Book Buddies is a fun, collaborative review feature that I participate in once a season with my friend Lauren who runs the blog Bookmarklit. We choose a themed book for the season, read it, and then answer fun questions that pertain to the book’s themes and each feature the book in our own way! Check out the second part of our feature on Lauren’s blog!
Bittersweet by Sarah Ockler
Also by this author: The Summer of Chasing Mermaids, The Book of Broken Hearts
Published by Simon Pulse on December 4th 2012
Genres: Contemporary, Family, Young Adult
Pages: 400 •Format: Paperback •Source: Purchased
Once upon a time, Hudson knew exactly what her future looked like. Then a betrayal changed her life and knocked her dreams to the ground. Now she’s a girl who doesn’t believe in second chances, a girl who stays under the radar by baking cupcakes at her mom’s diner and obsessing over what might have been. So when things start looking up and she has another shot at her dreams, Hudson is equal parts hopeful and terrified. Of course, this is also the moment a cute, sweet guy walks into her life—and starts serving up some seriously mixed signals. She’s got a lot on her plate, and for a girl who’s been burned before, risking it all is easier said than done. It’s time for Hudson to ask herself what she really wants, and how much she’s willing to sacrifice to get it. Because in a place where opportunities are fleeting, she knows this chance may very well be her last....
Check out Lauren’s post here!
While I enjoy Sarah Ockler’s writing, I once again seem unable to truly find my groove with them. I was enticed by Bittersweet from the gorgeous cover, the baking premise, and the wintery setting (it’s rare to find a book that takes place during the winter/Christmas that doesn’t feel dominated by the holiday, but this definitely doesn’t!). However, though I enjoyed the plot and overall story, my dislike and frustration of many of the core characters marred by overall enjoyment of the novel.
Bittersweet follows Hudson, a “retired” figure skater in her late-ish teens, who gave up her dream in the midst of family drama and is starting to look back on what she potentially missed, as she toils all of her free time away working in her mom’s diner. A series of events lead her back to the ice, where she’s desperate to compete in one last competition that could re-launch her skating career, college scholarship included, which is likely her only way out of her tiny town in rural New York, where the thread of having to inherit the diner from her mother one day looms. As Hudson sneaks in skating in her free time, she’s helped along by an unlikely partnership with her high school’s local ice hockey team.
Now, there were a lot of elements to this book that I loved- the diner setting was fun and interesting, the family dynamics were a huge part of the novel (from her AWOL Dad, her mother who made me want to pull my hair out, and her ADORABLE little brother and his pet hamster, Mr. Napkins), and I found myself looking up ice skating videos online to keep up with the terminology and found myself fascinated by the amazing feats of athleticism that figure skaters do. Also, as the cover artwork suggests, there’s a theme of baking throughout the story, with Hudson baking cupcakes at her mom’s diner to help them stay afloat, and the beginning of each chapter begins with one of Hudson’s cupcake recipes, which generally mirrors her mood or what is going to happen in that chapter. It’s really unique and adds a very personal touch to the novel.
However, there were so many frustrating decisions made by the characters that I found myself annoyed for a great portion of reading the book. The hockey boys were largely sexist, immature jerks (and I did not warm to them by the end), Hudson’s mom was bleeding the family dry (financially and emotionally) with her diner business, and Hudson herself yo-yo’d between being extremely selfish and extremely self-sacrificing. I also took issue with her friend Danni, who wavered between being extremely supportive and extremely judgemental. Yes, flawed characters are interesting and no one is perfect, but the characters were just constantly upsetting each other or not communicating with each other and navigating their drama and the consequences grew tiresome after a while. There was also a love triangle situation with Hudson and two hockey boys, and while handled much better than other YA love triangles, I also didn’t find myself super convinced by one side or the other- in fact, I think there was ENOUGH going on with Hudson’s family life and skating life that adding a romance to the mix almost felt like too much.
I will say that the tone of this book perfectly matched the title- while there’s plenty of “sweetness” from the cupcakes to Hudson’s adorable brother to the glitzy world of figure skating, the bitter makes it mark too through Hudson’s resentment, the doors of opportunity that have been closed to her and the suffocating, impending nature of her future by the diner- a presence in her life that’s as comforting as it is claustrophobic. While at times the characters’ fickleness irritated me, I felt for the longing Hudson and so many others had of carving out their own opportunities and leading lives outside of their small towns and outside of the paths their parents have forged. It’s bitter and hard and sometimes dark in its portrayal that not everyone has the means and privilege to reject their hometown and lead a completely different life once they hit 18.
Overall: I’m certainly glad I read Bittersweet– its small town warmth and diner setting enveloped me the way a comforting winter rerun of Gilmore Girls does. However, the characters’ often frustrated me and I had trouble consistently rooting for any of them, or being supportive of their decisions. I also grew bored toward the middle as I had little investment in the hockey boys’ plot line and have a short attention span in general when it comes to books. However, I feel as though I’ve lived and loved in a tiny town in northern New York after being immersed in Ockler’s writing and it’s the perfect contemporary novel to curl up with on a cold winter night with a plate of baked treats beside you.
So I don’t “bake” per se, but I occasionally help my boyfriend in the kitchen while he does. He has quite a few family recipes up his sleeve (and an official family cookbook too), and our favorite holiday baked goodies are often as simple as delicious chocolate chip cookies (for Santa/Christmas morning) or warm chocolate chip banana bread (it makes the entire house smell AMAZING when it’s baking). Aside from his family recipes, we do a LOT of browsing on Pinterest to find inspiration.
Tried and True Baking Recipes
- This chocolate chip cookie dough recipe (no eggs!) is our go to when we want safe cookie dough to snack on. We’ve made it in the truffles too, but sometimes we just like to make and eat it on its own!
- In college we went through a huge cake ball phase and made them all the time. Our favorite cake to use in them is actually this gluten free chocolate cake mix because it’s incredibly fudgey and dense and can hold it’s own to the candy coating/frosting shell. We usually buy it at Whole Foods.
- We found this easy red velvet cookie recipe on Pinterest and whipped it up once for a holiday potluck for work, and they were a huge hit! I’m pretty much obsessed with red velvet ANYTHING so it was a great find!
Recipes On Our Radar to Try
- We use our slow cooker ALL THE TIME for savory dishes this time of year, and I’m intrigued by recipes where you can slow bake sweet treats too! This slow cooker brownie pudding is on my list to attempt this winter!
- I have never had frozen hot chocolate, but this recipe could change all that!
- This may be considered sacrilege by some, but my favorite part of a chocolate chip cookie is the cookie part (the less chips, the better!) My favorite good blog, Gimme Some Oven, has a recipe for Chocolate “Chip Less” Cookies and I am ALL ABOUT IT.
Have you read Bittersweet? Do you like to bake around the holidays? What’s your favorite dessert to make? Let me know in the comments, and be sure to check out Lauren’s post too!