The Baker's Apprentice (by Judith Ryan Hendricks)

I first came across novels by Judith Ryan Hendricks eight years ago when I was given 'Bread Alone'  unexpectedly, and found (a little to my surprise) that I enjoyed it. Much more recently, Amazon recommended 'Isabel's Daughter' by the same author, and I liked that very much indeed - sufficiently so to add another of her books, listed as a sequel to 'Bread Alone' to my wishlist.

However, I had entirely forgotten about that when I was given it for my birthday a few months ago, and also when I picked it up to start reading it, a little over a week ago.

The novel is related by Wyn who is passionate about breadmaking, and is co-owner of a small, specialist bread shop in America. She is in a fairly new relationship with the evasive Mac, a struggling writer. She's still coming to terms with her recent divorce, and not getting anywhere with her attempt at financial settlement, and she's not entirely comfortable with her new stepfather, either.

I read last thing at night; the book is quite long and the font small, and it took me a few chapters to get into this book. It also took me a couple of days to realise that the names and situations felt oddly familiar. My only excuse is that it's eight years since I read 'Bread Alone'; I did pick it up and quickly skim the last few pages just to check that it was referring to the same characters!

I found this story a bit slow-moving at first, which doesn't sit too well with the present-tense narration, and tended to make me feel more sleepy at night, not conducive to reading more than a few pages. However, I gradually found that I was becoming more and more interested in what was going on. There are a lot of subplots, and quite a few people; I didn't sort them all out in my mind, and some (such as Wyn's best friend CM) stayed very vague in my imagination.

However, I very much liked the tetchy teenage Tyler, who becomes the 'apprentice' of the book title, and I became rather fond of Mac too, who finds it very hard to get close to anyone and struggles with Wyn's emotional side. It made sense to me that he feels that he has to put some space between them in order to figure out how he feels, and that he eventually realises that he can explain his background better by writing letters.

The book has the added bonus of a few bread recipes which sound interesting, although they didn't make me feel inspired to follow any of them. I was slightly disappointed that the recipes did not include the often-mentioned 'Mazurka Bars' since I had no idea what these are - but I have managed to find some recipes online, and look forward to experimenting.

By the time I was half-way through, I was very eager to find out what happened, and read the second half a great deal more quickly. All in all, I liked this book very much. It would probably have been better still if I had read 'Bread Alone' a little more recently, but it stands alone well and I'd recommend it to anyone who likes a thoughtful, contemporary novel.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 16th July 2012

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