The Divining Wand

Discovering authors beyond their pages…

Melissa Senate and
The Love Goddess’ Cooking School

October 18, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books

From the book’s front cover:
There’s no recipe to
follow when it comes
to love. . . .

Bestselling author Melissa Senate (The Secret of Joy, The Mosts YA, the rest in Bibliography) will have her latest book, The Love Goddess’ Cooking School, released next Tuesday, October 26, 2010, and its title alone is certain to categorize it as a romance novel. However, in the author’s guest post — Motherhood, Julia Child, and “please can I have a mouse, rat, hamster or rabbit” made a cook out of me –, Melissa reveals that the idea for the book came from having her 6 year old son cooking (and wishing) beside her. Romantic? Actually this novel can best be described as a multi-generational, universal love story of discovering where one belongs in the world.

Selected as an Indie Next List Notable for November, The Love Goddess’ Cooking School first and foremost explores how deeply one’s past affects their present. Often taken for granted, Melissa explains how much her heritage means to her and the novel:

“A big part of the inspiration for Camilla, Holly’s grandmother, was my own grandmother, who died several years ago. I spent many weekends of my childhood in her tiny Queens, New York, apartment, in the kitchen, where I found she did most of her talking. She didn’t love talking about herself, but I was so interested in her not-so-easy early life on Manhattan’s Lower East Side and her two marriages and I got an earful at the sink while scrubbing potatoes. I have this vivid memory of her funeral, of standing at the grave and holding my then toddler son in my arms, and something about that incredible stretch of generations stuck with me. What can your grandmother’s long life teach you about yourself, teach you want to want to know? How does your grandmother’s and your mother’s life affect who you are, your path? I had a lot of questions and found myself poking at that in all the family relationships in the book.”

As those questions were answered, the tale evolved into the following synopsis:

Camilla’s Cucinotta: Italian Cooking Classes. Fresh take-home pastas & sauces daily. Benvenuti! (Welcome!)

Holly Maguire’s grandmother Camilla was the Love Goddess of Blue Crab Island, Maine—a Milanese fortune-teller who could predict the right man for you, and whose Italian cooking was rumored to save marriages. Holly has been waiting years for her unlikely fortune: her true love will like sa cordula, an unappetizing old-world delicacy. But Holly can’t make a decent marinara sauce, let alone sa cordula. Maybe that’s why the man she hopes to marry breaks her heart. So when Holly inherits Camilla’s Cucinotta, she’s determined to forget about fortunes and love and become an Italian cooking teacher worthy of her grandmother’s legacy.

But Holly’s four students are seeking much more than how to make Camilla’s chicken alla Milanese. Simon, a single father, hopes to cook his way back into his daughter’s heart. Juliet, Holly’s childhood friend, hides a painful secret. Tamara, a serial dater, can’t find the love she longs for. And twelve-year-old Mia thinks learning to cook will stop her dad, Liam, from marrying his phony lasagna-queen girlfriend. As the class gathers each week, adding Camilla’s essential ingredients of wishes and memories in every pot and pan, unexpected friendships and romances are formed—and tested. Especially when Holly falls hard for Liam . . . and learns a thing or two about finding her own recipe for happiness.

Also Simon and Schuster offers a taste sampling of The Love Goddess’ Cooking School by providing an Excerpt: Chapter 1.

Although the novel may initially feel reminiscent of other chick lit books about a single young woman trying to find Mr. Right, it’s not. Instead — and in addition to the already mentioned issues that comprise the storyline — the romance is adult, mature, and complicated. For example, male characters with a past of failed marriages, divorce and shared parenthood are realistically showcased, juggling what’s best for their daughters as well as for themselves. Yes, here the children come first and that’s very important as Melissa says:

“The relationship between parent and daughter is such a huge part of the book, from Liam’s and Simon’s relationship as single fathers with their young daughters, to Tamara’s relationship as single woman with an overbearing mother, to Holly’s with her mother, and her mother with her grandmother, and Juliet’s with her grief. I’ve found I like to explore the effect of loss and divorce—and I like to write about fathers, single or otherwise, who’d go to the ends of the earth for their kids.”

Yet even caring, sensitive parents cannot protect their children from “mean girls” and bullying that range as far back to affect Holly’s mother. For the author will agree that what the novel is truly about is pressure. No matter what one’s age or whether it’s peer or family pressure, the consequences of pressure need to be confronted and dealt with.

Of course The Love Goddess’ Cooking School is also a most savory read filled with romance, pasta, and chicken alla Milanese. But, while spending months perfecting the recipes for the cooking class scenes, the author thought about what would make Holly feel like she belonged in her own life. Was it her own self-identity or other people’s expectations and acceptance?

With insightful clarity, Melissa found that the answer came down to having enough inner strength to hold one’s own against outside pressure, as she says:

“The character of Camilla, Holly’s grandmother, didn’t belong, and yet she made herself belong whether anyone liked it or not. I wanted to explore that strength. And I wanted Holly to find it for herself. I wanted everyone to find it. Then you get to choose; you get to decide.”

TRUTH: Sign-up for The Love Goddess’ Cooking School by pre-ordering or purchasing the book next week Tuesday and you’ll discover the best recipe for life and love is entirely up to the real you.

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Melissa Senate’s The Love Goddess’ Cooking School in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is Wednesday, October 20, 2010 at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winners to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to see if you’re a winner.

Guest Melissa Senate on Motherhood, Julia Child, and “please can I have a mouse, rat, hamster, or rabbit” made a cook out of me

October 12, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Guest Posts

[Melissa Senate’s (The Secret of Joy, The Mosts YA, the rest in Bibliography) latest novel, The Love Goddess’ Cooking School, releases in two weeks on October 26, 2010. Another Trending: food book? The answer is yes and no. In today’s guest post, the author reveals her inspiration for the book….a pinch of this, a wish of that sifted and stirred into immeasurable love.]

Motherhood, Julia Child, and “please can I have a mouse, rat, hamster or rabbit” made a cook out of me

The epigraph of my new novel, The Love Goddess’ Cooking School (pub date: 10/26) comes from Julia Child: “I was thirty-two when I started cooking; up until then, I just ate.” I came across this quote by the legendary chef a long time ago and it stuck with me–and gave me hope. Until my son came along when I was thirty-six, I wasn’t much of a cook 1) because anything I did attempt to make came out awful and b) because it was “just me.” My typical dinner in those “just me” days? A knish with a squirt of mustard from a street vendor on the way home from work. A bowl of Apple Cinnamon Cheerios in cold milk. If I made anything in my tiny kitchen in my Manhattan studio apartment, it was an omelet. Any other attempts: #foodfail. I love food, all kinds, all ethnicities, particularly Mexican and Indian and Italian, but even my how-can-you-mess up chicken and cheese quesadillas were something not to behold—or eat. Pasta, no matter how simple the recipe, was always overcooked or undercooked. And my ambitious attempts at my beloved chana masala? Inedible.

So I was happy enough with my knishes and omelets and ate out a lot. But when my dear son Max was born, I knew I had six months to get my act together (in that lovely space when babies eat liquid food only). I bought How To Cook Everything by Mark Bittman and learned how to make the basics. My toddler food—from chicken fingers to meatloaf—wasn’t half bad. By the time Max was two and we moved to Maine, to a kitchen that you could actually turn around in, Max began asking to cook with me. Cracking the eggs for scrambled eggs and brownies. Laying chicken cutlets in breadcrumbs. The concentration on his little face, his happiness at being with me in the kitchen, and his pride at not sloshing eggs out of the bowl made me realize what had been missing from my time in the kitchen all those years: a sense of fun, of caring deeply what I was doing, of wonder at the very process of cooking. Before I began cooking with my son, cooking was about the end result. Now it was about much more.

A few days before his sixth birthday, Max was cracking eggs into a bowl for his beloved bacon frittatas, and as he began working on his gentle beating technique, he said into the bowl: “Please let Mommy say yes to getting me a mouse, rat, hamster or rabbit for my birthday.” Beat, beat. “Please, please, please. I really want a rat but I’ll take any of them.” Then he added in the pinch of salt and made his wish again.

And the idea for The Love Goddess’ Cooking School, about a neophyte chef whose cooking class, with its special recipes that call for adding wishes and memories into every pot and pan, changes the lives of its teacher and students, was born. Right in my very own Tuscan-inspired kitchen in a small town in Maine.

P.S. Max did get his wish, two little fancy pet rats he named Jeffrey and Timmy.

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Richard Hine’s Russell Wiley Is Out to Lunch in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post, Richard Hine and Russell Wiley Is Out to Lunch. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is Wednesday, October 13, 2010 at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winners to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to see if you’re a winner.

The Revealing of Melissa Senate

October 06, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Profiles, Q&A

Popular and prolific, Melissa Senate (The Mosts YA, The Secret of Joy, the rest in Bibliography) offers her latest novel The Love Goddess’ Cooking School, to be released on October 26, 2010, with the following description:

An Italian cooking class, with special recipes that call for adding wishes and memories to every pot and pan, changes the lives of its new teacher–heartbroken Holly Maguire–and her four students: a twelve-year-old girl; a grieving woman; a serial dater, and a newly separated single father.

And then its topped off with this Advance Praise!

“Tender, charming, and seasoned with a pinch of old-world magic, The Love Goddess’s Cooking School is a warmly rendered story of loss, heartache, and starting over. Melissa Senate has created a delightful cast of characters who learn about life, love, and the mess they’ve made of both while in, and out of, the kitchen.” –Beth Hoffman, bestselling author of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt

“The Love Goddess’ Cooking School by Melissa Senate reads like a recipe for reinvention, filled with hope and seasoned liberally with forgiveness. But the real magic here is Melissa Senate’s writing, which laps rhythmically against your heart like gentle waves along the coast.” –Claire Cook, bestselling author of Must Love Dogs and Seven Year Switch

The Divining Wand has scheduled its presentation/review of The Love Goddess’ Cooking School for Monday, October 18, 2010 but, in the meantime, let’s meet the author through her “official” bio:

Melissa Senate is the author of eight novels, including the bestselling See Jane Date, which was made into an ABC Family TV movie and has sold over 200,000 copies worldwide. She’s published short pieces in Everything I’ve Always Wanted to Know About Being a Girl I Learned from Judy Blume, It’s a Wonderful Lie, Flirting with Pride and Prejudice, and American Girls About Town. A former romance and young adult editor from New York, she now lives on the southern coast of Maine with her son.

Impressive? Indeed Melissa is, and she’s also fascinating by revealing:

Q: How would you describe your life in 8 words?
A: Writer. Mother. Mainer. Observer. Reader. Animal lover. Flower-smeller. A-ok.

Q: What is your motto or maxim?
A: Has always been: “Just do it.” Was mine before Nike’s.

Q: How would you describe perfect happiness?
A: On a sunny, warm day, lying on a float in some bugless body of water and reading something wonderful, my son lying on his own little float next to me, reading something that makes him think and laugh and wonder.

Q: What’s your greatest fear?
A: That something bad could happen to my little guy.

Q: If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you choose to be?
A: Rome–for the food, the Vatican museum, the architecture, the ruins, the beauty, the language, and yes, those handsome Italian men.

Q: With whom in history do you most identify?
A: I’m still thinking about this one.

Q: Which living person do you most admire?
A: I think J.K. Rowling is pretty darn amazing. That she started writing in a coffee shop as a down-on-her-luck single mother. Look at what her imagination, talent, and perseverance led to.

Q: What are your most overused words or phrases?
A: The copyeditor on my last book started circling the words “actually” and “just” and drawing smiley faces next to them in her amusement of how many there were. When she got really sick of circling them, she started drawing little frowny faces.

Q: If you could acquire any talent, what would it be?
A: I’d love to be able to draw. I can’t even draw a stick figure. I took one of those Drawing For Absolute Beginners classes a couple of times, but it didn’t help.

Q: What is your greatest achievement?
A: That I’m an optimist. Still and despite A LOT.

Q: What’s your greatest flaw?
A: My loner tendencies.

Q: What’s your best quality?
A: Generosity.

Q: What do you regret most?
A: That I didn’t recognize how I truly felt about someone until he was quite literally gone.

Q: If you could be any person or thing, who or what would it be?
A: I gotta stick with myself.

Q: What trait is most noticeable about you?
A: I have gobs of thick, long, curly dark hair. I’m easy to spot.

Q: Who is your favorite fictional hero?
A: Charlotte from Charlotte’s Web.

Q: Who is your favorite fictional villain?
A: Was Nellie Olesen in the Little House books?

Q: If you could meet any athlete, who would it be and what would you say to him or her?
A: Hmm, although I admire athletes in general for their skill, I’m not really up on any sports. When I lived in New York City, I did recognize Derek Jeter when he was sitting behind my booth in a diner, and I asked if he’d sign my then 2 year old’s soccer ball, and he very kindly did. Maybe because young Max was wearing a Yankees cap. And yes, Jeter is even hotter in person.

Q: What is your biggest pet peeve?
A: Grrr…when people yammer into cell phones.

Q: What is your favorite occupation, when you’re not writing?
A: Reading on my loveseat with my cuddly throw and both my cats curled at my feet.

Q: What’s your fantasy profession?
A: Seriously, writing novels is it. No better dream job for a creative introvert.

Q: What 3 personal qualities are most important to you?
A: Kindness, generosity, humor.

Q: If you could eat only one thing for the rest of your days, what would it be?
A: Your basic BLT.

Q: What are your 5 favorite songs?
A: Hold On by Sarah McLachlan; Let’s Get It On by Marvin Gaye; Romeo & Juliet by Dire Straits; Back Streets by Bruce Springsteen; Photograph by Ringo Starr

Q: What are your 5 favorite books of all time?
A: Anne of Green Gables, Bridget Jones’ Diary, Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights, A Tree Grows In Brooklyn

Lovely, creative, and very down-to-earth, stay updated on Melissa by following her on Twitter and becoming a friend/fan on Facebook.

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Stacey Ballis’s Good Enough to Eat in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post, Stacey Ballis and Good Enough to Eat. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is tonight at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winners to be announced here in tomorrow’s post. If you enter, please return tomorrow to see if you’re a winner.