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Simply from Scratch Hardcover – August 5, 2010

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 313 pages
  • Publisher: Dutton Adult; First Edition edition (August 5, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0525951822
  • ISBN-13: 978-0525951827
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,773,722 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

Marisa De los Santos Reviews Simply from Scratch

The bestselling author of Love Walked In, Marisa De los Santos is an award-winning poet with a Ph.D. in literature and creative writing. She lives in Wilmington, Delaware, with her husband and children.
Marisa De los Santos

When I began Alicia Bessette’s Simply from Scratch, I understood immediately that it would contain no easy cures for pain. Consolation would not be sudden or free, swooping down to scoop up Zell—or anyone else because she is not the only character in the book who has suffered an awful loss—in its redemptive arms. From the opening sentences—“I knot Nick’s camouflage apron under my boobs, unable to remember the last time I wore a bra, or preheated an oven. That’s my widow style”—I knew that Zell was a woman who would tough it out.

Her grief is singularly unromantic: daily, matter-of-fact, weary, intensely personal, punctuated by wry humor and tiny heart attacks. She is blindsided by “Memory Smacks” that transport her, reeling, into random, ordinary moments from her marriage to Nick, who died while on a relief mission to New Orleans, following Katrina, his death just another small, immeasurably huge loss amidst rampant tragedy.

All of which is to say that her grief is authentic. All of her is authentic. I fell for Zell. As I read, she was a person I knew, a good person who was not always nice, a strong person who was occasionally helpless, a generous person who could be frustratingly unforgiving. She doesn’t move straight through grief. She zigzags, circles back, gets in her own way. She is human, quirky as all of us are quirky, ordinary and miraculous at the same time.

And she has friends. Wow, we should all have such friends. This book tells a lot of different kinds of stories, but the one that resonated most with me as I read, the one that still sticks with me is its story of friendship, that simple, workaday kind of love that’s as sacred as any kind. Russ, France, Dennis, EJ (sweet, sweet EJ): I loved them through the whole book and love them still. Zell is lucky to have them. So am I.

--Marisa De los Santos

A Q&A with Alicia Bessette
Alicia Bessette

Q: As a journalist, you reported on the relief efforts following Hurricane Katrina. What about that experience inspired you to write Simply from Scratch?

A: In my hometown of Holden, Massachusetts, I was hired at a small, community-centered newspaper (The Landmark) soon after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans. For months, my colleagues and I wrote feature stories about the people in our area of New England who traveled to New Orleans to help rebuild its churches, schools, and libraries. They returned home very moved by what they’d seen and experienced.

Long after I wrote about these volunteers, their words replayed in my mind. I knew I wasn't done writing about them.

Eventually, the novelist’s question came to mind: What if? What if one of those volunteers didn’t make it home to Massachusetts? Characters were born, and my debut novel grew from there.

Q: It’s commonly believed that writers write from experience. What about Simply from Scratch is based on your own personal experience? Are there characters who embody people you know? Is the fictional town of Wippamunk, Massachusetts, based on a real town? Are you anything like the main character, Zell?

A: I feel very connected to central Massachusetts, where I grew up, and I think that’s evident when you read Simply from Scratch. I’ve heard from far-flung readers who strongly relate to the New England setting, even though they’ve never visited.

The characters in Simply from Scratch embody the spirit of experimentation. They have humor and hope and a gleeful curiosity about life in general. Reading should be a pleasure!

When I worked for the newspaper, I wrote a feature about a guy who was somewhat directionless until middle age, when he picked up a chainsaw for the first time in his life and discovered a latent talent: he could carve gorgeous wood sculptures. He was the real-life inspiration for the chainsaw artist in Simply from Scratch.

Zell and I share an artistic temperament and a love of the outdoors. Seeing as she’s a medical illustrator, I think she’s probably more analytical and logical than I am (I’m pretty much one hundred percent right brained). Also, I’m not as brave as she is.

Q: Simply from Scratch is told from three different perspectives: Zell, her husband Nick, and a childhood friend, EJ. Why did you structure the book this way? What did you hope each perspective would bring to the story?

A: My initial draft told only Zell’s story. It achieved the desired funny-but-heartrending effect, but it ran short and left me wondering about other characters.

I composed Nick’s emails next. During editing, thanks to chewy and inspiring conversations with my editor (Dutton’s Erika Imranyi), I revamped Nick’s emails to reveal how his experience in New Orleans changed him. The personal transformation he undergoes during his last days make his death even more tragic, because Zell is stuck wondering about this new man, and how their marriage might have flourished, had he made it back home to her.

Suspecting there was much more to EJ than his “gentle giant” reputation, I wrote his narrative last. I was pleasantly surprised to discover how deeply EJ runs.

Q: The ingredients in Scrumpy Delight, the dessert in the book, are an unusual combination – goat cheese, pineapple, chocolate… What made you decide to combine these particular ingredients? What was the process that led you to select this recipe?

A: I made a list of my favorite things to eat--chocolate, cheese, and fruit--and went from there, remembering the time my mother experimented by grilling pineapple spears and drizzling them with honey. Lots of trial and error was required!

The things we make reflect who we are. The ingredients are unusual, and I think that’s fitting for Zell and Ingrid, who are also unusual.

Q: Your husband, Matthew Quick, is also a writer. What are the greatest challenges and benefits of two writers living under the same roof?

A: IWe have a beautiful partnership. He reads my work, I read his. We spend so much time together, and we talk a lot about books and writing. A new acquaintance recently asked if a marriage of two writers is a “hotbed of neuroses,” and I had to laugh: there is definitely that. But by and large, it’s pretty awesome.

Q: In addition to being a writer, you are also a professional pianist. Did your love of music play a role in Simply from Scratch?

A: Piano is definitely a hobby; my nerves got in the way of any professional musical ambitions I might have had. But I’m proud of my two full-length CDs and hope to make more. Music is a subtle but important theme in Simply from Scratch. Zell totes around Nick’s old record player and listens to Gladys Knight and the Pips on vinyl. The music ushers her through the emotions she needs to feel in order to heal.

(Photo of Alicia Bessette © Karl Seifert)

From Publishers Weekly

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 ,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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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See all 39 customer reviews
I started reading this book and had to put it down for a few days.
no thank you
For that is real life, there will always be hard and sad times, the trick is to find those aspects of hope, growth and new beginnings.
S Quick
Well written with interesting characters, Simply from Scratch is easy-to-read, and enjoyable.
Eliza Bennet

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on August 16, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Like the spicy, sweet smell of gingersnaps hot from the oven, Simply From Scratch is something to be remembered. It's about a young widow, Zell, who, still raw from her husband's death, decides to enter a TV personality's baking contest. Along the way, she's befriended by a biracial nine-year-old girl, Ingrid, who is in search of the mother who abandoned her years ago. Usually, I don't like what I call "kid stories," that is, stories about some wise-beyond-her-years prepubescent, who with an abundance of cuteness and sass reveals the solution to life's dilemmas to some clueless, cantankerous adult. That's what I expected--but it's not what I received. Instead, all of the characters are incredibly real, believable, and lifelike.

Zell's voice is irresistible. Witty, self-aware and yet mired in grief and denial, she's easy to love and impossible not to cheer on. The little girl, Ingrid, has a keen sense of perception and a snazzy personality, but it's her vulnerability that makes her so compelling. Bessette didn't try to make Ingrid "cute," but instead, crafted her with the same flaws and complexities as any adult character. The book's sense of place is spot-on. I got to know the small New England town from the inside-out by its interesting characters. Zell's husband is dead, and yet the reader still hears his voice, still sees his personality, still gets a sense of his glass-half-full outlook on life. Even the cooking celebrity, Polly Pinch, sparkles from behind a television screen.

Bessette has written a novel that is all about loss and longing, and yet when I closed the cover, I felt a sense of fullness and completeness. I treasured the people in my life all the more. This is a lovely read, the perfect novel to slide from your bookshelf when you need a little comfort and a measure of inspiration.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Kcorn TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 4, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I had a hard time coming up with a title for this review. How do you sum up a book about a woman whose husband died while trying to help out people in the wake of Hurricane Katrina? How do you describe that his wife has decided to enter a baking contest, although she is far from an expert cook, because the prize money is $20,000 - the exact amount her husband wanted to provide to help survivors of Hurricane Katrina?

As the book opens, Zell (short for Rose-Allen) is going on with her life but she is on the passage of grief and not handling some things very well. She can't go up in the attic, has trouble opening the last present her husband sent her and is also having issues with her heart (they started before her husband left for New Orleans).

This isn't a book which throws readers into the depths of grief from the start. Zell has a certain determination to try and get by but her pain still arrives when memories hit her. Like many of those suffering from grief, her memories are intermingled with her new life, one without her husband, Nick. He is almost like an extra character since his letters are woven into the fabric of this novel.

I was a little bit surprised that the cover didn't show Zell in a camouflage apron because she wears it as a sort of homage to her husband. It used to be his. But perhaps the cover is supposed to indicate that she has moved on.

Since this tale is partly about baking, there is a recipe at the end of the book. I haven't tried it yet so I can't note anything about whether it is delicious or not. I enjoyed this novel very much and couldn't stop reading it. At the same time, I don't think this writer has yet tapped the promise she so clearly shows in her writing.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By S Quick on August 15, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This book is one of those rare novels that actually has the ability to transport me to another place and time. The characters are so real that I cried with them at times of sorrow and laughed and smiled with them at times of joy. I became so involved with the story that I near expected to walk out of my front door and run into Zell and Cap't Ahab. I loved this story most for its ability to carry hope from page to page amidst the sadness. For that is real life, there will always be hard and sad times, the trick is to find those aspects of hope, growth and new beginnings. This story was a refreshing reminder of this :)
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By CRLC on August 15, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is the story of how a natural disaster in a distant state affects the residents of a small New England town. Life-long relationships are strained and forever changed when a local group of volunteers heads to New Orleans after Katrina only to lose Nick, a photojournalist along to record the relief effort, on the last day of their mission. It's more than a year later and his young widow, Rose Ellen , known as Zell, is not one step closer to recovering from her grief. Determined to move on, she decides to enter a baking contest and donate the prize money she plans to win to help the hurricane survivors. Matters become complicated when she accidentally sets her kitchen on fire and meets the new next door neighbors. This is a story of recovery. It looks honestly at life and offers hope without the usual clichés or expected resolutions. It is also a tribute to caring communities everywhere. Ms. Bessette has crafted a highly enjoyable story.
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