Widowed for over a year after her husband met with an accident while on a relief mission to hurricane ravaged New Orleans, Rose Ellen, better known as Zell still struggles with the loss. Her closest companion is a retired greyhound named Ahab. Although she wears Nick’s apron daily, Zell doesn’t cook but after learning of a baking contest with a $20,000 grand prize, sets out to create an award-winning treat. Since Zell hasn’t turned on the oven since Nick’s death, she had no way of knowing he had stashed a Christmas present inside until it caught fire. On the heels of nearly destroying her house, Zell meets her next-door neighbor Garrett and his nine-year-old daughter Ingrid. A fan of Polly Pinch, the star of a popular cooking show and magazine author, Ingrid soon collaborates with Zell to win the contest. When Ingrid claims Polly is her mother, Zell is understandably skeptic. Slowly but surely, Ingrid and Garrett begin pulling Zell out of the limbo she has made of her life until eventually, she is able to move forward and forgive an old friend who did nothing wrong beyond survive.
This warm, moving tale of a woman dealing with love, loss and grief shows how important animal companions can be and the value of interacting with others. Little Ingrid is a sweet, precocious child who manages to slip under Zell’s shell and the author can be forgiven for making her a bit too clever. The story moves along smoothly as assorted kitchen disasters, a peanut allergy, Ahab’s disappearance and a community remembrance unfold. All the activities serve to draw Zell out of a year of emotional isolation and into acceptance until she is finally able to effectively deal with her grief in order to move on toward a bright future.
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