Set in England during World War II, Jennifer Ryan’s The Kitchen Front follows four very different women as they compete in a cooking contest sponsored by “The Kitchen Front,” a BBC radio program. The winner will earn a slot as the first ever female co-host of the show. The contestants include war widow Audrey; her sister, Gwendoline, the wife of a wealthy older man; kitchen maid Nell; and Zelda, a skilled chef. Ryan’s excellent use of historical detail and gifts for character and plot development will draw readers in, and after they finish this heartwarming novel, they’ll be able to discuss engaging topics such as female agency and women’s roles during wartime.
Focusing on life at the fictional Beijing Duck House in Rockville, Maryland, Lillian Li’s Number One Chinese Restaurant is a sly, compassionate portrayal of the culinary world. Owner Jimmy Han, whose father made the Duck House a success, is making plans to move on to a flashier restaurant. The novel’s intricate plot involves members of Jimmy’s extended family, as well as a wide range of Duck House staff. Love affairs, back-of-house drama and a restaurant fire all figure into the entertaining proceedings, and questions concerning community, identity and class will inspire great reading group dialogue.
Donia Bijan’s The Last Days of Café Leila tells the story of Noor, who goes home to Iran after spending many years in America. In Tehran, her father, Zod, runs the family business, Café Leila. The return compels Noor to come to terms with her troubled marriage and reassess her life. At the heart of the novel lies Café Leila and the comfort it provides through food and camaraderie. Bijan’s nuanced depiction of modern-day Iran offers abundant subjects for book club discussion, including family ties, immigration and Iranian history.
In The Secret French Recipes of Sophie Valroux by Samantha Vérant, talented chef Sophie Valroux works hard in hopes of one day heading up a world-class restaurant. But when her culinary career falls apart and her beloved grandmother in France has a stroke, Sophie is forced to reevaluate her life, her values and her love for cooking. Brimming with delicious recipes, Vérant’s novel is a compelling tribute to food and family. Themes of female independence, foodie culture and the nature of the restaurant business make this a sensational selection for book groups.