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Monday, June 17, 2019

Despite Appealing Story Elements, Chinatown Foodie Novel Missing Some Ingredients

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Natalie Tan has grown up hearing fond tales about her immigrant grandmother, an excellent cook who operated one of the most successful restaurants ever to exist in San Francisco's Chinatown.  Those who knew her rave about the magic that emanated from her signature dishes, an enchantment that brought the neighborhood together to be fed, belly and soul.  Growing up with her agoraphobic mother in the apartment above her grandmother's long-abandoned restaurant, Natalie dreamed of reviving the establishment, a fantasy that led to an 8-year estrangement between mother and daughter.  When Natalie's mother dies unexpectedly, leaving her only child everything she has, Natalie is shocked to realize that she now has everything she needs to finally make her dream come true—except the mother with whom she never reconciled.

Wracked with grief and guilt, Natalie vows to reopen the restaurant, not just to achieve her own dream but also to help revive the deteriorating neighborhood she once loved.  Armed with her laolao's recipe book, Natalie tries to recapture the magic that her grandmother wielded through the food she served to her friends and neighbors.  When Natalie's best-laid plans go terribly awry, she must search her family's past for clues as to how to save the future, not just for herself but for the once vibrant neighborhood she still loves so well.

Natalie Tan's Book of Luck & Fortune, a debut novel by Filipino-Chinese author Roselle Lim, offers lots of fun story elements—tantalizing food descriptions, the promise of family secrets coming to light, a drizzle of magical realism, and some good, old-fashioned mother/daughter drama.  A very appealing mixture.  Unfortunately, though, these different story threads just aren't woven together well enough to produce a cohesive whole.  The plot slogs on without enough tension to keep it exciting, the characters are underdeveloped and bland, and Lim's prose is way more tell than show.  I agree with other reviewers who say this one is missing something.  I wanted to be completely be-spelled by this novel and I just ... wasn't.  In the end, I found Natalie Tan's Book of Luck & Fortune to be an okay read, nothing more.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me a little of The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan and a bit of the Noodle Shop Mystery series by Vivien Chien [Death By Dumpling; Dim Sum of All Fears; Murder Lo Mein)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of Natalie Tan's Book of Luck & Fortune from the generous folks at Penguin Random House.  Thank you!


  1. I wasn't blown away, but I did find this to be a very charming and heartwarming tale. Solid for me. I would have liked more of the romance, but I enjoyed everything we did get.

  2. As soon as I read the magical realism description I knew this book would not be for me. I do with I liked that genre as I feel lit eliminates many books for me.


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