Saturday, August 16, 2014

'A Table by the Window' by Hillary Manton Lodge

A Table by the Window: A Novel of Family Secrets and Heirloom Recipes The youngest heir to a French-Italian restaurant dynasty, food writer Juliette D’Alisa has spent her life negotiating her skill with words and her restaurant aspirations. When her brother Nico offers her a chance to open a restaurant together, she feels torn—does she really have what it takes? Should she risk leaving her journalism career?

After the death of her grandmother, Juliette discovers an antique photograph of a man who looks strikingly like her brother. As the truth behind the picture reveals romance and dark secrets, Juliette struggles to keep the mystery away from her nosy family until she can uncover the whole story.

Inspired by her grandmother’s evolving story, Juliette resolves to explore the world of online dating. To her surprise, she finds a kindred spirit in Neil McLaren, a handsome immunologist based in Memphis, Tennessee. With a long-distance relationship simmering, Juliette faces life-shifting decisions. How can she possibly choose between a promising culinary life and Neil, a man a world away in more ways than one? And is it possible her Grandmother’s story can help show the way?

Juliette D'Alisa is in her late twenties and destined to be a foodie in some capacity, coming from a family such as hers. She's trying to figure out whether she should grasp the opportunity to help her brother set up a new restaurant, or keep her job as a food writer with the opportunity to branch out into morning TV segments. She also faces the sudden challenge of trying to keep up a long-distance relationship with a man who seems to tick all her boxes. To thicken the plot, a mysterious old photo has shown up in her recently deceased grandmother's possessions, of a man who looked the image of one of Juliette's brothers.

The D'Alisa family is fun to read about. With their French and Italian gourmet heritage, they really do live to eat, instead of eating to live. I love how they give their full attention to food, appreciating every subtle flavour and texture of what goes into their mouths. The recipes at the end of several chapters make a nice touch. We see the characters enjoying something delicious during the story, then get the opportunity to cook it for ourselves if we wish to. How's that for a multi-dimensional novel? The only thing I could think to add would be scratch and smell pages.

I like the way books with foodie themes challenge me to get enthusiastic about cooking. I was impressed by Juliette's habit of caring for herself by cooking good, yummy food, even during the parts when she lived alone. I was reading on my kindle, and have several locations recorded for risotto, French chocolate cake, lemon scented polenta cookies and lavender honey pound cake. The D'Alisa family came across as so suave and svelte, but I'm sure I'd be extra pudgy if I ate the way they did.

The story shows the food business, although a labour of love, may be particularly hard on relationships, requiring its own type of sacrifice. Juliette's experiences can't help making us think about the pros and cons of working at jobs we dread facing, just because of the apparent prestige and esteem. I like the decision she came to. Her story got me thinking about how our positions in the family may impact our personalities, simply because each sibling has different treatment and expectations according to their birth order. Like Juliette, I share the experience of being the youngest sibling.

The story seems to end at a sudden spot, where we don't know what will happen to her and her loved-ones next, but as it's meandered gently along, just like life itself, it's not that big a surprise. I think the second book in the series is soon to be released, and I can't help being curious.

Thanks to Water Brook Multnomah and Blogging for Books for giving me a review copy.

4 stars. 

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