A Table by the Window by Hillary Manton Lodge
“Foodista: Someone who loves food in the same vein as fashionista.” Urban Dictionary
Are you a foodie or a foodista? If you are, you are sure to enjoy this book, if for no other reason than to try the delectable recipes included at the end of each chapter. If you are like me, not a foodie or a foodista, but you like good character-building books, you may enjoy this one for its unique voice: a family bigger than life, Mediterranean culture, fine dining, and heart. Just think about the movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, but steeped in Italian and French culture and tradition instead.
Juliette’s mother was from France and her father from Italy. They met on the plane to America where they were traveling in efforts to establish their independence. They settled in Portland and became a restaurant family. That is, according to Juliette, when “restaurant” becomes the third person in the marriage. It worked for her parents, but it didn’t appeal to Jules. Grand-mere followed after Grand-pere’s death and Juliette’s sisters were born. Being a gifted bakery chef herself, she also settled in Portland and opened up a patisserie (bakery) called La Petite Chouquette. The D’Alisa’s were a big, boisterous tri-lingual family.
Juliette was the youngest of five siblings and like most of her family trained as a chef. But her choice of employment was food writing. She was a food critic. She had gotten her start writing a food blog and she was good at what she did.
Still, Jules was lonely. Her family pushed guys at her, threw out subtle (and not so subtle) hints, but being the typical youngest child, she rebelled. She wanted someone of her own choosing, preferably not someone in the restaurant business. She desired someone who would see her for herself, so she signed up with an online dating website. She kept her dating life a secret from her family, but it still opened up a can of worms eventually.
Like any other twenty-something adult, Juliette had a lot to juggle from day to day. After celebrating a 96th birthday, her grandmother died. She was so vital that it took the entire family by surprise. One day, Jules was looking through her Grand- mere’s French cookbook when she discovered a mystery–the picture of a man who looked very much like her brother, Nico. She wanted to investigate this unknown relative but decided to keep it to herself when during one family dinner her maman announced she had stage 3 cancer. She didn’t want to add to the family distress.
Jules, dealing with her high maintenance dramatic family, involved in a secret dating relationship, working a stressful job, handling a mother with cancer, deciding whether to partner with her brother in opening up a new restaurant, grieving the loss of her grand-mere, and suffering an identity crisis provides a moving plot line for the book.
What made this book special for me was the way the author combines family dynamics with Old World charm and wit. The book is pure artistry. The family’s warmth and love for each other is never in question. But Juliette struggles with her place and purpose within the family structure. Dating outside the family niche is one way she explores her potential.
The online correspondence between Juliette and Neil is written in a sweet and touching manner. It was a joy to follow their growing relationship because it fit the atmosphere the author created in this book–a bit of old-fashioned courtesy and elegance. Neil himself is southern charm embodied and intelligent. When they finally met in person, I couldn’t help but want their long distance relationship to step up a notch and become real for them.
The author’s sense of humor is another reason I enjoyed this book. The story is warm, witty, and draws the reader into the family circle effortlessly as welcomed guest. There are many laugh out loud moments and times when we get inside Juliette’s head and see her circumstances from her point of view.
This is not necessarily a true romance, in my opinion. In most of the content we only know about Jule’s side of the relationship, so I would label this book as women’s fiction and contemporary literature, with light romantic elements. My guess is that there will be a second book in which Neil and Juliette resolve their long distance dilemma. If that’s true, then I’m looking forward to reading that book. I hope it has more of Neil’s story in it, because I like his character. He sounds perfect for Juliette.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from Blogging for Books on behalf of Waterbrook Press. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”