REVIEW: Mrs. Quinn’s Rise to Fame by Olivia Ford

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A huge-hearted, redemptive coming-of-old-age tale, a love story, and an ode to good food

Nothing could be more out of character, but after fifty-nine years of marriage, as her husband Bernard’s health declines, and her friends’ lives become focused on their grandchildren—which Jenny never had—Jenny decides she wants a little something for herself. So she secretly applies to be a contestant on the prime-time TV show Britain Bakes.

Whisked into an unfamiliar world of cameras and timed challenges, Jenny delights in a new-found independence. But that independence, and the stress of the competition, starts to unearth memories buried decades ago. Chocolate teacakes remind her of a furtive errand involving a wedding ring; sugared doughnuts call up a stranger’s kind act; a simple cottage loaf brings back the moment her life changed forever.

With her baking star rising, Jenny struggles to keep a lid on that first secret—a long-concealed deceit that threatens to shatter the very foundations of her marriage. It’s the only time in six decades that she’s kept something from Bernard. By putting herself in the limelight, has Jenny created a recipe for disaster?

Dear Ms. Ford, 

When I watch the GBBO, I have found myself pulling for the older contestants. They often do the “classics,” talk about how they started baking them with their nans, and generally are a joy to watch. I guess that’s me getting closer to their ages than to the younger people. So of course when I saw this book, I knew I wanted to read it. Let me say, reading about all the bakes made me ravenous and any weight I gain I will blame on Mrs. Quinn’s sweets!

So much of what Jenny Quinn says are things I’ve heard GBBO contestants saying. I never thought I would be accepted. I never thought I’d do well. I’ve gained self confidence and now I won’t hold myself back anymore. Jenny Quinn is from a generation that aspired to be secretaries (she and a mate were taking courses) much like (I think) a Mary Burchell heroine. That, for Reasons, didn’t happen for her and she’s spent the past almost 60 years being a housewife. Jenny has loved her husband Bernard (a Prince Among Men), loved baking, and loved being Aunty Jenny. But she’s seventy seven now and something makes her think “now or never” as she prints off the application for Britain Bakes. Scared to jinx it, she tells no one.

There are bobbles and near misses with people finding out but after a fraught afternoon in London with three of her bakes (one of which a delightful young man helps her to salvage), she hears back and learns she’s beaten the odds over twelve thousand other applicants. Bernard is a bit stunned that she didn’t tell him but is quickly behind her 100%. But there’s one other secret, a much longer one, that Jenny has kept from Bernard. 

As I read the story, I muttered under my breath, please don’t turn treacly. There were moments when things could have gone cloying and sentimental but, yay, didn’t. That isn’t to say that things aren’t heartfelt and emotional but it’s British emotional and older generation emotional. Things are contained rather than shouted out loud but the feels are there. 

The scenes from the show were a variation on GBBO but not exactly. I liked that realistically not everything went perfectly for Jenny. Part of the reason she made it onto the show was her ability to think on her feet and improvise which I think all the contestants who make it far can do. Her relationship with Azeez is lovely and the way her family cheers her on and supports her is fantastic.  

I guessed what Jenny’s long held secret would be but my speculation on why she and Bernard never had children had a soggy bottom. Her reasoning does make sense – for her – but poor Bernard. I agree with Jenny when the realization hits her of what her decisions cost him. What Jenny endured (Ray was a rat fink) was delicately described but no less agonizing due to the attitudes of the times. When the truth comes out, as readers know it will, Bernard comes up trumps in my opinion even if I thought he ought to take a little bit more time over his reaction. But then he and Jenny have had an amazing marriage for almost 60 years and Bernard displays 1 Corinthians 13. 

Overall, in the book things tended to go better than I would expect so maybe it lacks a little depth. Yes there are some stumbles and missteps along with a bit of emotional pain but the story is well described as heartfelt, uplifting, and charming. Jenny and Bernard are a wonderful couple though yes, I wish Jenny hadn’t kept her secrets from the man who loves her so deeply. I would like to apply to be in the Bernard Quinn Fan Club. Booyah that your cat approves of the book. This is another book that I devoured (pun intended) and enjoyed very much. B+

~Jayne    

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Jayne

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 25 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there’s no TSTL characters and is currently reading more fantasy and SciFi.

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