At last, Margot Salton’s lifelong dream to open a high-end barbecue restaurant with a welcoming ambiance was being realized, and her sauce, perfected over her lifetime, was going to help make things click. When she signs a lease on a space in San Francisco that shares a kitchen with a bakery, she crosses her fingers that drama and conflict won’t be a part of the deal. The bakery is called Sugar, after the owner, Ida Sugar. Margot names her restaurant Salt. According to her, it’s the right combination of salt and sugar that makes her sauce special. When she starts to fall for Jerome, the bakery owner’s son, she realizes she has to be honest with him because she comes with baggage, weighty baggage. Pouring her story out for him in full, revealing she is really Margie Salinas, a poor girl from Texas, she takes a chance that the winning combination of salt and sugar will remain.
Divided into four parts, the second and third contain the most interesting storytelling. Part Two is Ida Sugar’s backstory of her interracial relationship with a young organizer and anti-war activist in her youth. Part Three is Margot’s backstory of her trials and tribulations with the Texas justice system. Wiggs writes with understanding and support for both of her female characters.
Overall, I was surprised and pleased to find that women’s rights and reproductive freedom are front and center in Part Three. Margot’s story of rape, murder as self-defense, incarceration, and the rusty wheels of justice for the poor enter into the story. Equal justice works equal to the money you have to spend, or so it seemed to Margot/Margie. She also weighs the decision to terminate the pregnancy caused by her rapist but finds that those rusty wheels turn even slower for people like her. Women’s fiction is the genre that most consistently tackles difficult issues and injustices faced by this significant portion of the citizenry, and with Ida’s and Margie’s stories, Wiggs does not disappoint. However, either story alone could have made for a more compelling and in-depth novel.
On the happier side, the novel offers second-chance loves for both Ida and her son, Jerome as well as a second chance for Margie/Margot to make a life for herself on her terms. Other bonuses: LGBTQ representation in a loving couple that is willing to chance it all, interracial couples and relationships, and recipes at the end of the book based on some of the food created and served between the pages.
Book 4 in the Bella Vista Chronicles by Susan Wiggs.
1. The Apple Orchard
2. The Beekeeper’s Ball
3. The Lost and Found Bookshop
4. Sugar and Salt
I guess I’ll be reading these backwards as I also have The Lost and Found Bookshop in my pile of books about books, booksellers, and bookshops.
Sugar and Salt published July 26, 2022.