* * * 1/2
At the news of her mother's death, Natalie Tan returns home. The two women hadn't spoken since Natalie left in anger seven years ago, when her mother refused to support her chosen career as a chef. Natalie is shocked to discover the vibrant neighborhood of San Francisco's Chinatown that she remembers from her childhood is fading, with businesses failing and families moving out. She's even more surprised to learn she has inherited her grandmother's restaurant.
The neighborhood seer reads the restaurant's fortune in the leaves: Natalie must cook three recipes from her grandmother's cookbook to aid her struggling neighbors before the restaurant will succeed. Unfortunately, Natalie has no desire to help them try to turn things around--she resents the local shopkeepers for leaving her alone to take care of her agoraphobic mother when she was growing up. But with the support of a surprising new friend and a budding romance, Natalie starts to realize that maybe her neighbors really have been there for her all along.
Source: advance e-galley provided in exchange for an honest review
A story set in Chinatown featuring a passionate cook who creates and recreates delicious family recipes? Sign me up!
I thought this was an sweet story overall and enjoyed when Natalie described what cooking did to her senses. Honestly, I wish I could feel that passionately about cooking and inventing dishes for people, and it's clear how this is an intrinsic part of her soul. Through cooking she could connect with her grandmother, a renowned chef in Chinatown, who died before she was born. When she returns home after her mother's death, she learns that there's more to her mother's story that she was unaware of. Looking to make things right with Natalie, her mother's last wish was for her to inherit her grandmother's restaurant and bring it back to life. Her grandmother was a pillar of the community and her restaurant was the star. Being asked to reopen it feels like too much is being asked of her. Her first instinct is to run away which has been her tactic awhile now.But then she's persuaded to stay and as she assimilates to life in the neighbourhood she left, she learns about how much has changed, and not for the better as people are looking to gentrify her once vibrant community. With renewed purpose she hasn't had in a long time, Natalie dreams of helping to unify the community and re-energize the local businesses.
Family and cultural heritage are central to this story as was the food that made my mouth water. Natalie's love for cooking and the joy she gets from it come through the pages. Throw in the fact that her grandmother's recipes seem to have some sort of magical properties, and the dishes take on a life of their own. (Think the movie, Chocolat where Vienne's creations have such a profound impact on the villagers. It's the same idea here where Natalie's dishes seem to stir emotions and instigate action by the folks who eat them.) Interestingly, while Natalie's love of food and her grandmother's treasured recipes came through, I thought her budding romance with Daniel fell flat. As her potential love interest I didn't pick up on any chemistry between them. One drawback for me was that at times it felt as if the author was grasping too hard with the metaphors. She describes Natalie's process in relation to food so beautifully, creating such impressive pictures that I think sections outside of those could have flowed better with simpler descriptions.
Natalie Tan's Book of Luck and Fortune is a sweet coming-of-age story about laying down roots and rebuilding community. If you're a foodie, you'll enjoy the addition of the recipes and like me, wish you could reach through and taste some of the deliciousness inside. I look forward to reading more from Roselle Lim in the future!