Billie Breslin has quit school and moved to New York to take a job at Delicious!, a venerable and iconic food magazine. Billie has an extraordinary palate and hopes that her job as an assistant at the magazine will turn into a proving ground for her writing. And although her recipe for gingerbread is what secured her the job, she most emphatically doesn't cook herself. There's clearly a reason for this but Billie holds it close to her chest. She settles into the magazine happily, building deep friendships, learning the trade, and having the opportunity to write articles about the amazing people and fantastic things happening in the world of food.
While she works at the magazine, she also works weekends at a wonderful old fashioned Italian deli called Fontanari's where she is folded into the family. After a year at Delicious!, she, like everyone at the magazine, is taken by surprise when the owner decides to close the magazine, one of his father's original publications. Only Billie is kept on in the deserted, historic mansion to field calls and letters about the Delicious! recipe guarantee. One query about an old recipe sends her into the long locked library in the building. While there, she stumbles on a hidden room and files containing fascinating WWII era letter from a young girl named Lulu Swan to famed chef and writer James Beard who once worked at Delicious!. Hunting down the entire set of letters before the now deserted mansion is sold becomes a driving force for Billie, fellow Delicious! writer friend Sammy, and finally the architectural historian called in to look at the house, Mitch, who is also longtime customer at Fontanari's and eventually Billie's boyfriend.
Set up very much like a romantic comedy movie centered around food, the novel is charming. It is one part love letter to local food purveyors in NYC, one part mystery, one part tragedy, and one part love story. Told both through letters that Billie writes to her much adored, perfect older sister Genie, and through first person narration, the story clips along at a good pace. Billie's eventual revelations about Cake Sisters and her past isn't all that surprising but it isn't really the heart of the novel anyway. The letters from Lulu to James Beard and the mystery of them is truly the main course here. Lulu's letters are delightful and they give a uncomplicated and interesting look into life in Akron during the war in a family where the father has gone off to fight. She captures the sadness and uncertainty of the time beautifully while her requests for wartime recipes and food advice under rationing are truly fascinating. The novel unnecessarily veers away from Billie's search for the rest of the letters and into romance novel territory a bit with Billie and Mitch's relationship. While their relationship helps Billie to grow and mature as a character, the details of their intimate encounters don't really move the plot along. But Reichl does get back on plot, tying up many of the loose ends in a light and satisfactory way. The novel will make you salivate over all of the fantastic food descriptions and luckily Billie's gingerbread recipe is included at the end so you can make your own luscious cake while you think about the tasty novel on which you've just closed the cover.
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Thanks to Lisa from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.