cover image Simply from Scratch

Simply from Scratch

Alicia Bessette, Dutton, $25.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-525-95182-7

Bessette's too eager-to-please debut features a young widow's profoundly quirky quest to move on after her husband's death. A year after Zell's husband dies in New Orleans while on a post-Katrina relief mission, Zell, who frequently talks to her dog in pirate-speak, is still a mess. Next door, amazingly precocious nine-year-old Ingrid believes TV celebrity chef Polly Pinch is her mother. Coincidentally, Zell won't go near her kitchen, as it's just too full of painful memories. But after Zell and Ingrid form an unlikely friendship, they enter a Polly Pinch baking contest so Ingrid can meet Polly and Zell can win the $20,000 prize and donate it to Katrina relief. What follows is the requisite learning of lessons about how to cope with grief and loss. For all of the nice intentions, this reads flat, stale, and too tidy. Zell and Ingrid, meanwhile, are victims of cuteness's stranglehold on the narrative. (Aug.)