Sandra D. Bricker has written a charming quartet based entirely on weddings, where the heroines of the stories fill the roles of Baker, Wedding Planner, and Dress Designer and all end up at the Tanglewood Hotel: a wedding destination hotel that provides basically everything one needs for a wedding. Filled with humor and helpful hints, the books are quick, nice, light reads that can swiftly get one into a wedding mindset.
Always the Baker, Never the Bride introduces us to Emma Rae Travis, the diabetic baker and premier cake designer hired at the Tanglewood, and her boss, Jackson Drake, who is trying to live out his deceased wife's dream of creating a wedding destination hotel. With the help of Jackson's sisters, some quirky assistants, and a rather volatile master chef, they get the hotel up and running, but before they can make a future for themselves, they must confront and work through issues from their past.
In Always the Wedding Planner, Never the Bride, we are introduced to Emma's college roommate, Sherylin, who is offered the role of wedding planner at the Tanglewood as she prepares to marry her physical therapist fiance and settle back in the Atlanta area. Unfortunately, their whirlwind romance has not given them time to get to know each other nearly as well as they should, and so things get a little rocky when people from their past start popping up.
While Audrey Regan is not employed by the Tanglewood, in Always the Designer, Never the Bride she ends up there for her best friend's wedding, getting introduced to the staff as they encourage her and help with opportunities to keep her wedding dress design business afloat. As the new brother-in-law of Audrey's best friend, JR gets thrown in with the maid of honor as they help keep the bride's spirits up while her new husband suffers appendicitis and then gets shipped back overseas. Since JR lives on his motorcycle and Audrey is tugged in several directions for her design business, they have to work out where God actually wants them to go in both their complicated businesses and their relationship.
In Always the Baker, Finally the Bride, Emma and Jackson finally are planning their wedding and preparing to settle down, but life gets significantly more complicated when Jackson receives and incredibly lucrative offer on his business and Emma's diabetes and blood pressure starts getting out of control. Sell the hotel and follow the dream of living in Paris for a year? Keep the family they have created there but be ever under stress? Making the wisest decision proves a lot more difficult than they expected.
At each chapter break is a recipe, wedding tips, wedding lore, or some other tidbit relating to the story. The books might be worth reading for the recipes alone - the recipes I jotted down include from Baker, a recipe for Devonshire cream for those who adore scones; Wedding Planner, blueberry scones and Petta, a nutty, buttery, Serbian dessert; Designer, an excellent homemade mac-n-cheese recipe (infinitely superior to the boxed Kraft or homemade-with-Velveeta kind); and Finally, the much-discussed and long-awaited Crème Brûlée cake itself.
The wedding tips and recipes were a fun addition to the novels. Wedding
standards are obviously a bit different where I am from - decidedly
more low key - but it certainly was fun to read about how weddings might
be run in wealthier circles. It surely would not hurt anyone who is planning a wedding or even just a special event to read them for some creative ideas. They left me with a strong desire to invite friends over for tea, scones, and devonshire cream.
One of the best things about the series is how much personality the
secondary characters have - we get to know them just as much as the main
characters. Emma's parents, aunt, and assistant Fee, as well as
Jackson's three sisters, Audrey's assistant Kat, the charming movie star
Russel Walker, and others are all just as important to the story as
Emma, Jackson, Sherylin, Andy, Audrey, and JR. Each has their own look and personality, and most of them grow throughout the books, just like the main characters.
While there are Christian themes to the book and occasionally some praying, there is not really much of a message or lesson to be learned. Baker has the strongest faith statement - Aunt Sophie gives Jackson a talk on how God will make all things new, which speaks to the dry spirit that he has had since his God-loving wife died. Otherwise they are pretty light on the Christian messages.
Of the four books, Always the baker, Never the Bride was my favorite, largely because it had the strongest message. I could connect best with Always the Designer, as I am seamstress myself, but I liked the Baker story better. 4 stars overall for the series; it was cute with lots of fun tidbits.