Icing on the Cake
by Laura Castoro
(Mira, $13.95, PG-13) ISBN 0-7783-2413-3
Does the middle-aged woman have a place in the romance genre? The answer is “Of course!” I am not one to promote blatant ageism, and even less so when it comes to love, sex and romance. I do, however, wish writers of this sub-genre would come up with more original plots than the trials and tribulations of spurned and insecure ex-wives. Divorced forty-somethings may be as much a statistical reality as babe-hunting old geezers, but surely there is something more to the lives of female quadragenarians! Icing on the Cake mines this issue but fails to uncover any new and startling twists. It nevertheless provides a palatable read.

Liz Talbot’s husband left her for a much younger woman, but then died without changing his will. Liz inherited almost everything, including the advertising agency she quit to run her family bakery. Forced to work with the second Mrs. Talbot to bring the business out of the red, she finds herself struggling to keep her dignity and her peace of mind in their day-to-day skirmishes. The younger woman, it seems, isn’t satisfied with stealing her husband; she also wants her share of all the other parts of Liz’s life.

In addition to the Other Woman problem Liz must confront a slew of other problems, namely • the mother problem: will Liz’s elegant and sexy former Rockette mother stop flirting with younger men (including her granddaughters’ boyfriends) and settle for the man of her life?

• the daughter problem: will Liz’s twin daughters ever stop going for the wrong man and the wrong job?

• the work problem: will Liz manage to pull her old family business out of its no-carb slump? Will she get her advertising company off the ground again so she can devote herself to her true love - bread?

• the boyfriend problem: will the man Liz pegged as her one shot at a one-night stand turn out to be her ticket to happiness or is their something shady behind his unexpected attention?

Liz has a somewhat extravagant life: how many forty-somethings do you know who, in addition to inheriting a million-dollar business, have Broadway stars for a mother AND a daughter? Still her problems are all solidly entrenched in some kind of demographic reality, and overall she has a pleasant way of dealing with them. This makes her an appealing and winning heroine. Unfortunately, the secondary characters are either too half-baked or too over-baked to be taken seriously. Her name, her handwriting, her constant tan and her gold- digging ways all reduce Brandi the husband stealer to a caricature. Likewise, Liz’s mother’s discomfort with age and commitment make her another walking cliché. All this didn’t turn me off completely, but it did spoil some of my appetite.

Icing on the Cake knew just how to coax it back: it exploited the underlying sensuousness and eroticism of bread. I’ve never been an adept of the no-carb diet, and the descriptions of succulent and earthy smells, tastes and textures of Liz’s bakery have confirmed my opinion. Castoro exploits all their sexy potential (including a kitchen-top romp, which made me think twice on a recent visit to my favorite artisanal bakery). She also nourishes us with an important message: youth may be sweet, but the icing on the cake comes with the hard-earned calories of age. Younger women, watch out!

--Mary Benn

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