Title: The Secret French Recipes of Sophie Valroux
Author: Samantha Verant
Publisher: Berkley Publishing Group
Publication date: September 8, 2020
Genre: Women’s Fiction
Summary: When Sophie Valroux’s dreams of becoming one of the rare women to lead a Michelin-starred kitchen goes up in flames, thanks to a manipulative, scheming former lover in the same kitchen, and she finds out her beloved grandmother in a small town in France had a stroke, she books a one-way ticket back to the chateau her family has owned for generations. After a 13 year absence, she finds everything completely changed and that her grandmother didn’t tell her anything. But it might be the one chance for her to reclaim her life, legacy, and career.
This is the kind of women’s fiction novel I’ve been looking for! It isn’t quite the one of my dreams, but it’s the closest I’ve gotten to what I consider my perfect women’s fiction novel. Most usually have women in some kind of female-oriented career, like a sleepy cafe or teacher. A high powered woman doesn’t exactly jive well with the genre at the moment. It also tends to go heavy on the romance to the point where they’re blurred right into romance. To me, women’s fiction is about a woman finding herself and building her life into what she wants it to be, romance optional. The Secret French Recipes of Sophie Valroux absolutely delivered on what I’ve been craving.
The Plot: Perfect Women’s Fiction
Sophie Valroux seems to have it made. She’s an amazing chef in a New York City restaurant on the verge of receiving it’s third Michelin star. If it does, she’ll be one of the few women leading a Michelin-starred restaurant. Everything looks rosy for her. But it all came crashing down on her when sabotaging colleagues manipulate her and their boss, leaving her without a job, and blacklisted. At least she can count on her fiance, except he just came out to his wealthy, conservative mother and is now wildly happy with his true love. Fortunately, they still love Sophie, but Sophie turns into a bit of a brat. For weeks, she’s lost in the haze of failure, unable to lift herself out despite the many and varied attempts of her best friends, who are extraordinarily wonderful and fully supportive of her.
It was difficult to read the many chapters of Sophie sinking down into a dark place, but it also felt entirely real. Having lost her dream, she no longer knows what to do with herself. Because of the way she was manipulated, she no longer even trusts her culinary abilities. Even when her grandmother, who runs a hotel and two restaurants at the family’s chateau, needs her to take over the kitchen, Sophie crashes and burns, to the delight of Jane, who has become the face of the chateau over the years. Fortunately, Jane’s twin Phillipa turns out to be an amazing friend and the complete opposite of her snobby sister. But Remi, Sophie’s childhood friend she unwittingly left behind, doesn’t make things any easier than her. At least, not until they have a heart-to-heart and romance blooms. Still, Sophie is wary. Life with her late mother wasn’t easy and left a dark shadow over her, and she never knew her father. Grand-mere Odette, though, is a force to be reckoned with even in her weakened state. She knows her granddaughter and would do literally anything to make her dreams come true. It hurt to see Sophie be continually manipulated, but it also helped her emerge from her fog of failure, to show her exactly what she capable of, and to make her see the truth of herself. I adored reading as she brought herself back to life and was finally able to discover the dream she was always meant to have.
The ending broke my heart, but also managed to piece it back together. Sophie lost a lot, but also gained a lot. It left the characters on a perfect note. It was a bit different from the endings found in typical women’s fiction novels, but I loved it. It was exactly the kind of ending I had been looking for, and it couldn’t have been found in a better book. Overall, this book delivered in terms of what women’s fiction should be: about a woman rediscovering herself, not falling in with the love interest at every turn. Sophie was a strong woman who just needed to find her strength again, as well as her feet. The ending leaves the characters on a positive, hopeful note, ending exactly the way a chapter in a real person’s real life would.
The Characters: Near Flawless
The Secret French Recipes of Sophie Valroux presents main characters who are fully formed with individual personalities and depth. They interacted almost flawlessly, though sometimes it felt a little too easy, like there should have been tension at some points, but it wasn’t there or wasn’t as strong as it should have been.
I was a little bothered by Sophie in the beginning, but, as she grew as a person, she grew on me. It was hard to like her at first, but her mistakes, her jumps to conclusions, her unspoken battles with Jane, and the love she clearly has for the grandmother she hadn’t seen in 13 years because of her late mother’s meddling all helped her to endear herself to me. She wasn’t perfect, and knew it.
Jane was the most confusing to me. She clearly hated Sophie and saw her as an interloper. She has a history with the chateau that Sophie doesn’t, so her animosity is fully expected. She’s torn between her loyalties to Odette and her hatred of Sophie, so their interactions sometimes knocked me because it wasn’t as I expected. I felt it could have been more acrimonious and was resolved a little too easily. Her sister, though, was an absolute gem. Everything Jane was not, she was fun, bubbly, and loyal, and just what Sophie needed in her life to find the bright flavors of life all over again.
My favorite part of this book was that the romance wasn’t over done, that it had it’s place and knew it. It wasn’t overpowering; it was even a non-issue for at least half of the book. The Secret French Recipes of Sophie Valroux clearly focused on Sophie getting her life back on track, while also giving her more of an incentive to stay. It was perfectly done, understated and exactly what Sophie needed.
The Setting: A Gorgeous French Chateau
Right now, I want to go to a French chateau. In particular, I want to go to this chateau, Sophie’s family home. It’s located in a quiet little French village, but still close enough to town for a day visit. But I loved the focus on the chateau and the tiny town it supports. Clearly, it’s a place everyone relies on in some way, which only adds pressure to Sophie.
It was quaint and delightful. The grounds were extensive with gardens, greenhouses, and vineyards. The inside of the chateau felt charming, but wasn’t overly described so I only got the sense it was refined and tasteful, which was mostly due to Jane’s doing. It felt quite upscale and fancy, but had so much history and nostalgia attached to it that it did somehow feel like home.
Overall: The Perfect Recipe
The Secret French Recipes of Sophie Valroux was exactly what I had been looking for. It delivered on almost all counts. A focus on the woman in question rediscovering herself and working hard to get her life on track. Friendships that come easily and with difficulty. A romance that was light, yet serious, and hit all the right notes without being overpowering. It was the perfect recipe for my idea of the perfect women’s fiction novel. I just wish Sophie had been more likable from the start, but she did grow on me. I was dissatisfied with her and Jane’s relationship, but, when I take myself out of the book, I feel I can understand it better. Overall, it was a fun read with a lot of depth and soul searching.
Great if you enjoy: food, family secrets, female familial relationships, light romance, strong female characters in women’s fiction
Not great if you’re looking for: romance, focus on female friendships, typical female careers in women’s fiction, typical women’s fiction
How many cups of tea will you need?
5 cups will do very well
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Thank you to Netgalley and Berkley Publishing Group for a free e-copy. All opinions expressed are my own.