Initially, I planned to review another book, Keeping it Real, but I've been having a very hard time getting into it, and I'm not sure if it's the book, or me. I'm beginning to wonder if it's some sort of Pratchett backlash, because I hated the book I read immediately after Nation, his previous work. Then again, that book was Twilight. Because the main character in Keeping it Real has not incited a desire to stab her in the face, I felt I owed it to her author to just put the book down and come back to it later, after a literary palette cleanser. I've been a fan of Greenwood's series about Phryne Fisher for a while now, so the first book in another of her series seemed like an excellent choice.
It was. Hell, I fell in love with this book when she mentioned the patrician of Ankh-Morpork. Kerry Greenwood has degrees in English and Law, and an interest in history, particularly, 1920's Melbourne, which led to the Phryne Fisher books about a female detective in, of course, 1920's Melbourne. Earthly Delights is the first in a series on Corinna Chapman, a thoroughly modern Melbourne baker, and she's clearly applied the same diligence to researching every aspect of this character's world as she did to Phryne, from the lifestyle of a baker to the reality of soup kitchens. She even includes recipes at the end of the book. It's a commendable effort.
The plot goes as follows: Corinna Chapman, owner of Earthly Delights, a Melbourne bakery, starts work one day at her usual time of 4am. Then one of her three cats crawls back in with a needle in its paw. She goes out to rip strips off somebody, and discovers a girl dying of an overdose (and I kinda love how her immediate reaction to being told to do CPR is 'ew, junkie germs!'). The ambulance arrives, the paramedics revive the girl, who promptly abuses the fuck out of them for killing her high, and refuses to go to the hospital until Daniel, a 'heavy' for the local soup kitchen, shows up and gets her to act like a human being. Of course, a worker for a soup kitchen is not going to pass up the opportunity to ask a baker for their leftovers, and Corinna is not going to pass up the opportunity to spend time with the gorgeous specimen of man-flesh that is Daniel. The OD victim is one of several - it appears that somebody is distributing heroin that contains 10 times the regular proportion of heroin and it's killing the users. At the same time, the women in Corinna's apartment block are being targeted by an utter creep with a can of spray paint and a love of all the most misogynist parts of the bible. Through the course of the book, Corinna adopts a street kid, helps a broken alcoholic search for his missing daughter, deals with her greedy ex and his shitty plans for the apartment building, helps at a soup kitchen, hangs out at an S&M club, solves the mysteries, bakes a lot, and yeah, spends time with Daniel.
I live in Melbourne, so this book feels very real to me. I also really, REALLY want to live in Corinna's apartment block/workplace, inspired by ancient Rome, where the ground floor is composed of shop fronts and every apartment in the floors above are named after a Roman God or Goddess. Corinna is endearing, ruled by the instinct to help people, but Greenwood keeps it fairly matter of fact, so it's not too smaltzy. Yes, the happy endings are a little too pat for a book about junkies dying of overdoses, but the most sugary of concoctions won't make you sick if the cook's good enough.
That said, it's not without flaws. Greenwood does a fair pit of politicing. While I agree with her (or Corinna's) opinion on the war on Iraq and the policies of our former prime minister, I found the repeated references a little distracting. Perhaps authors should be warned that politics is as short-lived as pop culture, and equally adept at destroying a book's longevity.
Then there's the whole fat versus thin debate. Greenwood goes to great effort to paint Corinna as a woman who is fat, and perfectly okay with it. But she repeatedly mentions that the two very slender characters (both female) are anorexic (yet working in a bakery???), and one particular scene made my skin crawl. Earlier, Corinna had crowed that a corset gave her breasts 'a plastic surgeon would weep over because they're so perfect'. But while in bed with Daniel (who is, natch, conventionally perfect in build), she asks him why he's with her instead of a thin woman. No, wait, Daniel guesses that she wants to ask him. The answer could have been 'because I don't care about weight, I think you're smart and funny and not a morning person' or even 'I'm a tits man and being the sub to your dom was an incredible turn-on', but instead, he gives her a speech about how he's into long term investments, and when they're older thin women will be 'mottled, haggard and wrinkled'. Charming. With one ugly bout of thin-shaming (which, regardless of the advantages bestowed on thinner people, is no less reprehensible than fat-shaming), Greenwood undermines the entire message of healthy body image that she's trying to convey.
Still, I enjoyed the book. Very much. It's light and fluffy, and quite delicious.