Romance and food. Who can resist? They are the reading equivalent of potato chips and french onion dip, right? Little nutritional value, but very tasty and comforting. And so it goes with this novel.
When I started reading, I was certain this was another debut novel, but I checked and it was not. Senate has written ten novels previously as well as short stories and essays and an ABC Family television movie. With that, I was surprised at the clunkiness of some of the plot moves, but the clunkiness disappeared into the background, only occasionally rearing its head, as the characters took over. Mostly.
Holly has an English degree and a string of job experiences on her resume. On her personal resume she has a string of relationships. She is a giver and has not found someone who is willing to commit or to give much back. Her relationship with her mother is not estranged, but not close. Holly adores her grandmother, Camilla, and Italian immigrant who lives on Blue Crab Island in Maine and makes a living with her Italian cooking and her ability to tell fortunes. This relationship seems to be some of the reason for the strain in her relationship with her mother, whose own relationship with her mother is strained and difficult due to, we learn later, people on the island who called Camilla a witch. Bullies. Every romance novel needs one–that girl, those women, who look too perfect and act awful.
After yet another relationship ends, Holly runs to her grandmother for comfort and is there for two weeks when Camilla dies in her sleep, leaving her house and business to Holly. Holly, oddly, does not know how to cook because as a young girl she prepared a special sandwich for Camilla that included, unknown to her because she was just a young girl (hmmmm), rat poison. The trauma of nearly killing her grandmother turned Holly off from cooking and still haunts her as an adult. What? Seriously clunky plot move.
Holly’s mother wants her to sell the house, so, of course, Holly wants to keep it and run the business, so she begins practicing the recipes Camilla has left behind and trying to remember what she saw Camilla do for the many summers and vacations she spent with her. Each recipe, cutely, requires a wish, a sad or a happy memory. Cooking as therapy.
The granddaughter of the woman who bullied Camilla (and whose mother bullied Holly’s mother) has a degree in culinary arts and has opened a shop on the small island (go figure–clunky plot move again) and Holly fears losing her grandmother’s business to this woman while she gets her act together.
In walks a cute and precocious twelve-year-0ld girl who wants to be her apprentice for her cooking class and learn how to cook so she can drive away her divorced father’s girlfriend. This setup is made for Holly’s resume, which most recently has included a divorced dad and young daughter. The dad, oddly enough, is hunky and a regular at Holly’s shop for pasta and sauce (another clunky plot move). Holly takes her on–what the heck, she only has four students who stayed in the class once Camilla died–and the plot moves forward.
In the class are a divorced dad with a young daughter whose mother is awful and is alienating her daughter’s affections from her father; an old friend who has returned to the island for R&R after the loss of her young daughter; the unmarried sister of a woman whose sister found love thanks to Camilla’s fortune telling and who needs a date to her sister’s wedding. The twelve year old makes four.
And so the set up. Holly falls in love with the girl’s dad. The divorced dad and unmarried woman fall in love. Holly’s cooking helps heal the broken heart of the old friend. Their memories and wishes and cooking heal them all and bond them into a close circle. Holly wins the job catering the sister’s wedding (shop saved) and becomes a good cook. She finds herself and makes the shop her own (and the house by changing a few pictures on the walls and hanging a new sign). Everything is awesome. Potato chips and dip. Not hard to chew (although sometimes tough to digest), but yummy and comforting.
I liked the theme, which is why I bought the book, but I was distracted by the clumsy plots moves often enough that I won’t seek out another novel by this author. If one ends up on my pile, however, I would probably read it when I was in the mood for comfort food.