November 3, 2014

That Part Was True

That Part Was True by Deborah McKinlay
2014 Grand Central Publishing
Finished on August 21, 2014
Rating: 4.5/5 (Very Good!)


Publisher’s Blurb:

I’m sending you, hopefully unscathed, a jar of my favorite chili jelly. Serve it with corn fritters.

You’ll thank me.


I am sending you Grandmother’s Christmas Cake recipe. She was not my grandmother. She was the grandmother of a school friend of mine… I made my ginger biscuits (what you might call cookies) once for Erica’s grandmother and she gave me this recipe in return. It made me feel at the time as though I were a treasured granddaughter, and I have that same marvelous belonging feeling every time I make the cake, which I do, every Christmas.

Perhaps you will, too.


When British lover of novels Eve Petworth writes to successful American author Jackson Cooper to praise a scene in one of his books, they discover a mutual love of cooking and food, sparking a relationship that transforms both their lives. As their friendship blossoms, the details of their unsettled lives unfold for one another: Jack has a colorful group of friends and a rotating group of admiring young women in his love life, but he feels ultimately unsatisfied.

Eve, who had a distant relationship with her own mother, is now struggling to overcome the tension she has with her own soon-to-be married daughter.

Now when each of them offers, from behind the veils of semi-anonymity and distance, wise and increasingly affectionate counsel to the other, they both begin to confront their problems and plan a celebratory meeting in Paris—a meeting that Eve fears can never happen.

Dear Mr Cooper,

I could probably contact you more directly by e-mail, but the effort of handwriting will encourage me to choose my words carefully and I am conscious that I am writing to an author.

I wanted to tell you that I enjoyed your book ‘Dead Letters’ very much. The scene where Harry Gordon eats the peach (‘leaning over and holding back his green silk tie with one arm while the juice christened the shirt cuff of the other’) introduced a moment of summer into a watery English day. And it reminded me, as well, of the most decadent pleasure that comes with eating fully mature fruit—sadly, a rarity.

With best wishes,

Eve Petworth

And so begins Deborah McKinaly’s delightful novel, That Part Was True.

After several heavy reads and a few disappointments, it was so refreshing to pick up McKinlay’s novel and fall immediately under the spell of her lovely writing. Part epistolary, part love story, this charming book could have easily turned out to be a contrived, silly “romance,” but that was simply not the case. Eve and Jack and the novel’s supporting cast of characters are fully fleshed-out and the dialogue rings true. While I enjoy a novel set during World War II, it was refreshing to read a contemporary book set in England, with a culinary backdrop, and the exchange of letters and recipes (via snail mail, not email!) between two strangers.

On Friendship and Food:
Maybe she wasn’t fair. Maybe she was dark and round. Everything about her was comforting. Her simple name, the recipes, the way she wrote. She wrote well—plainly and directly, but at times lyrically. His food friend. It seemed at times his best friend. Mutton is good with plums, she’d said.

I liked hearing about the plums, he wrote. Eve had told him about the tree in her garden. She could see if from her kitchen window and she marked the seasons by it. She could not bear waste, she said, and maybe the love of cooking had started there. She never wanted to see the fruit, the beautiful rich ripe fruit with its soft bloom, lying abandoned and rotting. She liked something to come of it. She liked to see the jars of preserves lining her larder. Took real pleasure in it—the regularity of it. And then, of course, the taste. The closer the cook was to picking, the better the taste was. The intensity of flavor was lost so quickly.

I know what you mean about the effect of proximity to flavor, he wrote:

It’s the same with fish. I used to go out to Nantucket at New Year’s, just before the final dive. Just before the water was too cold for the divers. I’d go there just to eat scallops. The last of them so rich tasting and yet clean at the same time.

It’s strange how these missives from Eve, so recently added, were fast becoming part of the fabric of his life. When he read them, he felt like himself. Like his best self. He detected on her ivory-headed notepaper the fine, fresh scent of herbs.

On Reading:
At first she'd read fast, as if she were clinging to a moving vehicle, pulled along by the pace of the plot. But then she'd slowed, deliberately, to appreciate the writing—the humor in the choppy sentences, the evocative descriptions of meals and scenery. She'd felt the heat when there was heat, and the fear when there was fear, and the loneliness that underlay the story coming off the page. It had done what good stories always do, made her forget her own.

On Simple Pleasures:
The next day Jack got up late. The sea and the sky were merged and steely, and there was a heavy frost. He lit a fire and put on some music. Then, in a kitchen unencumbered by pretension or waste, he sliced six onions and put them in a heavy skillet in some melted butter on a low heat. Conscious of the pleasant sensation of sighing contentment—Jack found the process of caramelizing onions as warming as a hot bath—he left the pan and the butter to do their work and went back to the fire and sat down with a book.
Eve made the bed as precisely as she did everything else, and drew the same sense of pleasure from its smoothed surface as she did from the rows of preserves labeled and dated in the pantry. She was feeling terribly, unaccustomedly content; she had the weekend to herself. She had enjoyed the visits from Ollie and Izzy, so much more frequent lately, but quiet had always been restorative to Eve. The thought of a whole weekend alone in a well-stocked house, with just a book and a fire for company, made her feel calm, protected from sudden eddies. Despite her progress, she still needed these havens.

Final Thoughts:

With a perfect (yet unpredictable) finale, That Part Was True is the proverbial Feel Good read that is sure to delight readers who fell in love with Me Before You, 84, Charing Cross Road, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and The Shell Seekers. This is such a perfect book to curl up with on a rainy Sunday afternoon, along with a cup of hot tea and a couple of slices of buttered toast with cinnamon sugar or homemade jam. My only complaint? I didn’t want it to end. And now I have another great book to recommend to customers this holiday season. (All the Light We Cannot See is the other title I will recommend enthusiastically.) I eagerly anticipate McKinlay’s next endeavor!


  1. Seems like a good read for this time of year.

    1. Every now and then, a light romantic novel is perfect. With all the stress of the holidays, this one fits the bill.

  2. This has so many elements I love! I can't wait to dive in!

    1. Oh, good! Happy to enable! :)

  3. I love the excerpts you chose! I'm adding this one to my list because--although I myself am a terribly indifferent cook--I love authors who can make my mouth water with their descriptions of food.

    1. I think you'll enjoy this novel! Glad you enjoyed the quotes. I tend to share more than I probably should, but this blog is also my reading journal, so I hate to eliminate too many.

  4. This sounds wonderful. Strange that it didn't get much buzz...

    1. I know! I hope it will get more attention when it goes to paperback (although I like the cover art of the hardback).

  5. Les,
    I loved your review of this book! I read it a few months ago (after thinking about buying it several times and changing my mind, I finally got it)... and I ended up loving it - So much more than I ever thought I would. In fact, you are making me want to do a re-read. I sure hope I still have it here on my shelves!!

    Linda in VA

    1. Hi, Linda! I'm glad you enjoyed the review. Isn't it a lovely novel? I think I first learned about it from Marcia. I loved it, too, and it's on my "hope to re-read soon" shelf. Maybe next spring...


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