A luminous, tender-hearted debut novel about a young widow, a nine-year-old girl, and a baking contest that will change both their lives.
Rose-Ellen “Zell” Carmichael Roy wears her late husband Nick’s camouflage apron even when she’s not in the kitchen. She can’t remember the last time she wore a bra, and she speaks to her dog in the voice of a pirate. That’s her widow style.
It’s been over a year since Nick died tragically during a post-Katrina relief mission in New Orleans. Long enough, according to the grief pamphlets, to have begun moving on with her life. But Zell is still unable to enter her attic, which is full of Nick memories. She hasn’t even turned on her oven because cooking was Nick’s chore. That is, until she decides to enter celebrity chef Polly Pinch’s first annual Desserts that Warm the Soul baking contest, hoping to win the $20,000 grand prize to donate to Katrina survivors in Nick’s honor.
Meanwhile, in the adjacent apartment of Zell’s two-family house, nine-year-old Ingrid Knox is learning to cope with the loneliness of growing up without a mother. With an imagination as big as her heart, Ingrid treasures her doting father but begins to plot how she will meet her mother, whom she fiercely believes is Polly Pinch.
When an embarrassing baking mishap brings Zell and Ingrid together, they form an unlikely friendship that will alter both of their lives forever. Together, and with the help of a lively and loveable cast of friends and family, they embark on winning the Desserts that Warm the Soul contest – and learn that through the many sorrows and joys of life, with a little bit of flour and a pinch of love, anything is possible.
I loved the cover and it was about cooking. How could I go wrong? I couldn't. Quirky characters and a cooking contest add a bit of lightness to what could be a heavy, depressing topic of grief and recovery. Instead, it's a sweet story about friendship and recreating a life after a devastating loss. I liked Zell. I loved Ingrid.
The story wraps up neatly, but wasn't completely predictable. It's first person for Zell and present tense for everyone else, which is so awkward. When I started it, I kept wondering where it was going to do and what the purpose was. Once I let myself simply enjoy the ride and gave up trying to figure things out, I appreciated the story.
The Katrina tragedy was a terrific backdrop, revealing that service and help are still ongoing and needed in New Orleans. I think this is a terrific debut novel. I loved that Alicia Bessette included the contest recipe at the end of the book!
Thanks to my local library for having a copy I could borrow. You can purchase your own copy here.
* * * *