NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • Includes an exclusive conversation between Ruth Reichl and Emily Giffin
Ruth Reichl is a born storyteller. Through her restaurant reviews, where she celebrated the pleasures of a well-made meal, and her bestselling memoirs that address our universal feelings of love and loss, Reichl has achieved a special place in the hearts of hundreds of thousands of readers. Now, with this magical debut novel, she has created a sumptuous, wholly realized world that will enchant you.
Billie Breslin has traveled far from her home in California to take a job at Delicious!, New York’s most iconic food magazine. Away from her family, particularly her older sister, Genie, Billie feels like a fish out of water—until she is welcomed by the magazine’s colorful staff. She is also seduced by the vibrant downtown food scene, especially by Fontanari’s, the famous Italian food shop where she works on weekends. Then Delicious! is abruptly shut down, but Billie agrees to stay on in the empty office, maintaining the hotline for reader complaints in order to pay her bills.
To Billie’s surprise, the lonely job becomes the portal to a miraculous discovery. In a hidden room in the magazine’s library, Billie finds a cache of letters written during World War II by Lulu Swan, a plucky twelve-year-old, to the legendary chef James Beard. Lulu’s letters provide Billie with a richer understanding of history, and a feeling of deep connection to the young writer whose courage in the face of hardship inspires Billie to comes to terms with her fears, her big sister and her ability to open her heart to love.
I picked this up at Book Con 2015.
I loved this story. I wish it came with some of the meals mentioned. Instead of scratch and sniff stickers I want read and eat books. It’s also a good history lesson, learning about the food during World War II, with the rationing. I loved the way Lulu was so resourceful using pumpkin leaves, growing a garden, and finding milkweed in the wild.
It wasn’t just the talk of food that I loved. The hidden room in the library is a dream of mine. I was so engulfed in the mystery of the letters from Lulu, as well as the scavenger hunt on the index cards that Bertie created.
I also loved the group of friends that became Billie’s family. I became attached to them. No surprise here, I especially loved the Italians: the Fontanari and the Cappuzzelli families. Those names are so much fun to say.
Another thing I thought was an important part was the subject of how during WWII there was such a deep prejudice against anything Italian that, in some parts of the U.S., spaghetti, lasagna, and other pastas were considered “enemy food”.
Your loss, prejudice jerks. Italians have the best food in the world. I am not being bias.
(I need to read more WWII historical fiction books that focus on Italy and Italian Americans.)
I liked the way it ended. I don’t want to spoil it so I’ll be very cryptic, I felt the way it left off with a certain character was realistic, and there is still a chance for Billie to write her book, one day when she is an older woman.
My one critique is that in the real world the publication would have transferred Billie to an office to deal with the Delicious! Guarantee. Or it would have been the responsibility of the customer service department at another publication. But then that would defeat the whole point of finding the secret room and reading the letters while alone in that big mansion. Which was cool and mysterious because the mansion had it’s own history and story.
I am glad that some recipes are included (maybe I’ll try to make them, though that gingerbread cake sounds complicated!), as well as a conversation between Ruth Reichl and Emily Giffin, and a reader’s guide.
4.5 out of 5 Gingerbread Cakes.