Book review: ‘The Love Goddess’ Cooking School’ by Melissa Senate

Come with an empty heart, leave with a very full stomach.

On her sixteenth birthday, Holly Maguire is told by her beloved grandmother, known for her fortune-telling prowess, that her “Great Love” will enjoy sa cordula, a traditional Italian dish consisting of . . . well, lamb intestines. Dubious but knowing Camilla would never lead her astray, a much older Holly prepares sa cordula for her boyfriend, a man she loves but feels is pulling away from her.

And, of course, he hates the dish. Dumps her almost on the spot. Heartbroken over losing both John and his young daughter, Lizzie, Holly flees San Francisco for Blue Crab Island, Maine, where her grandmother runs a small Italian takeaway shop and offers cooking classes to island residents.

Well known in the community, Camilla has developed a reputation for her cuisine — and her powers of “knowing” and fortune-telling, an ability of which she doesn’t boast but doesn’t conceal, either. After Camilla’s sudden passing, Holly inherits her grandmother’s business and warm kitchen — but, unfortunately, not her penchant for whipping together delicious meals. Alone and grieving, Holly focuses on learning her grandmother’s recipes, determined not to let Camilla’s business fail. And when Holly’s mother, Camilla’s only daughter, discourages her from trying? Well, Holly just tries harder.

Twelve-year-old Mia appears at The Love Goddess’ Cooking School, as locals have affectionately coined the business, soon after Holly arrives — and offers her services as an assistant during the cooking classes. Seeking acceptance and friendship after her mother abandoned she and her handsome father, Liam, Mia befriends Holly and quickly allows her into the Gellars’ inner circle. And Holly is all too happy to be there — until she feels herself getting a little too close to yet another father-and-daughter duo. Still smarting from John’s rejection in California, Holly has to decide whether to pull away . . . or move forward, fear and all.

A word of caution for those picking up Melissa Senate’s new novel, The Love Goddess’ Cooking School: don’t read on an empty stomach. I’ve issued this caution before, I know, but trust me this one time, friends. Since beginning this warm and engaging novel, I’ve been dreaming of tiramisu, spaghetti with Bolognese sauce, lasagna and ricotta cheese. As someone who feels she must have been Italian in another life (pasta, I love pasta!), the odd stains scarring the pages of my copy may or may not be drool. The prose was just . . . scrumptious. And Senate describes Holly’s creations so well, you’ll want to throw this one down and make dinner every time you finish a chapter.

What I love about this work, Senate’s latest in a long line of great books, is her ability to create likable, friendly and interesting characters who captivate you right from the start. Like the men entranced by the exotic, lovely Camilla Constantina, an Italian immigrant who arrived in America with her young husband and was widowed in the U.S., I was immediately drawn into Holly’s world and felt like I was reading the story of a dear friend. Have I read the running-away-to-find-yourself plots before? Yes, of course. But in Senate’s hands, a familiar story takes on new nuances.

Holly is a bumbling, uncomfortable woman when first we meet her — aching from loss and grief, both in the form of her relationship with John and her grandmother’s unexpected passing; lost as to what to do with her life. Having spent most of her adult years following men from city to city, she has no career or aspirations. She has no calling. And Camilla, when she was living, could tell her little about her future . . . aside from the premonition about sa cordula. She needs guidance. And through her grandmother’s magical recipes, she finds solace and direction.

Liam’s slow pursuit of Holly was magical, too, and felt honest. Though initially attracted to one another, Holly and Liam don’t suddenly find themselves locked in a passionate embrace. There are so many factors to consider: rules to follow; guidelines that should be met. And it takes a whole lot of thinking and analyzing for them to move forward. Of course, when they do? Well. Love can’t happen along someone else’s guidelines . . . sometimes we make the rules up for ourselves.

I’ve read and loved many of Melissa Senate’s novels, including The Solomon Sisters Wise Up, and this was a departure from her usual fare. Still about women, love and family, yes, but there were no sisters here to speak of — and sisters appear often in Senate’s works! I’m happy to report this is my favorite Senate read of all, and a book I’ll still be thinking about in the months to come. Holly is an inspiration.

Now, where’s that tiramisu?

4.5 out of 5!

ISBN: 1439107238 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided by author in exchange for my honest review

Book review: ‘The Solomon Sisters Wise Up’ by Melissa Senate

It didn’t take me long to make my way through The Solomon Sisters Wise Up by Melissa Senate — in my opinion, this is “chick lit” at its finest! I bought Senate’s Questions to Ask Before Marrying on a whim last year and loved her writing style. I mooched this one and definitely wasn’t disappointed!

Sisters Sarah and Ally are both at turning major points in their lives — Sarah finds herself pregnant by a man she cares for but has only been dating a few months, and Ally catches her lying, cheating bastard of a husband in quite the compromising position — with her own yoga teacher. Youngest half sister Zoe, who shares Bartholomew Solomon as a father with Sarah and Ally, is the Dating Diva of Los Angeles, but struggles to iron our her own floundering love life when she discovers her own boyfriend on a blind date with a client. And there’s the tiny, insignificant little problem of Zoe’s 26-year-old former friend marrying Bart Solomon, their father twice her age. All three girls wind up in the small guest room of Bart’s New York City penthouse, sharing cots pushed together like summer camp.

The Solomon Sisters Wise Up isn’t bogged down by all this drama, though. I loved Sarah’s character the most, watching as she pours over book after book on pregnancy and struggles to get ex-boyfriend Griffen involved in their future child. Ally realizes she was caught in a loveless marriage and is able to move on once she decides she will not play the victim in this trial. Zoe begins to realize that though she’s paid two hundred plus a night to sit and tell men and women what they’re doing “wrong” on dates, some folks just aren’t compatible — and we don’t really have to change for anyone.

All the sisters do change, though — irrevocably. They become close. They all share a movie producer father who has spent his entire life, and career, being selfish — but Ally, Sarah and Zoe begin to realize that not everything is as it seems with Bart, either. Ultimately, they begin to reconcile the past with the future, grow closer together and become the support system for one another they so desperately crave — and romantic love, though desirable, isn’t the end-all, be-all.

Generally, I find Melissa Senate’s work to be a little more empowering than most chick lit, where it seems that women must find that “perfect guy” who completes them to be happy and successful. Her novel focuses on the professional struggles of the sisters as much as the personal struggles, and I found that refreshing. Senate also touches on singlehood, motherhood, parenthood and sisterhood in a way that does not feel contrived or disingenuous.

In short, I loved it! If you’re a fan of women’s fiction and need a quick read, grab up Melissa Senate right away — you won’t be disappointed.

4 out of 5!

ISBN: 037325041X ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Website/Blog
Personal copy purchased by Meg