The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry – Book Review

The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry
Published by Gallery, an imprint of Simon & Schuster

Ginny needs routine in her life, preferably routine that involves cooking. When her parents both die in a freak carbon monoxide accident on their first trip in years, her schedule is disrupted, to say the least. A panicked episode during the wake convinces her sister Amanda that Ginny can’t possibly stay by herself. Things are going very, very wrong for Ginny, who can’t stand the thought of losing the only home she has ever known, until something strange happens in her kitchen. While cooking from her grandmother’s handwritten recipe, Ginny suddenly realizes that her long-dead grandmother is in the kitchen with her, apparently brought back temporarily by Ginny’s cooking. Rather than being a way for her Ginny to redirect her life, however, bringing back people’s ghosts through her cooking seems to raise more questions for Ginny than it answers.

Okay, first of all, I love this cover. Love, adore, etc. I love the way the net hangs like a dress, how the weight of the peppers give it just the slightest hint of femininity. It is simple, but gorgeous.

I’m not sure if foodie fiction has just recently come onto my radar, or if it has had a huge uptick in popularity, but there is a lot of it out there, it is a trend I have noticed ever since Erica Bauermeister’s The School of Essential Ingredients, although of course it wasn’t new then, by any means. In so many of these books, food or cooking plays a somewhat magical role, bringing people together, healing broken hearts, or just providing people with a satisfying outlet for life. So even though I was excited for The Kitchen Daughter, I must admit that I was expecting something that was mostly more of the same. Bringing back the ghosts of loved ones by cooking their recipes? Of course, definitely the next logical progression for foodie fiction.

Except The Kitchen Daughter was much more than just a ‘food is magic’ rehash, mostly because of the depth McHenry brought to her main character, Ginny. Ginny is undiagnosed, but is likely living with Aspergers. Losing her mother is devastating for Ginny not only because it interrupts her routine, but because her mother is the one who put all of Ginny’s routines in place, and made them all possible. Ginny’s mother sheltered her from the world, so Ginny could avoid being upset. This does position the death of her parents as the perfect catalyst for Ginny’s growth, however, it is perhaps even necessary for any growth to occur. McHenry writes Ginny beautifully, certainly she has personality traits that many would find odd, but she is still wonderfully human and relate-able, she is not an Other with Aspergers. This is something that Ginny must try to make her controlling sister, Amanda, understand, and it is something that she must continually remind herself of as well, with her incredibly moving Book of Normal.

Those who love foodie fiction will love this book – the descriptions of cooking are mouth-watering, and the requisite recipes are included – but if you’re worried that you’ve burnt out on foodie fiction, The Kitchen Daughter still deserves your attention. It is a lovely book with characters who will be just as real as you read McHenry’s words as Ginny’s ghosts were when she cooked from their recipes.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
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Amaryllis in Blueberry by Christina Meldrum – Book Review

Amaryllis in Blueberry by Christina Meldrum
Published by Gallery, an imprint of Simon & Schuster

The first thing everyone seems to ask about Amaryllis in Blueberry is if it is like The Poisonwood Bible. The comparison seems obvious: an American family from the not-so-distant past, consisting of a mother, father, and four girls, move to Africa for a missionary endeavor. I will admit that, for the first portion of the book, I was unsure whether or not Amaryllis in Blueberry would end up being derivative of Kingsolver’s work, especially as the novel is narrated through multiple voices, as is The Poisonwood Bible. In the end, though, I truly do not think it was. The differences were not merely surface level either, the entire plot and feel of the book was different, all that was really shared was the plot point of a missionary voyage to Africa and the family size and structure, along with a couple of other shallow similarities (youngest daughter beloved of the mother, eldest daughter seemingly obsessed with her looks).

In Amaryllis in Blueberry, we begin with the family at home in the Midwest – although we see forward into their time in Africa immediately – and see them develop as people before they leave for Africa. Instead of coming directly from a strongly held religious belief, Dick Slepy’s decision to move his family to Africa so he can be a medical missionary arises from outside stimulus and he feelings and concerns about his family. The time in Africa is actually a surprisingly small portion of the novel, and even then Africa primarily presents a new setting that challenges the family to face their individual and group problems.

Each of the characters is severely flawed, but not so flawed that they seem absurd and unrealistic as a group, simply flawed enough to be recognizable as messily human. Their flaws as individuals and as a family forms the basis of Amaryllis in Blueberry and makes for a fascinating, realistic novel. Meldrum’s absolutely lovely writing serves to draw the reader immediately into the Slepy’s lives.

A well-written and well-plotted novel about a family’s darkest secrets. Recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound | Amazon*

Source: Publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

The Wolves of Andover by Kathleen Kent – Book Review

The Wolves of Andover by Kathleen Kent
Published by Reagan Arthur Books, an imprint of Hachette

This prequel to Kathleen Kent’s debut “The Heretic’s Daughter” follows the story of incredibly strong-willed Martha Allen during the years when she has essentially become an old maid, a woman uncourted and beginning to be a bit of an embarrassment to members of her extended family. They are not, however, above having her come and stay with a cousin having a difficult pregnancy whose husband is often away. Martha can be helpful in a case like this because she is not only a strong, good worker, but also accomplished as a midwife. It is at this cousin’s house that Martha is introduced to two men working her cousin’s land in order that they might be given parcels of land themselves the following year. One of them, Thomas Carrier, a man twice her age, begins to catch Martha’s interest after he saves her from a pair of wolves.

An incredibly tall man, Thomas Carrier may not be what he seems. Gossip around Billerica, Massachusetts suggests that Thomas Carrier might actually be Thomas Morgan, the Welshman who, on the orders of Oliver Cromwell, executed King Charles I during the English Civil War. Now that King Charles II has returned to the throne, he is determined to find those whose deeds took the life of his father the anointed King. The Puritans in the colonies are said to be hiding these men and Charles particularly wants the head of the man who struck off his father’s, preferably brought back in one piece so that Charles I’s executioner can be made a public example of. To this end a very shady character sends five men from England to the colonies to hunt down Thomas Morgan and bring him back in what ever form he might take.

Unlike “The Heretic’s Daughter,” it took me quite awhile to get into “The Wolves of Andover,” I was perhaps halfway through the book before I felt compelled to pick it back up again after putting it down. It seemed to lack some of the focus of “The Heretic’s Daughter,” which was given focus and structure just by virtue of the premise of the book. The reader knew what “The Heretic’s Daughter” was building towards from the beginning, but it was more difficult to find that same drive in “The Wolves of Andover” early on.

This may sound contradictory to what I just wrote, but I also wish the stories of the men hunting Thomas down had not begun quite so early in the story. It was perhaps meant to provide some of the direction I was lamenting, but instead it meant I took longer to get to know Martha as a character and figure out what was going on so again contributed to it taking longer to get into the story in general.

I do not want to give the impression that I did not enjoy “The Wolves of Andover,” I simply think the beginning could have been constructed in a way that would have pulled me in more quickly, instead of the relatively slow start it got in comparison with Kent’s first book. I also wish suspense had been built a bit more and a stronger sense of danger created later on in the book. All that being said, delving into the heart of Thomas Carrier’s story was absolutely fascinating. I loved the perspective he was able to share on the English Civil War and the rules of King Charles I and Oliver Cromwell.

Ultimately I can recommend “The Wolves of Andover” to those with an interest in this historical period, but I do not believe it is as strongly plotted as “The Heretic’s Daughter.”

Buy this book from:
Powells.*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound.*
Amazon.*

Source: review copy from Publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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