Judith Ryan Hendricks

"Isabel's Daughter"

(Reviewed by Kam Aures SEP 7, 2003)

Isabel's Daughter by Judith Ryan Hendricks

Avery James was found abandoned in the basement of the Randall Carson Foundling Home "one frigid January night, wearing a soiled diaper and an undershirt embroidered with flowers." The first thirteen years of Avery's life were spent living in this home in Alamitos, Colorado. Her fondest memories of her time spent there, center around the kitchen. "Steam from dried flint corn simmering in water and baking soda. The dusty smell of dried chiles that came from Esperanza Verdugo - a round person with a long gray braid, snapping dark eyes, smooth brown arms, and a gold front tooth. The cook at Carson." Avery develops a close relationship with Esperanza and Esperanza is who first taught her how to cook.

Read excerptAfter a series of events, including the death of Esperanza, Avery decides to run away from the home and ends up in Florales, New Mexico. Here she meets and moves in with Cassie Roberts. Cassie is an elderly woman who supports herself by making teas and herbal cures. These remedies were traded for useful items like food and supplies. In Florales, Avery meets her first boyfriend, Will Cameron. Will's family owns a ranch and does not approve of their son dating the strange "witch girl." Regardless of his family's views, Will and Avery continue to see each other until after graduation when Will tells Avery that he is leaving for the summer to work at a ranch in Colorado.

Instead of waiting for Will to return at the end of the summer, Avery hits the road again and ends up in Santa Fe.

In Santa Fe, Avery obtains employment at Dos Hombres, a catering business. One night, the party that she is working is at Paul DeGraf's house. It is at this party that she finally sets eyes on her mother, Isabel Colinas, the woman who abandoned her. There is a painting in DeGraf's house of Isabel and the instant that Avery lays eyes on this portrait she knows that it is her mother. Avery learns that her mother has passed away but she probes the memories of those that once knew her to learn as much as she can about her mother, and in turn, herself.

Isabel's Daughter is a very engaging, captivating novel that is nearly impossible to put down until the last page is turned. Each and every character that the reader is introduced to throughout the novel is described so vividly that you develop a true sense of who they are and what they are about. The settings are portrayed in the exact same way almost so you feel as if you are there. Paintings are described so that you are actually able to visualize them. For example, when Avery sees the painting of her mother that her mother is wearing is described in great detail and then her face. "Long dark hair, pulled austerely away from her face, tumbles loose down her back. The mouth - full lower lip and narrow upper lip. The long, straight nose. Eyes - one dark brown, one amber."

Food is an underlying theme throughout the book and Hendricks' use of detail is enough to make your mouth water. For instance, on her way to Santa Fe, Avery stops to eat at the Rio Bravo Cafe. As she sits down, a woman walks by carrying a tray with "blue corn enchiladas with chile colorado and a capping of melted jack cheese that looked like snow on Mt. Blanca. Puffy chiles rellenos with tomato sauce. Refried beans sprinkled with queso fresco and snips of coriander leaf, dark red arroz con tomate."

Hendricks' is such a great storyteller that now that I've been introduced to her writing I definitely intend to check out her first novel, Bread Alone. Isabel's Daughter is an incredible novel which I highly recommend.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 18 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from Isabel's Daughter at MostlyFiction.com

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About the Author:

Judith R HendricksJudith R. Hendricks worked as a copywriter, journalist, computer instructor, travel agent, and waitress before landing at Seattle's McGraw Street Bakery, where she fell in love with the rhythm of baking. Hendricks now lives in Long Beach, California, with her husband, Geoff.

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