Welcome to the TLC Book Tour for The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted
Henry Bartolozzi was the love of Heidi’s life and her soul mate. They fell in love quickly while culinary students, married, and doted on each other and their son, Abbott, as they established and operated a bakery together where Heidi gained a reputation as a wedding cake artist and pastry chef extraordinaire.
But their happiness was tragically short-lived.
It has been two years since Henry’s death in a motor vehicle accident left Heidi bereft, uninterested in the business, and constantly losing everything from her keys to the lid to the toothpaste to her other shoe. Abbott has, since his father’s death, has turn into an eight-year-old germophobe with separation anxiety. To keep his father’s memory alive, Heidi tells him “Henry stories.”
Heidi’s sister, Elysius, is finally marrying her live-in boyfriend of eight years, David, a successful artist. David’s daughter, Charlotte, is a sixteen-year-old rebel who is sulking, rather than focusing upon studying for the upcoming SAT. Heidi’s mother, meanwhile, has received upsetting news from France on the morning of the wedding: The family home in Provence that she loves has suffered damage as a result of a kitchen fire set by overflow guests from the bed and breakfast inn operated next door by her childhood friend, Veronique.
Heidi used to spend summers at the French home with her mother and sister, but that ended the summer she was thirteen years old. That year, her mother went to France alone after discovering her husband’s affair. The girls stayed with their father, who told them that their mother might come home again . . . or might not. Heidi wrote her mother a series of letters, pouring her heart out and begging her mother to come back, but never mailed them. All these years later, she has no idea whatever happened to them, but presumes that, at some point along the way, they were thrown away.
The morning after the wedding, with their honeymoon deferred due to David’s work commitments, Elysius and her mother convince Heidi that “every woman needs one lost summer in her life. This is yours.” Heidi’s mother had her own infamously lost summer in the house about which tales of enchantment, miracles, and love have been told for generations. When Heidi refuses to go without Abbott, her mother and Elysius convince her to take Charlotte along, too. That way, Charlotte can focus on her exam preparation and stay away from her boyfriend, Adam Briskowitz. Heidi’s mother puts her in charge of renovating the house, knowing that Heidi has no clue about how to go about obtaining permits, selecting a contractor, etc. — or that it will take much longer than the few weeks Heidi thinks she will be spending in France.
As Heidi, Abbott, and Charlotte embark on their summer adventure, Heidi has no idea what awaits them. She does not realize that her mother has been harboring secrets since her long-ago lost summer, or that Charlotte has a big secret of her own.
Bits of whimsy, plenty of romantic angst, and a whole lot of hope and healing make The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted a thoroughly delightful, emotionally satisfying story.
At the outset, Heidi’s sorrow is palpable and authentic. She is sleep-walking through her life, completely adrift without her partner and still in shock over his sudden death. She has spent a lot of time feeling guilty and imagining that she could have saved him — she couldn’t, of course — and has, in large measure, checked out of the life she knew until that fateful moment. She no longer designs wedding cakes and barely makes an appearance at the bakery, entrusting it to a faithful employee. The plants have died from lack of attention. It is clear that Abbott is Heidi’s only motivation for getting out of bed in the morning. She is trying valiantly to soldier on for his sake.
When her mother and sister urge her to escape to France for a few weeks, Heidi consults the dictionary passed from Henry’s grandfather to his father and then on to Abbott. She looks for “henry” and finds that it is a “unit of inductance in which an induced electromotive force of one volt is produced whe nthe current is varied at the rate of one ampere per second.” The word immediately after “henry” is “hent,” meaning “to take hold of; seize.” Heidi says, “I understood the electromagnetic force of Henry and that he was saying one thing: seize it. Go.” And so she does.
Author Bridget Asher’s narrative is lush, descriptive, and almost poetic. She skillfully evokes the emotions her characters are feeling in her readers without resort to melodrama or aggrandizement. For instance, as Heidi feels herself slowly coming back to life in France, she observes:
When you’ve felt shut down and then begin to open back up, what comes alive first? You think of all the usual suspects: the senses, the heart, the mind, the soul. But then maybe all of these things are so interconnected that can’t differentiate a stirring of the heart from a scent, the rustling of the soul from a breeze across your skin, a thought from a feeling, a feeling from a prayer.
If I were pressed now to pinpoint a moment when I began to open up again, I don’t know that I could. . . . Maybe it was the gravity and expanswe of the mountain. Maybe it was in the bakery, amid the heavy scent of bread in the oven and carmelized sugar and cocoa. . . .
Or was it, quite simply, while eating?
Shortly after arriving in France, Heidi is reunited with Julien, who was the quieter, brooding of Veronique’s two sons when they knew each other as children. His brother, Pascal, was the more outgoing and popular boy. It was Julien who lured her up the mountain behind the house, Mont Sainte-Victoire, to Saint Ser, the chapel at the top where Julien convinced her a phantom hermit resided. He is now divorcing, the father of a beautiful four-year-old girl, and impossibly handsome. He remembers Heidi as the girl with the flowered barrette in her hair. Heidi feels herself gradually drawn to him, but is unsure of herself. Their lives are complicated enough . . . and Julien’s family is embroiled in an extremely difficult transition. Heidi is not sure that she can trust her feelings, because, after all, she will always love Henry. Is she ready to move on?
As the renovation gets underway, and Charlotte is enjoying spending time with Veronique learning to cook, Adam shows up unannounced and the secret Charlotte has been carefully guarding comes to light. She has been raised in a dysfunctional environment — her mother is unstable and she has bounced between her care and her father’s — but she shows surprising depth and conviction for a girl so young. She is determined to live her life on her own terms, and wants Heidi to be part of the equation. Again, however, Heidi hesitates. She’s confident that she would have been eager to assist Charlotte were Henry still at her side, but questions her strength and endurance without him. Charlotte, however, is unwavering and certain that her faith in Heidi is well-placed.
Finally, there is Heidi’s mother, who travels to France with Elysius when Charlotte’s secret is revealed. Veronique has been holding a box belonging to the girls’ mother that was discovered following the fire in the kitchen of the Provence house, and she is determined that Heidi should return it to her mother. As her mother’s secret also comes to light, Heidi sees her parents in a different light.
Ultimately, Heidi comes to appreciate that her love for Henry and his love for her was a precious gift. As she explains to Julien what their life and romance was like, she tells him that when she was falling in love with Henry “he’d been the exact soul I’d been waiting for” and “getting to know him was like opening gift after gift.” Telling stories about Henry to Julien feels like she is now giving Julien priceless presents to unwrap.
Once upon a time, I’d thought I’d been looking for Henry, but really I’d been just waiting for him, without knowing that I was waiting, and now it seemed like I’d been waiting for myself in some way, without knowing that I was waiting. In telling Julien some of the stories fo my life, I was aware that I’d been missing myself, perhaps. And here I was, appearing, one unwrapped story at a time.
Heidi’s reappearance and emergence from her long period of mourning is a literary gift from Asher to her readers. Asher plainly understands and conveys loss, longing, and the process of healing, as well as how monumentally difficult it is to keep parenting a young child when so depressed and lost in your own mourning that all you want to do is go back to bed and pull the covers over your head. The romance between Julien and Heidi is lovely, unfolding slowly, cautiously, and believably in light of all the sadness that each of them has experienced. The character of Julien is flawed, but ultimately worthy of Heidi. When she tells him that she is unsure whether it will be fair to him to commence a relationship because she will always love Henry, Julien appreciates that Heidi’s history with Henry is part of the reason he is falling in love with her. “I want to love all of you,” he says. It is quite possibly one of the most romantic scenes ever committed to the printed page.
Asher’s story comes full circle with the revelation of what has been preserved in the box Veronique excavated from the kitchen ruins. Life is not a linear experience, and even though Heidi’s mother has spent the years since her own lost summer wondering about the life she didn’t lead, the passage of time and events of the current summer indisputably demonstrate that she, like Heidi, has lived the life she was meant to live. That life, with all of its complications and issues, has brought Heidi, Abbott, Julien, Veronique, Charlotte, Elysius, and their mother together at an enchanted house in the beautiful French countryside. All is as it should be.
The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted gets my highest recommendation. It is easily one of the best books I have read so far in 2011. It was my first experience reading the work of Bridget Asher, but I now plan to read her other titles, My Husband’s Sweethearts and The Pretend Wife.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one copy of The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted free of charge from the author in conjunction with the TLC Book Tours review and virtual book tour program. I was not required to write a positive review in exchange for receipt of the book; rather, the opinions expressed in this review are my own. This disclosure complies with 16 Code of Federal Regulations, Part 255, “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
Enter to Win a Copy of The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted
One lucky reader, selected at random, will receive a copy of The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted, graciously provided by the author.
Post a comment, being sure to include your email address (for notification and delivery purposes).
Post a separate comment for each bonus entry!
- Become a follower on Google Friend Connect or confirm that you are an existing follower by leaving the name under which you follow in a comment.
- Follow Colloquium on Facebook Networked Blogs. (Note: Asking to be my friend on Facebook does not count as following.)
- Follow me on Twitter — be sure to leave your Twitter name in the comment
- Subscribe to Colloquium via RSS or Email and confirm your subscription
- Tweet about this giveaway and leave the link to your tweet in a comment!
- Post this giveaway on Facebook and leave the link to your post in a comment!
Sorry, but the book can only be shipped to a United States or Canadian address (no P.O. box).