Rose-Ellen ("Zell") Carmichael Roy wears her late husband Nick's camouflage apron even when she's not in the kitchen. 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 to move 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 the first annual Desserts that Warm the Soul baking contest, hoping to donate the grand prize to Katrina survivors in Nick's memory.
Meanwhile, Zell's nine-year-old neighbor, 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 the woman who abandoned her so many years ago. 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, Zell and Ingrid 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.
Do you ever get the feeling that you know you're going to like a book even before you crack open the cover? As soon as I received this book, I had a feeling I was going to enjoy it. I really like the cover of the book and just from the title, the story sounded intriguing. This all was confirmed as I started reading and soon found myself engrossed in this touching story.
I loved all the characters in this book. While it took me a while to warm up to Zell, eventually I understood her character and really liked her. Even though he was deceased by the time the book opens, Nick lived in the book through Zell's memories as well as through the emails he sent her while he was in New Orleans. It was obvious that he truly loved Zell, through all her faults and her insecurities. Reading his emails and knowing the grief she felt when she found out what happened seriously made me want to cry at times. Ingrid and Garrett were wonderful to read about. I was worried at first they would come off as cardboard characters - single dad with cute kid who helps out grieving widow, but they had so much character in them. Ingrid had wonderful chemistry with Zell and really helped her to heal. And then there's EJ who was with Nick when he died and who Zell has been avoiding since. His story also deals with a possible relationship with a girl from New Orleans and I enjoyed reading his story.
I could totally relate to Zell's memory smacks. Of course mine aren't like hers at all, but I could understand what she goes through when a memory suddenly takes control of her and pulls her into it. I also loved her devotion to her dog. Animal lovers will laugh and cry about her relationship with Ahab. There's also a lot of awareness about the recovery process from Hurricane Katrina. Even though five years have passed, it's good to bring it back into attention as there are still people who are suffering from the aftermath.
I really enjoyed this book. It is an absolutely lovely read. The cover makes it look like it's a light read but it's so much more. It's a touching story about grief, love and friendship. I'm also looking forward to making Scrumpy Delight, the concoction that Zell and Ingrid create in the book. The recipe is included in the back of the book and it sounded quite delicious and easy to make. This is a wonderful debut novel from Bessette and I look forward to reading more from her in the future. HIGHLY recommended.
Simply From Scratch by Alicia Bessette is published by Dutton (2010)
This review copy was provided by the publisher