private school for them; plenty of money to make renovations, buy fine clothes, and take marvelous, expensive vacations.

All of a sudden, the one thing on which all this hinged is gone. Her husband is accused of a white collar crime and taken from their home by government agents. Nora has to stand by as the same agency empties her home of all its furnishings, including the drapes. The government also has its eye on her twelve million dollar mansion.

The Summer Kitchen by Karen Weinreb is the story of Nora's struggle to come to terms with her sudden decline in lifestyle. She goes through various stages of emotions (similar to stages of grief) to survive the loss - rage at first, that lessens to anger. It's a pretty hard row to hoe with small children. But she develops a baking talent that helps her put her life back together, both emotionally and financially.

Though this is a work of fiction, the basic outline actually happened to the author. I'm sure writing of this part of her life and how she came out the other end helped her to get her thoughts in order and to realize what really matters. Weinreb expresses herself well as she battles through what she considered a grave injustice. She strives to understand how her life and friends became so important to her that she couldn't see what really mattered.

Weinreb is not suggesting that anyone in the same boat get out the flour and sugar and fire up the oven. She's telling (through Nora) how she managed. Hope was not gone. It just took her a while to find it. This inspiring story leaves one admiring Nora's resilience. It could also help someone in the same circumstances to look at their own life differently and adjust their own lifestyle. In a way, The Summer Kitchen is a self-help book with fictional characters.

2nd Review by Joan Burton (Rating:3):

Nora Banks has her life turned upside down when she opens her door early one morning to federal agents. They have arrested her husband Evan for stealing money from clients' investments. Nora suspected something was amiss but preferred not to deal with it. She was used to their social status and all that the money bought for them. Now the feds have emptied her house of all their furniture and art work. Their cars are gone, and bank accounts have been taken over. Nora is left with an empty house, a broken heart, and no means of support for herself and her three young boys.

After Evan is arrested, gossip spreads through the small upscale community and Nora and her children are treated like felons themselves. Her friends have turned against her and she is off their social roster. Beatriz, the children's nanny, is the only one who remains loyal to Nora. Beatriz had hardships in her life and Nora looked beyond that, and hired her to take care of her sons. She never had any regrets about her decision and Beatriz soon became a member of the family.

Nora needs money so she starts working the night shift at the local bakery where her friends gather every day for their coffee. Nora has always loved baking, and is soon given full control of the kitchen. Her daily creations have customers lining up and placing special orders. Business booms. Nora and Beatriz, along with Philip (the owner of the bakery) form a partnership. Nora opens her own business, The Summer Kitchen Bakery-Cafe. The people of Bedford, New York begin to look at Nora differently. They admire her for all her hard work and business savvy, while reaching out to help others.

Nora and the children visit Evan in prison. As time passes Nora's anger towards him dissipates and she finds she has to open her heart to forgiveness in order to move forward. Life has been a struggle for Nora on her own with the boys' future in her hands. Tempted into an affair by a wayward husband, and finding a friend had tried to sabotage her business, has Nora fighting to stay true to herself and her children.

The Summer Kitchen is a story of survival. Nora's fall from grace is done with dignity and class as she realizes that what you really need in life is less. I am looking forward to Weinreb's next novel.

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