Sometimes in life you try so very hard to please others, to live the life that they want you to live, to act the way they want you to act, and to be the person they want you to be that you forget that the person you are, before all the outside influence and pressure, is wonderful. And trying to be someone you're not is a fast way to heartache, dissatisfaction, and unhappiness. But it's awfully hard to be true to yourself when the people you are trying to please are your parents or your boyfriend. In Dana Bates' sweet debut novel, The Girls' Guide to Love and Supper Clubs, main character Hannah Sugarman finds out just how hard it is to bend your life to others' expectations when your own happiness lies in a different direction entirely.
Hannah works for a Washington, DC think tank and lives in a spectacular apartment with boyfriend Adam who first fell for her because of her larger than life, forthright, "firecracker" personality. She's happy neither in her job nor in her relationship but she's holding on with both hands anyway. Her professor parents got her the deadly boring job when she seemed undirected after college, completely dismissing her interest in cooking for a living, and Hannah, wanting to please them, went along with them. As for her relationship with Adam, it's definitely on shaky ground but she's so afraid of losing this first enduring partnership that she is willing to try as hard as she can to subvert her natural buoyancy to be the more sedate girlfriend that Adam now seems to want no matter that her initial attraction was the fact that she was the complete opposite of this. But suppressing herself is not Hannah's strong suit and it is inevitable that her relationship with Adam crashes and burns in a humiliatingly public manner. And because Hannah cannot afford their swanky apartment on her own, she has to find a new place to live.
The apartment she finds is a tiny basement apartment underneath cute but nerdy landlord Blake's gorgeous townhouse. Blake, who sometimes talks like a pirate, using nautical terms and fishing similies an awful lot, is the communications director for a Florida politician and so he's often away working in the constituency. In a bid to take Hannah's mind off of the Adam debacle, her best friend Rachel convinces her to try hosting an underground supper club now that she's in her own place and Adam can no longer disapprove. The supper club will be a good toe in the water of professional cooking for Hannah and will put her firmly in a happy place in life. Of course, secret supper clubs are not entirely legal, circumventing the health department and regulations. But any concerns disappear in the face of the excitement of creating a menu, procuring the ingredients and cooking the meal, which is surprisingly and gratifyingly booked out. So when Hannah's apartment floods the morning of the supper club, it's a disaster. Without thinking and knowing that Blake is in Florida, Hannah and Rachel simply move the location upstairs into his phenomenal Dupont Circle townhouse. The night is a fabulous success and the secret, exclusive Dupont Circle Supper Club is born.
Hannah's cooking is sublime and people loved the experience she provided so the internet is abuzz with this new clandestine happening. There's just one problem. She used Blake's house, not hers, and he'd be horrified by that fact, especially since he's running for neighborhood office on a platform that intends to shut things like Hannah's supper club down. But flush with her success and feeling more fulfilled than she has in a long time, Hannah continues to use his house to host these dinners, even as she and Blake develop a friendship. Trying to achieve her dream of cooking professionally in her spare time while still trying to live the majority of her life the way that her academic parents have always dreamed of for her can come to no good. And close call after close call reminds her that she can easily sabotage everything that's good, happy, and fulfilling in her life in the blink of an eye. But maybe getting caught is the only way she will ever be able to come into her own and learn to make the decisions that make her happy instead of trying always to please others.
Hannah is a loveable muddle of a character. She comes across as very young and immature but eager to please. That she maintains a facade of adulthood at all in her dreary job is frankly amazing. She's easy to sympathize with though because she is obviously loving and wants so much to make everyone else happy, even at the cost of her own happiness. She is so torn between what she should do and all the ways in which she worries that she's letting others down that it's hard not to want to take her in hand yourself and direct her down the path she clearly needs to tread. The secondary characters exist only in relation to Hannah and so they are more one dimensional. The constant threat of Hannah's supper club being discovered keeps the narrative tension high and although the eventual love interest is never in doubt, how they finally come together is sweet and well done. This is a delightful tale of gentle love and delicious sounding food. Readers who enjoy lighthearted stories with a main character who definitely grows and matures into a more confident but still natural and appealing person will enjoy this funny and charming read. And for the kitchen inclined, there are several enticing recipes in the back, all from one or another of Hannah's supper clubs.
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Thanks to Erin from Book Sparks PR and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.