Polly

Jun 18, 2024 | Book Reviews

We all have our favorite family recipes with the memories and nostalgia they stir in us (pun intended). I especially value the recipes my mom and grandma wrote by hand. 

With the world wide web and dozens of cooking websites, do people even hand write recipes on cards anymore? I do. But I’m surely in the minority. I still have my file box of recipes, on top of multiple cookbooks. 

I don’t own my mom’s or grandma’s cookbooks, but I had a great time creating a recipe scrapbook for my daughter. That included three generations of recipes (the old handwritten ones, too) as well as fun food quotes and anecdotes surrounding our food indulgences over the years. 

So, I was intrigued by the premise of a novel series based on a cookbook handed down through the years. Polly by Naomi Musch is the first book in this multi-author Apron Strings series, which begins in the 1920s. These vintage romances go through the decades. 

Long Lake Books; 1st edition (January 15, 2024)

Blurb

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My thoughts

In the wake of the Great War, Polly Holloway has a bright future until her fiancee Glenn shows up at her doorstep married to somebody else.

In the aftermath of betrayal, she has to “cook” up another way to fill her days and heal her broken heart. Thus, she launches a tearoom in her grandfather’s Victorian house. Mrs. Adams, her grandpa’s former servant, lends a helping hand. They hope to draw residents of Hudson, a small Wisconsin town on the St. Croix River, and beyond.

But Polly fears competition from Ross Dalton down the road. Plus, she doesn’t trust him. After all, prohibition is a perfect invitation to bootleggers and speakeasies. But instead of continuing his father’s tavern business, Ross claims he is launching a coffee house.

While Ross is making steaks and fish fries for customers, a bootlegger wants him to sell his liquor. It’s complicated by the fact that Ross owes this guy his life. 

Ross is definitely a swoon-worthy hero. Polly, as Ross later calls her, is a good mixture of “sweet and tangy.” Mrs. Adams is a delightful character.

If you’re looking for a sweet, inspirational read with a clear faith thread, here it is. As a bonus, enjoy the recipes, too!

Join me for some Q & A with author Naomi Musch. 

Author Naomi Musch

Questions regarding Polly 

Apron Strings was the brainchild of Wisconsin author Jenny Knipfer. I think it sprung from a cookbook in her family filled with notes and history. She laid all the groundwork for how she envisioned the series and then began inviting authors whose writing styles she knew to participate. Jenny wanted her story, Beatrice, to take place in the 1940s, but beyond that she let us pick which decade we wanted to write in.

Historically speaking, I’m most intrigued by the early period of the century, and Amy Walsh had already selected the 1930s. I’m not as comfortable writing in more recent history, so that left me with the 1920s. It happens that I have other books set in that era, so it was a good fit.

There was, of course, many things I could have written about the period, and it made a difference if I chose the early ‘20s or the later ‘20s. My story begins at the end of 1919 and ends in 1921, so it barely hits it. That’s primarily because I was writing about Polly’s life immediately following WWI, an exciting and life-changing time.

We had a picture of an old cookbook printed in 1916, about the time our cookbook “Mrs. Canfield’s Cookery Book” would have been published. Jenny played around with some art to create an image for us too. It helped as we each described the cookbook in our stories.

We had a running document in which we marked particular characteristics of each of our stories. On it, we also included a synopsis, themes, names, and Scriptures affecting our characters. Very importantly, we included inspirational quotes that our characters wrote or found in Mrs. Canfield’s cookbook so that the other authors could play off them if they chose. We also noted a couple of recipes we intended to include.

We brainstormed together and helped each other discover cover art, and we worked together with one cover artist and interior formatter for the entire series.

We also each worked with the author behind and ahead of our release dates to decide how the cookbook would change hands. That was really fun! Of course, it was easy for me to have Polly acquire the cookbook as she was the first heroine in the series.

I try to get to know my characters very well before I write, but of course, so often they reveal more about themselves as their story emerges. I am a plotter, but even so, aspects of storytelling take over at times, and there’s no preparing for where a character or plot may lead on their own. But I love that! Stories are best when they surprise the author too.

I had just begun this story, and I had a decent handle on my hero Ross when I lost my eldest son. From that point on, Ross took on a lot of the characteristics of my boy, and he became even easier to write. At the same time, it became more difficult to write, simply because my head was in a fog of grief and many days still is.

That said, God has used writing (and continues to do so) to walk me through this difficult journey, and I’m very thankful to Him for doing that.

I take a spattering of things I know I want to happen, just really basic story ideas—such as the thing at the beginning that kicks off all of what’s to come (which is what happened in Polly), and from there I decide major turning points. This usually includes me trying to ferret out the theme or themes of my story. 

At the middle of a story, a character usually faces a major turning point or decision that changes the story’s trajectory. Knowing the theme at that point will often help me decide what that turning point moment is going to look like, then I can start to build events off of that which will lead up to it or occur afterward because of it.

I struggle with beginnings. Sometimes a beginning just comes to me (like it did with Polly), but sometimes I have to wade through getting rid of backstory first. On the opposite end, while I know how a story is going to end in the big picture, I don’t always have a clear image of that ending in detail until I get further in.

Polly’s ending changed during editing. I was having trouble with some of the conflict in Polly, and a suggestion from my editor really helped propel the story’s final scenes into a more dynamic conclusion. More surprises!

As I said about the process, that’s the most fun . . . finding those surprises, especially historical surprises during research! While plotting Polly, I read an entire book about tea houses and their popularity during the late 19th and early 20th century, and really over a longer period than that. That was a history I’d never learned about before.

I learned about women’s education during WWI while I was also learning about WWI trenching techniques. I bought a book about WWI war brides, and while that was only a small part of the story, it gave me a lot of information I might use in another novel sometime. I learned that Hudson had a cave brewery and still does, I learned a lot about architectural styles popular at the time.

I had to reacquaint myself with other period history about bootlegging, as well as travel back to my own recollections of the sights along Wisconsin’s Great River Road. I learned that traveling for the sake of “touring” was just becoming popular in the 1920s, and that played perfectly into Polly’s story.

There’s always so much to learn. For me, that’s a huge part of why I enjoy writing historical fiction and historical romance.

Questions about writing

Oh, so many! I would say I’ve been most influenced (over many years) by Bodie Thoene’s Zion Chronicles/Covenant series, Angela Hunt’s historical works, Allen Eckert’s creative non-fiction on the settling of the American wilderness, Charles Dickens, and it all began way back in fourth grade with The Witch of Blackbird Pond.

I’m sure it’s a combination, but what usually kicks it off is a plot combined with an historical incident. I’ll either find some tidbit of history that sets my curiosity reeling, or suddenly see a plot developing out of a bigger incident. My Empire in Pine series is a multi-generational family saga that revolves around the growing logging industry in Wisconsin in the 1800s. 

There have been times, however, when a story has evolved directly from a theme or Bible story (as in The Deepest Sigh) or even from a title alone like The Love Coward. Story ideas can really come from any of the things you mention.

I am definitely an outliner/plotter for sure, but sometimes my characters wander off course with a better idea or reveal that I’ve forgotten something, so I always make adjustments along the way. My books can take anywhere from a couple of months to over a year to write. 

My longest book (The Deepest Sigh) took the shortest amount of time to complete. I wiggled around with The Green Veil for several years. I aim at getting a book first draft written within about four months. That’s very general, obviously. 

Sometimes shorter books like Polly or the novella I have coming out this fall in the Courting the Country Preacher collection can take a longer time to write, either because of life circumstances or because it’s a more disciplined project, needing to fit within tighter parameters. If I have to crack the whip over my writing to keep it within a framework, that can take time too. 

I always thought early American history—the French and Indian war, specifically—would be my wheelhouse. I do love it, and I’m working on a Revolutionary War story currently. However, I’ve discovered that I have a penchant for novels set in the early twentieth century too. 

I adore writing in the first quarter of the century. I think because I like to let my imagination wander over what everyday life was like for my great grandparents here. It’s so old-school to my own roots, especially living on an old farm. 

I loved writing Season of My Enemy (Heroines of WWII series from Barbour), because it was not only laden with suspense and gentle romance, but I was really able to trace back to the lifestyle of my grandparents here in a Wisconsin setting. That story placed as a finalist in the FHL Reader’s Choice Awards.

My advice that’s a bit of an oxymoron as it sounds conflicting: don’t strive so, and don’t procrastinate. As for the striving, let God complete the work. Take pleasure in the process whether or not it comes to publication. If you love writing, then write, and don’t quit just because you don’t feel it going somewhere. 

But . . . follow through! Submit those stories without waiting for the moment to slip by, and yet don’t set a standard for “success” based upon some high ideal that keeps you editing forever. 

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If you like stories that revolve around recipes, food, tearooms, or cafes, you might enjoy my novel, A Hundred Magical Reasons. This story spotlights L. Frank Baum, author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, his friendship with a young girl, and his impact through the decades. Set in Holland, Michigan, this pre-published dual timeline novel alternates between 1980 and the early 1900s. Read more and watch the book trailer here. Last fall, the story won the Scrivenings Press novel contest and will be published there in January, 2025!

If you like small town/rural stories about family dynamics and secrets, you might enjoy my re-launched novel All That Is Hidden. Set near North Carolina’s Smoky Mountains in 1968, the story spotlights the bond of family and the connections of a tight-knit community. Northern exploitation threatens as a father’s hidden past catches up to him and tests family ties. Learn more and watch the trailer here.

  • Winner of the Artisan Book Reviews Book Excellence Award
  • Semifinalist in Serious Writer’s Book of the Decade contest

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Naomi Musch Bio

Naomi Muschwrites to bring hope that will change the story—maybe even her own. Her historical novels have been award finalists in the Carol Awards; the Faith, Hope, and Love Readers’ Choice Awards; the Selah Awards; and twice for Book of the Year. She has won multiple short story awards. Naomi is at home in the Wisconsin Northwoods, where her perfect day is spent writing, roaming her family’s farm, snacking from the garden, or kayaking a nearby lake, relaxing in her vintage camper, and most especially, loving on her passel of grandchildren. Learn more on her website

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Join me next time for a visit with author Gretchen Carlson.

Meanwhile, have you read Polly or any others by Naomi Musch? Do you like stories set in the 1920s? Answer in the comments below.

Ever reading,

Laura

Coming soon: A Hundred Magical Reasons, a novel

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18 Comments

  1. Barbara M. Britton

    Hi Naomi and Laura. I love this concept. I like to cook, and finding old tried and true recipes is fun. Sounds like a wonderful story.

    Reply
    • Naomi Musch

      Thanks for dropping by, Barbara. I did enjoy writing Polly, and it was fun digging up recipes from the period.

      Reply
  2. Mary Larson

    This sounds like a great book! Fiction revolving around food and recipes has interested me in the past. Reading about life after the war is also fascinating. Looking forward to giving this book a try!

    Reply
    • Laura DeNooyer

      I hope you do! I love the premise of the cookbook throughout the generations.

      Reply
    • Naomi Musch

      Thanks, Mary! It’s funny to discover how recipes and food tastes change with the times. I hope you enjoy Polly!

      Reply
  3. Nancy Radosevich

    I love the idea of an old cookbook serving as the tie that binds a book series together. Polly sounds like the perfect novel – vintage tearoom, sweet romance, and fun recipes – and set in Wisconsin, too! Thanks for introducing us to this story!

    Reply
    • Laura DeNooyer

      Right–it’s the perfect combo and setting!

      Reply
  4. Anita Klumpers

    The cover is attractive and so is the premise! I don’t care for cooking but I love to feed people,
    and reading about food, looking at food, eating food…
    I like the 20’s era too! Between the wars, and before Hitler began his saber rattling.
    And by the end of the decade, both my parents were born.
    Wishing Naomi much success!

    Reply
    • Laura DeNooyer

      I have to agree–I love all those aspects about food but I don’t care to cook it myself! I like the 1920s, too.

      Reply
    • Naomi Musch

      Thank you for the good wishes, Anita! I enjoy that same draw to the 20s. As an aside, I do a LOT of cooking because I have a large family that I love to feed, but really, baking is more my forte for enjoyment. Cooking–necessary. I hope Polly is your cup o’ tea!

      Reply
  5. Ruth Schmeckpeper

    I love this concept of this series told throughout the decades. How fascinating to communicate with other authors to keep the storyline interesting and true.

    Another book for my TBR pile! Way to go Naomi!

    Reply
    • Laura DeNooyer

      Working would other authors on such a project would be both fun and challenging!

      Reply
    • Naomi Musch

      Thank you, Ruth! It’s been a fun ride, and the books are still coming out. #6 just released. I can hardly believe it. And each story is so unique. Thanks for dropping by!

      Reply
  6. Laura D

    The cover is beautiful, and the characters are intriguing. I’m putting this on my reading list because I like romance novels and it sounds like there are surprising plot twists. That it’s set in a small Wisconsin town is also a plus. Thanks for reviewing this book.

    Reply
    • Laura DeNooyer

      I love the cover too. And it’s always a bonus to read a book with a Wisconsin setting!

      Reply
  7. Elizabeth Daghfal

    Ohhhhh, Naomi’s list of influential books! I love them all, but especially The Witch of Blackbird Pond! Such wonderful memories of enjoying that book over and over again. 🙂 Polly already sounded like a great story, especially with the cookbook connection. I look forward to reading it. But even more, I love seeing how similar books impact us as authors. Especially those we read early on.

    Reply
    • Laura DeNooyer

      I love The Witch of Blackbird Pond, too, though I only read it as an adult. For some reason, I missed reading quite a few books as a kid and had to do a lot of catch-up in my twenties!

      Reply

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