Just as food memoir is one of my favorite literary genres, so is fiction that revolves around food. When we think about food fiction, our minds often go straight to those books set in the restaurant industry.
But food fiction as a (loose) genre is broader than this: it might include characters who are restaurant critics, enjoy cooking for their loved ones, or who relish a good meal and have distinct opinions about who makes the best taco or cinnamon roll.
This list might make you hungry. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Like all the women in her family, Claire Waverly possesses a unique magic: she uses edible flowers to prepare foods that affect the eater in "curious ways." Years ago, Claire's sister fled town—and her Waverly gift—but she discovers her own sort of magic when she returns. What to say about this book? The romance is cheesy, the magic is impossible, but put them together and it sings. A few love scenes are a little racy (ahem). If you're not down with supernatural food or a magical apple tree, skip this one—but you should know how many readers call this "a wonderful surprise." More info →
Polly’s life is in ruins: in one fell swoop, she's lost her business, her boyfriend, and her flat. She can't afford a place in town, so she's forced to move out of the city—way out of the city, to a remote British island town, in a flat above an abandoned shop. (Everyone's reaction to her new home: shouldn't this place be condemned?) Polly turns to baking to cheer herself up, and before long her favorite hobby turns into something more substantial than she ever dared to dream. This is multilayered and well-written chick lit. A sweet story about starting over, with lots of heart. More info →
Unbeknownst to everyone, NYC's toughest restaurant critic is an 11 year old girl. Gladys started cooking impressive gourmet meals when she was 7 but she has to find a new outlet when her parents cut her off from the kitchen after a mishap. When she accidentally gets contacted to write a restaurant review, it seems like a sign. There's just the little matter of keeping her identity a secret. A fun middle grade read that kicks off a trilogy perfect for 9-12 year olds. More info →
Have you ever wanted to know the origin story for the Queen of Hearts? In this Alice's Adventures in Wonderland prequel, Catherine is a talented baker and her greatest dream is opening a cupcake shop. Instead, she's navigating a secret courtship even as she snags the unwanted attention of the unmarried King. Stock up on baking supplies before you start because Catherine's cupcakes are sure to inspire you...and cupcakes may be exactly what you crave because of this heartbreaking read. More info →
Barbecue, laughter, and the occasional side of murder. Meet tomboy Idgie and her friend Ruth who ran a diner in Whistle Stop, Alabama in the 1930s, as told by Mrs. Threadgoode to Evelyn (and us) 50 years later. Evelyn has been in need of a jump-start for her middle aged life, making this a great choice for anyone wanting to read about seasoned female protagonists. More info →
Divakaruni's first novel tells the story of Tilo, a young Indian girl trained in the magical powers of spices and their blends. She disguises herself in a run-down spice shop in Oakland, California, where she uses her powers to improve the lives of the immigrant Indians who come to her for spices, but her longing to find a love of her own tempts her to leave her magical post in search of her own fate. More info →
This was a fun, more-or-less lighthearted read about a Boston pastry chef who flees to the country after literally setting her workplace on fire with a flambéed dessert. Reviewers called this parts Jan Karon and parts Gilmore Girls. Perfect for fans of Jenny Colgan's The Little Beach Street Bakery or Laura Dave's Eight Hundred Grapes. I can't help but notice that Louise Miller's covers are every bit as charming as her characters. More info →
Lillian offers cooking lessons every Monday night at her restaurant. This story is as much about her eight students as it is about the dishes they create. Ranging from a young mother to a widower coping with the death of his wife, we get to see how they respond to their fellow class members and how this transforms personal lives even as their cooking skills improve. A true comfort read. Recipes are included. More info →
A charming, breezy, and completely quirky story from the author of Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, once again set in San Francisco. Lois is a programmer whose life changes when she falls in love with baking bread ... but then something unexpected happens. More info →
Guillory brings back her character Carlos from The Wedding Date. This time he gets the starring role, beginning with one heck of a meet-cute: he rescues a stranger from total humiliation after she's the recipient of a most unwelcome and extremely public (hello, Jumbotron) proposal at a Dodgers game. Guillory's romances always feature a lot of food. In this case, there's taco ranking, a hero who enjoys cooking risotto, and Nikole's best friend owns a cupcake shop that you'll wish you could visit. (Open door but not as steamy as The Wedding Date.) More info →
This follows several generations of a Minnesota family as they establish themselves in the brewing industry—and fall to pieces in the process. Despite the family feud and plenty of tense moments, the tone is relentlessly hopeful. A novel of family, Midwestern values, hard work, fate and the secrets of making a world-class beer. Plus, there's pie and hot dish. This was one of my favorite audiobooks of 2019. More info →
In this contemporary romance, cinnamon roll hero Christopher owns a sandwich shop and just wants to make sure tattoo shop owner Ginger is well fed. Note: this story deals with Christopher’s brother's severe depression and past suicide attempt. (Open door.) More info →
Seventeen-year old single mother Emoni has always been told she has a magical touch in the kitchen. She dreams of a career as a chef but she doesn't have the time or money for her school's new culinary arts class, not if she's going to still be able to work part-time and provide for her child. She's torn in a lot of directions but her passion for food is clear. You'll be rooting for her the whole way. More info →
This follow-up to Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors stands on its own. In this loose retelling of Jane Austen's Persuasion, Ashna is a Bay Area chef so desperate to save her family’s failing restaurant she agrees to compete on the reality tv show Cooking with the Stars. That’s where she reconnects with her first love—now a Brazilian soccer star—on live tv, for the first time since he disappeared twelve years ago on the worst night of her life. Dev puts her own spin on Austen’s classic, while highlighting the timeless themes of the original: a young woman sensitive to her family’s criticism, a disadvantaged young man with no credentials but a bright future, an unexpected second chance at first love. A sensitive, satisfying update. More info →
Set in turn-of-the-century Mexico, Laura Esquivel imbues her novel with magical realism to great effect. As the youngest daughter, Tita De Garza is forbidden to marry as she must care for her mother until she dies. When she and Pedro fall in love, he marries her sister so they can at least be near each other. If that sounds like a recipe for torture, you're right. As the family deals with one tragedy after another, Tita pours her emotions into her cooking as she preserves their recipes, causing everyone who eats the food to react in different ways. It will have you yearning for Tita and Pedro to somehow find a way back to one another. More info →
This contemporary romance debut is going to make you hungry. Moving from NYC to Ithaca, Dominican Republic immigrant Nesto gives himself six months to make a real go of his Afro-Caribbean food truck business. Youth services librarian Jude is trying to get funding for a library bookmobile as a way of getting services to more rural areas. Neither man can afford the distraction but some chances are worth taking. The food descriptions are amazing, as is Nesto's philosophy of food as a way of maintaining cultural roots and nourishing his community in the US. You'll wish you could get in on the meals he makes for Jude, too. (Open door.) More info →
Opposites attract between bad boy biker Trucker and good girl waitress Pinky in this contemporary romance novella. Trucker always comes in to her family's Indian restaurant and one day they finally move past their assumptions of one another and realize they have more in common than they ever could have guessed. A fun read. (Open door.) More info →
Asher has one last shot to make the Detroit gastro pub he started with his late husband work. He starts by firing the old staff and hiring replacements, including recent college grad Tyler who needs money for med school. Their relationship evolves from business to friendship and then later, something more. A great behind-the-scenes on the restaurant industry and Detroit's revival. (Semi-open door.) More info →
Layla returns home to San Francisco after her life falls apart. Her father offers her the office upstairs from his Michelin starred Indian restaurant (helpful) and secretly creates an online dating profile for her and arranges a series of blind dates (not helpful.) Sam thought he was renting the office upstairs but finds out he’ll have to share it with Layla and her potential suitors. These two opposites will have you smiling as you read! Heads up for some open door moments. More info →
Clara is sentenced to a summer working at her father’s food truck after one prank goes too far. Hamlet works at the coffee shop next to one of the food truck stops. A funny coming of age YA tale about friendship, crushes, and finding yourself in the most unexpected places. More info →