Whole Latte Life by writer Joanne DeMaio is the story of two Connecticut women who have been best friends for many years, Rachel DeMartino and Sara Beth Riley. They plan on celebrating their fortieth birthdays together, with a long weekend in Manhattan at the Plaza Hotel, away from their families. Much to Rachel's surprise, while they are at a restaurant in NYC, Sara Beth suddenly disappears, and Rachel is left at the table by herself. Rachel gets a note from the waiter from Sara Beth, who asks her not to mention this disappearance to her husband, Tom, telling her only that she needs some time by herself to "sort things out". In spite of the note, Rachel is upset and worried about her friend, and asks for help from a mounted policeman in the city, Michael Micelli, a divorced father with a daughter, Summer. In Sara Beth's absence, Rachel and Michael begin to spend time together.
In the book, both women are suffering from the loss of a loved one (Sara Beth's loss is more recent). Rachel lost her husband, Carl, to a heart attack, and Sara Beth's mother has died unexpectedly of an aneurysm. They are trying to cope, and neither wants to also lose the friendship that has sustained them for so many years, which seems to have also vanished. Sara Beth, who has three children, copes with her mother's death by writing email messages to her, even though she knows that her mother can't respond to them, and also through the dream that she and her mother shared, to open a business selling antiques (in fact, the antiques become an obsession to Sara Beth). Rachel has had more time to recover from her husband's death, and tries to be strong for the sake of her daughter, Ashley, who's away at college.
Whole Latte Life is beautifully written; the artistic writing frames the story, which is about experiencing life to the fullest. There are many lovely passages throughout the novel, such as this one:
Rachel loves the way it happens every year, as summer nears. The nurseries overflow with flats of marigolds and snapdragons, dahlias and zinnias. Black pots of scarlet geraniums sit on front stoops. Purple and white petunias grow with abandon from hanging pots hooked onto country lamposts. And bright yellow marigolds fringe vegetable gardens. Walking through Addison is like looking through a kaleidoscope of flowers.
~Whole Latte Life, Joanne DeMaio
Joanne DeMaio paints vivid, descriptive scenes with her words. Written in the third person in the present tense, we see into the hearts and minds of the characters, particularly Rachel and Sara Beth, the main characters (although the blurb on the back cover focuses on Sara Beth, I think this is Rachel's book, too). The book resonated with me on many levels; I understood Sara Beth's devastation at losing her mother, and her yearning for continued connection with her. Having lost my own mother less than a year ago, I still feel that sense of loss, and although it helps to talk about my mother with my sisters and a handful of close friends, at times I feel very much alone with my sadness and grief. On a brighter note, the book also encourages us to pursue our passions, whether that means gathering and refinishing antiques or finding that perfect cottage on the beach--bring your dreams to life! Whole Latte Life also centers on the importance of connection to others, to friends and family. Meet them for coffee, savor the beauty of the seashore together, get out and enjoy life, this whole latte life. (While I was reading this novel, I took the book's cover to heart, and savored countless cups of coffee, some "latte-style".)
I enjoyed so many things about this novel: the well-drawn characters, the east coast setting (NY, the beach, Connecticut), the references to coffee, the antiques (symbolically, how we can assimilate the past into the future), the romance, the prevailing sense of optimism, and the underlying belief that connections with others have intrinsic value, and deserve to be honored and nurtured.
After reading Whole Latte Life, I had a few questions for the author, which she graciously answered by email.
In your book, which focuses on connections, Sara Beth became interested in antiques through her mother, who's deceased. They represent a strong connection to her mother, as they had shopped for antiques together, and planned to open a shop together when Sara Beth turned forty. Describe how you became interested in antiques.
JD: Like writing, antiques are another form of storytelling. There’s such life in each piece, we can see evidence of it and then visualize someone’s days. I mention in Whole Latte Life antique desktops stained with ink, leading Sara Beth to wonder who wrote there and if they were happy. Did they record their farm life in a journal, or pen letters to a long-lost love? Though I’m personally not an antiques collector, I did find them to be a revealing aspect of my character’s journey.
Why do you think antiques seem to be so popular today? Do they represent something missing in today's world?
JD: Life can be so fast-paced and fast-changing, especially with the technological advances we see every day. Antiques offer us a way to slow down, to quietly time travel not online, but in reality. It’s been said that technology keeps us “connected.” As we linger with antiques, they connect us in a different way. The furniture is real and connects us with people like us, daughters and wives and friends and mothers, through the life they left behind.
Would you share a recipe for the perfect latte?
JD: I’d love to. This recipe is my favorite. First, find a few close friends, daughters, or mom. Mix together in a cozy coffee shop with paned windows looking out on a sunny day. Add a dash of laughter, heaps of talk, and simmer over refills. What better way to enjoy your latte!
I also asked Joanne to share a photo of her workspace.
|Point O'Woods beach|
JD: Because of the very nature of writing, my workspace often changes. I’ve included a photograph of one of my favorite workspaces, Point O’ Woods beach on the Connecticut shoreline. So much of my storytelling is inspired by this small seaside place that I consider it a necessary “office.” Much of Whole Latte Life’s Anchor Beach is a reflection of this small stretch of sand and sea.
Isn't that gorgeous?! I certainly wouldn't mind an "office" like this, a beach with mustard-golden sand and an azure ocean.