Simply from Scratch, by Alicia Bessette.
The winner of Polly's Desserts That Warm the Soul baking contest receives twenty thousand dollars. Twenty thousand. The exact amount Nick mentioned in his e-mail when he told me about the money he wanted to raise for the people of New Orleans as they rebuild after the hurricane and the floods. - from Simply from Scratch, page 2 -
Rose Ellen Carmichael (aka: Zell) is still grieving the loss of her husband nearly a year and a half after a tragic accident on a charity mission to New Orleans took his life. She wears his camouflage apron and speaks "pirate" to their aging greyhound Ahab -- all as a way to comfort herself. She avoids the attic where her husband's camera equipment only reminds her of all she has lost, and cuts off her contact with long-time friends and relatives.
But, one day, her neighbor's Polly Pinch cooking magazine accidentally ends up in Zell's mailbox. This unexpected, minor event leads her to a baking contest and an unforgettable relationship with her neighbor's nine year old daughter Ingrid (who is grieving the absence of her mother). Simply from Scratch is about Zell's journey through grief, the importance of friendships, and the long slow process of moving forward after loss.
Alicia Bessette's first novel engaged me. Ingrid is a kid whose precocious personality grabs the reader right from the start. Ahab, the dog, was also a favorite character ... and I could definitely relate to the magical intervention a dog brings when a person is hurting. I don't want to spoil the book by giving away any plot points, but I will say that I was not totally satisfied with how Bessette handles Ahab's character in the latter pages of the book. Despite that, I found Simply from Scratch a sweet novel that made me smile, but also had me wiping away tears.
Bessette handles a large cast of characters deftly. Besides Zell, Ingrid and Ahab there is: Garrett (Ingrid's hunky father), EJ (Nick's best friend who witnessed his demise), France (a woman cop who is an old pal of Zell's from high school), Trudy (the chain saw wielding ex-home economics teacher) and Father Chet (who pops in and out and is the origin of the novel's over arching theme "We are all connected."). The book is told from the alternating viewpoints of Zell and EJ, and is interspersed with emails from the departed Nick, which allows the reader to examine the story from more than one perspective. Bessette also treats the reader to flashbacks in order to gain a sense of the relationships impacted by Nick's death.
Overall, I found Simply from Scratch to be a quick, enjoyable read. Recommended for readers who enjoy women's fiction that explores grief, loss, and recovery.
Three and a half stars out of five.
Catch all of Wendy Robard's reviews in her fabulous blog, "Caribousmom".