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Starting from Scratch: A Novel Paperback – August 3, 2010

4.3 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Protagonist Olivia Tschetter has come home from graduate school following the sudden death of her mother. While in her hometown in South Dakota, family secrets and new surprises boil over, but it takes too long for the bubbles to rise in Gilbert-Collins's debut. Oddly, one secret Olivia herself keeps is passing her thesis defense at graduate school. Olivia looks to find solace by taking over her mom's cooking legacy and regular recipe newsletter, but this supposed love of the kitchen is barely apparent, except for an occasional peppered note, "She stood in the produce department, hefting the garlic bulbs one by one, fingering the pearl onions in their papery skin, and felt herself slowly relax." Although recipes are cleverly included, some of the most appetizing dishes are left undisclosed. Gilbert-Collins has a good sense of characterization, but it's not enough to save her story. (Aug.)
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From Booklist

Olivia Tschetter returns from graduate studies to her South Dakota home just before her mother Vivian’s unexpected death. The gathering of her family only deepens her sadness and her sense of distance from the rest of her family. Sinking into depression, she finds herself unable to return to the university. She can’t even summon up the strength to celebrate with her family her recent academic accomplishment: a successful defense of her doctoral dissertation in linguistics. To keep herself occupied, she goes to work at the local charity kitchen, where her involvement with the Meals on Wheels program leads her on a journey of discovery, both about herself and about her mother and sisters. Gilbert-Collins has an ear for the inflections and cadences of upper-midwestern speech, which adds to the book’s other charms. A few recipes appear within the text to document some of the significant foods prepared and served. --Mark Knoblauch

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone (August 3, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439143161
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439143162
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,801,852 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By JoMae on August 1, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Food, and the joy of it, weaves this wonderful novel together. In the Tschetter family, meals, ingredients and recipes shared are a huge part of their identity. So when Vivian suddenly dies, leaving a husband and four highly accomplished young adults to cope, it is her legacy with food that comforts the family and helps them to move on.

Especially the main character, Olivia, who at twenty-seven is the youngest sibling and still single. Olivia has always been close to her mother; sharing her love for cooking and confiding in her. Now she moves back home and quickly takes on the hostess role at family gatherings. Almost as if she is taking her mother's place, as if Vivian's mantle is settling on her daughter's shoulders.

It was fun to watch this story unfold! To observe the dynamics of the siblings and be reminded that familiar patterns from childhood are often still at play as adults. It was a treat to meet the people for whom Vivian, and later Olivia, made a difference. To discover the surprises and family secrets as they began to emerge. And to recognize Olivia moving within the spirit of her mother despite discombobulating sorrow - yet remaining uniquely herself.

This is a mother daughter story with many rich overtones and Susan Gilbert-Collins is adept at telling it. She transitions smoothly between background and immediate scenes. She embeds information so that a second reading is even more delightful than the first. The book's dialogue and banter feel ever so natural, and I loved Olivia's inner conversations! I enjoyed watching her come into her own. And, of course, there are the recipes! The food is everywhere and embellishes the book in many forms.

This is a study of grief and caring and moving on. Remembering and enfolding the beloved, yet facing the necessity of taking bold steps forward. Sometimes that means starting from scratch!
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Format: Paperback
This book was offered to me as a review copy. Sometimes I enjoy an escape visit with chick lit. What really intrigued me was the description of the heroine: we don't usually find a protagonist who just defended her PhD dissertation in linguistics. Since I have a PhD myself, I was hooked.

To my surprise, the book seems considerably stronger and far more intelligent than most novels described as chick lit. The author moves very close to literary fiction, except that the main characters are female and she includes recipes. As a sometime writer myself, I am blown away by the authors craftsmanship. She consistently follows the maxim to "Show, don't tell." For instance, early in the book she presents a funny story of how the family acquired their Siamese cat. This story tells us more about the family than dozens of pages of descriptive prose...and it's fun to read, too.

The Tschetter family is presented affectionately but not sentimentally. We view the world consistently through the eyes of Olivia, the youngest of four children, all raised in a small town in South Dakota. We get a sense of how each sibling has developed a strong personality. The author does a remarkable job of showing how the siblings relate as adults, drawn together by family obligation yet rubbing against each other the way family members do. The family isn't dysfunctional; mostly they love and respect each other. But like all families, they tend to talk about trivial things and they often drive each other mad.

Even more amazing, the author kept me hooked without much action. Perhaps the liveliest climactic scene comes at a family dinner, when a surprising announcement sets off some strong emotions. Olivia does discover some family secrets, but there's no hard-edged suspense.
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Format: Paperback
If you've ever distracted yourself from stress by concocting (or even just consuming) something delectable in the kitchen, Olivia, the main character in Starting from Scratch, will have extra resonance for you. A twentysomething graduate student and the youngest of four siblings, Olivia finds herself back in her childhood home in Brookings, South Dakota following her mother's sudden death. To forestall the return of "normal" life, Olivia postpones resuming her academic career. Instead she volunteers in the community, sorts through her mother's recipes, and prepares one elaborate meal after another, to her family's bemusement. Along the way, Olivia discovers some old secrets, which are perhaps more of a distraction from her own grief than she'd bargained for.

The process of navigating sudden loss, artfully explored by Gilbert-Collins, is for Olivia slow, uncertain, and even ironic at times. But like the complementary flavors in one of her own gourmet recipes, Olivia's experiences produce a surprising alchemy; as the weeks pass, memory flavored by immediacy, childhood habits blending into an adult identity, and personal pain seasoned with newfound compassion create for Olivia richer, if altered, relationships with those she loves. Gilbert-Collins tells this story with humor, insight, and a touch of suspense, and surrounds Olivia with excellent yet infuriating siblings who may well remind you of people you grew up with. Starting from Scratch is the best sort of treat: a novel with nuance and depth that's palatable too.
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