I wanted to read this book the moment I saw the cover. I love to cook and bake and occasionally indulge in reality TV shows about people doing both. (The Great Canadian Baking Show and its model, The Great British Baking Show, are my favourites.)
Alice Fleck’s Recipes for Disaster wasn’t exactly what I expected–let’s just say that I won’t be making many dishes in the book–but it’s a great middle grade read. The story takes place over the summer during a week-long Victorian Festival at a manor where all the characters stay. As part of the festival, Alice and her dad compete in Culinary Chronicles–a reality show they like to watch together when they’re not in the kitchen.
The competition doesn’t turn out as expected, with a new host, judge and channel for broadcasting. Alice already has mixed feelings about competing, mainly because she doesn’t want her future classmates (she starts middle school in September) to know about her quirky hobby of preparing weird food. It doesn’t help that its her dad’s new girlfriend who got them on the show.
So when Culinary Chronicles becomes Culinary Combat, Alice wants to quit. Things get worse when the new judge keeps changing the rules and Alice starts to suspect that someone is sabatoging the competitors. Thanks to two new friends, Tavi and Henry, Alice persists and eventually they solve the mystery.
Alice’s dad is a culinary historian–a career I never really knew existed. I thought his girlfriend, also a University professor, was great but Alice doesn’t agree (at least not until the end of the story). The fact that the girlfriend’s vegetarian (along with mentions of vegetarianism being popular in the Victorian era and among suffragettes) made it easier for me to deal with the contestants making pigeon pie and gelatin.
What I appreciated most, however, was Henry (who wants to be a detective) and Tavi (who’s not at all embarrassed by her interest in séance and poltergeists). Through these new friends, Alice learns to accept “the heart wants what the heart wants” and it’s okay to be yourself. I won’t give away the ending but I will say that Alice makes a dessert which drives home the message that “inside everything–and everyone–(there’s) something unexpected”..