Food and family have been linked in our minds for generations. Images of matrons bearing roasts, mashed potatoes and pies immediately convey warmth and a sense of "home." Perhaps the most comforting homemade items of all are desserts. Though nutritionally insubstantial, they're consoling during dark times.
Pastries are the life's work of Avis Muir, the central character in Diana Abu-Jaber's latest novel, "Birds of Paradise." Raised by a distant, workaholic mother (who never cooked), Avis develops a passion for baking early on and, when the novel begins, is a successful pastry chef working out of her home. She is married to Brian, an equally successful attorney. They have an ambitious son who runs his own organic grocery store. The only dark patch in Avis' otherwise vibrant life is the absence of her teenage daughter, Felice. Felice left home at age 13 to atone for an unexplained transgression. She lives on the streets, befriending other homeless people her age and modeling part-time for cash. She doesn't go home to see her family, only occasionally meeting her mother at a caf