Saturday, April 06, 2013

From the Kitchen of Half Truths by Maria Goodin

After a few weeks off, I am back for Weekend Cooking. I actually had a book that I intended to review last weekend but I got a bit obsessed by something else so now that book will be up for next weekend....or at least that is the plan anyway!

When this book was first released on Netgalley I requested it straight away because I knew that it would be a perfect read for Weekend Cooking. When the invite to participate in the publisher organised blog tour came, I jumped at that opportunity as well because it would give me that additional impetus to actually read and review the book, and here we are! It worked!

Everything that Meg May knows about herself comes from the stories that she has been told for years by her mother. She knows that her father was a French pastry chef who died soon after her conception after an unfortunate pastry making accident, that she was caught in a frying pan when she was born, that she was so small that she was left on the window sill to ripen, that the scar on her head came from a crab's pincer that was accidentally left in a crab cake.

The other thing she knows is that most of what her mother, Valerie, tells her is not true. She learnt this the hard way when she was a young girl and was ostracised by other children due to some of the stories that she repeated at school. Now Meg is as far from being like her mother as she can be. Whereas Valerie lives in a dream world where making toad in the hole is difficult because the toads won't stay put, or where runner beans run, Meg is a scientist. She wants everything to be backed up by solid data and proof and has no time for whimsical stories. Fortunately her scientist boyfriend Mark is also everything solid, sensible and logical. Of course, to the reader, he is also rigid and boring. After all, this is a man who thinks that Meg's top priority should be to question her mother, and so he buys her a book called TALK! saying "It's by some guy who used to be in the Special Air Services. It's all about interrogation techniques."

When Meg learns that her mother is terminally ill, she knows that it is her responsibility to come home and look after her. It may also be her last chance to find out once and for all who she is, if only she can get her mother to give her some facts. Valerie is, however, in denial, at least to Meg, and is determined to make the most of the time she has with her daughter and wanting to share her recipes with her daughter.

She apparently decided, during her short period of bed rest, that the time has come for me to learn her recipes, and she's on a military-style mission to teach me.

"I could put off teaching you for another year, and then another year, but what's the point?" she said yesterday. "I don't want to wait until I'm an old lady to teach you." I came down this morning to find the work surfaces packed with ingredients and a schedule of what we will be cooking over the coming week stuck to the refrigerator. She has literally crammed the next seven days full of cooking lessons. I'm not sure I understand the schedule correctly, but she doesn't seem to have left us any time to eat or sleep.

"I'm really tired. Can we have a rest?"

"We can rest once we have made the maple-syrup-and-pecan muffins."

"But I don't need to know all this stuff," I say wearily.

"Cooking is not a matter of need, Meg. It's a matter of desire, of passion. You don't just cook because you have to: you cook for the pure joy of it. Now, have you sliced the potatoes?" "But maybe we could just cook one thing a day." "That's not going to teach you anything.. There are so many lovely recipes I want you to learn. We have so many to cover."

"Couldn't you just write them down?"

"That's not the same! I need to show you personally. You need to know how to make the perfect passion fruit cheesecake and the sweetest grape-and-white-wine jelly. It's all in the mixing: it's all in the blending. How can I write that down? I can't. I need to pass it on properly. I need to show you myself!"

My mother is scaring me. She seems frantic, crazed, grabbing the celery and the knife from me and chopping at a hundred miles an hour, sending pieces of celery flying through the air and scattering across the worktop.

"You need to listen to me, Meg. You need to watch and learn." "But why do I?"

"Because you need to, that's why! You need to know how to do these things. You need to know all the things I have learned. You need to remember!"

She bangs the knife down on the chopping board, frustrated, suddenly looking close to tears.

"Remember what?" I ask.

She is breathing fast, her face flushed and full of distress. She stares at the tiny pieces of celery scattered across the chopping board as if she is trying to decipher some sort of patter. I gently touch her shoulder. "I will remember," I say softly. She closes her eyes and takes a deep breath, the tension slowly leaving her body. Then she turns to me, searching my face as if she doesn't understand what I have just said, as if she can't remember what just happened.

I carefully pick up the knife. "Tell me what to do next."

The opportunity for Meg to find out more about who she really is comes when she finds an old flyer for a band that includes an address. Suddenly Meg is afraid of what it might be that she will find out if she starts asking questions, but encouraged (or more precisely bulldozed) into it by Mark, she does. And she doesn't necessarily like what she finds out.

As well as being full of foodie moments, this book also addresses the power of story to help people cope with terrible events in their life, and to explain life in general. One of the key components in the story that helps with this is the gardener, Ewan. When Meg first meets Ewan, she assumes that he is something of a lazy man who is taking advantage of her mother, but she comes to learn that just because he doesn't meet her own definition of being successful, what he does know is how to be true to himself. At first Meg is dismissive of him and completely uninterested as he starts to tell her some of the Greek legends, for example the one about Pandora and her box, and eventually she begins to see how these myths have helped humankind explain life for hundreds of years.

This was a very enjoyable read. I loved the stories of the food coming to life (so much fun), and the way that the food that Valerie made drew the people around her both to her and to each other in due course.

There were elements that were a bit more problematic. Mark, for example, was pretty much a one dimensional character, and the romance was a little bit obvious but it was still a very pleasant and easy to read book!

It is interesting to note that this is a book that has several titles. It was originally published in the UK under the title Nutmeg. In Australia, it is called The Storyteller's Daughter and in the US, which is the version I read, From the Kitchen of Half Truth. Of those titles, I that the Australian title is the most representative of the book, but possibly the least imaginative of the titles.

In the synopsis of the American version (shown below), this book is compared to Chocolat by Joanne Harris and School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister. While I can see how you might compare the three books, this one is not quite magical realism which I have seen in Chocolat, and yet it is far more whimsical than Erica Bauermeister's books. Another author that might be an apt comparison is Sara Addison-Allen. What this book does have in common with those two books is the idea of the power of food to bring people together and to ignite the senses.

Rating 4/5


Infused with the delicious warmth of Chocolat and captivating feeling of School of Essential Ingredients, FROM THE KITCHEN OF HALF TRUTH is the warm, tender story of Meg, who can’t convince her cooking-obsessed, fairy-tale loving mother to reveal a thing about their past, even as sickness threatens to hide those secrets forever. Driven to spend one last summer with her mother, Meg must face a choice between what’s real and what we make real, exploring the power of the stories we tell ourselves in order to create the lives we want.

Tour Details

Check out the other stops on the tour below:

April 1 – Luxury Reading
April 2 – Laura’s Reviews
April 4 – A Bookish Affair
April 5 – Mrs. Condit Reads Books
April 6 – Adventures of an Intrepid Reader
April 8 – Cocktails and Books
April 9 – Library of Clean Reads
April 10 - Broken Teepee
April 11 – Dew on the Kudzu
April 12 – Raging Bibliomania
April 15 - Daystarz
April 16 – Chick Lit Plus
April 17 – Peeking Between the Pages
April 22 – Books and Needlepoint
April 23 – Write Meg
April 26 – Bookmagnet

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. For more information, see the welcome post.


  1. I am still thinking about that crab pincer...

    1. Yes, ouch! A better story than the truth though!

  2. This sounds like a such a fun read -- even if Mark is one-dimensional. The running beans, etc. make me smile.

    1. There is plenty to make you smile in this book, and some to make you not smile but that's okay.

  3. What a wonderful review! You have really given us enough of a taste of the book that I want to read it.

  4. Interesting that the title varies by country. I can think of several other books where that's been the case (Little Bee/The Other Hand comes to mind). This sounds like a fun book.

    1. The same thing happens with Erica Bauermeister too.

  5. Marg, thanks for this. I'll look out for it. Hope you are having a good week.

    1. I hope you have a good week too Carole.

  6. This is the first time I've heard of this book. I love all of the other authors you mentioned at the end, so I'm sure I would like this one.

    1. The comparison to those authors was the clincher for me too Janel.

  7. I have this book with the Aussie title and it's on my really must read SOON! list. I think I'll like it as you know I like food fiction books :)

    1. What's not to like about food fiction books! lol

  8. I've been caught out before by different titles in different countries so thanks for the heads up. You enjoyed it and the synopsis appeals so I'll keep an eye out for it.

    1. Yes, I've been caught out before too! It's not always easy to spot.

  9. I have this on my self and am hoping to start it next weekend.

  10. This does sound like a lovely book - I very much enjoy it when food is incorporated so fully into fiction. Thanks for sharing!

  11. I can see how this would remind someone of Chocolat, though it reminds me more of Five Quarters of the Orange, also by Joanne Harris. The narrator is trying to untangle her late mother's journal and (if I remember right) recipe book, in an effort to piece together her mother's life. This one sounds like another one exploring an interesting mother/daughter relationship.

    1. I haven't read Five Quarters of the Orange. I will add it to my list.

  12. Great review - I loved this book as well! I have never read Chocolat or seen the movie. Perhaps I should - I loved the foodie portions of this book. Although I think I loved the mother/daughter relationship best of all.