In case you’re new to the Pond’s book recommendation posts, the recommendation posts are brought to you by Varian, the Pond’s very own Toadshifter who is knowledgeable in all kinds of magic! One of Varian’s ambitions is to get better at sewing, hence why whenever Varian has come up with their latest costume, they will always recommend a few books that inspired them!
If you know me, you will probably know that I love food. Last year, I made a tribute to my love for food by combining the two things I love – food and books – and wrote a book recommendation, spotlighting some of my favourite books about food. Now that a year has passed and I’ve read a few more books about food, I thought: Why not recommend a few more books about food and foodies?
Before we dive into the books though, I can’t talk about foodie books without talking about one of my favourite anthologies of all time, Hungry Hearts edited by Caroline T. Richmond and Elsie Chapman! Hungry Hearts is a YA anthology ranging from several genres that contains thirteen stories about food and love. I loved this foodie anthology (you can read my review here) and you can even check out the food crawl that I did where I searched and ate for all the food mentioned in the anthology!
So, with that, let’s dive right into our 2021 book recommendations for foodie books and books about budding chefs!
Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki
Shizuka Satomi made a deal with the devil: to escape damnation, she must entice seven other violin prodigies to trade their souls for success. She has already delivered six.
When Katrina Nguyen, a young transgender runaway, catches Shizuka’s ear with her wild talent, Shizuka can almost feel the curse lifting. She’s found her final candidate.
But in a donut shop off a bustling highway in the San Gabriel Valley, Shizuka meets Lan Tran, retired starship captain, interstellar refugee, and mother of four. Shizuka doesn’t have time for crushes or coffee dates, what with her very soul on the line, but Lan’s kind smile and eyes like stars might just redefine a soul’s worth. And maybe something as small as a warm donut is powerful enough to break a curse as vast as the California coastline.
As the lives of these three women become entangled by chance and fate, a story of magic, identity, curses, and hope begins, and a family worth crossing the universe for is found.
CW: Light from Uncommon Stars is unlike anything any book I’ve ever read – a brutal yet wondrous adult SFF, a tribute to the power of music, finding belonging and safety in people, and also a gorgeous love letter to the LA food scene.
- Combining elements of fabulism, science-fiction, and romance, this book is about three broken women, whose destinies collide and find belonging and connection with one another.
- Though the story is incredibly hopeful and soft, it’s also brutally honest about trauma and pain. It explores anti-trans experiences, fetishism of trans people, sex work as a trans woman, and parental abuse.
- If you love donuts, Light from Uncommon Stars will make you so hungry, craving for donuts in the small hours of the night.
How Moon Fuentez Fell in Love with the Universe by Raquel Vasquez Gilliland
When her twin sister reaches social media stardom, Moon Fuentez accepts her fate as the ugly, unwanted sister hidden in the background, destined to be nothing more than her sister’s camerawoman. But this summer, Moon also takes a job as the “merch girl” on a tour bus full of beautiful influencers and her fate begins to shift in the best way possible.
Most notable is her bunkmate and new nemesis, Santiago Phillips, who is grumpy, combative, and also the hottest guy Moon has ever seen.
Moon is certain she hates Santiago and that he hates her back. But as chance and destiny (and maybe, probably, close proximity) bring the two of them in each other’s perpetual paths, Moon starts to wonder if that’s really true. She even starts to question her destiny as the unnoticed, unloved wallflower she always thought she was.
Could this summer change Moon’s life as she knows it?
CW: One of the most gorgeous and beautifully written books I’ve read this year, How Moon Fuentez Fell in Love with the Universe will leave you feeling raw, unfurled, but also hungry with its beautiful food descriptions and inspiring portrayal of love for the universe.
- The writing in this is just sublime, gorgeous, and so stunning. Raquel’s poetry background shines through in the storytelling and I was just in awe of how the story holds the beauty of the universe in its words.
- This is a YA story about trauma, grief, loving yourself, sexuality, the joy of food and cooking, fatness, parental abuse, and religion. I’m stunned by how the story shows how the world can be so ugly and vicious, but amidst all that, there’s beauty and healing and light.
- The relationships in this are incredible. From the hate-to-love romance between Moon and Santiago (who is also a hand amputee and a spectacular cook) and the fraught and tenuous relationship between Moon and Star (her sister).
A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow by Laura Taylor Namey
For Lila Reyes, a summer in England was never part of the plan. The plan was 1) take over her abuela’s role as head baker at their panadería, 2) move in with her best friend after graduation, and 3) live happily ever after with her boyfriend. But then the Trifecta happened, and everything—including Lila herself—fell apart.
Worried about Lila’s mental health, her parents make a new plan for her: Spend three months with family friends in Winchester, England, to relax and reset. But with the lack of sun, a grumpy inn cook, and a small town lacking Miami flavor (both in food and otherwise), what would be a dream trip for some feels more like a nightmare to Lila…until she meets Orion Maxwell.
A teashop clerk with troubles of his own, Orion is determined to help Lila out of her funk, and appoints himself as her personal tour guide. From Winchester’s drama-filled music scene to the sweeping English countryside, it isn’t long before Lila is not only charmed by Orion, but England itself. Soon a new future is beginning to form in Lila’s mind—one that would mean leaving everything she ever planned behind.
CW: Want to feel inspired to bake – and also melt with a gooey gorgeous romance? Then A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow is the YA romantic contemporary for you.
- If you go in wanting a cute read with a fluffy, low angst romance, then you’ll get it with this book! It just feels like one of those cosy reads with great emotional depth.
- It’s about finding yourself and finding pieces of you in unexpected places, making new friends at the crossroads of an old one, and food, food, food! Lila is a talented baker, and her love for food and cooking shines through in this book.
- The romance was sugary sweet. In fact, all the relationships are – it explores the complexities of friendships in a safe and gentle way, and the family relationships are healthy and lovely.
The Jasmine Project by Meredith Ireland
Jasmine Yap’s life is great. Well, it’s okay. She’s about to move in with her long-time boyfriend, Paul, before starting a nursing program at community college—all of which she mostly wants. But her stable world is turned upside down when she catches Paul cheating. To her giant, overprotective family, Paul’s loss is their golden ticket to showing Jasmine that she deserves much more. The only problem is, Jasmine refuses to meet anyone new.
But…what if the family set up a situation where she wouldn’t have to know? A secret Jasmine Project.
The plan is simple: use Jasmine’s graduation party as an opportunity for her to meet the most eligible teen bachelors in Orlando. There’s no pressure for Jasmine to choose anyone, of course, but the family hopes their meticulously curated choices will show Jasmine how she should be treated. And maybe one will win her heart.
But with the family fighting for their favorites, bachelors going rogue, and Paul wanting her back, the Jasmine Project may not end in love but total, heartbreaking disaster.
CW: Looking for a cosy and romantic YA rom-com about a Korean-American teen adoptee who is also a talented and aspiring chef? Look no further than The Jasmine Project, which is guaranteed to hit all the good spots.
- The story has a wonderful character arc and a huge part of that is Jasmine, the main character, finding the courage to follow her dream of becoming a professional chef despite the expectations placed upon her.
- For what starts as a sweet, romantic, and delicious tropey beginning – because who would she choose?! – makes way to a really heartfelt and genuine story about going on a journey with yourself and learning your own worth and self-love.
- I adored Jasmine’s big, loving, and sometimes overbearing family. Some of the chapters comprise of family group chats (all without Jasmine, of course) and it is so chaotic and hilarious.
Radha & Jai’s Recipe for Romance by Nisha Sharma
Radha is on the verge of becoming one of the greatest Kathak dancers in the world . . . until a family betrayal costs her the biggest competition of her life. Now, she has left her Chicago home behind to follow her stage mom to New Jersey. At the Princeton Academy of the Arts, Radha is determined to leave performing in her past, and reinvent herself from scratch.
Jai is captain of the Bollywood Beats dance team, ranked first in his class, and an overachiever with no college plans. Tight family funds means medical school is a pipe dream, which is why he wants to make the most out of high school. When Radha enters his life, he realizes she’s the exact ingredient he needs for a show-stopping senior year.
With careful choreography, both Radha and Jai will need to face their fears (and their families) if they want a taste of a happily ever after.
CW: As the title and cover suggests, Radha & Jai’s Recipe for Romance is a wonderful desi YA romantic comedy about cooking, kathak dancing, and family.
- The book balances a narrative of bitter and sweet – it explores the thrill and excitement of falling in love reluctantly and discovering what gives you joy and happiness, while also exploring the weight of expectations and how our ambitions – and the ambitions people may have for us – can be incredibly heavy.
- Radha, a talented kathak dancer, discovers her love for cooking, and some of chapters begin with a recipe for home-cooked Indian food – this book will definitely make you hungry.
- The romance in this was wonderful – real, genuine, and featuring two characters doing their best while navigating the challenges of communicating as well.
Sweethand by N.G. Peltier
After a public meltdown over her breakup from her cheating musician boyfriend, Cherisse swore off guys in the music industry, and dating in general for a while, preferring to focus on growing her pastry chef business.
When Cherisse’s younger sister reveals she’s getting married in a few months, Cherisse hopes that will distract her mother enough to quit harassing her about finding a guy, settling down and having kids. But her mother’s matchmaking keeps intensifying.
Cherisse tries to humour her mother, hoping if she feigns interest in the eligible bachelors she keeps tossing her way, she’ll be off the hook, but things don’t quite go as planned. Turns out for the first time in ages, she and Keiran King, the most annoying man ever, are on the island at the same time. Avoiding him is impossible, especially when Keiran’s close friend is the one marrying her sister, and he’s the best man to her maid of honour.
Keiran doesn’t know what to make of Cherisse now. They’ve always butted heads. To him she’s always been a stuck-up brat who seeks attention, even while he secretly harbored a crush on her. Now with Cherisse’s sister marrying one of his good friends he can’t escape her as the wedding activities keep throwing them together.
When things turn heated after a rainy night of bedroom fun, they both have to figure out if they can survive the countdown to wedding day, without this turning into a recipe for disaster.
CW: If you’re more in the mood for an adult romance, Sweethand is absolutely perfect – sexy, romantic, and with so much delicious tension that will have you curling your toes.
- Sweethand has a wonderful childhood-enemies-to-lovers romance and it is glorious – especially when they have to try and be nice around each other for the sake of the wedding. The chemistry between the two characters is taut and torturous, but so wonderful and compelling too.
- Cherisse is a renowned baker, and if you love sugary baked goods, then this book will delight and have you craving for sweets.
- This was such a cosy, sexy and fun read, with so much chemistry, great emotional beats, and manages you to pull you into Cherisse and Keiran’s worlds.
Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li
The popular Beijing Duck House in Rockville, Maryland has been serving devoted regulars for decades, but behind the staff’s professional smiles simmer tensions, heartaches and grudges from decades of bustling restaurant life.
Owner Jimmy Han has ambitions for a new high-end fusion place, hoping to eclipse his late father’s homely establishment. Jimmy’s older brother, Johnny, is more concerned with restoring the dignity of the family name than his faltering relationship with his own teenage daughter, Annie. Nan and Ah-Jack, longtime Duck House employees, yearn to turn their thirty-year friendship into something more, while Nan’s son, Pat, struggles to stay out of trouble. When disaster strikes and Pat and Annie find themselves in a dangerous game that means tragedy for the Duck House, their families must finally confront the conflicts and loyalties simmering beneath the red and gold lanterns.
Joce: Craving Chinese food – and a story about complicated families? Then Number One Chinese Restaurant, a Women’s Prize for Fiction Nominee for Longlist (2019), may be the literary fiction story for you.
- Beijing duck!!! Need I say more?
- Explores intergenerational trauma and being the children of immigrants.
- There’s also a slightly mysterious element surrounding a tragedy.
Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet by Laekan Zea Kemp
Penelope Prado has always dreamed of opening her own pastelería next to her father’s restaurant, Nacho’s Tacos. But her mom and dad have different plans—leaving Pen to choose between disappointing her traditional Mexican American parents or following her own path. When she confesses a secret she’s been keeping, her world is sent into a tailspin. But then she meets a cute new hire at Nacho’s who sees through her hard exterior and asks the questions she’s been too afraid to ask herself.
Xander Amaro has been searching for home since he was a little boy. For him, a job at Nacho’s is an opportunity for just that—a chance at a normal life, to settle in at his abuelo’s, and to find the father who left him behind. But when both the restaurant and Xander’s immigrant status are threatened, he will do whatever it takes to protect his newfound family and himself.
Together, Pen and Xander must navigate first love and discovering where they belong in order to save the place they all call home.
Joce: Somewhere Between Sweet and Bitter is such a good YA, one that I wholeheartedly recommend!
- Centers undocumented immigrants.
- About transitioning to moving out of family home.
- Food, food, food!
Recipe for Persuasion by Sonali Dev
Chef Ashna Raje desperately needs a new strategy. How else can she save her beloved restaurant and prove to her estranged, overachieving mother that she isn’t a complete screw up? When she’s asked to join the cast of Cooking with the Stars, the latest hit reality show teaming chefs with celebrities, it seems like just the leap of faith she needs to put her restaurant back on the map. She’s a chef, what’s the worst that could happen?
Rico Silva, that’s what.
Being paired with a celebrity who was her first love, the man who ghosted her at the worst possible time in her life, only proves what Ashna has always believed: leaps of faith are a recipe for disaster.
FIFA winning soccer star Rico Silva isn’t too happy to be paired up with Ashna either. Losing Ashna years ago almost destroyed him. The only silver lining to this bizarre situation is that he can finally prove to Ashna that he’s definitely over her.
But when their catastrophic first meeting goes viral, social media becomes obsessed with their chemistry. The competition on the show is fierce…and so is the simmering desire between Ashna and Rico. Every minute they spend together rekindles feelings that pull them toward their disastrous past. Will letting go again be another recipe for heartbreak—or a recipe for persuasion…?
Joce: This is a Persuasion by Jane Austen adult contemporary retelling, but with desi characters! It’s one of my favourite books of all time, ever.
- Celebrity paired cooking contest like dancing with the stars – but with cooking.
- Has a second chance romance (I’m weak for second chance romances)!
- About an adult daughter struggling with keeping her late father’s restaurant afloat while managing her strained relationship with her mother.