Sugar and Salt (Bella Vista Chronicles) – ARC review

Sugar and Salt
by Susan Wiggs
Release Date:  July 12, 2022
Publisher: William Morrow
Book #4 in the Bella Vista Chronicles
Number of Pages:  384
Kindle edition
Source:  NetGalley
Contemporary Fiction
Ages 16 and up
CW: rape, incarceration, forced birth, racism
Jerome “Sugar” Barnes learned the art of baking in his grandma’s bakery, also called Sugar, on historic Perdita Street in San Francisco. He supplies baked goods to the Lost and Found Bookshop across the street.

When the restaurant that shares his commercial kitchen loses its longtime tenant, a newcomer moves in: Margot Salton, a barbecue master from Texas.

Margot isn’t exactly on the run, but she needs a fresh start. She’s taken care of herself her whole life, pulling herself up by her fingernails to recover from trauma, and her dream has been to open a restaurant somewhere far, far from Texas. The shared kitchen with Jerome Sugar’s bakery is the perfect setup: a state-of-the-art kitchen and a vibrant neighborhood popular with tourists and locals.

Margot instantly takes to Jerome’s grandmother, the lively, opinionated Ida, and the older woman proves to be a good mentor. Margot thinks Jerome is gorgeous, and despite their different backgrounds their attraction is powerful–even though Jerome worries that Margot will simply move on from him once she’s found some peace and stability. But just as she starts to relax into a happy new future, Margot’s past in Texas comes back to haunt her…

This story is intense. It really wasn’t what I expected and, although I do not have issues with book and movie content triggering me, I still wish I would have been prepared for certain aspects of this story. While I can guarantee it will be something a lot of people cannot read, for me, it just weighed me down and gave me a hopeless feeling at times. Content warning (and spoiler warning): If you think you can read a very insightful story about rape and forced birth, I’ll let you know now that there is a happy ending for Margot. She has a very long road to get there, but she does find peace and happiness in the end.

This story skips back and forth in time and gives storylines for different characters. There was a point where I thought this story would be dealing with racism more than what it actually ended up focusing on so I was a bit uneasy about a white author delving into this subject. From what I could tell, being a white cis woman myself, she did a decent job. But that’s not something I can know having never been in the shoes of Ida or her son. While I found Ida’s story interesting, once Margot’s story ramped up I felt it was pushed aside. Which made me wonder why the author decided to tell these women’s stories in the same book. I thought there would be more of a connection and friendship between Margot and Ida and that wasn’t the case. They got along well, but they didn’t interact a lot.

So let me get to the meat of this story, which is Margot’s past. It takes up a good half of this book which is smack dab in the middle of this book. It’s heavy, it’s scary, and it’s a very important story. With the other jumping around in time of this book, I felt the weight of this section even more since there were no breaks out of this terrible series of events. It was so well done, though. At first, I had a lot of mixed feelings about the path Margot eventually takes (is forced to take?). This story was written before the recent overturning of reproductive rights in the United States but published just after. I could not help but note that there is a realism in what the ultimate path was. There was definitely realism in the roadblocks and shaming that was thrown at Margot along the way.

Overall, I think this book has a lot of important things to say. I believe the author did her due diligence to try to get it right from all aspects; racism, forced birth, and experience with the justice system. Yet there were some gaps in how things fit together. None of the important things, but it still messed with the flow and the overall chemistry of the characters. And that’s another thing. I love Jerome and I love Margot and they probably should be together, but I just didn’t feel the chemistry I wanted to feel. I didn’t need fire and sparks, but at least a few warm fuzzies would have been nice. It was a lot of telling and not a lot of showing when it came to these two. Their connection deserved more.

It’s very hard for me to come to a final decision when it comes to the rating. There is so much depth to certain parts of this story, but other parts are just phoning it in. Yet I would still recommend the book as long as I felt the person I was recommending it to would not be hurt by Margot’s back story. I cannot stress this enough, please proceed with caution.

3.5 stars

**I received an ARC of this book courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher. All opinions expressed in this review are my own and given freely**

This is part of a series, but I didn’t quite realize that at first. It really doesn’t factor into this story. From what I can tell, the series has more to do with a shared space than the characters sharing a lot of their day to day life.

About Cheri

I'm the mom of two boys and wife to my high school sweetheart. Our oldest, Josh, is living at home while working and paying off student loans. Our youngest, Griffin recently left his active duty Army job and is now National Guard here at home. He moved back to Michigan with his wife Kirsten and our beautiful granddaughter Hazel. I work part time and try to fit as much reading into my life as possible.
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