In tiny Merinac, Kansas, Chicken Mimi’s and Chicken Frannie’s have spent a century vying to serve up the best fried chicken in the state–and the legendary feud between their respective owners, the Moores and the Pogociellos, has lasted just as long. No one feels the impact more than thirty-five-year-old widow Amanda Moore, who grew up working for her mom at Mimi’s before scandalously marrying Frank Pogociello and changing sides to work at Frannie’s. Tired of being caught in the middle, Amanda sends an SOS to Food Wars, the reality TV restaurant competition that promises $100,000 to the winner. But in doing so, she launches both families out of the frying pan and directly into the fire. . .
The last thing Brooklyn-based organizational guru Mae Moore, Amanda’s sister, wants is to go home to Kansas. But when her career implodes, helping the fading Mimi’s look good on Food Wars becomes Mae’s best chance to reclaim the limelight–even if doing so pits her against Amanda and Frannie’s. Yet when family secrets become public knowledge, the sisters must choose: Will they fight with each other, or for their heritage?Amazon
Why THIS Book?
It was one of the picks for October’s Bookclub. We decided to NOT do a horror/scary book this year for which I am really happy as I don’t really like horror/scary books and I will be reading at least 2 for the podcasts this month. This book also comes with the added bonus of easy to imagine food options to bring to Bookclub’s potluck. (It is no joke, we often say we are an eating club that also reads books… the food and visiting are totally the main part of our monthly gatherings!) I won’t bring fried chicken as I lack the culinary cre4dentials… but I am sure I can find something “comfort food” adjacent to add to the mix.
Combining some of the elements of chick-lit and some of the elements of dramatic women’s stories, this book is part rom-com, part coming of age in your 30s, part family drama, and part reality TV. It mostly takes place in Kansas in basically our pre-pandemic world. Like the romcoms and Hallmark movies that obviously inspired it, there is not as much tension of “will there be a happy ending or not”, but rather how will these stubborn characters find their way to that happy ending freeze frame we know is waiting ahead of the credits.
Writing Style / Characters
We switch back and forth between two main characters (more on them in a second) but the writing stays pretty much the same despite the switches. While we see into the thoughts and motivations of the two opposing characters, (and this is sometimes done well) we are always aware that we are detached from them as the author and the characters themselves take ample time to explain and sometimes over-explain what is going on in their heads. I am not sure if it was intentional or not, but the two sisters are written so similarly that sometimes it was hard to tell them apart.
This was disappointing because the two sisters were pretty different and had very different motivations. I actually liked when they would have the same flashback or interact and we would see how they both were seeing and experiencing things from such different perspectives that there were bound to be misunderstandings and hurt feelings. However, when they weren’t sharing space/plot points, they tended to fade back into “characters” and not “people”. Characters with overly wordy interior monologues that got repetitive.
That being said, even though everything about their predicament was predictable, like the TV shows the novel gently mocks, time spent with them can be moderately enjoyable in a background sort of way.
Also, neither of the main characters were all that likable and I personally hate it when people just react to things. And… I know it sounds trite and isn’t what this book is… But egads people.. Just have an honest conversation!
I will say that there are a few side/background characters who totally deserved more page time because they were far more interesting and engaging than our two mains. I feel like both of the mothers in this book got short shifted.
Plot / Pacing
The overall plot was… fine. A bit simplistic and (again) predictable) but fine. There were a few surprises along the way, but very little actual tension and therefore not much of a payoff. There were also a few plot threads that went nowhere which, if we are being generous, is how real life is but not usually how these sorts of reality TV/romcom/Hallmark movies tend to go. So, a bit of a disconnect.
The resolution was weak. People seemed to get over things randomly and quickly and there were points were the plot stretched credulity past the point of breaking.
Without spoiling anything, I will say that there is some frank discussion of some mental health issues that are handled well. It is nice to see a representation of an actual mental health issue being treated with the respect it deserves and not just fodder for jokes.
I mean. Sure. It wasn’t a hard read and I know a lot of people like the comfort food style of book.
But… It wanted the chicken and to eat it too… and by that I mean, this book wanted to be light and fluffy and simple and cozy…. Comfort food with a happy ending and no real drama or stakes… but then Dell’Antonia added layers of character depth that weren’t really all that deep and some manufactured drama that gets sorted really easily by characters just thinking through their problems… and while those sorts of introspection diatribes might work in more dramatic literary prose, they don’t really fit in this book or genre.
Would I recommend it?
For me: no. This was not a satisfying meal of a book. It was not my former mother-in-law’s fried chicken (by far the best I have ever had) but rather the KFC version… fine in a pinch, pretty much what you expect and might just make you sick. It was just kind of okay. I found it slightly over-processed, in need of some actual seasoning… high in empty calories, and, yes, it made me hungry.
However, if you are not dismayed by contrived plot points, maybe have a combative competitive relationship with your sister/mother that you wish would just be fixed over the span of a few days and some random circumstances, you like predictable and happy hand-wave away endings, you like Hallmark movies and rom-com characters…. Maybe this book will make you feel good. It might be what you are craving. Also, if you really love it you can join Dell’Antonia’s email list and get an epilogue sent to your inbox.
I know it will be liked by a good chunk of my book club. And that’s ok. Whether it is books or chicken, we all like different things. Life would be pretty boring if every meal/book was the same, right?
*** ASPECT Method (I created this, I used it, feel free to do the same.)
A Atmosphere: How did it make me feel? What was the world like? This might include the overall tone.
S Style: What was the writing style like? Simplistic or sophisticated? Clunky or beautiful?
P Plot/Pace: Was it engaging? Were there holes? Did it feel too rushed or too long?
E Enjoyment: Was it a chore to finish or compelling enough that I picked it over other fun activities?
C Characters: Were they believable, sympathetic, interesting?
T This? Why did I read *This* book?