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Gabriel Lightfoot, an enterprising man from a northern English mill town, is making good in London. As executive chef at the once-splendid Imperial Hotel, he aims to run a tight kitchen. Though he's under constant challenge from the competing demands of an exuberantly multinational staff, a gimlet-eyed hotel management, and business partners with whom he is secretly planning a move to a restaurant of his own, all Gabe's hard work looks set to pay off.
Until, that is, a worker is found dead in the kitchen's basement. It is a small death, a lonely death--but it is enough to disturb the tenuous balance of Gabe's life.
Enter Lena, an eerily attractive young woman with mysterious ties to the dead man. Under her spell, Gabe makes a decision, the consequences of which strip him naked and change the course of the life he knows--and the future he thought he wanted.
With prose that "crackles with verve and vivacity" ("Milwaukee Journal Sentinel") and "a truly Dickensian cast of characters" ("The Buffalo News"), Ali's "portrait of a middle-aged Holden Caulfield wandering the streets" ("The Plain Dealer") is a sheer pleasure to read.
New paperback releases for reading groups
FORD’S FAILED UTOPIA
A finalist for the National Book Award, Greg Grandin’s compelling Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City brings to vivid life an extraordinary chapter in the career of Henry Ford. During the 1920s, Ford bought land in Brazil’s Amazon River basin, hoping to turn it into a rubber plantation that would supply his car business. He also dreamed of founding a town there that would resemble the sort of company-based community he had helped to establish in the U.S. Over a span of 18 years, Ford worked to fulfill this vision, sinking big money into the town, which was equipped with a golf course, movie theaters and Cape Cod-inspired houses. But the failure of the rubber industry, coupled with the natives’ resistance to the prudish value system Ford promoted, led to Fordlandia’s eventual demise. Grandin’s account of Ford’s forced urbanization of the jungle is larger than life, with the scale and weight of an epic story.
CONROY IN CHARLESTON
South of Broad, Pat Conroy’s first novel in 14 years, is a sharply drawn portrait of the New South. Narrated by Leopold (Leo) Bloom King, a local gossip columnist looking back on his teenage years in the 1960s, the narrative offers glimpses of old Charleston, its blue-blooded families and the sense of change that pervaded the era. In high school, Leo mixes with a socially diverse crowd that includes Starla and Niles Whitehead, a pair of impoverished orphans from Appalachia; Ike Jefferson, one of the first black students integrated into Leo’s school; and twins Sheba and Trevor Poe—seemingly picture-perfect Southern siblings. The group remains connected over the years, and the ways in which their stories unfold are surprising and poignant. In 1989, the gang comes together to help Sheba find Trevor, who is missing in California—a reunion that brings the group full circle. Smart and sharp, Leo makes for a companionable narrator, and his insights into marriage, maturity and family have a wonderful authenticity. This is a big-hearted novel, and fans of its beloved author will savor every page.
A reading group guide is available online.
TOP PICK FOR BOOK CLUBS
Monica Ali’s latest novel, In the Kitchen, is set in London’s Imperial Hotel, where executive chef Gordon Lightfoot oversees a staff of eccentric characters. The day-to-day routine of his kitchen, rendered by Ali in prose that’s wonderfully vibrant and precise, is turned upside down by the brutal murder of a hotel porter, a man from Ukraine. The crime brings to light the clandestine world of illegal immigrants and upsets Gordon’s sense of well-being. He had hoped to open his own restaurant but soon finds that his grip on reality is slipping. Betraying his fiancée, he becomes mixed up with a prostitute—a Belarusian who may be involved in a sex ring that’s based in the Imperial. Using the hotel as a microcosm for modern Europe, Ali skillfully examines such timely topics as gender, immigration and class. Author of the acclaimed novel Brick Lane (2003), Ali now serves up a complex, multilayered mystery.
A reading group guide is available online.