Second Chance Grill by Christine Nolfi

When Dr. Mary Chance arrives from Cincinnati, the residents of Liberty, Ohio treat her with some trepidation. Possessing all the stubborn gumption of a self-sustaining small town, Liberty isn’t used to newcomers – especially when the newcomer in question has inherited the town’s only restaurant. Mary isn’t exactly keen on her new role as manager of the Second Chance Grill either, having taken the opportunity to escape Cincinnati after the death of her closest friend and colleague. She intended to grieve in peace, but she soon realizes that the spunky little town has other plans for her. Bubbly and quick-witted Blossom Perini, a local preteen valiantly fighting through a cancer remission, quickly grabs hold of Mary’s heartstrings. And so does Blossom’s father, resident fix-it man and handsome mechanic Anthony. As a romance unfolds between Mary and Anthony, smoothly directed by the adolescent wisdom of Blossom, dilemmas and delights emerge to guide the trio on a journey of heartbreak and unexpected happiness. When Blossom's fight with cancer escalates, Mary and the town are forced to put aside their differences for the sake of a child's life.

Second Chance Grill is the second book in Christine Nolfi’s “Liberty” series, serving as a prequel to her debut novel Treasure Me. An indie sensation and one of my favorite books of 2011, Treasure Me marked a spectacular beginning for Nolfi both in its reception with readers and its literary achievement. The debut introduced readers to the heartwarming and ecstatically charming residents of Liberty with a certain memorable pull that launched the story of petty thief Birdie Kaminski into our hearts. Second Chance Grill takes a look back to before Birdie’s tale, focusing on Mary Chance and Blossom, whose fight with leukemia is discussed in the first book of the series. In this way, Second Chance Grill feels like a homecoming, a journey back into a world we love in order to fully experience an earlier chapter of the beloved town’s history of kinship, dispute, and loyalty. But Second Chance Grill is very much a standalone prequel as well as a companionable edition to Treasure Me, allowing it to adapt to the reader’s experience (or lack thereof) with the feisty folks of Liberty. When you’ve read Nolfi’s previous work you realize that with a book as wonderful as Treasure Me to compete with, Second Chance Grill has a tough job ahead of it. To say it passes the test is an understatement. Second Chance Grill contributes yet more joy and more heart to a series that deserves a place on every reader’s shelf.

Nolfi’s delightful concoction of Liberty, Ohio, with its small town feel and larger-than-life characters, is literary escapism at its finest. The story of Second Chance Grill is a whirlwind of love and loss, joy and sorrow, honoring time-tested concepts through the art of fiction, in which Nolfi is especially gifted. It takes no time at all when the reader journeys into its pages to realize that this novel is all heart and all love. It isn’t always easy – from romantic hardships to life-threatening diseases, the characters all face strong challenges – but it’s beautiful; such is true love and real life. Countering the weight of some of the sorrows, though, is Nolfi’s unique ability with both character development and chemistry. The romance between Mary and Anthony leaps off the page and into the reader’s heart, sparking a goosebump-inducing storyline of its own. Meanwhile, at eleven years old, Blossom contributes a darling wit and supreme wisdom that leaves a mark on her audience. Also appearing are the delightfully stubborn, razor-sharp tongued, and utterly endearing women of Liberty: eighty year-old, rifle-wielding Theodora; spirited young waitress Delia; and poodle-toting cosmetics maven Meade, among others. I’m reminded of Elizabeth Gaskell’s 19th century stories of Cranford, a town dominated by its women. Like Gaskell’s women, Nolfi’s characters stand their ground and show their grit in order to sustain their town and bolster their residents. There’s a sense that these women, these Amazons, are a breed all their own, and their birthplace is the indomitable shelter of the female spirit. This fiery and wonderful element combines with Nolfi’s beautiful use of language and her ability to tell a truly engaging story, making Second Chance Grill a vastly enjoyable read and a triumphant celebration of love in all its forms.

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