Title: Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune
Author: Roselle Lim
Date published: June 11, 2019
DNF @ : 37%
At the news of her mother’s death, Natalie Tan returns home. The two women hadn’t spoken since Natalie left in anger seven years ago, when her mother refused to support her chosen career as a chef. Natalie is shocked to discover the vibrant neighborhood of San Francisco’s Chinatown that she remembers from her childhood is fading, with businesses failing and families moving out. She’s even more surprised to learn she has inherited her grandmother’s restaurant.
The neighborhood seer reads the restaurant’s fortune in the leaves: Natalie must cook three recipes from her grandmother’s cookbook to aid her struggling neighbors before the restaurant will succeed. Unfortunately, Natalie has no desire to help them try to turn things around–she resents the local shopkeepers for leaving her alone to take care of her agoraphobic mother when she was growing up. But with the support of a surprising new friend and a budding romance, Natalie starts to realize that maybe her neighbors really have been there for her all along.
I really tried to read this book. At one point, I was convinced I would keep reading it until the end even though I already had a list of criticisms of it that was about a mile long, because there was something about it that made me want to know what happened even though I had a thousand and one gripes with it. But, about 1-2% after that point in my eARC, I noticed I was skimming way too much to be considered reading the book and decided to put more effort into convincing myself it was fine to DNF a book I was HATING than into continuing a book that was making me roll my eyes every other paragraph.
So, friends, enemies, and frenemies, prepare yourselves for a major rant about Roselle Lim’s debut, NATALIE TAN’S BOOK OF LUCK AND FORTUNE…
One of the biggest issues I had with this book was the writing. I know it’s a debut, but…you could REALLY, SERIOUSLY tell that it was a debut. The writing style was awkward and stilted and didn’t read naturally to me at all. I almost said “especially the dialogue,” but honestly, the whole thing was a mess in terms of the writing. But the dialogue. OMG. It was so terrible.
Take Natalie and Daniel’s (barf) first meeting, for instance. SO MANY CLICHES in single sentences. It was also weirdly formal but too familiar at the same time? ALSO on the note of Natalie and Daniel…the fact that Lim had Natalie describe watching Daniel eat as “akin to pornography” was just…wtf??? Like, I get that Natalie is a chef and food is her life, but that is just weird. Their romance was also MAJORLY instalovey. After one meeting, Celia describes Daniel as Natalie’s “love” and they barely said any words to each other that were not about her food! They had a totally normal service/customer interaction and Natalie is all hot and bothered because she watched him eat and he complimented her dumplings! I just…could not with their budding romance.
On the note of cliches and romance…I didn’t get why Natalie was so averse to romance? The only explanation given is that she wanted to leave her lovers before they left her, which is super contrived and cliche. I think Lim wanted to connect Natalie’s love problems to her father leaving…yet she never showed how not having her father in her life affected her.
Similarly, I was confused as to what Natalie’s relationship with her mother was actually like during her childhood. She starts suddenly having all these formerly repressed happy memories when she cooks her Laolao’s food and spending time with the neighbors, but it is also made somewhat clear that Natalie resented her mother. There weren’t a lot of scenes from her childhood, so I was confused about whether Natalie always had a resentment toward her mother or if it only started when her mother refused to support her restaurant dreams.
I also really questioned Natalie’s motives for helping her neighbors. After helping two of them, she mentions that she only has one more neighbor to help before the prophecy made by Miss Tsai can be fulfilled and she can be successful with her restaurant endeavors. It didn’t seem to me that she genuinely cared about helping the neighbors or their problems; she just wants to fulfill her own dreams and desires by any means necessary. It just seemed that her motives to help her neighbors were mostly selfish and not motivated by any real kindness or affection for them.
The prophecy and the “magical realism” that the book tried to produce also didn’t feel natural to me. It all seemed very literal and awkward and didn’t fit into the story as seamlessly as other magical realism books I’ve read. The writing to me felt very contemporary realism, and I had a hard time reconciling that with the magic in the book. I wish that the book had been written in a different style that felt more “magical,” because the magic really didn’t seem to fit with how the book was being written.
Another thing that irked me was how detailed the food descriptions were. I didn’t need the recipe and then a detailed rundown of Natalie herself making every single recipe in the book. I don’t think Lim needed to describe every component and step for every dish that was brought up in the story. I found myself eventually skipping those parts even though I liked them at first because there were too many of them and they were too long and didn’t add to the story.
This is the longest DNF review I’ve ever written, but obviously, I had a LOT of thoughts as to why it was so bad. Honestly, I’m kind of shocked it was published at all, which I know is harsh, but seriously. The writing in this book needs a lot of work, and this could’ve used a ton more editing. It really read like a first draft and the craft was just not there. I had such high hopes for this book, but unfortunately, it really fell apart for me and I can’t say I’d recommend it.