Perdita Dylan is 29 years old, divorced for 10 years and running her own business. She grows and supplies unusual salad ingredients to local businesses - hotels, health spas - on land lent to her by her closest friend, Kitty. Kitty is 87 years old and practically brought Perdita up. Her parents were of the absent variety, always away on some trekking project or other, so Kitty has always been like a mother to Perdita and the two now live very happily as neighbours.
One morning, Perdita delivers the usual order of salad leaves to a local hotel and, to her horror, discovers that the chef has left and been replaced by her ex-husband, Lucas. The last she'd heard of him he was still 'something in the city' and she assumed he was still with the older woman he'd left her for, not cheffing in her neck of the woods. It has taken Perdita years to recover from the break-up and she is not happy in the slightest to see him.
The situation is not helped by the fact that Lucas has clearly turned into the chef from hell. He's demanding and truculent with his staff, and treats Perdita in the same manner. Perdita is furious at this turn her life has taken. She is not well off and has to work long hours for what little she does have, but at least she was content and happy growing her veg. Now things are complicated and difficult decisions have to be made. Is she really prepared to let Lucas inveigle her into making a TV cookery show with him?
Things come to a head when Kitty suffers a stroke. Roger, a long-lost relative of Kitty's turns up. At first he seems nice and it looks like he's there to help but slowly Perdita starts to suspect his motives. Who can she turn to for help as Kitty's situation worsens? The answer is obvious but unwelcome to Perdita as she's been trying to ignore her growing attraction for her ex-husband. There is no way she will allow him hurt her like he did before.
I suppose many would call Katie Fforde's books 'light, enjoyable reads' which, in some respects, they certainly are. The romantic aspect of this book is fun and 'funny' as we watch Perdita struggle with this ridiculous situation and try to keep everything together. It's clear she's kidding herself about her real feelings but on the other hand the reader feels for her because Lucas is actually a bit of a pig and, truthfully, you really don't know what to think about him as you read on.
The other side of the coin here is the sad situation with Perdita's friend, Kitty. It felt strange for me actually, because Kitty is so like my late mother-in-law in her quirkiness and obsession with gardening, that it was uncanny. Plus, the same thing happened to her in that she also had a stroke. So I could identify completely with the situation in the book. Kitty has always been there for Perdita and now it's the other way round - Perdita is the carer and has no idea what the future will hold. The uncertainty is no joke and forms the very real backdrop to what is, to all intents and purposes, a romance book. It makes it real and relevant but the book is never maudlin or depressing. Kitty's influence in her life is celebrated by Perdita; it's hard but she feels lucky to have had this wonderful woman in her life, and that was exactly the way I felt about my mother-in-law.
Being both a cook and, to a lesser extent, a gardener, I loved those elements of the story. Perdita can grow anything but can't cook to save her life. Thus, certain situations she finds herself in are hilarious - even if they are her own fault. And hearing about what goes on in a fine dining kitchen and also how a TV cookery show is put together made the book even more interesting for me.
I actually haven't read that many books by Katie Fforde... a couple I think... but they're always enjoyable. I don't remember the others being quite this thought provoking but that may be because I didn't identify with them quite as strongly as I did this one. I will certainly read more, as and when I see them in the library.