This is a sheer delight of a clean romance novel, one that touches on getting comfortable with your roots but still being open to love when it shows up to surprise you. Althea Dailey has finally made partner at her intellectual property law firm in New York City but, now that she’s achieved her life goal at the ripe old age of thirty-two, is starting to wonder whether there’s more to life than money and career success. Being sent south to North Carolina on her first big case as partner also has her feeling guilty about not doing more to stay in touch with her beloved Granda down in Milford, Georgia. But when Granda starts enthusing over the young man who’s been such a help to her with her cooking, who wants to make a documentary and cookbook of her recipes, Althea finally has an excuse to overcome her reluctance to head home, booking the first plane back to make sure her Granda isn’t being scammed by some crook.
Jack Darwent is a trust fund baby who found himself chafing at the life that his father, a civil rights lawyer, had mapped out for him. Eschewing law school for culinary school, he now travels the country gathering material for a documentary he wants to make celebrating the too-swiftly vanishing art of authentic Southern cooking. One of his subjects is the legendary Ada Dailey, whose endearing manner is at stark odds with the attitude of her high-powered attorney granddaughter who suddenly shows up in Milford with an entirely skeptical view of Jack’s efforts and intentions.
The way that Althea and Jack eventually come to understand and fall for each other while making peace with their own pasts and present is charmingly depicted in this low-heat, almost-Christian romance. I say almost-Christian because while the AME church plays a significant part in the proceedings, it’s clear that religion is seen as an intensely personal matter — while Piper Huguley clearly has a lot of Christian faith, she’s not about to force it on her readers. As a Muslim, I felt very comfortable reading this book, which gives a joyful impression of a Christianity that accepts and heals, but also makes it clear that you don’t have to go to church every Sunday to be considered a good person. I do wish that the book had been a little less heteronormative but that is an extremely minor quibble in an otherwise affirming, modern tale of interracial romance.
What I do really wish this book had done better was put the same amount of care it had used in the first three-quarters or so into building out the last quarter of the story. Things went by way too quickly after the May dinner. How exactly had Althea discerned the connection between Sherri’s grandma and Cassie? What is she planning to do to rescue Milford College beyond funding one scholarship? What’s up with Jack showing up at her office? I also didn’t really understand what was happening on Decoration Day — I get the basics, but the attitude of the other ladies is still unclear to me. I felt that there was so much story still to build out there in the last quarter, instead of the brief series of sketches that it felt like the narrative had dwindled down to post-May-dinner. I know that Ms Huguley is capable of telling a terrific tale, so it was mystifying why the last part felt so rushed and underdone.
Or next to last part, I should say, as there was a recipe for Biscuits And Gravy included at the very end! I’m really tempted to try it out even tho I barely have time to do all my regular cooking as is, that’s how good the recipe as well as all the wonderful food descriptions in this book sound. Ooh, maybe using beef bacon instead of sausage for the gravy, tho that might be far more decadent than finding a suitable non-pork sausage. Anyway, don’t read this book hungry: I had chicken and rice for dinner and still couldn’t stop salivating over how good the fried chicken here sounds as I read afterward, despite being quite full already!
Sweet Tea by Piper Huguley was published today July 13 2021 by Hallmark Publishing and is available from all good booksellers, including