Stephanie Vendergrift left her disapproving parents and friends, as well as her job as a salesperson in the men’s suits department of the local Macy’s store back home in Maryland. Planning to elope with Rick Manfred, a young attorney who has just joined his father’s firm in Middleburg, Virginia, she arrives at his office and learns that he has taken a sudden leave of absence. Devastated, as she stands outside crying, Milly Jewell, owner of the tea shop directly across the street comes outside to sweep and tidy up a bit. Seeing Steph’s distress, the fifty-five-year-old widowed shopkeeper invites her in for a comforting pot of tea. It seems that Milly’s assistant, Jane, has also taken a couple of weeks off so Milly is short-handed. Grateful for the distraction while she decides whether to crawl home and ask for forgiveness or attempt to create a new life for herself in the quaint little town that doesn’t include Rick, she meets three more people that first morning who will figure prominently in her future. Liz, the owner of the local health food store, and Christie, a riding instructor, are sisters who share their childhood home. Coincidentally, their roommate recently moved out, leaving them in need of a new boarder to help make the mortgage payment.
And, of course, there’s Kendall James, deemed “Mr. Cutey Pants” by Liz and Christie. At 32, Kendall is an entrepreneur: He owns and operates Fox and Hounds, the hotel and restaurant where Rick arranged for Steph to stay with him for a few days after their elopement, insisting that he could not take time off from the firm for a real honeymoon. Kendall is impossibly handsome, confident, and a good friend and customer of Milly’s. Of course, when Steph meets him that morning, despite having just been jilted, the instant attraction is mutual. They have a lot in common: Kendall’s drop-dead gorgeous fiancee, Amy, recently called off their wedding, citing Kendall’s lack of impulsiveness. Kendal and Steph are also both Christians.
But in order to remain in Middleburg, Steph is going to need a permanent job. Although she holds a math degree, she has not decided upon a career path. If she remains in town, she is bound to run into Rick eventually. And then there’s Kendall . . .
At the outset, you have to suspend a lot of disbelief and allow yourself to be drawn into The Perfect Blend. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just that an awful lot happens to Steph as soon as she arrives in Middleburg and literally within moments of her discovering that her fiance has not only developed cold feet, but lacks the courage and integrity to face her. Her devastation quickly turns to interest in and then infatuation with Kendall.
Steph, like so many young women of 25, has never seriously challenged authority, including her parents’. As they remind her, they provided for her college education and expect her to put her degree to good use. Why they vehemently disapprove of Rick, a young attorney only one year older than Steph, is never explained. It is tacitly suggested that the speed at which Steph’s relationship with Rick developed proved off-putting to both her parents and friends, but beyond that, it is unclear why they would be unhappy about the match. After, they seem to turn up in Middleburg unannounced fairly frequently — for the purpose of checking up on Steph and attempt to persuade her to return home with them — so it seems that they could have made an effort to meet Rick and his family, as well. Nonetheless, the elopement was Steph’s one big act of rebellion and, as the story opens, she does not feel that she can return home following Rick’s rejection and be subjected to the inevitable choruses of “I told you so.”
Steph is bright and attractive, but definitely not impulsive, so her abrupt decision to move surprised no one more than her. But she is also tenacious and determined to find success in her new surroundings. Toward that end, Kendall offers to assist her in her job search by introducing her to some of the local business owners, which gives them an opportunity to tour the Middleburg business district and get better acquainted as Kendall introduces her to the local shop owners. One-day forays into dog grooming and flower arranging prove disastrous, but informative. While hiding in the back room of the local florist, Steph overhears Rick’s mother telling the store owner how she and Rick’s father sent him away upon learning of his plan to marry a girl they found completely unsuitable and unworthy in light of their social standing.
I never start out with “a message” when I write a novel, but a message always emerges through my heroine’s experience. ~ Author Trish Perry
The story is ultimately about empowerment. Steph comes to realize that she has spent her entire life seeking others’ approval. What she has wanted more than anything, believing it will make her happy and provide fulfillment, is acceptance. She has never stood up to her parents because she feared their rejection not just of her ideas or opinions, but of her. And eventually she comes to understand how Rick fit into that life pattern, and why her relationship with him was critical to her development into a strong, assertive, independent young woman. Before she can be truly successful and happy — in a relationship or not — Steph realizes that she must accept herself as she is, a flawed but valuable person with enormous talents and the capacity to care deeply for others.
Along the way, Perry places Steph in some hilarious predicaments that demonstrate not only her vulnerability, but the extent to which her new friends and neighbors have already taken her into their hearts. There are also some fairly predictable misunderstandings with Kendall that complicate their relationship and call into question whether they can ever enjoy a true friendship, much less something more. Liz and Christie also provide both comic relief, and give voice to the thoughts of female readers who have had life experiences similar to Steff’s. They also serve as Jiminy Crickets, reinforcing Steff’s good decisions and questioning but supporting her, in the way only steadfast female friends can, when she falters.
The centerpieces of the tale are none other than Milly and her delightful shop. As Perry puts it, Milly “listens, observes, and occasionally advises . . . Milly has lived both frugal and extravagant lifestyles, so she attracts, and empathizes with, people from all walks of life. Each group of people that gathers at Milly’s tea shop undergoes some kind of change. Is it the tea shop? Is it Milly? Or is it something beyond simple understanding?” Whatever it is, readers will wish that there were a Milly’s Tea Shop in their neighborhood because it is definitely a place of respite and refuge. For Steph, Milly is a kind of surrogate, unconditionally loving mother figure. Unlike her real mother, Milly neither manipulates nor guilt-trips Steph because, of course, Milly is not invested in Steph’s past, but Milly wishes only the best for her new friend’s future.
Ultimately, The Perfect Blend is an entertaining story, full of delightful characters and peppered with enough humor to pull readers into the otherwise predictable storyline. It is a coming-of-age tale about a young woman who needs to find her own voice before she can enter into a healthy, mutually supportive relationship with a man. It is a story about how one young woman learns that confidence comes from within, not from external sources. Told from an unabashedly Christian viewpoint, Perry never always the faith dialogue to become preachy or overbearing. Rather, commentary from the various characters about discerning God’s will for their lives and making decisions in accordance therewith is gently interspersed in a conversational, but not proselytizing manner, ensuring that the book can be enjoyed by believers or nonbelievers alike.
If you want to curl up for the afternoon in front of a roaring fire with a cup of hot tea, some scones or cucumber sandwiches, and an engrossingly charming romantic story, The Perfect Blend is the perfect book! You’ll want to read it now because the next book in the series, Tea for Two, again featuring Milly and her tea shop, is scheduled for an April 2011 release. Click here to pre-order your copy!
Enter to Win a Copy of The Perfect Blend
Leave a comment and be sure to include your email address (for notification purposes).
Leave a separate comment below for each bonus entry –
- Become a follower of Colloquium on Google Friend Connect or confirm that you are already a follower (leave your Google Friend Connect name)
- Follow Colloquium on Facebook Networked Blogs. (Note: Asking to be my friend on Facebook does not count as a bonus entry.)
- Follow me on Twitter — be sure to leave your Twitter name in the comment
- Subscribe to Colloquium via RSS or Email and confirm your subscription
- Tweet about this giveaway and leave the link to your tweet in a comment!
- Post this giveaway on Facebook and leave the link to your post in a comment!
The book can only be shipped to a United States address (no P.O. box).
I read The Perfect Blend in conjunction with the 2010 Read ‘n’ Review and the Fall Into Reading 2010 challenges.