Beyond Mr. Darcy: Romantic Historical Fiction discussion

The Baker's Daughter
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Group Reads 2014 > June 2014: The Baker's Daughter

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Christie (cereale) | 202 comments Mod
In 1945, Elsie Schmidt was a naïve teenager, as eager for her first sip of champagne as she was for her first kiss. But in the waning days of the Nazi empire, with food scarce and fears of sedition mounting, even the private yearnings of teenage girls were subject to suspicion and suppression. Elsie’s courtship by Josef Hub, a rising star in the Army of the Third Reich, has insulated her and her family from the terror and desperation overtaking her country. So when an escaped Jewish boy arrives on Elsie’s doorstep in the dead of night on Christmas Eve, Elsie understands that opening the door puts all she loves in danger.

Sixty years later, in El Paso, Texas, Reba Adams is trying to file a feel-good Christmas piece for the local magazine. Reba is a rolling stone, perpetually on the run from memories of a turbulent childhood, but she’s been in El Paso long enough to get a full-time job and a full-time fiancé, Riki Chavez. Riki, an agent with the U.S. Border Patrol, finds comfort in strict rules and regulations, whereas Reba knows that in every good story, lines will be blurred.

Reba's latest assignment has brought her to the shop of an elderly baker across town. The interview should take a few hours at most, but the owner of Elsie's German Bakery is no easy subject. Elsie keeps turning the tables on Reba, and Reba finds herself returning to the bakery again and again, anxious to find the heart of the story. For Elsie, Reba's questions have been a stinging reminder of darker times: her life in Germany during that last bleak year of WWII. And as Elsie, Reba, and Riki's lives become more intertwined, all are forced to confront the uncomfortable truths of the past and seek out the courage to forgive.

Christie (cereale) | 202 comments Mod
Questions for Discussion

1. The concept of baking, sharing and passing on recipes is woven throughout the book. What are a couple of your favorite family recipes? Have you shared those with your children and/or friends? How have recipes played a part in your own childhood and adult life?

2. Reba is continuously reinventing herself, trying on new personalities and fictitious lives. Why does she engage in this behavior? Why does she think running away from her family’s problems will help her achieve a new beginning? How do you believe discovering Elsie’s story changed Reba?

3.Considering Elsie’s true feelings for Josef, why does she take his gifts, accompany him to the ball, accept his proposal and wear his ring? Why does she pretend to be engaged to him? Do her circumstances make her betrayal right? If you were in her position, what would you have done?

4. Does Josef’s personal suffering justify his public actions? Do you sympathize with Josef’s struggle between duty to country and his individual feelings? Why or why not? Similarly, how does Riki justify his daily work with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection? Have you ever participated in something you didn’t believe in?

5. n the Epilogue, Jane gives Reba a recipe cookbook in honor of her “setting a wedding date.” Do you think they followed through? Where do you think Riki and Reba are today?

Amber | 49 comments 1. I think one of the reasons I like books in which making food is such a part of the family is because that wasn't the case for my childhood, with the exception of my grandmother who always made cakes from scratch and let us help, cooking was pretty much a skill set taught and learned for survival (so to speak).

2. I think Reba feels that she can become someone who doesn't have problems. She sees Elsie, a woman who has survived and moved on with her life after tragedies and realizes that your ghosts never leave you, but you can make peace with them.

3. She was young and scared. In her whole to refuse Josef's protection could endanger herself and her family, afterall Josef's influence kept them in flour and other rare rations. Betrayal is never right, but given the situation I'd say her actions were understandable, as they were that of a survivalist instinct. I would most likely have done the same thing to protect my family and myself.

4. It would be unfair to say that Elsie's actions, based on survival, are understandable and not to say the same of Josef's. It is difficult to find the courage in uncertain times to stand up for what is right. Josef knew his actions were morally wrong, even if right under the laws of Germany at the time. It is why Josef was so torn. But to stand up and say "no I will not do this" would mean the end of himself and possibly those he cared for. Riki on the otherhand can get out of his position with the boarder protection unit without having to worry about condemning himself or his loved ones. In both cases the men justified what they did because it did was legal in the eyes of their government, however they were emotionally torn because they knew it was morally wrong. The tough part is doing something out it, or removing yourself from the situation. Thankfully it's a spot I have never found myself in, and hope I never do.

5. Since Reba liked to cook I think they probably followed through with at least some of the recipes. In my opinion I think Reba and Riki would have wanted to start somewhere fresh, but still warm and sunny, maybe Arizona.

Christie (cereale) | 202 comments Mod
Thanks Amber. You gave me lots to think about. I finished the book over the weekend and I did like it, although I would have liked a bit more. Especially at the end it jumped around a bit. I really wanted more about Elsie and Dr. Merriweather's relationship.

1. My mom and grandma weren't that big on cooking, but there are a few recipes that have been passed down over the years. I still think my mom's sweet tea is the best tea ever and when I want comfort food I turn to the things that were made in our house. They may not have been as fancy as Elsie's recipes, but they make me happy and remind me of home.

2. I definitely agree with Amber on this one. I feel that Reba was trying to forget her life by becoming someone else, but after being with Elsie and Jane she realized that to grow as a person and be happy you have to embrace the past and the lessons learned.

3. As Amber said, being engaged to Josef protected Elsie and her family from some of the privations and dangers of war. Many women throughout history have found themselves in a similar position protecting family and themselves. I probably would have done the same. I do believe though that Elsie would have told Josef the truth after the war was over if he had lived.

4. I do sympathize with Josef a bit and I do feel that he had a lot of guilt at the end for what he had done. He was stuck in a position with few options. I think Riki struggled with his job as well, but justified it because people were breaking the law. When it got to be too much for him he walked away, which he could do with no repercussions. I think in everyone's job there are parts of the job you don't agree with, but most of us are never in a spot where we have to sacrifice our morals or beliefs to do a job.

5. I do believe that Reba and Riki followed through with their wedding. I think after having an absence from each other their love grew stronger. Sometimes you have to step away from the relationship to appreciate what you have. I have a feeling they are still in El Paso, but they travel a lot. They have a couple of kids and have brunch at the bakery every Sunday.

Amber | 49 comments Christie, I love that your future for Reba and Riki includes brunch every Sunday at the bakery. That would be a wonderful end (or beginning)

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