Friday, May 5, 2017

Book Review - The Baker's Secret by Stephen P. Kiernan

Book Synopsis
From the multiple-award-winning, critically acclaimed author of The Hummingbird and The Curiosity comes a dazzling novel of World War II—a shimmering tale of courage, determination, optimism, and the resilience of the human spirit, set in a small Normandy village on the eve of D-Day.

On June 5, 1944, as dawn rises over a small town on the Normandy coast of France, Emmanuelle is making the bread that has sustained her fellow villagers in the dark days since the Germans invaded her country.

Only twenty-two, Emma learned to bake at the side of a master, Ezra Kuchen, the village baker since before she was born. Apprenticed to Ezra at thirteen, Emma watched with shame and anger as her kind mentor was forced to wear the six-pointed yellow star on his clothing. She was likewise powerless to help when they pulled Ezra from his shop at gunpoint, the first of many villagers stolen away and never seen again.

In the years that her sleepy coastal village has suffered under the enemy, Emma has silently, stealthily fought back. Each day, she receives an extra ration of flour to bake a dozen baguettes for the occupying troops. And each day, she mixes that precious flour with ground straw to create enough dough for two extra loaves—contraband bread she shares with the hungry villagers. Under the cold, watchful eyes of armed soldiers, she builds a clandestine network of barter and trade that she and the villagers use to thwart their occupiers.

But her gift to the village is more than these few crusty loaves. Emma gives the people a taste of hope—the faith that one day the Allies will arrive to save them.


Purchase Links

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-A-Million | IndieBound

My Review
The Baker's Secret is such an unusual novel.  It is historical fiction that blends poetic lyricism with harrowing images - and ultimately with hope as well.  

This historical novel is set in 1944 in a small village near the Normandy coast in France.  Emmanuelle (Emma) is a baker.  When her teacher, baker Ezra, is taken away by the Nazis, Emma's life changes.  She is ordered to bake 12 loaves of bread each day for the Nazis who occupy the village.  Instead, she bakes 14 by grinding straw into the recipe.  She shares the extra loaves with people in the village who need food.  And as a result of this, there is a series of small acts of defiance that get bigger over time, acts of resistance and ultimately of hope.

This is my first read by Stephen P. Kiernan, but I will seek out his other novels.  The Baker's Secret is beautifully written.  For instance, the book begins with a description of the village of Vergers and their enjoyment of food:  "Delectable breakfast morsels with steaming coffee as dark as mud, calming lunches in the shade when haste is the enemy and cheese is the dessert, dinners luxurious, candlelit, and lasting hours - such was the rhythm of their days.  Who has a story to tell, and shall we place some flowers on the table?" (p. 3).

As Emma travels around the village distributing bread and eggs and sharing provisions, she realizes:  "It was a circle of want.  Emma pondered on these things as she wandered the village and missed her Philippe.  Like a sad song, walking sharpened her sorrow, yet soothed it as well" (p. 78).

Emma is a brave, strong woman, an ordinary person who finds courage in extraordinary times.  I found her story compelling as I read on long after bedtime, wanting Emma - and the villagers - to find safety somehow.

The Baker's Secret
is an exceptional historical novel that captures another time and place vividly, and also tells a truly memorable story.  I cannot recommend it highly enough. 

Author Bio
Stephen P. Kiernan is a graduate of Middlebury College, Johns Hopkins University, and the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. During his more than twenty years as a journalist, he has won numerous awards, including the Brechner Center’s Freedom of Information Award, the Scripps Howard Award for Distinguished Service to the First Amendment, and the George Polk Award. He is the author of The Curiosity, his first novel, and two nonfiction books. He lives in Vermont with his two sons.

Find out more about Stephen at his website and connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.

I received a copy of this book from HarperCollins and TLC Book Tours.


  1. I've heard such great things about Kiernan's books but I have yet to read one - I really have to fix that soon!

    Thanks for being a part of the tour.

  2. "calming lunches in the shade when haste is the enemy and cheese is the dessert"

    What a beautiful turn of phrase! I love when an author writes in such a way that I almost 'taste' the words while I'm reading!


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