Friday, June 14, 2013

Nowhere but Home

Nowhere but Home
by Liza Palmer
Published by William Morrow
384 pages
Genre: chick lit
Thanks to edelweiss for the preview
4 / 5

When your mother names you after Queen Elizabeth, you might find it challenging to live up to the name. At the very least, you might find it challenging to avoid ridicule.

For Queenie Wake, the name itself is not as big of a burden as her family history. Her mother, a fairly flamboyant diner owner, met with a grisly end, and Queenie's sister, Merrie Carol, has remained in the girls' hometown, where she raises her teenage son without benefit of the boy's father.

If this sounds tangled and vaguely gothic, then so be it. But I will let you know straight away that this is an enjoyable, entertaining book that will wrap itself around your heart and squeeze.

Queenie is a sous chef in a New York hotel restaurant, where she harangues customers for their gauche taste in cuisine. (Never dare to put ketchup on eggs that Queenie prepares for you.) When she loses her job and realizes that another one is not in the offing, she reluctantly returns home to North Star, Texas, population quirky.

Her arrival is not quite greeted with joy; Merrie Carol, for one, is a bit hurt that Queenie has been vacant from her and son Cal's lives. Queenie offers a tepid apology, perhaps offset by her confusion at Merrie Carol's refusal to leave town. Thanks to a teenage pregnancy, Merrie Carol has been branded as the town harlot. (The identify of Cal's father is not unknown, but nonetheless kept a secret from the boy.)

Then there is Everett Coburn, the man who got away. He's the son of a wealthy local family, and the high school romance he shared with Queenie was conducted entirely in secret. Queenie accepted it at the time - anything to be with Everett. But age and wisdom have caused her to be a little resentful. Alas, her irritation is not tempered by any noticeable lapse in attraction. When she sees Everett for the first time, all those old feelings resurface.

Queenie gets a job preparing last meals for death row inmates, a sort of symbolic gesture of her own need to find closure for her mother's death. Queenie's life has been a long series of "last meals," each ushering out one stage of her life as she begins a new one.

This is one of those books that pulls you in its vise-like grasp before you realize that you can't put it down. What could have been stock characters are instead fully realized and developed. You know these people, and you truly care about them. You want Queenie to find peace, and you want Merrie Carol to be accepted by her fellow townspeople. You want to understand Everett, and you want to hug Cal and ruffle his hair.

Nothing wildly cataclysmic occurs, although the sisters do contend with some emotional upheaval. Despite it feeling like a well worn pair of slippers, nothing predictable occurs. You don't feel as if you read this book before, even though the characters seem to be familiar friends.

Read it. Enjoy it. It's a good book.

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