Hello, friends. Today I am reviewing The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry for TLC Book Tours. As always, I am provided with a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.
About The Kitchen Daughter:
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.
About the author:
Jael McHenry is a talented and enthusiastic amateur cook who blogs about food and cooking at the SIMMER blog, http://simmerblog.com. She is a monthly pop culture columnist and Editor-in-Chief of Intrepid Media, online at intrepidmedia.com. Her work has appeared in publications such as the North American Review, Indiana Review, and the Graduate Review at American University, where she earned her MFA in Creative Writing. She lives in New York City.
I dream of writing a novel some day. And I imagine the words I would want to read in a review are: “I couldn’t put it down!” Well – I couldn’t put this wonderfully written novel down. Jael McHenry has written a beautiful story – of love, loss, finding oneself, magic, mystery, cooking and family. Ginny, our protagonist, has been protected by her parents because of her inability to relate in a ‘normal’ manner to other people, to certain sounds, to physical touch. When her parents die unexpectedly, she is forced to come to terms with who she really is. That is a simple two sentence recap of the story. But there is so much more. Ginny loves to cook. She finds refuge and creativity in the process of cooking. It is her anchor. As she attempts to deal with the loss of her parents, cooking provides a necessary solace. When she is feeling scared or threatened, she visualizes the texture of foods, the way the food tastes, the steps in a recipe. That remembrance calms her. McHenry writes beautifully about food – the smells, tastes, textures. Anyone who loves cooking will love the beautifully written descriptions of creating a dish as well as the recipes that are included.
There is a magical element throughout the book. Ghosts appear with tantalizing words of advice; a few words here, an unfinished sentence there. As Ginny struggles to put it all together, to find the answer, you will find yourself cheering her on. As I grew to know Ginny, I was struck by the realization that we are all damaged in some way. Finding our truth, discovering who we really are and emerging triumphant in a world that wants to ‘name’ our problems, to narrowly confine us to a ‘category,’ is a challenge we all face. When we can do that, as Ginny ultimately does, we can fly.
This story takes place in Philadelphia. As some of you know, I went to graduate school in Philadelphia. As I was reading the description of Ginny’s house, which is on a block called “Portico Row,” something made me Google it because I thought it sounded awfully familiar. It turns out to be on Spruce Street between 9th and 10th. I lived on Spruce and 10th during my first year in Philly. I walked by those homes every day! I knew that neighborhood intimately so it was a double pleasure to read about it in this novel.
Jael McHenry has created a most wonderful character in Ginny. She has perfectly captured the way her mind works, how she protects herself in moments of stress, how she struggles to cope in a world that doesn’t understand her. I fell a little in love with Ginny. And isn’t that what one wants to do when reading a great story? My hat is off to the author. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
Good news: the publisher has graciously offered a free copy of The Kitchen Daughter to one lucky reader of this post. If you are interested, please leave a comment. The comment has to be on this post. I will pick a winner on Saturday evening, April 16th.