What would you do if you could relive some of your worst mistakes and maybe change their outcomes? If someone gave you the chance to make different choices at crucial moments in your past—to chase a dream you gave up on, to hold on to the love you rejected, to be brave enough to take a risk—would you do it? How might your life have turned out differently if you had? And who might you be as a result?
Those are the big existential questions at the heart of Rachel Linden’s utterly charming novel The Magic of Lemon Drop Pie, a satisfyingly sweet exploration of second chances and the road not taken, with a dash of family drama and magical realism thrown on top. It follows the story of Lolly Blanchard, a thirtysomething whose life hasn’t turned out exactly the way she expected. She moved home in the wake of her mother’s death to help keep the family’s struggling diner open—and her grieving father and younger sister functioning. Now, a decade later, she’s stuck in a routine she never asked for, dutifully making her mother’s special lemon meringue pies for their customers and trying not to think too much about the life she left behind. (Or the one she never got to have.)
But when she’s gifted three magical pieces of candy that allow her to revisit any single “might have been” day in her life, Lolly will be forced to face her regrets and make peace with her past—while forging a new future for herself along the way.
Here’s how the publisher describes the story.
Lolly Blanchard’s life only seems to give her lemons. Ten years ago, after her mother’s tragic death, she broke up with her first love and abandoned her dream of opening a restaurant in order to keep her family’s struggling Seattle diner afloat and care for her younger sister and grieving father. Now, a decade later, she dutifully whips up the diner’s famous lemon meringue pies each morning while still pining for all she’s lost.
As Lolly’s thirty-third birthday approaches, her quirky great-aunt gives her a mysterious gift—three lemon drops, each of which allows her to live a single day in a life that might have been hers. What if her mom hadn’t passed away? What if she had opened her own restaurant in England? What if she hadn’t broken up with the only man she’s ever loved? Surprising and empowering, each experience helps Lolly let go of her regrets and realize the key to transforming her life lies not in redoing her past but in having the courage to embrace her present.
The Magic of Lemon Drop Pie will hit shelves on Tuesday, August 2 from Berkeley Books, but we’ve got an exclusive excerpt from the story to help tide you over until then!
“You’re probably wondering why I summoned you.” She gazed at me a little imperiously.
“A little.” I shifted in the hard chair, eager to get back to the kitchen. The coffee was calling my name. Aunt Gert went over to the shelves and rummaged in a small, ornately carved silver box, then came back to me and held out her hand. She was wearing several large, exotic rings. A heavy gold one with a cabochon ruby and one in the shape of a peacock with jeweled feathers caught my eye. “Here, a gift for you. Call it an early birthday present.”
Surprised, I held out my hand. Her fingers were cold and bony and strong. She dropped several small objects the size of marbles into my open palm and stepped back. I stared at the gift. In my hand sat three dime-store lemon drops—the bright yellow candy shaped like lemons and sanded on the outside with sugar. The kind of candy grandmas keep in jars for years because no one ever eats them.
“Oh . . . thank you.” I glanced up at her, trying to hide my surprise.
What a strange gift.
“They’re not what you think.” Aunt Gert sat down in the opposite chair. She met my eyes, her own gaze intent. “These are special. They can show you the life you could have had. They can show you your true path.”
I blinked. My true path? What was she talking about? As she studied me I had the unnerving suspicion that she could read my thoughts. I wouldn’t put it past her. There had always been an edge of the transcendent about her, a whiff of something slightly mystical, and it wasn’t just the sandalwood incense she burned in a little tray in her bathroom.
Aunt Gert leaned across the table and gripped my hand so hard it hurt, but, by contrast, her expression was unexpectedly soft. “These were a gift to me when I was a young woman feeling stuck in my life. They can change everything.”
I looked down at the little candies in my palm. I knew the taste and texture of them, had sneaked them from my own grandmother’s dusty candy jar when I was a child. “I don’t understand,” I said. “Change everything how?”
Was Aunt Gert struggling with the early stages of dementia and it was just manifesting now? The thought was frightening.
“You think I’m crazy,” she said, smiling enigmatically, then sat back and bobbed her tea ball in her teacup, the liquid a pale green. The scent was gorgeous, jasmine and green tea. “My dear, life is not defined by the limits of your own experience. The reality of the universe far transcends the paltry boundaries of your own understanding. As the great Saint Augustine once said, ‘Miracles are not contrary to nature, but only contrary to what we know about nature.’ He was right. Miracle, magic, whatever you want to call these.” She nodded at the lemon drops. “I am giving you a chance to glimpse your life more fully, to perhaps change your path and arrive at a better end. I am giving you a chance to follow your bliss.”
I was completely bewildered. Miracles. Magic. Follow your bliss. How did all that relate to the three lemon drop candies she’d given me? “Try it,” she urged me. “See what happens.” The steam from her tea wafted up, lazy and fragrant. I felt like I was sitting with a fortune-teller or fairy godmother, if the fairy godmother was just a little bug-eyed and more than a little intimidating. “Suck on one of the lemon drops before bed and say aloud a thing you wish you could change, a regret from your life. Then go to bed, and when you wake up, you will live one day of your life as it might have been if you’d made a different choice. Don’t be alarmed. The effects are only temporary. The following morning, you’ll return to your normal existence as if nothing has changed.” She paused and took a sip of scalding tea. “But, of course, in one day, everything can change.”
“Okay, um.” I scooted the chair back and stood, concerned by Aunt Gert’s statements. She was a genius and eccentric, but this all sounded downright crazy. If she really was starting to suffer from dementia (and frankly, what else could this be?), how were we possibly going to cope? We were barely handling things as it was. I shrank at the thought.
“Thank you for the gift,” I said, eager to make my escape. I needed coffee and a few minutes alone to collect my thoughts.
“You don’t believe me, but it doesn’t matter. Just promise me,” she said, her tone commanding. “Promise me you will try one tonight. Do exactly as I told you. Humor an old woman.” There was a peculiar glint in her eye that made me uneasy. She gestured toward the door, shooing me out. “Tell me all about it tomorrow.”
I nodded. “All right, I promise.” I tucked the lemon drops in the pocket of my joggers and made a mental note to try to remember to suck on one tonight just so I could assure her I’d done it when she asked tomorrow.
She followed me to the door to usher me out, but paused with her hand on the knob. “Be careful. Make wise choices.” Her eyebrows, so pale they were almost translucent, furrowed into a deep, portentous V. “You never know what will happen, what you could gain or lose when you alter your own life story.” And then she opened the door and stepped back without another word.
Excerpted from THE MAGIC OF LEMON DROP PIE by Rachel Linden, published by Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2022
Lacy Baugher Milas is the Books Editor at Paste Magazine, but loves nerding out about all sorts of pop culture. You can find her on Twitter @LacyMB.