REVIEW: The Recipe for Happiness by Jane Lovering
When Seren’s brother Andrew signs her up to Yorkshire Dating, only for them to recommend that she ‘gets a life’ before they find her a match, Seren has to admit that they may have a point.
She loves her job cooking at an elder day centre and her little flat, but it’s fair to say her life is a little short of hobbies and friends. Since she was young Seren has felt safer close to home, but now she’s a thirty-something divorcee, it’s time for a change.
Change arrives in the shape of alarmingly clever collie Kez, who Seren offers to take in ‘temporarily’, and kind but mysterious new colleague Ned. But as Ned and Kez tempt Seren out of her shell, it means facing her fears. And when Andrew finally reveals the secrets of their childhood, Seren’s need for safety suddenly makes sense.
A problem shared is a problem halved, and with friends by her side, Seren might be able to get a life that she loves at last.
Dear Ms. Lovering,
As with all your books, I know that despite the “happy on the outside” there will be layers of deeper meaning and issues for the characters. Some CW/TW for readers – (past) death of parents, (past) cancer, (past) homophobia, PTSD, (past) traumatic events that haven’t been delved into yet and thus cause present day issues.
Seren has flunked the dating app her (happily married) brother Andrew and his Polish husband Gregor urged her to sign up for. She’s been briefly married (to a wanker) but finds herself now happily single, working in an adult day care facility as the chief cook and bottle washer. A new person has been hired to be the all-around handyman. After Andrew pushes Seren to help out a dog trainer friend of his, and a bastard dog owner dumps his border collie there (the kids are bored with the dog now), Seren finds herself (illegally) housing Kez who is smart enough to do advanced calculus much less manage to open the door to Seren’s apartment at the care center. Ooops.
When Seren and Ned begin taking Kez for long walks, they tentatively begin to talk about themselves (well, Seren more than Ned at first). Ned gently pushes Seren to be more confident about going alone to places she doesn’t know and asks what past event(s) caused her to have this fear of being left. But when one of their clients collapses, it’s Ned who comes to the rescue before he himself collapses in what Seren can see is PTSD. Can they work out their past issues, manage to hide Kez, save the care center Open Day, and maybe fall in love?
One of the things I like about your books is that, for the most part, the characters are basically good people. Very few villains here to worry about popping out of the woodwork. Then there’s Kez the wonder dog who is very well trained and obedient but just not for people he can probably sense don’t really love him. He knows Seren and Ned love him as well as the clients at the daycare center, and the heavy metal band members who play D&D with Andrew and Greg before they save the day, so to speak.
Seren is a woman who knows she has a fear but therapy, though nice and helpful for a few other issues in her life, didn’t identify it much less solve it. It might possibly have contributed to the breakup of her marriage – okay her husband complained about being her ‘carer’. She is happy where she is and doing what she does so she doesn’t dwell on it too much. When Ned starts to ask her about her childhood after the death of both her parents on the same day, after which she and her older brother went to live with a repressed and emotionally cold aunt, Seren denies any problems there but she is also puzzled as she realizes how much she doesn’t remember.
Ned is pretty much a wonderful guy and hero from early in the book. It’s easy to see he’s interested in Seren beyond the scrumptious scones and biscuits she bakes. It’s also clear from his verbal evasions that Ned’s got Something in His Past, too. What that is takes a while to be revealed but, as obviously caring as Ned is, it makes perfect sense and (in 2023) is very timely.
The Revelation of why Seren fears what she does is not as bad as I feared it would be. I guessed one thing that her brother has kept from her and can understand why she doesn’t remember the other things. It’s made clear how much of a loving brother-sister bond Seren and Andrew have, the care he took in taking over her guardianship while he was still young, and that the therapy he paid for was to help her. Why he couldn’t realize that the therapy hadn’t delved into the root cause and spoken up earlier, well … that was puzzling. Kudos for having Seren and Ned realize that just knowing what has caused their issues isn’t enough to solve them.
The lovely Yorkshire moors and the tiny market town they live in are front and center in the story. I appreciate that the older characters aren’t for laughs and are given personalities and strengths. Hopefully Andrew and Seren can continue moving forward from The Past Issues. Kez has found a home he respects. And Seren and Ned appear to have a bright future ahead of them. B