My Rating: 4 stars
Genre: Women’s Fiction/ Magical Realism
Age Category: Adult
Type of romance: MF
An uplifting and magical debut about food, coming together and finding family in the most unexpected places. For fans of Jenny Colgan!
At the news of her mother’s death, Natalie Tan returns home to San Francisco’s vibrant Chinatown.
She’s shocked to discover that the neighbourhood is fading, and even more surprised to learn she has inherited her grandmother’s restaurant. Tasked by the community’s seer with cooking up three recipes from her grandmother’s old cookbook, Natalie must bring luck, courage and love to her struggling neighbours – before she can follow her own dreams.
Natalie has no desire to help the community that abandoned her to look after her mother all those years ago. But as love and friendship come knocking, Natalie realises that maybe her neighbours have been there for her all along . . .
I picked this book up a while back and finally got around to reading it. Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune has an unique blend of women’s fiction with magical realism and I am happy to say it worked really well here. There’s plenty of Natalie figuring out what she wants from life and how to move forward as well as descriptions of the food she cooks and even some magical parts.
The writing was pretty down to earth most of the time, but then the magical realism added an almost dream like quality to sentences sometimes that really enriched the descriptions. This could be the way the neighborhood actually looked grey as it wasn’t doing well to a crack that forms in the sidewalk when a couple argues. It was magical and really added a certain imagery to the story that I thought worked really well here. I enjoyed the unique writing style and vivid magical descriptions when they popped up.
The story starts right off with Natalie receiving the news her mother has died and her rushing home to San Fransisco’s Chinatown. I liked reading about Natalie. The way she struggles with her mother’s death and finding the courage to open her restaurant felt realistic. I liked reading about her cooking and seeing the way she interacts with the neighbors. She makes friendships and gets to know them more. She sometimes makes mistakes, but works hard to correct them and I liked how she was willing to admit she made mistakes. She makes some assumptions about the neighbors at first and I liked her seeing interact with them and realizing her ideas weren’t at all correct.
It felt well done the way the story gets build up and progresses, the way characters gets introduced and have certain roles in Natalie’s life which then progress, develop or change throughout the story. I liked seeing Natalie interact with the other characters. I liked seeing plot lines throughout the book, the way Natalie grows into her own and struggles with her courage to open the restaurant, her changing relationships with the neighbors and even a building romance, her urge to get to know her grandmother who shared her love for cooking and the way she remembers her mother. I thought it was well done how Natalie’s mother’s mental illness got touched upon and I thought the author handled the topic well.
The only struggle I had at times with the book is the way some characters see to really play a role and the way they act or their relationship with Natalie develops feels more structured to fit the story than really come from the way the character acts. Then again the book also surprised me by adding more depth to characters who only seemed to have a certain purpose and unexpected twists later on making the characters feel more alive. I was very pleased when I managed to predict part of a twist. I also wish to have seen more of Natalie’s romance with Daniel, but at the same time the magical almost fairy tale like romance they have where they know they’re each others soulmate early on fit the vibe of the book.
Food plays a big part in the story and I enjoyed how there are so many descriptions of the food. Natalie cooks a lot and her dream of opening the restaurant is a prominent part of the story. As is the revival of the neighborhood. I liked seeing how that played out and also how some parts took an unexpected twist. The ending is awesome with the way it wraps up everything and shows a glimpse of the future.
To summarize: I really enjoyed this book. The blend of women’s fiction and magical realism worked really well. I also liked how important food is to the story with plenty of descriptions of food and Natalie cooking dishes. I liked reading about Natalie, she returns home after her mother’s death and has to figure out how to move forward and figure out what she wants from life. She struggles to find the courage to follow her dream to open her restaurant and I enjoyed following her journey throughout the book. The magical realism adds an almost dream-like quality to the book at times, the writing can feel almost lyrical and poetic at times with the way the magical realism adds another dimension to some scenes making them more vivid and magical. And at the same time the book feels very down to earth and realistic with Natalie’s life and struggles. I enjoyed seeing Natalie interact with the neighbors and her trying to help the neighborhood as well as herself. She makes mistakes along the way, but I liked how she admits them and tried to figure out a way to move forward and fix them. I struggled how at times some side characters feel like they have a very specific role in the story, but was happily surprised at some nice twists and added depth to some of them later in the book. The romance had a very romantic and magical quality to it and while I wished at times for more depth or development, I thought the style fit the story well. All in all I had a great time with this book and will definitely try more books by this author.