Author: Ruth Reichl
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Random House
First Published: January 2014
First Line: "You should have used fresh ginger!"
Book Description from GoodReads: In her bestselling memoirs Ruth Reichl has long illuminated the theme of how food defines us, and never more so than in her dazzling fiction debut about sisters, family ties, and a young woman who must finally let go of guilt and grief to embrace her own true gifts.
Billie Breslin has traveled far from her California home to take a job at Delicious, the most iconic food magazine in New York and, thus, the world. When the publication is summarily shut down, the colorful staff, who have become an extended family for Billie, must pick up their lives and move on. Not Billie, though. She is offered a new job: staying behind in the magazine's deserted downtown mansion offices to uphold the "Delicious Guarantee"-a public relations hotline for complaints and recipe inquiries-until further notice. What she doesn't know is that this boring, lonely job will be the portal to a life-changing discovery.
Delicious! carries the reader to the colorful world of downtown New York restaurateurs and artisanal purveyors, and from the lively food shop in Little Italy where Billie works on weekends to a hidden room in the magazine's library where she discovers the letters of Lulu Swan, a plucky twelve-year-old, who wrote to the legendary chef James Beard during World War II. Lulu's letters lead Billie to a deeper understanding of history (and the history of food), but most important, Lulu's courage in the face of loss inspires Billie to come to terms with her own issues-the panic attacks that occur every time she even thinks about cooking, the truth about the big sister she adored, and her ability to open her heart to love.
My Review: Going into this book, a book about food, I thought that this would be right up my alley. And it kind of was. I loved the beautiful descriptions of food strewn throughout the book, how they were incorporated into the storyline and the recipes that were provided. These were my favourite things about this debut fictional novel for Reichl which unfortunately also had a little too much going on and shallow, clichéd characters.
I understand that Ruth was the Editor-in-Chief at the former Gourmet magazine so she definitely knows how to entice her fellow foodies with descriptions of food, cooking techniques etc. Unfortunately it's the storyline and characters that need a little more fine tuning.
There were some very unique secondary characters and I specifically loved Sal and Rosalie who were the most authentic characters in the book. Sammy, while very unique, came off as the clichéd flamboyant, older mentor and the other secondary characters just blended into the melee.
Billie, on the other hand, came off as shallow and a little pathetic if I'm being honest. Here's this woman who has a unique and highly sought after palate so why wouldn't she use it more to her advantage?? It seemed like a waste. The family trauma that resulted in Billie's fear and reluctance to cook for people felt forced and not believable that this incident (although tragic) would cause her to fear cooking the rest of her life. That said, why on earth, with a fear of cooking, would she want to work at a food magazine? It just didn't make sense to me.
Then there's Billie's Cinderella metamorphosis where she went from dowdy, frump girl to princess with the addition of contacts, a new wardrobe and a haircut. I'm sorry but it felt hokey. A few changes and suddenly she's confident and the belle of the ball? Um no. Plus when you add in the romance aspect (specifically the 'rose petal' comment) which wreaked of 'fromage' (of the Limburger variety) it was over the top and screamed "Chick Lit" in a book that I thought would be deeper. No guy, in the history of the world (outside of a cheesy romance novel) has ever uttered that phrase. Ever.
This book has the right elements (for the most part) - historical mystery, hints of the main character having a tragic past that is slowly revealed, beautiful food descriptions, unique secondary characters - but I don't feel it was well executed. There was just too much going on in this book. We have the sweet one-sided letters between young Lulu and James Beard, Billie who is trying to find her way in NYC with her unique palate and mysterious past, WWII .... With all of these different issues, settings etc I was surprised to find myself losing interest and forcing myself to finish the book.
Overall, this book just wasn't for me. I was hoping for a grittier mystery and a much more solid main character but if you're a foodie and just want a very fluffy Chick Lit read with smatterings of foodie talk then this could be the book for you.
My Rating: 2.5/5 stars