Sunday, June 26, 2011

Review: The Kitchen Daughter

Summary: After the unexpected death of her parents, painfully shy and sheltered 26-year-old Ginny Selvaggio seeks comfort in cooking from family recipes. But the rich, peppery scent of her Nonna's soup draws an unexpected visitor into the kitchen: the ghost of Nonna herself, dead for twenty years, who appears with a cryptic warning ("do no let her…") before vanishing like steam from a cooling dish.

A haunted kitchen isn't Ginny's only challenge. Her domineering sister, Amanda, (aka "Demanda") insists on selling their parents' house, the only home Ginny has ever known. As she packs up her parents' belongings, Ginny finds evidence of family secrets she isn't sure how to unravel. She knows how to turn milk into cheese and cream into butter, but she doesn't know why her mother hid a letter in the bedroom chimney, or the identity of the woman in her father's photographs. The more she learns, the more she realizes the keys to these riddles lie with the dead, and there's only one way to get answers: cook from dead people's recipes, raise their ghosts, and ask them. -- Gallery


I have read some fantastic reviews for THE KITCHEN DAUGHTER by Jael McHenry all over the blogosphere and even from a few of my good friends, but for some reason, I was a little late in picking this one up. And boy do I regret it. THE KITCHEN DAUGHTER was a marvelous book and I'm pretty certain that it will be one of my favorite novels of 2011. It was that good!

THE KITCHEN DAUGHTER encompasses just about everything I love about today's women's fiction. It had well developed and complex characters, an intriguing storyline, gorgeous writing, and many thought-provoking themes. In addition, it had lots of recipes and a wonderful message about the power of food. Honestly, I don't think I can ask much more from a book.

In summary, THE KITCHEN DAUGHTER tells the story of Ginny, a woman in her mid-twenties who has unexpectedly lost both of her parents. To further complicate matters, Ginny has never lived on her own because she is awkward in social situations and most likely suffers from Asperger's. It's bad enough that Ginny is dealing with being alone without the support of her parents, but she is also battling her sister who wants to sell the house and have Ginny move in with her family. When Ginny begins discovering things about her parents' relationship, she ends up having even more questions about her past. It's through her love of cooking that she is finally able to get some answers.

I can't put my finger on the one thing that made this book so special to me -- it was the entire package. I just adored so many things about this novel. Ginny touched my heart like few characters do, and I absolutely fell in love with Ms. McHenry's writing. Her prose was just so special and I loved how she wove the theme of food throughout this story. The story is told from Ginny's point of view and there is no doubt that she captured this woman's voice perfectly. I especially appreciated how Ginny saw her world in terms of food. For example, she would describe paint colors, articles of clothing, etc. using different types of food as her reference point. And Ms. McHenry's actual descriptions of food were so vivid that I could almost smell and taste the recipes.

THE KITCHEN DAUGHTER was a wonderful story about how a woman dealt with loss, and at the same time, learned about her family and herself. So much of this book was just beautiful and it definitely affected me a great deal. I admit that I was a bit surprised that I liked the parts of the story where the "ghosts" appeared. Normally, I don't appreciate novels that contain elements of magical realism; however, it was such a beautiful, and crucial, part of Ginny's story -- and it worked so very well.

THE KITCHEN DAUGHTER would make the perfect book club book, and I'm guessing that it will be a favorite with book clubs for quite some time. There are so many themes that warrant further discussion including grief/loss, Asperger's syndrome/autism, family dynamics, parent/child relationships, sister relationships, self awareness, secrets, food, and forgiveness. In addition, there is the whole "spirit" element that might be fun to discuss. Check out this reading guide for even more ideas. Since the novel has numerous recipes at the beginning of many of the chapters, it might be fun to prepare a few of them and share with your friends. Some examples of recipes that I think would be perfect to serve at your book club meeting include Midnight Cry Brownies or The Georgia Peach, a delicious sounding cocktail. And Ms. McHenry even has book club menu ideas coming soon to her blog -- how great is that?

Every so often a book comes along that just makes me realize why I love reading so much. THE KITCHEN DAUGHTER is one of those books.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this wonderful novel.

The Georgia Peach

2 ounces peach schnapps
2 ounces orange juice
1 ounce amaretto
Grenadine (splash)

Combine schnapps, juice, and amaretto. Pour over a single ice cube in a martini glass. Splash in grenadine. Serves one as written. You might want to multiply.
 
Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page. For more information, see the welcome post.

15 comments:

Karlie said...

I can't wait to read this one! And the Georgia Peach drink sounds delicious!!

Angie said...

I've seen many good reviews for this book, but yours is the first one that's made me want to read it. Great review!

Dolly said...

Thanks for the great review - I've heard a lot about this book and I'm looking forward to reading it. Your enthusiasm really came through and I'm really excited about it now! (and a bit...thirsty?) :)

Sandy Nawrot said...

Hey if there is food involved, I'm immediately interested! I'm way behind the game on this one too. Just too darned many books pulling at my sleeves. I am really intrigued with the idea of being visited by the ghost of a recipe's owner. I'd love to hang with my Grandma again while making her pumpkin pie...

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I'm with Angie on this one - your review is the one that has made me want to read this!

TheBookGirl said...

Like you, I am somewhat late to the party on this one; I have it on my stack and haven't gotten around to it, but after reading your glowing review, I am definitely going to make time for this one pronto...one of your favorite books of the year is an endorsement I can't ignore :)

Eat, Drink and be like Mary said...

Thanks for the review, as a lover of books, food and old family recipes, I can't wait to read this one. I just ordered it from my local independent bookstore. Now I'm feeling inspired to get out my grandmothers recipe boxes and cook something up

bermudaonion said...

You know I adored this book, even thought I wanted things to turn out a little differently for Ginny. I can't wait to see what McHenry comes up with next. Your review is excellent!!

Lisa@ButteryBooks said...

I am going to have to try that Georgia Peach. Great review, I have not heard of this book yet, but I will definitely have to check it out.

Just Mom said...

Now I am craving a Georgia Peach! The book has gotten such good reviews - really enjoyed yours!

Peppermint Ph.D. said...

I've got this one on my WishList...I can't wait to read it!! I'd like to have one of those Georgia Peaches myself!! ;)

Mari said...

I enjoyed this one to, not as much as you but I did enjoy it.

Great review!

Beth F said...

I can't believe I haven't read this yet!! And I might have to sip a Georgia Peach on the deck when I finally dive into the novel.

Carol said...

Thanks for the review, I'm adding this to the book club list! The cocktail sounds so good!

Anita said...

Hi, I think this is my first visit by your blog, but what a beautiful review you have given this book. I too have seen it out there and read many reviews, but yours gives such a wonderful picture of the book. Thank you.