Thursday, June 20, 2019

Natalie Tan's Book of Luck and Fortune by Roselle Lim

Natalie Tan and her mother once butted heads in the same way that her mother, Miranda, did with her own mom, Natalie's laolao. Miranda didn't want to work in her mother's restaurant and, later, she didn't want to send her daughter to culinary school. Now, Miranda is dead. A phone call from her neighbor Celia informs Natalie and she rushes home for the funeral.

Natalie's dream was to open a restaurant. But, when her mother refused to help pay for culinary school, Natalie went out on her own. For years she has traveled the world, learning to cook but unsure enough of herself that she has kept running away — even running away from love. Now, she is back in her mother's apartment, over the empty restaurant her laolao ran until her death. And, Natalie is well aware of the opportunity. The restaurant is hers, now, and she has her grandmother's recipes. She doesn't have much money but she believes in her ability to cook and wants to make a go of it.

When Natalie is told that she must solve the problems of three people before attempting to open a restaurant, she cooks for three of the neighbors. But, then everything goes wrong. What can Natalie do to salvage the situation? Will she ever be able to open a restaurant? What happened on the day of her mother's death that caused Natalie's agoraphobic mother to run outside? And, what became of Natalie's runaway father?

Recommended - I had a lot of trouble getting into Natalie Tan's Book of Luck and Fortune, at first. The writing style is a little stiff and uneven. But, I loved the touches of magical realism (when Natalie cries, her tears turn to crystals, which she gathers up and puts in bowls; and, the food she cooks has magical effects, as well) and I found that author Roselle Lim kept surprising me. Just when I thought I was certain I knew what was going to happen next . . . plot twist! I love being surprised, so that's the main thing I appreciate about Natalie Tan's Book of Luck and Fortune. There are little things that are predictable, but the main plot points kept catching me off-guard. I also loved the San Francisco Chinatown setting and the way the author brought all the threads of the story together so beautifully, in the end. So, while I found the writing style a little rough, the denouement and the surprising elements of the story won me over.

Note: Recipes are included but they don't contain measurements. This is something that apparently used to be common because my grandmother's recipes often didn't contain measurements. Don't tell my sister but I threw away a bunch of them because I'm the kind of cook who follows measurements. My husband is the kind who tosses things together by feel; lack of measurements wouldn't have bothered him if he'd had any interest in her recipes, but he didn't. I did keep the recipes that were special to me — don't worry, I didn't throw them all away.

I received an ARC of Natalie Tan from Berkley for review (many thanks!). True confession: I adore that cover. If I hadn't received a copy to review, I probably would have chased it down based on the cover alone. And, I may do that, anyway. The Reader's Guide was not included in the ARC and I'd like to read that bit of extra material. After such a perfect ending, I wanted to know more about the author.

Updated to remove title error: 6/21/19 

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