Monday, April 25, 2016

The Glass Kitchen by Linda Francis Lee

Reviewed by Ambrea

Portia Cuthcart always dreamed of running the Glass Kitchen.  Like her grandmother, who founded the restaurant decades ago, she had a mysterious gift—an innate knowledge, dubbed simply as the knowing—that gave her ability to cook meals she didn’t even know she needed to cook.  But after suffering an unspeakable tragedy and several stinging betrayals by her husband and her supposed best friend, Portia packs up her life and moves across the country to Manhattan.

And she vows never to cook again.

She moves into an old brownstone on the Upper West Side, her legacy leftover from her eccentric aunt, and meets twelve-year-old April and her father, Gabriel.  Uncertain about her feelings for Gabriel—and her involvement in his daughters’ lives—Portia finds herself reluctantly drawn back into the world of cooking as she attempts to earn extra cash as his cook and set up a new business with her sisters.  But when her life starts to fall apart a second time, will Portia be able to pick up the pieces and put her life back together again?

Let me say up front, I loved The Glass Kitchen.  I loved everything about Linda Francis Lee’s novel:  characters, story, pace, tone—everything.  The descriptions were wonderful, luscious and full of food imagery that connected with me on a personal level.  I love food, so I just couldn’t help but love that Portia likens all of her experiences and emotions to food, since that’s what she knows best with her inexplicable knowing.  I thought the author did an excellent job of connecting the dots and appealing to my enjoyment of food, especially Southern food.

I also loved Portia’s mysterious family gift, her magical sense of knowing.  It immediately brings to mind Sarah Addison Allen and her style of writing:  vibrant, fun, and threaded with a little bit of magic that makes the novel shine just a little bit brighter.  Portia’s knowing adds an element of adventure and complexity to the novel, adding a special spark that makes The Glass Kitchen that much more enjoyable.  It’s a relatable story about turning over a new leaf, starting over and picking up the pieces, but it has that hint of magic that makes it whimsical without being overly fantastical.

And I enjoyed watching the progression of the sisters’ relationship.  Their interactions seem genuine:  Olivia, Rose, and Portia fight and fuss, but, ultimately, they forgive one another and make up.  They’re family, so it’s only natural that they disagree, that they’re brutally honest (which can sometimes hurt) and grumpy, but they love one another—and that’s what matters most in the end.  It’s such a sweet dynamic, because it’s just the sort of easy relationship that siblings can hope to have.

Overall, I loved reading The Glass Kitchen.  It hit all the right notes for me, bringing together all the qualities I love in a narrative and telling it in a compelling, beautiful way that keeps me hooked from cover to cover.  It is a bit of an odd story and tragedy is an integral part of it—between Portia’s very public divorce and a very personal loss that scarred her emotionally and physically, Portia can’t seem to catch a break—but I definitely enjoyed reading this novel.  I simply can’t wait to read more by Linda Francis Lee.

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