The Love Goddess' CookingSchool
by Melissa Senate
(Gallery, $15, PG) ISBN 978-1-43910-723-2
****
Get out your apron or make reservations at your favorite Italian place before you read Melissa Senate's The Love Goddess' Cooking School. After yet another breakup from an ill-advised relationship, Holly Maguire wanders back to her grandmother's kitchen.

Camilla, despite Holly's mother's avoidance of her own mother, has always been the central figure in Holly's life. Holly grew up in Camilla's Cucinotta, the take-out, catering, and cooking school business that her grandmother founded as a young widow newly arrived on Blue Crab Island, Maine. At her grandmother's hip, Holly learned everything there was to know about cooking ... until the year she accidentally poisoned her beloved nonna. Ever since, Holly's been virtually terrified of anything more involved than canned pasta sauce and boiled box noodles.

Holly has two wonderful weeks with her grandmother after her split with John Reardon and a relocation across the country. Then Holly awakens to a silent, garlic-free house and knows something is wrong. Now, unwilling to let the Cucinotta or Camilla herself be forgotten, Holly has taken over Camilla's business. Turns out that Camilla's bank account was pretty low, and a number of people requested refunds for the next cooking class when they heard of Camilla's passing. Regular customers are disappointed--not because Holly's a bad cook (she's trying), but because Holly doesn't have Camilla's knack. Not yet, anyway. But what Holly really doesn't have are Camilla's fortunetelling skills. It doesn't matter how many times she picks up the Po River rocks that her nonna always caressed when telling a fortune, nothing comes to Holly. She believes in Camilla's abilities and has personally seen how they affected other people's lives.

Holly's own fortune, however, is a bit troubling: her one true love will be a man who enjoys a yucky Italian delicacy made from sheep intestines, peas, and butter sauce. Holly's never met anyone boyfriend or otherwise who could stomach it, so how can she be expected to fall in love with someone who does?

As Holly's first ever cooking class comes together, a friendship between her and the four students quickly develops. There is Simon, trying to cook his way back into his daughter's (and maybe her mother's) heart; Juliet, a childhood friend with whom Holly had lost contact, recently and terribly bereaved; Tamara Bean, a serial dater who wants to settle down if for no other reason than to have a partner for her sister's impending wedding; and Mia, the daughter of a divorced man toward whom Holly feels an easy camaraderie and an uncomfortable attraction.

Camilla's recipes all have secret ingredients: one sad memory, one big wish. As all of the new students and their new teacher delve deeper into the cookbook, they come to understand just how important those ingredients are. They also realize just how important is the need to express them.

Warm and fun and full of ambience, The Love Goddess' Cooking School will appeal to women of any age. It touches on so many things that are at the heart of a woman's life: failed romances, the dynamics of a friendship, dealing with loss, and the importance of family through it all.

--Sarrah Knight


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