Don’t miss Amy’s newest work of women’s fiction: The Optimist’s Guide to Letting Go!
In downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Lou works tirelessly to build her beloved yet struggling French restaurant, Luella’s, into a success. She cheerfully balances her demanding business and even more demanding fiancé…until the morning she discovers him in the buff—with an intern.
Witty yet gruff British transplant Al is keeping himself employed and entertained by writing scathing reviews of local restaurants in the Milwaukee newspaper under a pseudonym. When an anonymous tip sends him to Luella’s, little does he know he’s arrived on the worst day of the chef’s life. The review practically writes itself: underdone fish, scorched sauce, distracted service—he unleashes his worst.
The day that Al’s mean-spirited review of Luella’s runs, the two cross paths in a pub: Lou drowning her sorrows, and Al celebrating his latest publication. As they chat, Al playfully challenges Lou to show him the best of Milwaukee and she’s game—but only if they never discuss work, which Al readily agrees to. As they explore the city’s local delicacies and their mutual attraction, Lou’s restaurant faces closure, while Al’s column gains popularity. It’s only a matter of time before the two fall in love…but when the truth comes out, can Lou overlook the past to chase her future?
Set in the lovely, quirky heart of Wisconsin, The Coincidence of Coconut Cake is a charming love story of misunderstandings, mistaken identity, and the power of food to bring two people together.
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The Coincidence of Coconut Cake
• CHAPTER ONE •
Lou hoisted up her gown and winced as she tottered across the parking lot. The sparkly four-inch heels had looked so pretty in the box, but they felt like a mortar and pestle grinding each bone in her foot. She missed her green Crocs.
Lou plucked at the tight elastic, squeezing her under the sleek black dress her fiancé, Devlin, had given her. He walked five steps ahead of her, so she scurried to catch up.
“Overstuffed truffle and foie gras sausage,” Lou said.
Devlin’s face crinkled in confusion. “What?”
“It’s a new dish, inspired by how I feel in these clothes. Maybe served over brown butter dumplings . . .” Lou tilted her head, visualizing the newly formed meal. Devlin frowned at her and sighed.
She wilted at the familiar reaction. “I’m sorry. It helps distract me.”
His features softened as he looked at her. “You’ll be fine. You look stunning.”
Lou gave a feeble smile, stepping into the soft, yellow light of the Milwaukee Country Club’s foyer, the cushy patterned carpet springing back with each step. Black-and-white pictures adorned the buttery walls, telling the club’s upper-crust history. Many showed eager young men in white standing behind wealthy gentlemen in funny pants. Hunger for something more burned in the young men’s eyes. Lou understood.
Lou turned toward Devlin, looping her arm through his.
“You didn’t need to ship me off to the salon all day, or spend so much on this dress.” She smoothed the fabric over her hips, the snug undergarments matching the tightness in her stomach. She wore a floor-length, black strapless column of jersey with matching elbow-length gloves—simple, elegant, and too expensive.
“It’s my gift to you. You never pamper yourself.” He shrugged his shoulders. “Get used to it. The future wife of a prominent attorney should enjoy a little spoiling.”
“How am I supposed to top all this for your birthday?”
“For starters, you’ll make your grandmother’s amazing coconut cake. I’ll tell you the rest later.” He winked.
Devlin smiled down at her, and Lou’s breath caught a little in her throat. He looked dashing in his tuxedo. Its classic lines fit his athletic frame, giving him an air of latent power and manliness; the faint smell of cloves lingered around him. His thick, dark hair offset his crystal-blue eyes—her very own Disney prince. He set her bejeweled arm on his and resumed their progress into the crowd. Lou clung to his Italian-wool-clad arm as if it were a life preserver as they wandered through the perfumed and primped throng of attorneys and spouses at the annual firm gala.
The private club swam with glittering women and powerful men. Waiters in white tuxedo jackets swerved through the crowd, delivering twenty-year-old scotch and white wine to thirsty guests. Additional waiters carried trays with appetizers, the obligatory bacon-wrapped water chestnuts and peeled shrimp with cocktail sauce. Lou sighed at the dull offerings, imagining what she could do with this party’s budget.
Devlin steered her toward a group of older men with elegant women by their sides.
“Bill, how are you?” Devlin said, extending his arm toward the largest man. “And you remember my beautiful fiancée, Elizabeth.” All eyes turned to her. Lou gritted her teeth at his introduction.
Bill turned to Devlin and Lou. “We were just talking about the new restaurant critic for the paper, A. W. Wodyski. Have you read his reviews?”
Devlin shook his head. “I’ve heard of him but haven’t had the time to read. The Churman case is taking more time than expected. Any good recommendations?”
“The opposite. He obliterates every restaurant he reviews. But he does it in the most entertaining way. Like Dennis Miller as a restaurant critic.”
“Really?” Lou faked indifference, biting back the real commentary she wanted to share about such arrogance.
“He hasn’t ever given a positive review. I’ve even heard a few of the restaurants he reviewed had to close.”
“I don’t buy that,” said Devlin. “No one review could close a restaurant that was good.”
“It could if they were struggling to begin with,” Lou said softly, frowning. She opened her mouth to continue, but Devlin nudged her with his elbow. She nodded and stayed silent as the conversation flowed back to clients and billable hours. Lou flicked open her rhinestone-studded clutch and pushed a button on her phone. No new messages. She closed the bag.
A waiter appeared with drinks for the group. Lou looked at his name tag, then into his face and said, “Thank you, Tyler.” He startled a little, then nodded in acknowledgment. Lou smiled. The rest of the small group continued talking about upcoming trials and the difficulties of finding good nannies. Lou watched the waiter flit into the crowd toward the bar, empty glasses appearing on his tray as he crossed the room, bobbing swift nods as he took new drink orders efficiently. He served without interrupting, moved quickly without rushing. Lou had turned to follow him when she felt a tap on her arm.
When Lou looked, Bill’s wife stood too close, radiating musky perfume. “So how did the two of you meet?”
Before Lou could answer, Devlin turned toward them. “Elizabeth used to work at Giuseppe’s years ago.”
“They had a made-to-order-pasta station where people could sit and watch the chef,” Lou added, smiling at the memory.
“I was there for a lunch meeting, but they canceled last minute, so I sat at the counter in front of this cute little cook.” Devlin put an arm around her shoulders. “I came back every day that week.” Devlin looked down at Lou and smiled.
“On Friday, he left a single red rose and his business card with the tip.”
“She called the next day and soon she’ll be my beautiful bride.”
“Beautiful and she can cook,” Bill said. “No wonder you closed the deal.”
“I always close.” Devlin wrapped her arm around his and said, “Excuse us; I see Susan and I need to ask her about a deposition she did for me.” He guided Lou away, merging into the crowd and toward the French doors.
“I’m going to hit the restroom before dinner starts. I’ll meet you at the table?” Lou turned and eased open the six-paneled bathroom door with her gloved hand, letting the silence melt some of her tension.
• • • • •
In the tiny room doubling as a bathroom stall, Lou struggled, realigning her undergarments to their original positions, trying to get her emotions under control. Devlin didn’t understand what her restaurant meant to her. He seemed to think he was rescuing her from a life of hard labor, a life his mother endured as she worked two waitressing jobs to feed and clothe her academically gifted son. She touched her ring, a pristine rectangle like an ice cube that could melt into nothing. She tried to find comfort in Devlin’s symbol of love for her. She shimmied her hips to slither the dress into place, picked up her purse, and left the sanctuary. As she scrubbed her hands, a slender young blonde emerged from another stall and joined her at the sink.
Lou smiled at her in the mirror and said, “Don’t you hate having to use the ladies’ room in these outfits? I feel like the Incredible Hulk in Catwoman’s bodysuit.”
The fresh-faced girl looked startled and tilted her head to one side. She must’ve been a summer intern, eager, ambitious, and idealistic. She wore a simple black cocktail dress accented with a pearl necklace and matching earrings, the uniform of the young and preppy. There were a dozen like her at the party, all with chin-length hair, minimal makeup, clutching small bags containing lip gloss and too many business cards. Probably not a superhero fan.
“Are you Mr. Pontellier’s fiancée?” The young woman squinted her eyes, emphasizing her question.
“Yes, I’m Lou.” She extended her unclad hand toward the pretty girl.
“Oh, I thought your name was Elizabeth.”
“It is, but all my friends call me Lou. Devlin prefers Elizabeth.” Lou half smiled and shrugged her shoulders.
She shook Lou’s hand, but instead of releasing after the appropriate number of pumps, Megan pulled Lou’s hand closer, examining the skin. Lou looked at the shiny scars dotting her pale hands and forearms. It looked as if a makeup artist had been testing for the perfect shade of pinky-red.
“Occupational hazard.” Lou pulled her hand back.
“What do you do?” Megan’s face looked curious.
Lou rubbed the marks, feeling the smooth bumps.
“I’m a chef. My pastry chef says the more battle scars, the better the food.”
“You must be the best chef in the city. It must be nice to come to events like this and get waited on for a change.”
“You’d think.” Lou’s grin shook a little, the muscles tired from too much forced use. Her purse buzzed, and she almost sighed out loud with relief. “Excuse me.”
• • • • •
Lou rushed out of the bathroom, pulling her phone from the purse. Devlin waited in the hallway holding a wineglass. She held up a finger while answering the phone and walked outside, Devlin following her.
“What’s up?” she said.
“Need to be rescued?” said the confident voice of Sue, Lou’s sous chef and best friend. Lou looked up at Devlin, cringing as she observed his tapping foot and raised eyebrow.
“Not yet. Something wrong?”
“No, just checking in. I know how much you love those events. I thought we could fake a catastrophe if you wanted to get out.”
“I’ll survive. At least the company is good.”
“The lawyers and their spouses are good company? How much have you had to drink?”
“Not them. Devlin.” Lou smiled at him as he pointed back to the building.
Lou sighed. “I gotta go. Text me later to let me know how the rush goes. Bye.”
She slid her phone back into her purse and turned to Devlin.
“Sorry about that. Thanks for the wine,” she said as she took the glass he offered.
“Can you not be a chef tonight?”
“I can try.”
“You should hire someone to cook for you. Then you’d have more free time.”
“I can’t afford that. Besides, cooking is the best part.”
“I’d think you would enjoy a night off.”
“I do. But my idea of pampering doesn’t involve high heels and elbow-length gloves. At least not with a gown.” Lou gave him a gentle hip bump and a smile.
“The night is young.” With a placating smile, Devlin held the door open for her and followed Lou back inside. “Soon you won’t need to work anyway, and I can spoil you all the time.”
Lou turned to look at Devlin, her eyes pleading with him to listen. “Business is improving. I love it. Why do you keep bringing this up?”
“Elizabeth, you work too hard and you’ll need more time once we get a house and have kids. You’ll still get to cook amazing food, but you won’t need to worry about staffing and rent and bills. It’s the ideal situation for you.” Devlin gave her a kiss, took her hand, and walked right over her plans. Lou struggled to breathe under the weight of his version of their future.
• • • • •
After dinner, Lou escaped outside into the prematurely warm April night. She peeled off the gloves and stepped out of her shoes onto the cool grass of the practice green, moaning with relief as she texted Sue.
Lou looked up at the stars, waiting for the reply ping.
We hit a new record. 102 plates. Need another server.
Lou let out a whistle of appreciation.
From behind her, she heard voices beyond the edge of the green. Lou walked toward the sound to see a handful of white-coated waiters smoking cigarettes and rehydrating. One of them was Tyler, the waiter she had noticed earlier.
Keeping her eyes on the servers, Lou slid the phone into her bag, picked up her shoes, and walked toward the group, stepping gently as the soft grass switched to rough pavement.
“Ahem, excuse me. Tyler?” Lou said. Three startled faces looked up, eyes wide at the intrusion. “Sorry, I don’t mean to interrupt your break, but do you have a moment?”
“Lou?” Devlin’s voice cut through the darkness behind her.
“Crap,” Lou said, digging her card out of her clutch. “I own a restaurant—Luella’s. If you’re looking for a steady job with good tips, give me a call.” She pressed the stiff paper into Tyler’s hand and turned to see Devlin standing behind her, staring at the waitstaff. She heard them scatter. Devlin’s brow wrinkled as he spoke.
“I wondered where you disappeared to. Ready to go?”
Lou exhaled, realizing she had held in her breath, anxious about what Devlin might say. “Yes, please. My feet are killing me.”
Devlin looked at her heels dangling from her fingers. “I see that. Why don’t we walk around so you don’t have to put them back on.” He smiled at her, and she relaxed. He took her arm and led her to where his Jaguar waited for them. He guided her into the front seat, pulling a cream gift box from the back with the words “La Perla” adorning the top.
As Devlin slid into the driver’s seat, Lou raised one eyebrow at him and said, “Is this part two of your own birthday present?”
Devlin winked, then started the car.
“You know, it’s customary for other people to buy you gifts,” Lou said.
“Consider it the gift wrap to what I really want.”
Lou rolled her eyes and opened the box as Devlin drove out of the parking lot toward his condo. Inside, a tasteful nightgown of robin’s egg–blue silk and creamy lace sat nestled in crisp tissue paper. As she lifted it from the box, the delicate material caught on the rough edges of her callused hands, the dainty lace ready to snag. Her spine tensed with worry about destroying the diaphanous fabric. She slithered it back into the box, swallowed, and said, “Shall I try it on when we get back to your place?”
Devlin pointed his chin toward the box. “Look on the inside of the lid.”
Lou’s eyebrow rose in question, but she flipped the lid over to see a key taped inside.
“A key? To what?”
“I already have a key.”
Devlin exhaled in frustration.
“I know you already have a key,” Devlin said. “I’m trying to ask you to move in with me, and doing a piss-poor job of it. I don’t want to wait until we’re married, Elizabeth.”
Lou swallowed and set the lid back in place.
“Maybe we can save the nightie until I move in—leave it at your place until then?” Lou asked.
Devlin smiled, certain of his success. Lou licked her lips, trying to unglue them from her suddenly dry teeth.
• • • • •
Lou squinted as she studied Harley, her pastry chef, between the shiny shelving separating his domain from the rest of the kitchen at Luella’s. He didn’t seem to notice her. She could see the amber bottle of vanilla on the shelf a few feet away in his station. She took a step closer, watching Harley’s back, squinting at the glare of fluorescent lights off stainless steel. The whirr and snick of Harley’s mixer kneading bread dough broke the silence. Another step. Another step. She reached her hand toward the vanilla. Whirr, snick. Whirr, snick. Just a few more inches. Almost there. Just an inch more.
Harley spun when Lou’s shirt started to ring. He saw Lou’s precarious position and shook his head, denying her. With a sigh, Lou fished the phone out of her bra and put a smile on her face.
“Happy birthday, handsome! You’re up early.” She turned her back to Harley, looking out the front of the gleaming kitchen.
“So are you,” Devlin said. “I was planning to leave a message. I figured you were still sleeping.”
“I have vendors coming early today,” she lied.
“Fine. You’re still planning on getting out early tonight?”
“Unless it gets busy, I should be over by ten. Is that okay?”
“Not until ten? I wanted more time to celebrate with you. Can’t you leave that restaurant earlier?” She could practically hear his puppy-dog eyes over the phone. Lou tapped her finger on her lip and considered revealing the imminent visit she had planned, but any desire to appease him was outweighed by her excitement to witness his shock when she showed up in a few hours with the cake. Nothing beat cake for breakfast, especially early surprise birthday cake.
“Great. Can you get my dry cleaning, too?”
Lou sighed. “I don’t know if I’ll have time.”
“Please? For my birthday?”
“You’re the best.”
“I love you, too.”
Lou stuffed the phone back into her shirt and returned to her mission. Now was her chance, as Harley layered fragile phyllo dough into a strudel, hunched in concentration. At over six feet tall, heavily tattooed, with teddy-bear brown eyes and a rumbly voice, he was more Jolly Green Giant than Hells Angel, but Harley protected the vanilla like a mama bear. Lou tiptoed toward the shelf, keeping one eye on him, the other on her target. She needed this cake to be spectacular, so she needed the best vanilla—Harley’s. He knew a guy who knew a guy in Mexico who made small batches. It was the most potent vanilla she’d ever tasted. She’d seen him mark the sides so he could tell if anyone used it. As long as his back stayed to her . . .
“No,” Harley said without turning.
“Hmph.” Lou dropped her hand. Her shoulders sagged. She needed that bottle. “Please, Harley. I need your good vanilla for the cake.”
“He doesn’t deserve it.” Harley turned to face her, shaking his head from side to side. “And I can’t believe you’re moving in with him.”
Lou twisted her apron in her hands. “I haven’t agreed yet. That’s why I need the cake to be perfect.”
“He won’t appreciate the subtlety. He wants you to move in, so it’s inevitable.”
“I don’t know. A ring is one thing. Moving in . . . it’s too real.” She reached toward the bottle again.
Harley watched her, waiting for her next move. His neat, blond beard covered his jaw like Kenny Rogers’s circa 1985, and an ever-present black bandanna covered any hair he had. His full name was Harley Rhodes. Whether from predestination or paperwork, the name fit him.
“Dammit, Harley, as my pastry chef, I respect you. As a friend, I value you. But right now you’re pissing me off. I pay for the stuff. I’ll use it when I want.” Lou grabbed the bottle and scurried back to her mixer. She could feel Harley smile at her retreating back.
She took a deep breath, blew it out, and began pulling ingredients off shelves, confident where each was, never pausing to think before grabbing. Lou set out a large bowl, then measured each cup of flour, leveling the top. A cloud puffed with each addition to the bowl.
“You should weigh it,” Harley said, standing behind her. Lou jumped with a little yip.
“My grandma didn’t weigh it.”
“You’re better than your grandma.”
If only. Luella had been Lou’s favorite grandma. Some grandmas took their grandchildren to parks, or bought them books and dolls, or shared their special stories. Her grandma shared her recipes. She taught Lou how to check when a roast turkey was done, chop veggies without cutting off a finger, and bake a coconut cake grown men swooned over. A fog of comforting smells had perpetually blanketed her kitchen—an expression of her love so strong you could taste it. Lou caught the culinary bug during those early days and loved that she was named after her grandma, even if Lou believed she’d never make food quite as delicious.
Lou rolled her eyes at Harley’s overconfidence.
“I’ll do it her way.” Lou stared at Harley until he returned to his station. Back to the cake. She added the baking powder and salt and whisked them together. Next, Lou combined the coconut cream and milk in a separate small bowl, lifting it to her nose to enjoy the heady scent.
Lou used her stand mixer to cream the butter, blending until it was smooth. She poured in the sugar and kept mixing until the batter was pale and fluffy. Ingredients in baking were mixed in a specific way to create a specific result—a lot like relationships, Lou thought. If people didn’t blend well together, you’d never get the outcome you wanted. Next, she added the coconut extract and Harley’s vanilla. Before capping the vanilla, Lou dabbed a little behind her ears as if it were Chanel N°5.
She added the flour and coconut mixture, a little of each at a time, to the butter mixture. The key to a light, delicate cake was to not overmix; handling it too much made the cake dense and tough. If you tried too hard, you ruined it. She wanted Devlin to understand and love the restaurant as much as she did, but every attempt to involve him ended in anger and silence. Too much mixing, Lou thought.
She looked into the bowl. The perfect mix. At least she could get this right.
Lou divided the cake batter into the pans and carried them to the baking ovens. Harley heard her coming.
“Turn back around,” he said.
“Harley, I need to bake them.”
“It’s bad enough you wear my vanilla like perfume; you can’t use my baking ovens, too.”
“Technically, they’re my ovens.”
Harley crossed his arms and stood in front of them. “I have bread proofing.”
“Fine.” Lou stomped back to the main cooking line and put the cakes into the small, yellow-doored oven behind the grill station. This was the oven she used when a dish needed roasting or braising, not quite as precise as the baking ovens, but it’d do. After all, her grandmother had never used a fancy oven. She walked the dirty bowls to the sink, using her finger to scoop up leftover batter, closing her eyes to fully experience the balanced flavors—not too sweet, plenty of coconut, but not so much you couldn’t taste the vanilla. Perfect. Grandma would be proud.
“You want in on this?” Lou held out the bowl. Harley walked over, took a fingerful, and dabbed it on his tongue.
“And?” asked Lou.
“Should have used the scale.” But Lou could see a faint smile in his whiskers. As his hand reached for another sample, she pulled it away.
“Then no more for you.” She set it by the sink and walked away but saw Harley sneak the bowl back to his corner.
With the cakes baking, Lou made some breakfast for the two of them. She slapped a few slices of bacon on the heated griddle. Sizzling started immediately and the scent of rising coconut cake mingled with the smoky salt of bacon. “Heaven.” She buttered day-old baguettes to toast, then cracked a few eggs for breakfast sandwiches. “Now some cheese. Brie? Emmental? Mmm, smoky onion cheddar.”
The sounds of her cooking bounced around the empty restaurant like a Super Ball, reminding her of where she was and why. She still couldn’t believe Luella’s was hers, that she’d mustered the guts to open it. If Sue and Harley hadn’t promised to work for her, she never would have done it. Going it alone was never an option. Each month she felt a thrill of shock when her balance sheet squeaked into the black. The profits were tiny, but they existed. After over a year of hard work, it looked like Luella’s just might make it.
Standing at the sink to eat breakfast, Lou drained two cups of coffee laced with enough sugar and cream to make it dessert. She set her dishes in the sink for the dishwasher just as the timer dinged. Heat blasted out when she opened the oven; the sweet smell of coconut saturated her nose. The cakes glowed with golden perfection, tender to the touch—perfect. She had made four rounds, so that if she screwed up two taking them out of the pans, she’d have backups. Besides, her staff would devour the backup cake during prep. While the cakes cooled, Lou made the frosting: more softened unsalted butter, more fresh coconut milk—just enough to make it spreadable—powdered sugar, and more of the precious vanilla. So creamy and decadent, Lou used her finger to scoop out a Ping-Pong-ball-sized glob.
After frosting the cake and sprinkling on toasted coconut for a little crunch, Lou glanced at the clock. The little hand hovered by the seven.
“Damn!” Lou slid the freshly frosted confection onto the cardboard box, then folded it around the cake. She tied the box closed with butcher’s twine, grabbed her keys, waved to Harley, and rushed to the door as Sue entered the kitchen. Lou noticed Harley stop and stare at the newest arrival.
“Morning, Lou. Hey, Harley. Coffee on?” Sue said in his direction, avoiding eye contact. Eyeing the box in Lou’s hands and sniffing the vanilla-and-coconut-scented kitchen, she finished braiding her long, red hair. She always wore two braids while cooking. If things got really hot, she’d tie them on top of her head in an overexcited Pippi Longstocking look. Lou smiled at Sue’s no-nonsense greeting.
“Yup,” said Lou. “Gotta go, I’ve got to run some errands before I surprise Devlin with his cake. He’s expecting it tonight, but I thought a prework birthday party would be a nice treat. I’ll be back later. The backup cake is by the coffee—dig in.” Then Lou leaned in to whisper, “Let me know what Harley says.”
“Sure thing.” Sue walked out to the coffee station, then, with a mouth full of cake, added, “He doesn’t deserve you, Lou.” But Lou rushed out the front door toward the corner, purse in one hand and cake in the other, eager to surprise her fiancé.
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for The Coincidence of Coconut Cake includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
The last thing Lou, a talented and tireless Milwaukee chef, expects to lose when she dumps her cheating fiancé is her beloved restaurant, Luella’s. But when an off night in the kitchen—fueled by heartbreak and frustration—coincides with an anonymous visit from an exacting critic from the local newspaper, one scathing review is all it takes to see her promising business suddenly facing closure.
As the city’s most infamous restaurant critic, Al prefers to keep his professional identity a secret. A recent transplant from England, he runs into Lou as she’s drowning her sorrows in a pub and playfully challenges her to show him the best of Milwaukee. As Al and Lou explore the sights and sounds of her hometown, they begin to fall for each other—until Al realizes that it was his review that put the future of Luella’s in jeopardy. When the truth comes out, the two star-crossed foodies must find a way to overlook the past in order to forge a new future together.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. It’s clear from the opening chapter of the book that Devlin and Lou have divergent plans for the future. What do you think drew them together in the first place? Did you find Devlin, with his good looks and promise of financial stability, alluring or stifling?
2. Lou considers the following quote: “Delight is indeed born in the heart. It sometimes also depends on its surroundings.” Do you think this holds true throughout the book? How do Al and Lou’s surroundings impact their happiness? Do you think that your surroundings dictate your own happiness? Or is your perception and attitude more important?
3. Both Al and Lou have fond memories of their grandmothers’ cooking, from Luella’s famous coconut cake to the rusty cast iron skillet that Al still holds dear. What are some of your favorite culinary memories or traditions? How have they evolved—or not—over the years?
4. As Lou plays tour guide to Al and opens him up to a wealth of new experiences, she gradually smooths over his gruff exterior. How does your perception of Al change throughout the book? Was there a specific moment where you started to find him more likeable?
5. The Coincidence of Coconut Cake is as much a love letter to Milwaukee as it is the love story of Lou and Al. What is your favorite stop on Lou’s tour of the city? Which of their meals are you most eager to try?
6. Devlin says to Lou, “I may shape and bend the facts in my favor or make tactful omissions, but I don’t lie.” Were you surprised to hear Devlin’s explanation for the scantily clad intern in his apartment? Do you think he was telling the whole truth?
7. What do you think about Al’s decision to keep his identity a secret from Lou, particularly after he learns that Luella’s is her restaurant? Are his lies more forgivable than Devlin’s behavior? How would you have handled the situation if you were in Al’s shoes?
8. Lou reflects on the fate of Luella’s: “The fault was hers and hers alone. Taking responsibility gave her the control. Taking responsibility gave her hope she would find happiness again.” What do you make of this sentiment? Do you think that Lou is being too hard on herself—that she’s just the victim of circumstance—or is she to blame for the restaurant’s closure?
9. The Coincidence of Coconut Cake features a vibrant cast of secondary characters, from John, the fashionista in disguise, to Harley, the loveable, tattooed pastry chef. Who is your favorite secondary character? How does he or she influence events or help to move the story along?
10. Gertrude emphasizes the importance of second chances to Lou. “Don’t let your heart get too hard,” she says. “[Al] made you happy. That was not an act. Try to forgive him, promise me.” Do you agree with Gertrude’s belief that a person deserves forgiveness as long as his or her intentions are good? What personal experiences have shaped your own attitude toward second chances?
11. What do you think the future holds for Lou’s new restaurant? What important lessons has she learned from Luella’s?
12. While the story of Luella’s is fictional, it’s not uncommon for a new restaurant to fail because of negative press—particularly in the age of crowd-sourced online reviews. Did the book make you more sympathetic to the plight of struggling business owners and the impact of online reviews?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Host a book club potluck! Have each member bring his or her favorite family dish and describe the origin of the recipe.
2. Plan a day of sightseeing or activities in your hometown. What would you want an out-of-towner to eperience?
3. Have each book club member write a review praising his or her favorite restaurant—or emulate A.W. Wodyski and pan a terrible meal.
4. Learn more about author Amy Reichert by visiting her website http://amyereichert.com or following her on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/amyereichert) and/or Twitter (@aereichert).
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This was a great book!
Finished it in just a few days...... it left me feeling light & happy!
I actually couldn't put this book down. Full of the kind of friends you should be lucky enough to have, and the strength needed to follow your dreams. Maybe a little predictable, but presented with humor that kept the story very interesting. I'll be reading more from this author.
First book I have read by this author but it will not be my last.
Enjoyable , read . Could not put the book down for long....so interesting. Had the milwaukeescene down to tee. Will enjoy milwaukee more as seen through your eyes. Yummy cake recipe!
I loved reading this book of love, food, romance, and second chances. Chef Lou, owner of Luella's has a very bad day and unfortunately takes it out on her food. By chance, a food reviewer was in that night and she received a review that has horrific consequences. Fortunately, Al is a lover of good food and the thought of a dropped coconut cake that left the smell of vanilla in its path and burned in Al's brain. When Al and Lou cross paths again, Lou agrees to introduce Al to the finer points of Milwaukee, a town he dislikes. As they venture, Al realizes he has been missing the best things in life, most a wonderful girl named Lou. Al keeps the fact that he wrote that scalding review to himself but as the secret comes out, will the girl go out of his life? A wonderfully cute, romantic read that will leave you salivating as the food is described. This is the second book I have read by Amy Reichert, "Simplicity of Cider" was the first, and cannot wait to read the next one that I have, "Love, Luck and Lemon Pie". Just great books with characters to which you can connect.
THE COINCIDENCE OF COCONUT CAKE by Amy E. Reichert is the story of Elizabeth Luella Johnson known as Lou. Lou is a Milwaukee chef who has had to make it on her own after her parents were killed in a car accident. She worked hard saving to fulfill her dreams of opening her own restaurant–Luella’s named after her sweet grandmother who taught her the love of cooking. As luck would have it, things don’t always turn out as planned. Trying to surprise Devlin, her fiancé, on his birthday with one of her delicious coconut cakes, Lou was the one surprised when she finds him with another woman in the negligee he had gifted to her. Lou had been hoping for some positive reviews for the restaurant to boost business to get it into the black & make it a success. Unfortunately, the pompous newspaper food critic, A. W. Wodyski, picked that very same night to anonymously visit her restaurant to review. Being an emotional wreck, the food went out in uncharacteristic manner & taste leaving a bad taste in the reviewer’s mouth & mind. His published review was unkind to say the least leading to pulled reservations & empty tables which eventually lead to the demise of the restaurant Luella along with Lou’s dreams. Wanting his reviews to be unanimous, Al Waters uses the alias for A. W. Wodysky. Al moved to Milwaukee from England, dislikes town & its frigid weather. Al runs into Lou, literally, as she’s on the way to deliver her cake & then again later that evening when she is trying to drown her sorrows at the bar. She jokingly says she can prove to him how great Milwaukee is. That challenge has Lou showing him through sight, smell & taste all the good points of interest of Milwaukee. Al realizes not only does he really likes living in this town but that he loves Lou. Weeks later on one of their outings Al realizes that Lou is the owner of Luella’s & that it’s review that is leading to its closure. He knows if he’s honest & tells her the truth that he might lose her. Unwilling to take the chance - what will he do? Lou realizes that she didn’t “love” Devlin that they really had nothing in common. With Al she can be herself & they love a lot of the same things, like spending time in the kitchen together. She’s falling in love with Al. Their relationship develops, grows & heats up. Devlin, not wanting to lose, is the one pops their happiness bliss by bringing out the truth about A. W. Wodyski true identity thinking it will bring Lou back to him. However, Lou lets him know that there is no such thing as them as a couple. But the once happy couple did split & Lou goes about final events in closing the restaurant. Otto & Gertrude, an elderly couple that frequented Luella’s, loved Lou as one of their own. It’s their bequest of their home that gives Lou renewed hope in her dream to have her own thriving restaurant. It’s also at their joint funerals that she sees Al again. She remembers their words to her about love & second chances. Maybe there is a way to have it all! This is a remarkable love story of two unlikely matched people who really have everything in common overcoming hard times, misunderstandings, disappointments to come around to see the good in life, love for each other & power of forgiveness & coconut cake. I recommend this book to anyone that loves a book that keeps you turning the pages, hoping & wishing that it all works out & leaves you with a smile on your face wanting see what other books Amy E. Reichert has written.
This is a story about new beginnings and second chances. When Lou dumps her fiancee for cheating on her (although he was not a good man for her, he wanted a housemaid and cook), she falls apart. Her friends at her new restaurant convince her to take the night off. While they are all distracted, the newest food critic, visits the restaurant and writes a scathing review which causes her restaurant to lose almost all its business. She meets a young man while drowning her sorrows and he convinces her that she should show him what is good about Milwaukee. Of course, Lou and Al fall in love over time, but is their feeling for one another enough when she finds out his true identity. I have never been to Milwaukee but this book does a great job of describing the city that I may have to visit in the near future, of course not in the winter. There is also a side story about an older couple who are regulars at the restaurant and become like family to Lou and her employees, that is also very sweet but sad. If you like sweet romances filled with cooking, food, and fun, you will enjoy The Coincidence of the Coconut Cake.
I adore this book. Have read it several times. Absolutely love it.
A great read!
Easy read. Enjoyed. Would like the author to write a story about John the fashion columnist.
Loved the book so much I read it twice.
Very charming, lovely food, life's struggles, and lots of love.
This was the perfect vacation read! The story was charming, grabbed your heart and took you for a ride - loved it. I have also made the coconut cake from the recipe in the book, worth it just for the recipe alone - excellent! Looking forward to reading Amy E. Reichert's next book.
I went to the movies with my husband about month ago and they gave us free books it was this book " The Coincidence of Coconut Cake" . When I read the back of the book it sounds amazing but what really go me I fell in love with the book instantly its a paper turning. I can relate to the characters within the story, but the funny thing is once I saw the movie with my husband. I was reading instead of watching the movie what can I say I could not get enough of the book now I m big fan looking out for author's next books.
The Coincidence of Coconut Cake was one of my favorite books I read this summer. I fell in love with Lou immediately. I feel like we would be close friends if she were real and we ever met. I didn't like Al at first, but he grew on me and I was routing for him by the end. Each character was well developed and unique. Integrating the city of Milwaukee into the story was fantastically done. If you've never been to Milwaukee, after reading this book, you'll want visit soon to experience all the places mentioned. I only wish there actually was a Luella's and/or a Simple Twist to visit. I think I gained 5 lbs just reading about all of the delicious food and dishes that are in this book. I can't wait to try to make the coconut cake! Food, fun, love, many moments throughout the book that made me smile.....those are things that make a great book and C3 one has it all. At times, I couldn't put it down at times. I'm looking forward to another one by Amy E. Reichert.
I adored reading this story about Lou, a struggling yet incredibly talented chef & restaurant owner. Her picture perfect life crumbles the second she finds her fiancé cheating on her (this isn't a spoiler, no worries!). To make matters worse, her restaurant, Luella’s, gets paid a visit from a well-known food critic/reviewer, who is infamous for being brutal with his reviews, on the same day her relationship ends. This story is one of romance, perseverance, fate & forgiveness. The food incorporated in the story was flawlessly descriptive! I swear I could smell the amazing platters served at Luella’s; it was that good. Definitely devour this delicious story! A perfect summer read!
Reichert’s serendipitous new novel is a delight staring the ultimate star crossed lovers. Stars that will leave a great taste in your mouth as they traverse their delicious, and accidental duplicitous relationship and don’t discount the co-stars because they’re also delectable. Her mixing fiction with the real sights and sounds of Milwaukee gave me a great arm-chair tour of the author’s fair city. Her wonderful, witty, playful narrative gave me a plateful of savory reading experiences that involved all of my senses. This debut by Amy Reichert is a fantastic read and will appeal to a number of readers and I for one am looking forward to the next novel by this appetizing new author. The day restaurateur and chef (Elizabeth) Lou Johnson found her fiancé with another woman was the same day her restaurant, Luella’s got a scathing review from the new food critic for the local paper, A. W. Wodyski. He unfortunately happened to make his visit to the restaurant on the one day she went off the deep end. But there’s nothing to worry about right because Wodyski never gives anyone a good review. Al Waters, expat Englishman and using a pseudonym, food critic for the local Milwaukee paper, has an iron stomach and has never had a negative reaction to food, until now. Which will definitely be reflected in his next review of the abomination that is the French restaurant named Luella’s. The only good thing in his otherwise horrible day was bumping into a beautiful woman who smelled delightfully of coconut cake. Was it Kismet or just bad Karma when the two meet in an English pub on the very day the review is published.
The Coincidence of Coconut Cake is a realistic romance with a loving cast of characters. In fact, supporting characters Otto and Gertrude stole the spotlight a bit. They are a sweet older couple who pretty much adopt Lou as their own. They are full of wisdom and represent the greatest of love stories. Otto and Gertrude's love story is inspirational in where they are now, but realistic due to all they had to overcome and being able to find a second chance love in one another. In a way, I enjoyed the small bit of time that was spent with Otto and Gertrude more than I did Lou and Al. Otto and Gertrude were the sweet icing to the cake of this story. Now to the cake and main characters of The Coincidence of Coconut Cake, Lou and Al. Lou is quiet, keeps to herself, always tries to do the right thing and cares about others. She is a girl who does not fit with a social ladder climbing, self-centered, ungrateful tool like her fiancé Devlin. The best thing he ever did for Lou was get caught with another woman in his apartment at a rather early time in the morning dressed in less than appropriate attire for friendly company. Point being, Lou is much better off without him. Thankfully she is a strong and self-respecting woman who walks away from such a relationship. Then enters Al, a man who is far from home and is debatably trying to find his true self. Al and Lou are both at a point in their lives when a bit of re-planning is necessary. They find compatibility in wanting to forget about everything that is wrong and out of control in their lives. There is no talk of work and no personal questions, so as you can imagine this leaves quite a bit of room for the unknown. I found The Coincidence of Coconut Cake to be a bit slow and flat. There were parts of the book I found myself wanting to skip because I was not convinced of it's relevance to the story. Parts felt a bit like filler text rather than important content. I do think this could make a good beach read. The cast of supporting characters are loyal and lovable, the story slow and sweet, and you won't be caught blushing too much in public.
Charming Contemporary Romance I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The Coincidence of Coconut Cake by Amy Reichert is a rich and delicious romantic comedy. It is a fun, engaging read. Lou is a quirky, upbeat chef/restaurant owner. Her restaurant is starting to take off despite her fiance’s, Devlin, lack of support. Speaking of Devlin, besides not supporting Lou’s dreams, he is scheming and controlling. He is the sort of character that you love to hate and to whom you never give the benefit of doubt. Al is an English journalist who has had to move to Milwaukee, Wisconsin in order to follow his dream of being a restaurant critic. He starts off as a curmudgeon who takes out his unhappiness on restaurants. His co-worker, John, is a caveman-looking couture reporter who provides Al with some friendship and a dose of common sense. Critical supporting players who add to the main characters’ development as well as the story progression are developed, but I could have used more information and story line on a couple of them (namely Sue and Harley). Finally, there is Milwaukee. That’s right, the city is featured upfront and deserves recognition as a character! A series of coincidences lead Al and Lou to meet and become friends. Their work life is an off-limits topic as Lou sets out to grow Al’s appreciation for Milwaukee. If you’re familiar with Milwaukee, you’ll appreciate all the food, place and event references. Mentions of frozen custard, fried cheese curds and Summerfest brought back fond memories for me. If you aren’t familiar with the city, Amy Reichert’s book will make you want to visit. I loved how Al’s and Lou’s characters developed and grew throughout the story. It was a refreshing change to have love interests start out as friends instead of falling instantly in love and into bed. They both feel their budding attraction is one-sided, and of course, it is not. Beyond the humor, there is emotional depth. Al has already fallen for Lou when he figures out that she owns a restaurant that he has reviewed. Plot tension builds as readers anticipate when and how Lou will find out about this deception. No spoilers, but I will tell you it is well done. Books don’t often bring me to tears, but I did get a little misty-eyed at one point while reading The Coincidence of Coconut Cake. What happens when you receive devastating news on the same day your restaurant is being reviewed? You get The Coincidence of Coconut Cake. A great book and a mouthwatering recipe.
This was an awesome book! I laughed, cried, and found the story just wonderful!!
The Coincidence of Coconut Cake was addictive! This is a charming romance and I loved it! What did I like about The Coincidence of Coconut Cake? This story is refreshing and fun. This was a romance with a little drama, the level that some of us might experience. So this was a nice change of pace from romances with a dominating or really dark character. The romance was sweet and passionate. The more time Al and Lou spent together the stronger their attraction and connection became. I loved their dates which were perfect for their love of food. Their dates also gave a view of Milwaukee that I never imagined existed and now would love to visit. The main characters Al and Lou were so easy for me to fall in love with! They are both working hard for their dream: Lou a gourmet chef and owner of a new restaurant, Al a journalist working hard to move onto a more prestigious newspaper. They both love their careers but there is something missing in both of their lives. What is missing is that spark and excitement which they finally feel when they meet each other. As they discover they share a passion of food you see their connection and attraction growing with each date. I found they were easy to relate to and even though the story was predictable I couldn’t help myself from still praying they would live happily ever after. I also loved the supporting cast, especially John, Gertrude and Otto, who added humor and words of wisdom to Al and Lou. What didn’t I like about The Coincidence of Coconut Cake? I wish there was an epilogue. I hated saying goodbye to Al and Lou so I would have to love to know what happened to them. Did they get married and lived happily ever after? And what happened to John. I loved these characters and wish I could have spent a little more time with them. The Coincidence of Coconut Cake is a delightful read. This is a perfect escape from the real world. Fans of You Got Mail and Sleepless in Seattle would love this story of two strangers that are connected by a misunderstanding and discover their soulmates. I look forward to reading more from author Amy E. Reichert.
There are so many aspects of this book I enjoyed. First of all, the cover is wonderful and as you read the book, you understand the significance of the cake and the newspaper. The characters are just precious, have a wonderful connection and work so well together. Lou is a wonderful chef but, she is given a bad review by Al on one of the worst days of her life. Through a series of accidental meetings, Lou shows Al the wonderful side of Milwaukee. Even though neither one knows who the other is, their relationship grows and the power of food is very enjoyable! It was wonderful the way the author enhanced the reading experience with the trips around the city of Milwaukee. This, and the food, make this a very rich and rewarding read. What a wonderful debut novel! Cannot wait for more! I received this novel from Simon and Schuster as a member of the XOXperts.