2016 Reviews · Australian · historical fiction

Book Review: Maggie’s Kitchen by Caroline Beecham

maggie's kitchenBook blurb:

Amid the heartbreak and danger of London in the Blitz of WWII, Maggie Johnson finds her courage in friendship and food.

They might all travel the same scarred and shattered streets on their way to work, but once they entered Maggie’s Kitchen, it was somehow as if the rest of the world didn’t exist.

When the Ministry of Food urgently calls for the opening of British Restaurants to feed tired and hungry Londoners during the Second World War, Maggie Johnson is close to realising a long-held dream.

But after struggling through government red-tape and triumphantly opening its doors, Maggie’s Kitchen soon encounters a most unexpected problem. Her restaurant has become so popular with London’s exhausted workers, that Maggie simply can’t get enough supplies to keep up with demand for food, without breaking some of the rules.

With the support of locals, and the help of twelve-year-old Robbie, a street urchin, and Janek, a Polish refugee dreaming of returning to his native land, the resourceful Maggie evades the first threats of closure from the Ministry. As she fights to keep her beloved Kitchen open, Maggie also tries desperately to reunite Robbie with his missing father, as well as manage her own family’s expectations. Ultimately, she can no longer ignore the unacknowledged hopes of her own heart, and the discovery that some secrets have the power to change everything.

4 stars 

It seems that there are many more compelling stories to draw out of World War II, which Caroline Beecham explores in her debut novel, Maggie’s Kitchen. Maggie’s Kitchen draws our awareness to the existence of government restaurants in wartime Britain, that were formed in a bid to ensure London residents were provided with hot meals, in a time of food rationing. Maggie’s Kitchen is about one woman, Maggie Johnson, as she strives to make a difference during the perilous times of the Blitz.

Maggie’s Kitchen is a delightful novel, that I really enjoyed. Although the time period and main setting is fairly grim, Beecham lightens the mood with her approach to the central plot and her selection of characters. I immediately took a liking to Maggie, in fact, I greatly admired her efforts and sense of resourcefulness in the face of adversity. Maggie is a woman who has an air of sadness and loss. Her fiancé died in the war and consequently  her dreams of opening her own restaurant are put on hold. However, when Maggie answers government calls to help feed the London community, her aspirations to open her own restaurant are reignited. The road to working in her own restaurant isn’t easy for Maggie. Beecham uses this plot angle as leverage to make the reader aware of the pertinent issues of the time. These issues include food supply problems and various bureaucratic intervention that threatens the success of the government initiated restaurants. Maggie is a determined young woman and the reader is able to witness her growth as a person in the progression of the novel, as she finds the courage to rise above the challenges put in front of her. Maggie is a worthy heroine and a memorable character, but she is also supported by a set of secondary characters who are equally likeable. From the little street boy Robbie, to the Polish immigrant Janek, as well as Maggie’s work colleagues, each is presented a way that the reader does genuinely care about their wellbeing. The overall tone of the novel is just so warm and engaging as well as relatable, reflecting the day to day stories of life in wartime Britain. I really did love a couple of extras that were included in this book. The first was the quotes that adorn many of the chapter openings of the book. These quotes gave perfect insight into the thoughts of time, as many relate to the food restrictions placed on the British in this era. Secondly, there is the inclusion of a good selection of recipes at the end of the novel, inspired by Maggie’s Kitchen. It was a reminder of the meals I recall my Grandmother sharing with me, which gave me a wonderful sense of nostalgia as I read the recipes.

Maggie’s Kitchen is a novel that is easy to settle into, kick back and enjoy. An original wartime story, with a hint of romance that I absolutely recommend.

Maggie’s Kitchen was published in 2016 by Allen & Unwin https://www.allenandunwin.com/browse/books/fiction/popular-fiction/Maggies-Kitchen-Caroline-Beecham-9781760293048

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