Ice cream—don’t get me started. It’s everything from the week’s highlight to an addiction. My obsession began at age three. I’ll blame my parents for introducing me to Battle Creek’s best kept secret: a local brand and family-run store, Henry’s Ice Cream. You might say I was born with a silver ice cream scoop in my hand.
Throughout my adolescence and college years, Baskin Robbins was also a favorite hangout. Their 31 flavors slogan doesn’t begin to cover the breadth of their offerings. According to their website, they’ve devised 1000+ flavors over the years. I had seven favorites, including Pralines ‘n Cream.
Supposedly, Pralines ‘n Cream was such a hit initially that stores started running out. Through her newspaper column, “Dear Abby” urged for its return. Petitions were signed and sent. Students in Santa Barbara picketed stores until Baskin-Robbins complied. Soon it became a permanent flavor. Read more here. Check out the flavors here (49 on this page).
So many wonderful flavor options led to serious heckling of my youngest brother for preferring plain old boring vanilla and never venturing into the excitement of Peanut Butter ’n Chocolate or Strawberry Cheesecake. He was not deterred, though.
In my twenties, I entered an Edy’s ice cream tasting contest. Contestants submitted entries (under 150 words) about their taste-testing qualifications. I wrote two of them. Since I couldn’t decide which one to submit, I sent one in my husband’s name. That one received an Honorable Mention.
Here’s the entry, inspired by the 1987 Ollie North hearings during the Reagan years (144 words). If you were around during that time, this will definitely make sense:
I’ve sworn to tell the whole truth—the good, the bad, and the ugly. I have had numerous contacts with ice cream parlor owners, manufacturers, and salesmen. Regarding exhibit #3131, I recall on that date eating ice cream in the dead of night behind closed doors. I ate the entire half-gallon from the freezer and ran out the next day to restock it so no one would notice. Then I shredded the empty carton. I do not recall ever enjoying anything other than quality ice cream, but someone may be able to refresh my memory on that.
Though plausible deniability is crucial to such covert operations, I have never carried out a single action in which I did not have authority from my superiors. The American people should know—if I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing.
The Honorable Mention certificate (with Tim’s name!) presented the Dreyer’s and Edy’s Grand Ice Cream Silver Scoop Award in recognition of a true ice cream lover.
All this passion for ice cream drew me to Suzanne Woods Fisher’s novel The Sweet Life. The cover enticed me. A bonus: the setting is Cape Cod. After our 2012 family vacation there, I’ve long nurtured my sweet Cape Cod memories (pun intended): climbing the Pilgrim Monument in Provincetown, whale watching, and paddle boarding in Cape Cod Bay.
So I had to treat myself to reading The Sweet Life.
I have no clue what goes into making ice cream. Besides hand cranking a few quarts for novelty’s sake, the work of developing the perfect batch is beyond me. After reading The Sweet Life, I gained new appreciation for the process. And I definitely want to visit the Main Street Creamery to meet Dawn and Marnie Dixon.
Dawn Dixon can hardly believe she’s on a groomless honeymoon on beautiful Cape Cod . . . with her mother. Sure, Marnie Dixon is good company, but Dawn was supposed to be here with Kevin, the love of her life (or so she thought).
Marnie Dixon needs some time away from the absolute realness of life as much as her jilted daughter does, and she’s not about to let her only child suffer alone–even if Marnie herself had been doing precisely that for the past month.
Given the circumstances, maybe it was inevitable that Marnie would do something as rash as buy a run-down ice-cream shop in the town’s tightly regulated historic district. After all, everything’s better with ice cream.
Her exasperated daughter knows that she’s the one who will have to clean up this mess. Even when her mother’s impulsive real estate purchase brings Kevin back into her life, Dawn doesn’t get her hopes up. Everyone knows that broken romances stay broken . . . don’t they?
Welcome to a summer of sweet surprises on Cape Cod–a place where dreams just might come true.
How did Dawn Dixon end up at her honeymoon destination with her mother instead of her groom? That’s the premise that drew me in. Even with the best of moms, this scenario is alarming and raises plenty of questions. Mainly, what happened to the groom?
Dawn and her mom Marnie are not the ideal mother-daughter combination. Marnie is footloose and fancy free, enjoying spontaneity and wringing the most from each moment. Never counting the cost of a risk. Whereas meticulous Dawn the accountant plots and schedules everything. With her spreadsheet mentality, not a detail is out of place.
Here’s a great description of Marnie, Dawn’s mom:
“Her clothes made her look like a hippie earth mama,
she collected quotes in countless journals,
and she thought God was constantly talking but people didn’t tune in to the right frequency.
Like people were all human radios.” — p 30
But the mother-daughter pair has something in common: recent devastating losses and trauma. Dawn’s the jilted bride. Marnie’s a breast cancer survivor and a widow. Dawn still grieves the loss of her dad. Both women need to get back on their feet. They both need respite, healing, and a change of scenery from their respective Massachusetts homes. A week together in Chatham on Cape Cod might be just the thing.
Or not. The last thing Dawn expects is her mother’s purchase of the Main Street Creamery to fulfill her deceased husband’s dream. The ice cream shop isn’t even functional. In fact, it needs major renovation due to fire damage. It needs time. And money. It requires TLC and cooperation with codes. And the Historical Preservation Commission on their side.
Fortunately, Dawn knows how to make ice cream. She and her dad had attended the Penn State ice cream making course and had already started perfecting vanilla. Marnie counts on Dawn’s support for the day-to-day operations—details beyond the scope of her mother’s interests.
Dawn and Marnie’s week in Cape Cod extends another six weeks in order to open the store on Memorial Day weekend. If all goes well, Dawn hopes to reap a profit in time to sell it by Labor Day.
But first they must overcome multiple hurdles to open for business. Various Chatham townsfolk get involved, a crew of spunky characters—all ice cream lovers, of course:
- good-natured Lincoln Hayes, an older man who offers handyman skills and moral support
- Nanette who runs the T-shirt shop
- Five-year-old Leo the Cowboy (with a crush on Dawn) pops by regularly
- Mrs. Nickerson-Eldredge, a founder’s descendant and chairman of the Historical Preservation Commission, erects every roadblock imaginable. She regularly stops by to impede progress with dour warnings.
“Such a busybody! She was as annoying as an angry hornet.
As interfering as an IRS auditor. As unwanted as rain on a picnic.” — p 159
Then there’s Kevin Collins. He has necessary expertise to get this venture off the ground without losing money. A complicating factor: he’s the ex-groom who ditched his bride, replacing happiness with heartache. And messed up Dawn’s perfectly planned life.
Dawn applies her practical, precision-honed skills to ice cream making. Quandaries abound as she and Marnie debate using original recipes vs. pre-packaged base, basic vs. exotic flavors, and which add-ins work best. I found the ice cream-making process interesting without being heavy handed. It fit naturally into the narrative through Dawn’s expertise.
Despite the delightful book cover and fun ice cream quotes heading each chapter, there’s more to this story than waffle cones and sprinkles. As the narrative alternates between Marnie and Dawn, we become privy to the layers beneath their struggles.
In particular, I loved watching how the mother-daughter dynamics unfolded, how two very different people loved and supported each other even while thoroughly irritated. They had to maneuver through new territory while dwelling in close proximity. And I mean close, considering their cracker-box accommodations.
Dawn’s eyes open not only to her mother but herself. No caricatures here. Though Marnie is over the top, she has keen insights and intuition:
“She (Marnie) knew not to make mention of it.
Some things were fragile like that.
Like a hummingbird hovering at the feeder, or a butterfly lighting on your hand.
You can’t call attention to it without scaring it off.” — p 257
Turns out Dawn and Marnie aren’t the only ones with serious issues to overcome. Both Lincoln and Mrs. Nickerson-Eldrige have troubles of their own.
I was surprised to see how easily my feelings changed toward certain people throughout the story. The story stirred empathy I didn’t anticipate. Relationships were real, the progression believable—all with a touch of faith.
“Having faith is a lot like drawing close to a fire.
You back away from it and the coals grow cold.
You have to tend the fire for faith to grow.” — Kevin, p 239
The real sweetness in this story isn’t just the ice cream. It’s the chance for reconciliation. It’s overcoming fears, dealing with loss, venturing into new and unexpected beginnings. After such a delectable read, I’ll definitely be revisiting the Main Street Creamery via Book #2.
Treat yourself to The Sweet Life.
Join me for some Q & A with Suzanne Woods Fisher.
Questions about The Sweet Life
Besides your Three Sisters Island series and The Moonlight School, The Sweet Life is a switch from your Amish novels. What was your inspiration for writing The Sweet Life? What’s your personal connection to ice cream and Cape Cod?
Suzanne: First, thank you for hosting me on Standout Stories! It’s a pleasure to connect to new readers. Okay, now for answering Q’s. Ice cream is a big deal in our house. My husband, Steve, attended Penn State’s Ice Cream School.
Did any of you know there was such a thing? It’s been going on since 1892. All the greats have attended: Baskin & Robbins, Ben & Jerry, Jeni Britton Bauer of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream, on and on.
My editor has been to my home on several occasions and has sampled my husband’s ice cream. She’s the one who said she wanted a novel about ice cream. We settled on Cape Cod—partly, it’s an iconic summer spot and partly, my dad grew up there so I’m familiar with the Cape—and voila! The Sweet Life was off and running.
How did you decide on a mother-daughter duo point of view for a contemporary romance? Did you consider including someone else’s perspective, too?
Suzanne: I had this phrase in mind: “Dawn was on her honeymoon…with her mother.” I’m not even sure how I landed on that phrase, but it set up the story. Interestingly, it was the phrase that hooked a TV/film company to purchase its options! (Stay tuned!)
How well did you know Dawn and Marnie and other key characters when you started out? How did they evolve?
Suzanne: I wanted Dawn (the daughter) and Marnie (the mom) to be complete opposites in personality, and to surprise the reader. Dawn is the more logical of the two, yet Marnie has the creativity. Their differences make each other crazy, but they can also make them a very good team.
Did Dawn and Marnie hijack the story or did you have full rein?
Suzanne: They gave me full rein. 😉
Just for fun—what would Dawn and/or Marnie have to say about you?
Suzanne: Writing a character is a curious task. There’s a little part of an author in each character. So to answer your question, I think Dawn would see qualities in me that reflect her (discipline, focus) and Marnie would say the same (flexibility, creativity). And they probably would attribute my less-than-sterling qualities to each other.
How did you learn so much about ice cream making?
My husband was such a big help with this story. He was my go-to for details about ice cream making. We practiced a lot together! I’ve got the extra couple of pounds to prove it. 😉
Questions about writing
What books have been most influential for you as a writer? Was there a book that sparked or confirmed your desire to be a novelist?
Suzanne: I don’t think there’s any one book that ignited a desire to be a novelist…but as for being a writer, Madeline L’Engle, Anne Morrow Lindbergh and Catherine Marshall were the authors I read as a teen—they gave me an awareness of what it looked like to write well. Reading, in my humble opinion, is the best path to writing. Today, I read all kinds of books.
Please share something about a current project or the direction you want to go as an author.
Suzanne: I have a book releasing in early October, Anything but Plain, that I think will resonate with a lot of families. It’s a story about a young Amish woman with ADHD. While not common among the Amish, ADHD does occur. This young woman feels like a square peg in a round hole. She just doesn’t fit.
Do you have any advice for aspiring novelists?
Suzanne: Yes! “Hangeth thou in there.”
Back to Laura . . . On a similar note . . .
If you enjoy small town settings on the shore and food hangouts like The Sweet Life, you might enjoy my story, Fifteen Minutes with Mr. Baum. Set in Holland, Michigan near Lake Michigan and Lake Macatawa, this split-time novel spotlights The Wonderful Wizard of Oz author, L. Frank Baum. It alternates between 1980 and the early 1900s. Instead of an ice cream shop, there’s a cafe, formerly the Broderick Inn and Tearoom. I’m currently gathering a launch team. Learn more and watch the book trailer here.
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Suzanne Woods Fisher Bio
Suzanne Woods Fisher is a Christy finalist, a Carol Award winner, a two-time ECPA Book of the Year finalist, and the Publishers Weekly, ECPA, CBA, bestselling author of more than thirty books. Her genres include contemporary and historical romances, Amish romance, and women’s fiction. She and her husband live in a small town in California, where everyone knows everyone else, knows what they are doing and why. Most friends act a little nervous around Suzanne because they usually wind up in one of her novels. She has four grown children and enough grandchildren to keep her young. Visit Suzanne at www.suzannewoodsfisher.com
Join me next time for another visit with Suzanne Woods Fisher.
Meanwhile, have you read The Sweet Life? Do you have a favorite novel with a restaurant setting? Or . . . what’s your favorite ice cream shop or flavor? Answer in the comments below.