By: Roselle Lim
Published Year: 2019
I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This in no way shape or form influenced my opinion.
Summary (Provided by 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.
This cover is life! The purple! The gold foil! I love everything about it. This book first caught my eye on a list of upcoming 2019 books to look out for. Between the cover and the summary I was immediately sucked in. When given the opportunity to review this book I about jumped out of my skin. I couldn’t wait.
What I thought
Natalie moves back home after her agoraphobic mother who she hasn’t talked to in 7 years dies. When she gets back to their home in Chinatown she is resentful towards her neighbors who never helped her with her mother as she was growing up. She plans on holding the funeral and then leaving until she finds out her mother has left her her grandmother’s old restaurant. Opening her own restaurant has been Natalie’s dream and is the reason she left and didn’t talk to her mother for so long. Before she opens the restaurant, one of her neighbors gives Natalie her grandmother’s old recipe book and tasks her with mission of feeding three neighbors magical meals to fix their problems if she wants her restaurant, and their neighborhood to succeed.
I just… ok. Where do I start? I think I’ll start with all of the things I didn’t expect from this book and maybe then move on to the parts that just didn’t work for me.
First off, I know that I should have expected magic with the whole feeding neighbors to fix their moods, but it was a bit weirder than I expected. Like it wasn’t just internal magic where someone eats a meal and then they fall in love or get lucky or something. The magic reaches into the outside world and has actual effects on people and objects. For example, when two of the neighbors fight the sidewalk actually cracks. I couldn’t quite tell if only Natalie was able to see these magical events or if everyone could and just accepted them? Honestly, it was never made very clear.
There was another magical moment late in the book that came out of nowhere and made zero sense. It was like an afterthought and very unnecessary. I also expected this book to have more romance. I thought I remembered finding it on a list of contemporary romance novels to look out for, but maybe I was wrong because there is little to no romance in this story. The romantic interest feels like it was thrown in as a recommendation from the editor because they wanted a romance in there. It’s instalove with zero development that occurs over little to no time and brings nothing to the story. Daniel could not exist and it would make no difference at all.
Now, on to what just didn’t work for me. In short, the writing. The characters were flat and underdeveloped. I didn’t connect with anyone and they all changed their minds in a second whenever it benefitted another character. The casual flip flop of the characters drove me crazy. I don’t know how to explain this very well, but because of this and the writing I never was able to fall into the book. I always felt like I was reading an author manipulate characters. Does that make any sense? I know this is a debut novel, but the writing and the editing did nothing for me.