Well, I seriously need to stop putting expectations on books because when it doesn’t live up to them, I feel a bit let down. That again is the case with this book. I’m not saying it was wholly bad because it definitely wasn’t, but there are some things that simply didn’t work for me.
A huge thanks to Berkley Books and NetGalley for providing a free digital copy in exchange for an honest review.
All quotes are taken from the ARC and may change in the finished copy.
Title: Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck & Fortune
Author: Roselle Lim
Publisher: Berkley Books
Expected release date: June 11, 2019 (tomorrow!)
Genre: Contemporary, magical realism, romance
Length: 320 pages (paperback)
Synopsis: (via Goodreads) “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.”
It’s a struggle to put my thoughts into words about this book. On one hand, I really loved how it explored Chinese-American culture and what that meant for our main character, Natalie. On the other hand, there were few things compelling me read this book. I liked the concept of the book, but I thought it was poorly executed. Estranged daughter returns after the death of her mother and suddenly feels so much regret and continually speaks about how much she misses her mother. In my head, I kept thinking, Where was all this when the two of you were apart? I can’t blame Natalie though. I can’t imagine what it was like growing up in this way, but Natalie’s resentment really burned a hole in the mother/daughter relationship. Look, I don’t expect things to be peachy keen and yes, I did appreciate how Natalie eventually came to understand her mother in a way she wouldn’t have had her mother’s death not happened. But I think I expected this book to mainly be about Natalie’s growing restaurant, but it wasn’t that, not really. It became more personal than just a restaurant for Natalie, and she saw with her own eyes how alone her mother wasn’t, which causes her to feel conflicted.
The story also had a magical realism element to it which I really enjoyed. At first I had to reread a couple of passages to make sure it wasn’t really Natalie’s imagination but something concrete. I liked how the food she made came into play here, and was really able to affect the mood of the people around her.
It also tackled some stigma around mental illness and how Natalie’s culture in particular has a hard time accepting or even seeing this.
“Such was the beauty of sadness: it transformed the hollowness of the heart into something as precious as the loss it suffered.”
I really liked all the characters here, though I felt we were shorted in the developing romance between Natalie and another character. I wasn’t fully convinced of their romance, and it was a bit frustrating at times. I liked the closeness of Natalie and her mother’s friend, Celia. I think I want to be Celia when I get older, lol. The cast of characters really allowed the story and the neighborhood to come to life, especially in terms of how much Natalie did yet did not want to help them. They each had a story to tell and to see how Natalie came to care about them was quite enduring and a true homage to her neighborhood and culture. The surprise in the end was just that: a surprise and I really liked it and how it brought a bit of closure and reduced some of Natalie’s bitterness.
Now this is where I struggled. Despite the amazing and mouth-watering food descriptions and how much this book centered around food and its properties, it simply felt a little disjointed and the dialogue stilted and didn’t seem to flow well. I can’t place my figure exactly on why I feel this way, but it definitely was a deterrent, not allowing me to fully enjoy this book. This doesn’t turn me off from the author completely, but it does make me a little bit wary.