“The Coincidence of Coconut Cake” by Amy E. Reichert is a romantic foodie adventure about finding love, being true to yourself, and letting passion be your guide. And it’s a great virtual tour of the best of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Movies like “No Reservations” (2007) with Catherine Zeta-Jones, Abigail Breslin, and Aaron Eckhart came to mind as did “You’ve Got Mail” with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.
The well-built plot structure was perfectly choreographed with no holes. The story opened with a night out for chef Elizabeth Luella Johnson and her fiancé Devlin Pontellier to attend his work event. He was a self-absorbed, up-and-coming attorney who thought he was all that and a box of rocks. Lou was forging her own path in the Milwaukee food scene. She thought having personal drive and ambition attracted them to each other. But when Devlin referred to “their plan,” but it was his plan. He saw the restaurant as something that wasn’t long term. Lou was engaged to someone who was trying to make her fit into a role. She was there to be pretty and make him shine. She existed to promote Devlin’s dreams and purposes.
“Devlin gave her a kiss, took her hand, and walked right over her plans. Lou struggled to breathe under the weight of his version of their future.”
Right away, I knew Lou had a blind spot in her relationship with Devlin. She failed to notice the ways Devlin manipulated her, including the menu for her restaurant, Luella’s. She no doubt thought he’d love what she loved if he shared in her creation. She made that choice even though she thought often about new dishes that didn’t fit the French-cuisine mold.
Enter Al Waters, a restaurant critic for a newspaper known for terrorizing chefs in print. He met Lou on her way to see Devlin with coconut cake – title! – for his birthday. Brit Al loathed Milwaukee and couldn’t wait to move far from that city once he found another writing job. Standing near Lou that day, he was captured by the smell of bacon, vanilla, and coconut in the air between them as well as by her beauty. It made him want to know more. The next time he saw her that same day was when she was running from Devlin’s apartment. I won’t give away the details. You’ve got to read the book. Al took in the frosting and sadness on her as Lou ran past him.
That night, emotions got in her way at Luella’s. Al had been given a card from “D.P.” and – surprise, surprise — chose that night of all nights to review her restaurant. (Saw that coming!) Instead of returning to the restaurant a few more times like he usually did, Al eviscerated Luella’s in print. The review crushed an already decimated Lou. They met again when she was drunk on ciders at a pub. Al ordered the same and was surprised Milwaukee had a place with such fine cider. That’s when Lou defended Milwaukee to him, and they struck a bargain: she would play tour guide for him and show Al the best that city had to offer.
The characters were so well-written with enough room for my imagination to fill in my own cast of characters. I enjoyed the protectiveness of Luella’s staff Harley and Sue, as well as their banter in the kitchen and budding love story. Regulars Otto and Gertrude Meyer cared for Lou like she was their daughter. Al Water’s co-worker John was fun to envision as a fashion writer who didn’t look the part, and then transform into a hottie before going to France for an assignment. Plus, Al needed a friend like him. John cared enough to tell Al the straight-up truth and stuck with him throughout.
Devlin was a pain in the butt. He just wouldn’t leave Lou alone. His name made me think of Nicole Kidman’s Devlin in “Just Go With It.” And then I got it: Devlin/Devil. He’s “a devil in disguise.” Elvis. Totally makes sense. Devlin was like that great deceiver behind the scenes waiting for the right moment to swoop in and erase the Lou’s new vision and replace them with his own.
I appreciated Al’s metamorphosis as he and Lou went on their culinary adventures though Milwaukee and he started collecting magnets. Before he met her, Al had preconceived notions and a propensity for viewing everything in that city through a negative lens. He changed, his writing changed, and he woke up to how he was truly seen by others.
When Al finally realized who Lou was though, he came up with an elaborate scheme to disassociate himself from “A.W. Wodyski,” his pseudonym. It was cringeworthy. I knew it wouldn’t work out well, and it was just the complication that pulled me through to the end with me still routing for “Team Lou-Al.”
If you need help visualizing the characters, here were my casting choices for C3:
Cast for C3
Victor Webster (Think “Hallmark movies”) as Devlin Pontellier
Leighton Meister as Lou Johnson
Tom Hiddleston as Al Waters (also A.W. Wodyski)
Matt L. Jones (Think “Agent Ned Dorneget” from NCIS) as Harley
Jared Leto As John
Rose Leslie as Sue
Vanessa Redgrave as Gertrude Meyer
Bill Nighy as Otto Meyer
Richard E. Grant as Al’s Dad and
Fiona Shaw as Al’s Mother
If this novel was a Netflix series, I would probably label it “MA.” Someone else might say “TV-14.” I’ll allow it. Ha! For a book about working the line in a kitchen, the author did keep cursing to a minimum throughout, and sex scenes were implied and not raunchy, bodice-ripping nonsense. Love and intimacy were more important to the plot. I appreciated how each couple was a study in healthy vs. toxic relationships. At the end of the book, Reichert provided the recipe for Grandma Luella’s coconut cake and frosting. For more information about the author and this book, go to https://www.amyereichert.com/coincidenceofcoconutcake/.