Miss Cecily’s Recipes for Exceptional Ladies by Vicky Zimmerman
Published June 9th 2020 by Dreamscape Media, Sourcebooks Landmark
Vicky Zimmerman wrote this story based on a real book written by her mother in 1957. Parts of the character, 97 year old Cecily were based on her grandmother’s history, but not her temperament. Both Cecily and Kate were lonely people. Cecily was old and her body was giving out on her, even though her mind was still sound. She lived in a care home, Lauderdale House for Exceptional Ladies, and was ready to die. Kate was a volunteer at the home and met Cecily during her cooking classes. Cecily was loud, rude, obnoxious and never hesitated to say what she thought. Kate was trying to keep busy after ending a relationship with her boyfriend Nick. Cecily and Kate develop a relationship/friendship where Cecily gives Kate advice and gets upset with her if she doesn’t follow it. Food plays a big part in this story and I enjoyed hearing about the book this story is based one. Cecily gives Kate a cookery manual from the 1950s that answers questions of what to cook for whom and when, helping to develop and maintain relationships. This book also holds some secrets to Cecily’s life, which she eventually shares with Kate. The two become fast friends who bond over food and finding hope in the hard places. The ending was just what I was hoping for, even though it was a bit predictable. I am really enjoying stories with multi-generational friendships lately and this one was another winner for me. I recommend this to those of you who enjoy up-lit, multi-generational stories, friendship and a bit or romance.
From the Author: My new novel, Miss Cecily’s Recipes for Exceptional Ladies, has two heroines–Kate Parker, 40 and on the verge of a break-up, and Cecily Finn, a 97-year-old grumpy but very funny old lady–bond over an unusual cookbook. The cookbook, Thought for Food, contains more than just recipes. It has menus for some of life’s most challenging occasions: “Dinner for the Man You Hope to Marry,” “Dinner for The Man You’re Trying to Bid Farewell To.” Along with delicious recipes, the book has tips on how to survive the occasion, varying from the practical to the richly comic.
Thought for Food was a real book published in 1957. It was co-written by the real-life Cecily Finn, who was my grandma. Real-life Cecily was born in London’s East End in 1903. Her family ran a candy and ice-cream store–which created her lifelong passion for food. My grandma had a beautiful older sister, May, and my great-grandpa Josef constantly told Cecily that because she lacked May’s beauty, she’d never find a husband, and so at 18, he forced her to become a teacher. (The job would guarantee a secure pension.) Cecily may not have shared May’s beauty, but she was warm, smart, funny, creative, generous, and immensely fun. She met Solomon Zimmerman in 1928, and was engaged six weeks later.
During World War II, my grandpa was a spy stationed in Sweden, and my grandma risked the dangerous journey from England to Stockholm to join him. While there she learned to speak three languages, helped teach refugees English, and started to write. After the war when my grandparents returned to England, she continued writing. Over the course of her life, she wrote children’s books, radio plays, a screenplay that was made into a movie, and many articles for newspapers and magazines.
By the time I was born, my grandmother was in her 70s, but right up until her death at 100, she retained her sharp mind, her sense of humor, and an incredible love of books, food, and life. She was the first person to encourage me to write. In my first novel, Pear Shaped, the grandmother in the story was based on her, and I was so happy to be able to put her in a novel. Thought For Food has sat proudly on my bookshelf for twenty years. Every time a friend picked it up, they’d comment on how funny it was, and tell me I should do something with it, but it wasn’t until I sat down to write my fifth novel that I figured out a way to use that felt worthy of my grandma’s memory.
Now, this is where it might get a little confusing. The fictional Cecily in Miss Cecily’s Recipes for Exceptional Ladies shares a large part of my grandma’s biography. In the novel, we discover that fictional Cecily has written Thought for Food—and I include recipes and sections of the cookbook within the novel. However, fictional Cecily is quite different in terms of character. She is difficult, grumpy, and occasionally rather rude, but once the reader gets to know her, it’s hard not to love her. Real-life Cecily was gentle and exceptionally polite, but gentle and exceptionally polite characters aren’t necessarily as much fun to write, nor read.
While there is an on/off romantic relationship in the book between Kate and a man named Nick, the friendship between Kate and Cecily forms the heart of the story. It was so rewarding to imagine the conversations that would happen between these two bold, feisty women–both of whom are trying to come to terms with the surprises that life has given them. Even though they’re nearly 60 years apart and their life stories are so different, the two share a passion for food and books–and are able to help each other in ways they could have never imagined.
I had published my four previous romantic comedies under the pseudonym Stella Newman. (My day job was as a professional food taster for a large British supermarket, and I wanted my writing life kept separate.) However, this book is so deeply inspired by my grandmother, I felt it was time to publish in my real name.
Miss Cecily’s Recipes for Exceptional Ladies is a book about many things, but above all, it’s about the power of stories – the stories we tell ourselves, and the stories we tell the world, to survive. Without giving too much away, fictional Cecily has used the power of fiction to rewrite her own life. In fiction we get to choose our own stories; we can say the things we wish we’d said at the time, and we can bring the people we love back to life. I was incredibly lucky to have Cecily as my grandma, and it was a total privilege to give her words a new lease of life.
I really hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.