Author: Caroline Beecham
Maggie Johnson has long dreamed of opening her own restaurant, a dream that always included her fiance Peter; a dream that seems completely out of reach now and wrong to chase without Peter by her side. Peter was lost to maggie during WWII and though she is managing to carry on there is no real moving on and following their shared dream alone seems disloyal.
The British Ministry of Food is calling for the opening of British Restaurants, communal feeding centres that will ensure people can access at least one hot and nourishing meal a day that is affordable for all. This could be the perfect opportunity for Maggie to follow that dream, and do her bit to help her countrymen.
A big thing I noticed in the beginning of the book is that Maggie wasn’t very confident. She is working in a factory canteen feeding hundreds of workers and she’s good at her job, she’s acting in a supervisory role and things are running smoothly but she wants to be able to show a little more creativity in the kitchen, though has to stay within strict guidelines. She eventually decides that she owes it to herself, and to Peter, to follow their dream and applies to open a Bristish Restaurant.
Urgent need for the British Restaurants doesn’t make it an easy process to get started, there are interview processes, premieses to find and prepare, training to undergo and plenty of paperwork. Eventually Maggie’s Kitchen opens and Maggie is faced with the next lot of issues, the issues that come with trying to run a budget restaurant on rations and with supply issues.
Set against the backdrop of London in 1941 with bombings and brownouts, the removal of women and children from the city where possible and the majority looking forward to the day they can put the war behind them and get to work on their future.
Maggie is our resourceful heroine, out to fulfill her dream while still doing her bit for the community and always trying to give that little bit more back to her customers. She works tirelessly to offer not only a nutritious hearty meal but a happy environment and a view to remind of better times, and hope for the good times to come. Throughout the course of the novel we see Maggie grow more confident, more resourceful and more assertive though there are still times she questions the decision to open the British Restaurant.
Along the way Maggie is assissted by a colourful cast of characters from 12yr old Robbie who refuses to leave London in case his Dad returns and can’t find them to the displaced Polish refugee Janek, her cousin Rose and long term friend Eliza. Of these characters the only one whose loyalty I never questioned was Eliza; she was always there to encourage and believe in her, to coach her when she needed it and to help her shoulder the responsibility.
I enjoyed the story and I was interested to know how things were going to work out with the delivery troubles meaning there were no ingredients and the restuarant had to shut, the fuss kicked up by the Caterers Association and the questions raised about some of the characters.
The story was interesting, the pacing was engaging and the characters were intriguing. The issues I did have were that the backstories were pretty sketchy for all but Maggie which made it hard to get completely involved with the characters and the ending is left wide open, I have lots of questions still needing answers and I can only hope that there will be a sequel coming to let us know how everything ties up.
Maggie’s Kitchen is book #33 for the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge 2016.