Some people have all the luck. And then some people have both luck and talent. Susan Branch is one of those people; a natural artist who writes like a close girlfriend and lends an undercurrent of sweetness to everything she does.*
My introduction to her work was her very first book, Heart of the Home (which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year with an updated, expanded reprint). Looking back, it reads like an early iteration of a lifestyle blog: the recipes are presented as mini paintings, handwritten** and illustrated in watercolor, with tips and advice sprinkled in to boot. I was newly married when I discovered it, and was very grateful for those tips and advice, as it made cooking and keeping house seem like such FUN. As someone who never had an older sister, I was glad to have such helpful, positive advice.
I fell for Susan’s style (and yes, it just feels like we’re on a first-name basis) and gobbled up each of her new cookbooks as soon as it was published. She sent out newsletters, too, equal to her books in charm. As a self-annointed super-fan, I was excited each time I saw her return address in my mail box. Over time, those infrequent snail-mail newsletters became more frequent email updates, as she started to blog. And then, Susan gave those stories a permanent, printed home. Her first book, A Fine Romance, highlighted all that she finds romantic and exciting about England, including a delightful visit to Beatrix Potter’s home. I find myself going back to it for a dose of positivity whenever I’m having a London pity party.
Her readers’ enthusiastic response to A Fine Romance inspired her to continue on: This new set of books, released approximately six months apart, chronicles Susan’s adult life: her first job (and how she met her first husband), her natural enthusiasm for all things house and home, discovering her talent for illustration and painting, the highs of friendship (and unbelievable right-place-at-the-right-time adventures), the lows of heartbreak, and the joys of starting anew all the way across the country. (Also, the I-totally-get-it reason that she no longer travels by airplane!)
As someone who struggles immensely to write in a way that feels approachable and readable, I admit I’m a bit irritated to find out that Susan is a gifted writer, too. I found myself racing through each book: The Fairy Tale Girl, which ends in heartbreak, left me impatiently and eagerly awaiting book two, Martha’s Vineyard, Isle of Dreams, and its happier storyline. (As a person who’s forever searching for the perfect house, the story behind her loving care for and restoration of her very first cottage on Martha’s Vineyard was an inspiration. She’s definitely a lemons-to-lemonade kind of girl, and I hope to emulate that spirit when I have my own house again.)
I can’t recommend these books (or her blog) highly enough. (And Amazon readers agree.) Susan is on a book tour at the moment: if you’re lucky enough to live near a bookstore that’s hosting an event, go. And hooray, she’s also coming Across the Pond in September! As (non) luck would have it, I’ll be in the US dropping my son off at university — and sobbing madly — while she’s here. But don’t let that stop YOU.
p.s. I’m purposefully not giving away too much of the story so that you’ll appreciate each serendipitous detail all the more.
p.p.s. Thank you Susan Branch for sending me copies of these books all the way to London: I’m sad that our paths won’t cross in September. Rain check?
* She’s freakishly lucky. Wait until you read about all the people she’s met randomly.
** As a handwriting nut who always wishes her own handwriting were better, I spent hours trying to emulate Susan’s style.
photo credits: amazon.com (fairy tale girl and isle of dreams ccovers), susanbranch.com (heart of the home cover)
iphone snapshot excerpts from the fairy tale girl and martha’s vineyard, isle of dreams by jane potrykus, for review purposes.