Desert Isle Keeper
The Ultimate Pi Day Party
Josh Yu’s father hasn’t spoken to him in nearly two decades, but Josh has a brainwave: to break through to the retired math teacher, he’ll throw the ultimate Pi Day party for the staff of his app development company, and invite his parents. Sarah Winters, who owns the sweet and savory pie shop Happy As Pie, is the woman to make this come true. As the party draws closer, Sarah and Josh do, too. Does Sarah have room in her busy life for romance? If Josh finds the love and acceptance he’s been looking for, will he be able to believe in it?
The Ultimate Pi Day Party feels like a story of real people with real chemistry falling in real, wonderful love. Sarah is a motivated, hard-working businesswoman, which the author shows instead of tells. She has no social circle in Toronto (let alone the passel of besties all heroines seem to have in order to facilitate sequels). She is at work by six am and hasn’t taken a Sunday off since she opened the shop. She researches recipes and makes sample pies, then remakes and revises them until she’s satisfied, and no matter how much she wants to jump Josh, she won’t leave their fancy dinner date until she’s scoped out the desserts. I loved her confidence, competence, and ambition.
Josh is a sweet, nice-guy hero, motivated primarily by the desire to be explicitly and unconditionally loved. He did make a mistake as a teen. While I was completely Team Josh on this, I appreciated the author’s exploration of the dad’s perspective, and especially the role of (without being spoilery) shame and pride in the long standoff. Nobody here is a flat villain, and the problems are not simply waved away.
‘Awkward characters’ have become such over-the-top staples that I have come to associate them with slapstick. Lau strikes the perfect balance, writing awkwardness that’s funny and plausible rather than contrived. Josh writes a totally cringey email about how “scrumptious” Sarah’s cooking is, then rewrites and sends the email, then realizes that he left the original embarrassing text at the bottom of what he sent. “Scrumptious” becomes an inside joke between them. Gimmicks have become increasingly over-the-top in contemporaries, but Lau, refreshingly, steps out of the arms race and creates – in the way she writes awkwardness – humor that is realistic and relatable, which affects me as a reader so much more.
Other things to love: Lau brings wintertime Toronto to life with its cold and slush, diverse people and neighborhoods, burgeoning tech scene, and great food options ranging from noodle shops to haute cuisine to butter tarts. I wanted to eat basically everything in the story – while Josh liked Sarah’s pear and ginger dessert pie best, my personal drool button is lamb and rosemary. The writing is high-quality and often funny (of her old boyfriend in her small-town hometown, Sarah muses, “last I heard, he had a wife, a tractor shop, and a baby girl he’d named after a tractor.”) Two small complaints: Sarah’s commitment concerns felt silly (she cut her finger at work because she was thinking about Josh too much? Give her more to work with!) and Josh’s darkest moment felt like a plot point to ensure we had a separation when a gradual trajectory felt more natural for this couple.
2019 has been the year of the contemp for a lot of readers, and the field just got a little tighter at the top. The Ultimate Pi Day Party is my favourite new release of 2019 so far. Please give it a taste – I’m sure you’ll love it too.