20 April 2011

The Kitchen Daughter, by Jael McHenry

Business travel this week in Minneapolis and Memphis has made me so homesick. I return to Florida on Friday, but tonight, I am in my hotel room in Memphis, listening to the rain and what I think might be a distant, yet intermittent, tornado siren. I've heard that there may be tornadoes tonight and so to find comfort in it all, I've closed my night with crying through the last few chapters of the heartfelt and endearing The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry.

Ginny Selvaggio is twenty-six years old, and she's spent her whole life comforted with food. But not eating food, instead making it. Taking recipes and creating dishes, searching food blogs and trying new things. She is an adventurer in her life by searching the internet and reading new food techniques to try out, but she is an adventurer only inside her house. She's never moved out of her parent's home, and with their recent, unexpected deaths, along with her sister wanting to sell the house and move Ginny into her home, Ginny's feeling a little overwhelmed.

To cooking she goes. The process of caramelizing onions reassures her, the smells of chocolate occupy her during moments of stress, figuring out how the combinations of a spice with something sweet will enhance each. This is how she copes with it all. And right now, the oddest thing is happening. When she makes the recipes of those who have died, they come back to visit, sitting on the stool in the kitchen, only staying long enough while the smell of their food lingers. And because she can interact with them, she asks them questions, putting her on a path to find out who she really is, to find out why she is the way she is.

Ginny is something most people aren't. She's literal. Blunt. If you tell her that she's beating around the bush, she'd probably be confused and, while not looking right at you, respond with something like "I'm not beating around a bush. I'm standing right here." Not surprisingly, this type of personality doesn't win her a lot of friends.

And because this book is about cooking, and especially cooking the recipes from family that mean the most, I want to write a clever post with analogies of Ginny's cooking and Jael McHenry's beautiful writing, because the story is a fulfilling creation that leaves the reader, the one consuming, satisfied and full with happiness. But then I want to stop myself because I think that's what everyone else would do. Then, I think, as long as I share with you this important fact from me, it will be okay: this is a book I loved. I loved the quirkiness of Ginny, the tough outer shell of her sister Amanda, the soft comfort of their housekeeper Gert, and Gert's son, the confused and heartbroken David. I read the last half in two hours, making mental notes of each recipe I'll be cooking in my kitchen this weekend when I get home. I already like to cook, but this story gave me an even deeper, more holistic and appreciative view of it. The creation of equal parts sadness, family, love, and food into one flourishing finish of a story that will be devoured quickly, left me with a craving for Jael McHenry's next book. 

If you like a dash of magical realism, along with cooking, recipes thrown into it all, then I'm pretty sure you'll like this book.

About the Author
Jael McHenry is a talented and enthusiastic amateur cook who grew up in Michigan and Iowa before moving from city to city along the East Coast: Boston, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and now New York, where she blogs about food and cooking at the Simmer blog, http://simmerblog.typepad.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. In her senior year at Tufts University she appeared as a semi-finalist on the “Jeopardy!” College Championship, where she made a killing in consolation prizes. The Kitchen Daughter is her first novel.

Visit the author on her website by clicking here.
Follow the author on Twitter by clicking here.
Visit The Kitchen Daughter on Facebook by clicking here.
Many thanks to Lisa with TLC Book Tours for giving me the opportunity to read this book. Upcoming tour stops are listed below - if you haven't visited the blogs below, now is the time!
All of the blogs reviewing this book and other books on tour can be found by clicking here.

Monday, April 11th:  girlichef
Wednesday, April 13th:  Mockingbird Hill Cottage
Thursday, April 14th:  She is Too Fond of Books
Friday, April 15th:  Book Club Classics!
Monday, April 18th:  The Singleton in the Kitchen
Tuesday, April 19th:  Back to Books
Wednesday, April 20th:  Coffee and a Book Chick
Thursday, April 21st:  Books Like Breathing
Monday, April 25th:  Simply Stacie
Tuesday, April 26th:  Book Reviews by Molly
Wednesday, April 27th:  Kahakai Kitchen
Thursday, April 28th:  2 Kids and Tired
Monday, May 2nd:  The Brain Lair
Tuesday, May 3rd:  Stephanie’s Written Word
Friday, May 6th:  Book Addiction
Monday, May 9th:  Farmgirl Fare
Tuesday, May 10th:  Overstuffed
Wednesday, May 11th:  Books, Movies, and Chinese Food
Friday, May 13th:  The Literate Housewife Review


  1. Whoa it sounds fantastic and like something I should most definitely try.

  2. I concur! The book was delicious in many ways.

  3. What a delicious-sounding book!! Great review, thank you so much for being on the tour. I'm glad the book was a comfort while you were away from home.

  4. Kathy also really liked this book and mentioned that this book might make one of her favorites for this year. I love that it is so inspiring, but really, since it is a foodie book, I am bound to read it at some point. Fantastic and thorough review, Natalie! I am glad to hear you add your voice to the others who loved this one!

  5. This sounds fantastic! I like that the author includes the internet/food blogs in the story. So many novels centered around food and cooking don't really mention these. For me, this makes it more believable than just 'knowing' how to create spectacular dishes. I'm definitely adding to my list now!

  6. I adored this book too! I can't wait to see what McHenry comes up with next.

  7. I can't get to this soon enough. I've got a couple I have to read first but this is bumping it's way up the line.

  8. Awww!!! I love books like this. Thanks for a wonderfully thoughtful review. And that cover is AWESOME! Might suggest this one for our next BookClubSandwich discussion.

  9. Oh my. Just the thought of making a recipe from my grandmother, for example, and having her sit on a barstool and visit with me. That is almost overwhelming! I've read several reviews of total gushing about this book. This is one of those times where I would say "to hell with the two million books on my shelves! I must read it!"

  10. mmm, this looks like the book i need right now. i don't enjoy cooking in the least but love to taste my husband's and friend's creations and i love to read so thank you for the great suggestion!

  11. Wow, I'd love to read this one - but not when I'm hungry! Great review :)

  12. This sounds like it was the perfect book for you to take your mind off of being homesick. I'm adding this one to my list to read in the future.

  13. I have heard so many good things about this novel and your wonderful review is one of them. I'm anxious to read my copy that is sitting on my nightstand. It sounds like a fast read.

  14. This sounds like a really great book! Great review :)

  15. I hadn't heard of this, but I love foodie titles, so I'll definitely pick this one up!

  16. I haven't ever heard of this one but I definitely think this would be right up my alley! I find myself looking books dealing with food! lol Excellent review!

  17. I loved this book! Great review!!

  18. This ones definitely going on my wishlist.

  19. A very lovely review -- and I'm shocked I've never heard of this one before. Definitely adding it to my wishlist! And I adore the cover!

  20. Wasn't this a wonderful book? I just ate it up and I know it's one I'm going to re-read. I'm also going to try some of those recipes!
    2 Kids and Tired Books