No Place I’d Rather Be
By Cathy Lamb
Release Date: August 29, 2017
Reviewed by Janga
Two years ago, with her happily-ever-after destroyed by tragedy, Olivia Martindale fled her hometown, Kalulell, Montana, her husband Jace Rivera, and the guest ranch they had created together and created a new life for herself in Portland, Oregon. Now, having quit her job as sous chef in a popular restaurant and terrorized by phone calls that play on her greatest fear, she returns to Kalulell and the cabin her grandfather built for her grandmother. She returns with Stephi and Lucy, the six and seven-year-old granddaughters of her late friend Annabelle. Olivia has temporary guardianship of the girls, and she hopes to adopt them if the rights of their parents are terminated. Meanwhile, the cabin offers refuge, and Olivia’s family (her mother, Mary Beth; her grandmother, Gisela; her sister, Chloe, and Chloe’s fifteen-year-old son, Kyle) offers abundant love and a strong support system.
When the attic roof springs a leak in a rain storm, Olivia repairs the leak and checks the damage to boxes in the attic. Among the damaged boxes, Olivia finds remnants of her grandmother’s past about which her daughter and granddaughters know nothing. Gisela has hidden the mementoes away because her past as a German Jew is too painful to remember. Olivia’s discovery, particularly the stained and battered, hand-illustrated cookbook that contains recipes from five generations of women in Gisela’s family, leads Gisela to share her memories with her family. They incorporate the recipes of these women from Odessa and Munich into their tradition of Martindale Cake Therapy, a family ritual that the Martindale women use as a coping device for problems large and small. This is a big book in subject and scope. It covers more than a century and includes scenes from four countries. It touches upon a wide range of issues—racial intolerance, child abuse, school bullying, and others. Cathy Lamb weaves together multiple story threads to create a novel that uses history and contemporary life, romance and familial love, and human creatures at their worst and their best to give her readers a book that is a triumph.
Lamb has a gift for creating characters whom I want to hug, to whom I want to listen, and from whom I learn. She outdoes herself in No Place I’d Rather Be. The Martindale women are strong and vital. Each has been wounded by life, but they have not been defeated. They love each other with a tough tenderness, and the giving and receiving of that love makes them stronger. Olivia learns from the example of the others, including the women who died before she was born, and gains the strength to accept losses.
This is not a romance novel, but the relationship between Olivia and Jace is a significant part of the story. Jace is a real heart-stealer, heroic in all the important ways. Gisela and her fighter pilot/doctor husband have their own sweet love story, one that has endured for decades. Stephi and Lucy are real kids, scarred by the abuse they suffered but remarkably resilient and bright and funny. I adored Kyle, Olivia’s nephew who has Asperger’s syndrome. I thought he stole every scene he was in. I also enjoyed the quirky townspeople, most of whom are likable and believable.
This book made me laugh, and it made me cry. It broke my heart by showing the irrational hatred that provokes human beings to destroy their fellows and caused me to rejoice by showing a love that prevails despite human evil. It is the kind of book that I read slowly because I didn’t want it to end. It is a book I will read again and again. I highly recommend it.