Synopses & Reviews
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
Ruth Reichl is a born storyteller. Through her restaurant reviews, where she celebrated the pleasures of a well-made meal, and her bestselling memoirs that address our universal feelings of love and loss, Reichl has achieved a special place in the hearts of hundreds of thousands of readers. Now, with this magical debut novel, she has created a sumptuous, wholly realized world that will enchant you.
Billie Breslin has traveled far from her home in California to take a job at Delicious!, New York’s most iconic food magazine. Away from her family, particularly her older sister, Genie, Billie feels like a fish out of water—until she is welcomed by the magazine’s colorful staff. She is also seduced by the vibrant downtown food scene, especially by Fontanari’s, the famous Italian food shop where she works on weekends. Then Delicious! is abruptly shut down, but Billie agrees to stay on in the empty office, maintaining the hotline for reader complaints in order to pay her bills.
To Billie’s surprise, the lonely job becomes the portal to a miraculous discovery. In a hidden room in the magazine’s library, Billie finds a cache of letters written during World War II by Lulu Swan, a plucky twelve-year-old, to the legendary chef James Beard. Lulu’s letters provide Billie with a richer understanding of history, and a feeling of deep connection to the young writer whose courage in the face of hardship inspires Billie to comes to terms with her fears, her big sister and her ability to open her heart to love.
Praise for Tender at the Bone
“While all good food writers are humorous . . . few are so riotously, effortlessly entertaining as Ruth Reichl.”—The New York Times Book Review
“A poignant, yet hilarious, collection of stories about people [Reichl] has known and loved, and who, knowingly or unknowingly, steered her on the path to fulfill her destiny as one of the world’s leading food writers.”—Chicago Sun-Times
Praise for Comfort Me with Apples
“The book’s charm emerges through Reichl’s writing, her observations and her amazing ability to capture people in a few memorable sentences. . . . You just have to read it.”—USA Today
“Reads not like life described but like life lived . . . Each story affirms [Reichl’s] desire to get beyond the surface, even as she celebrates its unlikely depths.”—The New York Times
"Former New York Times restaurant critic and Gourmet editor Reichl's (Tender at the Bone) first foray into fiction is like an iced white cake. It follows a traditional recipe, it is really sweet, and it is dull. A young California woman named Billie Breslin (a barely disguised Reichl) lands a job at a food magazine called Delicious! in New York City just before it is shuttered by budget-minded bigwigs. As part of an interim position fielding calls and correspondence from subscribers, Billie stays on as the lone employee in the old mansion from which the magazine was published for years. A stock character named Sammy, the fey former travel editor for the mag, leads her to a beautiful library on an upstairs floor, where they uncover letters written to the famous James Beard from a girl named Lulu during the Second World War letters that have been hidden in a secret chamber by a long-gone librarian named Bertie. Billie embarks upon a scavenger hunt for the remaining the letters, and, in the end, on a journey to find their aging author. In order to get in as much foodie language as possible, Reichl has Billie working at a deli in Little Italy on the weekends, where she meets Mr. Complainer, her love interest. Though Reichl is a marvelous food writer, the language used here is often cloying. (May)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
In her New York Times bestselling memoirs Tender at the Bone and Comfort Me with Apples, Ruth Reichl has brilliantly illuminated how food defines us. Now she celebrates this theme in her dazzling fiction debut—a novel of sisters, family ties, and a young woman who must find the courage to let go of the past in order to embrace her own true gifts.
About the Author
Ruth Reichl is the bestselling author of Tender at the Bone and Comfort Me with Apples. She was editor in chief of Gourmet magazine for ten years. She lives in New York City with her husband, son, and two cats.
Reading Group Guide
1. Billie eventually writes about Sal's as if it's "a way of life." Do you have a favorite establishment that you would describe similarly? What is it like, and how does it make you feel?
2. Mrs. Cloverly’s disastrous concoctions are even funnier because she’s unfazed by failure. She seems to keep trudging forward, turning ever-less-palatable dishes out of her kitchen. Have you encountered such a cook? What is the most astonishingly—and hilariously—unappetizing dish you’ve ever been served?
3. Diana and Sammy's friendships help the formerly-contained Billie become more confident. Has a friend ever given you the courage to be more fully yourself? What did you reveal?
4. Try to imagine a story that Sammy might have written for Delicious! Where in the world is he, and what is he writing about?
5. Lulu’s letters teach Billie about the relentless uncertainty endured by the people on the homefront during World War II. She learns that Lulu finds solace in cooking with Mrs. Cappuzzelli and for her mother. Can you remember a meal that helped get you through a particularly painful moment? Where were you? Who were you with? And what was the meal?
6. Rationing changed the way Americans ate. Lulu throws herself into this new food landscape, experimenting with unfamiliar vegetables like milkweed and pumpkin leaves. What would you make if you had no butter, meat, or dairy? What would you forage for?
7. If you had a victory garden, what would you grow?
8. Do you have friends or family who remember what it was like to eat during World War II? What stories have they shared with you?
9. Lulu writes: “When Mother, Mr. Jones and I were walking through those strange, crowded downtown streets, where people were sticking their hands into pickle barrels, pointing to smoked fish, and eating sliced herring, I saw the scene in a whole new way. They weren’t buying food: They were finding their way home.” What foods feel like home to you?
10. As the book closes, what does Billie discover she owes Genie?