Nowhere but Home

The big Challenge in packing for the beach? Choosing the right book. Make sure to bring Liza Palmer’s new novel, Nowhere but Home. This homecoming story is tender not treacly, told in smart, funny, unfussy prose. It is sure to enhance any laid-back vacation.

Queen Elizabeth “Queenie” Wake faces homelessness when she’s fired from her job at a New York hotel. She has been drifting across America for a decade, working as a chef. Suddenly directionless, Queenie’s 31 and tired of evading her past. At the prompting of her sister, Merry Carole, she returns to their hometown, North Star, Texas. Apprehensive, but also stung by the boss who just fired her, she aims to rediscover the “passion” that’s gone missing from her cooking. With “nowhere but home” to go, she starts the process there.

Two perceptive sisters, motherless and united; a class-conscious, small-town setting; and a love affair bedeviled by prejudice and secrets: With these attributes, Nowhere but Home recalls Jane Austen’s work—but Southwestern style, with emphasis placed on good cooking.

Each of its chapters is named for a meal that Queenie prepares or eats. Collectively, the titles indicate that creative cookery is essential to her path forward. Chapter 6 is called “The Number One,” the renowned meal her infamous mother made in a shack next to the town bar. It’s the first meal Queenie makes back in North Star: “I handpick the top-round steak with care, choose fresh eggs one by one, and feel an immense sense of home as I pull Mom’s cast-iron skillet from the depths of Merry Carole’s cabinets. … This dish is at the very epicenter of who I am.”

You don’t have to be a foodie to get into this novel. Bighearted Queenie, loyal to family and friends, is easy to love. It’s a pleasure on a par with an ocean view to read how she learns to let herself be loved, freely and fully, for the first time.