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REVIEW: The Crossroads Cafe by Deborah Smith

Dear Mrs. Smith,

Somehow I’ve missed reading your previous novels. Oh, not because I’ve not heard of them or how good they are. In fact, several of them are long time favorite reads of people whose literary opinions I trust. I guess I’ve just been stupid. Or as we say in the South, an idjit. “The Crossroads Cafe” truly shows me what I’ve been missing.

Thomas Mitternich and Cathryn Deen are two scarred and lost people. Thomas lost his wife and son in the horror of 9/11 then spent days and months literally clawing through the wreckage to find their bodies. He drinks to numb himself from the memories and guilt and has finally found a refuge of sorts in the western North Carolina mountains at the Crossroads Cafe. Cathryn Deen has ties to the same place. Her mother’s people have lived in the mountains for generations. Though Cathy has lived in Southern California for years, she has fond memories of it and the mouthwatering food her granny used to cook for her. When “the most beautiful woman in the world” is trapped in a burning car wreck which scars her for life, she’s about ready to give up until a care package of biscuits arrives at the burn unit.

The Crossroads Cafe is an old timey restaurant run by Delta Whittlespoon. She is determined to keep Thomas from killing himself when the memories become too much and to help her distant relative, Cathy, to regain her self esteem when the world turns its back on the once beautiful woman. Both Thomas and Cathy have lost what was dear to them and despair of loving or being loved again. But as the T-shirts sold at the Cafe proclaim, “The Lard Cooks in Mysterious Ways.” Together and separately, they prod themselves and each other to take the tiny steps needed to move past the pain and memories of the past while dealing with the needs and personalities of the people in Crossroads, NC.

I get tired of characters who are written as angst filled and tormented but who ultimately turn out to merely misunderstood. In Thomas and Cathy, the reader is presented with the real thing. A dead family will never come back to life and third degree burn scars will never go away. Those things are immediately obvious but what adds to the complexity of this book are the underlying problems which are slowly revealed. What if Thomas and his wife had argued about which one was going to watch their son that morning and Thomas “won” the free morning? Or Cathy survives the crash only to find herself paralyzed with fear at the site of open flames or cars? Their issues go deeper and beyond what I’m used to seeing in romance novels.

I like how you don’t have love conquer all their problems. Yes, it helps to heal but you show that in the long run each of us has to overcome our own fears and face down our demons. And that this process can take varying amounts of time for each person. I like how you use these demons to keep the characters apart rather than silly contrived misunderstandings. I adored the references and descriptions of good old fashioned Southern cooking while the Cafe reminds me of many wonderful restaurants in which I’ve eaten. The atmosphere is just right and brought back memories of visiting my own kin in the mountains. My mother calls driving all the switchbacks on the narrow mountain roads “swinging on a grapevine” and more than once (while someone else was driving) I’ve closed my eyes rather than look over the edge to the precipice way below.

Your humor keeps the book from being an orgy of pain and suffering. I found myself laughing and crying at the same scenes. The secondary characters are delightful and I thank you for not making them into double named caricatures of Southerners. But perhaps there were too many “characters?” I found myself looking for “normal” people without any quirks. And it seems like almost every character has some past tragedy to overcome. I also felt that the ending was just a touch too much like a triumphant movie of the week. But these are small niggles compared to the overall enjoyment I got from the book. A- for this one.

~Jayne

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

10 Comments

  1. Nicole
    Oct 02, 2006 @ 19:05:50

    Sounds like a good book.

    I’ve read one of hers before. A mermaid one that I really enjoyed.

  2. Rosie
    Oct 02, 2006 @ 21:31:44

    Wow! I did my review of this one earlier today. Great minds I guess. I liked this book very much as well. I’m so glad you did your review as well. I was bemoaning doing the book justice. This review is great.

  3. Keishon
    Oct 02, 2006 @ 22:52:23

    LOVED, LOVED, LOVED A Place To Call Home. The first half of the book was captivating read when the protagonists were children growing up together and then the other half where they meet again as adults. Very good book if you happen to come across a copy, Jayne.

  4. Jayne
    Oct 03, 2006 @ 05:54:00

    Another internet friend of mine also finished the book this weekend and says she likes it as much as “Sweet Hush” and “Charming Grace.”

    Nicole- I’ve always meant to try the mermaid series. Maybe having enjoyed “Cafe” will get me off my butt about reading it. ;)

  5. jmc
    Oct 03, 2006 @ 07:40:17

    Smith’s A Place to Call Home and When Venus Fell are in my Top 100 Romance Favorites. The mermaids don’t quite make the list, but are still pretty good, I think. [That series seems to have stalled a little, though, since it has been a couple of years since the 2nd book with no hint of the third on the horizon.] Some of the later books, like Sweet Hush, don’t work as well for me, although I can’t figure out why, exactly.

    Still, I’m glad to see that Smith has a new book out. Seems like I heard somewhere (and this may totally be an internet rumor) that she couldn’t get a mainstream publishing contract after her last hardback. Bellebooks is a specialty publisher, I believe, partially owned/run by Smith and other southern writers, producing southern fiction.

  6. Jayne
    Oct 03, 2006 @ 08:14:31

    Yes, she is part owner of Bellebooks. I included a link to it in the 1st paragraph of the review (The Crossroads Cafe).

  7. Jane
    Oct 03, 2006 @ 09:41:39

    Let me throw my votes in for A Place to Call Home and Sweet Hush. Didn’t like Charming Grace so much.

  8. Deborah Smith
    Oct 23, 2006 @ 10:29:43

    Thank you Jayne for that amazing review! I really appreciate it. And thanks to all the folks who added comments. Someone mentioned my current publishing status — yes, it’s true, I had trouble getting another contract with a big mainstream publisher after my last few books were published so badly (awful covers, no marketing.) Several editors told me that my kind of big romance novel has no audience and I was even encouraged to switch to one of the hot genres — chick lit or erotic vampire novels! So I decided to strike out on my own. My partners in BelleBooks agreed to publish The Crossroads Cafe. I’m happy to report we’ve sold out the first printing after only a month. There IS an audience for big fat contemporary romance novels! Hurray!

  9. Jayne
    Oct 24, 2006 @ 21:18:06

    Several of my friends have been waiting to get copies from Amazon but one already bought one from BelleBooks.

  10. Dear Author.Com | The Crossroads Cafe by Deborah Smith
    Feb 01, 2007 @ 04:04:42

    [...] already summarized the storyline of The Crossroads Cafe, I’ll advise our readers to check out her review and proceed to go into what I liked about this book and didn’t work so well for me. [...]

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