I have been watching several romcoms lately to offset the stress and anxiety generated from a world health crisis. Last week I enjoyed Father of the Bride (1991), Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994), Made of Honor (2008), and The Wedding Date (2004). Do you notice a theme here? No, well they are all romances set during a wedding, an event ripe with comedic possibilities.
In my reading life, I have been searching for lighthearted romantic comedies too, so when a publisher sent me a contemporary romance inspired by Jane Austen’s novel, Persuasion, I leapt with joy. All Stirred Up is a forthcoming romcom novel set at a failing Edinburgh restaurant named Elliot’s. It retells the second chance romance plot of Jane Austen’s classic steeped in the famous culinary community in Scotland with tons of food, tears, and laughter. The author has generously shared an exclusive excerpt for my readers to give you a taste of the narrative and tone.
All Stirred Up is the debut novel by Brianne Moore, so let’s all give her a Janeite welcome by giving her charming novel a try when it releases on September 8, 2020.
Susan Napier’s family once lived on the success of the high-end restaurants founded by her late grandfather. But bad luck and worse management has brought the business to the edge of financial ruin. Now it’s up to Susan to save the last remaining restaurant: Elliot’s, the flagship in Edinburgh.
But what awaits Susan in the charming city of Auld Reekie is more than she bargained for. Chris Baker, her grandfather’s former protégé–and her ex-boyfriend–is also heading to the Scottish capital. After finding fame in New York as a chef and judge of a popular TV cooking competition, Chris is returning to his native Scotland to open his own restaurant. Although the storms have cleared after their intense and rocky breakup, Susan and Chris are re-drawn into each other’s orbit–and their simmering attraction inevitably boils over.
As Chris’s restaurant opens to great acclaim and Susan tries to haul Elliot’s back from the brink, the future brims with new promise. But darkness looms as they find themselves in the crosshairs of a gossip blogger eager for a juicy story–and willing to do anything to get it. Can Susan and Chris reclaim their lost love, or will the tangled past ruin their last hope for happiness?
Edinburgh smells of porridge. It’s the first thing Susan notices, as she steps outside. Is that something they do for the tourists? she wonders, bemused. It isn’t: there’s a brewery or a distillery—she can’t remember which—outside the city, and so some days the pleasant, toasty, quintessentially Scottish smell permeates parts of the city.
Chris first told her about that.
“Can’t smell it in Leith, though,” he’d added with a slightly bitter smile. “Different sorts of smells there.”
Chris. She spent the entire taxi ride from the airport trying to calm herself down and wondering what the hell he was doing in Edinburgh. Yes, he grew up here, but she had always been under the impression he was happy to have left. Maybe he’s just visiting friends. Or his sister—he mentioned a sister a few times. Beth.
A visit, of course. But it seems so bizarre, seeing him just after finding that album. It was as if she’d conjured him up. Maybe she had. Maybe that hadn’t been him at all, just some other man with a similar build and coloring. Scotland is full of muscular redheads, if popular culture and Highland Games are to be believed. It was seeing that photograph; it put him in her head, primed her to see him where he couldn’t be. Because, surely, if it had been him, he’d have said something?
Then again, maybe not. Not after what she did.
She grimaces just thinking about it, as she turns down Forres Street and begins the steep climb past Charlotte Square. Locked up tight now, in two months the Square will throw open its gates for the Book Festival. Every available space in the city will open itself to the grand August festival triad: Book, International, Fringe. The city will swarm with people, and no one will want for entertainment at any hour of the day or night. And they’ll all need feeding.
Strangely enough, Susan’s never been to Edinburgh for the festivals. She was meant to come up years ago. The tickets were bought, the hotel room booked. But then her grandfather died. It was just a few weeks after that picture of him and Greg and Chris was taken.
That photo! She wants to kick something in frustration. How long will she keep circling back to it? Maybe it would be better to destroy it, like banishing a bad talisman. But she can’t do that; it’s one of the last photos taken of Elliot.
She’d taken it.
It was Chris’s and Greg’s first day in the kitchen at Regent Street. Chris had only arrived the day before. Elliot offered to give him a day or two to get settled, but all Chris wanted to do was get in there and start working. He was a proper chef now, no longer a trainee, and he was eager to make his mark.
“My wonder boys!” Elliot declared, laughing as he slung a bony arm around both of them. “Come on, Susan, take one for posterity. One day, we’ll both say, ‘We knew them when.’”
Susan obliged, hoping the camera hid her blush. Greg smirked, thinking it was for him, but he wasn’t at all her type. Chris grinned, and she could have sworn he reddened just a little bit too.
A month later, Elliot was dead. Bronchitis, which he couldn’t fight off anymore. Even though he had been in poor health and they’d been steeling themselves for this for months, it still hit hard. Susan cried more than she ever thought she could. Her mother cried with her, but not the others. Her father was too busy being baffled by all the business decisions now coming his way, and Meg and Julia were never close to their grandfather.
The day of the funeral, Susan managed to hold herself together long enough to be polite at the reception. But as soon as she could, she slipped away into the kitchen, where she found Chris. He was still in his funeral clothes, with his sleeves rolled up and tie tucked into his shirt, to keep it out of the way of the enormous pile of vegetables he was reducing to mirepoix.
“I’m sorry,” he said, setting down his knife as soon as he saw her. “I just . . .”
“It’s okay,” she responded, joining him. She understood. He needed to stay busy. Keep his mind occupied somehow. “I thought that I might bake something.”
He looked up at her, and she saw the puffy, reddened eyes that had been her own constant companions the past week. He, too, had loved her grandfather, a man who took a gamble on the kid who showed up at the Edinburgh restaurant one day, eager to do any work so long as he could learn. And learn he did.
She smiled at him, a gentle, sad smile of camaraderie in distress, and he responded in kind. He made a soup, and she baked Elliot’s brownies, and they sat and talked for hours with their simple feast. And that’s how it all began. A bittersweet beginning, perhaps, but that soon changed as they fell into it and into each other.
And then, oh, how sweet it was! Susan wasn’t like Julia: she didn’t have boys lining up to flatter and compete for her. She hardly knew how to react to Chris’s attention, and it bowled her over. She reveled in it—the dinners at his shabby flat, with wonderful food and cheap wine and his roommates good-naturedly teasing them. The late nights out with the kitchen brigade, drinking too much and laughing and making rude jokes. The charming little gifts and the hungry kisses that inevitably led to more. It was dazzling and dizzying, and she loved every minute of it.
And then her mother died, and everything went right to hell.
Chapter 3, pages 20-21
- “Charming and engaging, All Stirred Up captures the essence of Austen while making a bold name for itself.” —Rosalie Stanton, award-winning author of A Higher Education
- “A delightful contemporary twist on a classic tale, All Stirred Up will make Jane Austen’s many fans laugh, cry, and eat.” —Laurel Ann Nattress, editor of Jane Austen Made Me Do It
Brianne Moore was born and raised in a family of bakers and chefs. After a childhood spent in restaurant kitchens, she moved from Pennsylvania to Edinburgh, Scotland. She now lives just outside the city, by the sea in East Lothian, with her husband, two sons, and bulldog, Isla.
All Stirred Up: A Novel, by Brianne Moore
Alcove Press (September 08, 2020)
Trade paperback, & eBook (320) pages
Cover image, book description, excerpt, and author bio courtesy of Alcove Press © 2020; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2020, Austenprose.com