Culinary delights abound, romance lingers in the air, and plans go terribly, wonderfully astray in this cheeky and charming historical tale, perfect for fans of Bridgerton or Dickinson.
It’s 1830s England, and Culinarians—doyens who consult with society’s elite to create gorgeous food and confections—are the crème de la crème of high society.
Helena Higgins, top of her class at the Royal Academy, has a sharp demeanor and an even sharper palate—and knows stardom awaits her if she can produce greatness in her final year.
Penelope Pickering is going to prove the value of non-European cuisine to all of England. Her contemporaries may scorn her Filipina heritage and her dishes, but with her flawless social graces and culinary talents, Penelope is set to prove them wrong.
Elijah Little has nothing to his name but a truly excellent instinct for flavors. London merchants won’t allow a Jewish boy to own a shop, so he hawks his pasties for a shilling a piece to passersby—but he knows with training he can break into the highest echelon of society.
When Penelope and Helena meet Elijah, a golden opportunity arises: to pull off a project never seen before, and turn Elijah from a street vendor to a gentleman chef.
But Elijah’s transformation will have a greater impact on this trio than they originally realize—and mayhem, unseemly faux pas, and a little romance will all be a part of the delicious recipe.
Jennieke Cohen (JEN-ih-kah CO-en) is used to people mispronouncing her name and tries to spare her fictional characters the same problem. Jennieke writes historical fiction for young adults inspired by real people and events because life is often stranger than fiction. She studied English history at Cambridge University and has a master’s degree in professional writing from the University of Southern California. Jennieke loves exploring new locales but always returns home to Northern California where the summers are hot, the winters are mild, and life is casual.
A charming historical romp and fitting tribute to My Fair Lady. With pitch-perfect prose and a sly, observant voice, Jennieke Cohen serves up a spectacularly unique rom-com confection. I absolutely loved it!
I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher (Harper Teen) for promotional purposes.
This was a really cute My Fair Lady retelling! I have seen My Fair Lady, but it was a while ago so I didn’t pick up on any of the references to it. If you’re a fan of the movie I’m sure you would appreciate those references.
I loved that it was a gender swapped retelling. I also loved that Penelope was half Filipino and Elijah was Jewish and that their backgrounds were a central and integral part of the story. The book explored the prejudices that both of them faced.
The three main characters were all well developed. I particularly liked seeing Helena’s character arc unfold and how her actions affected her friendships with Penelope and Elijah.
Food is a big part of the story so do not read this book on an empty stomach. You will get hungry! Luckily there is a recipe at the end for the empanadas mentioned in the book.
Since this is a retelling, the story is a little predictable and straightforward. There are no big surprises.
Overall, I enjoyed this historical YA retelling of My Fair Lady. If you like reading about 1830s England or books about food, I recommend checking this book out.
One of the greatest joys of being an author is getting sneak peeks at upcoming books, and I was lucky enough to get an early look at Cohen's sophomore novel. My Fine Fellow (a clever play on My Fair Lady) retells GB Shaw's Pygmalion from a whole new angle. Actually, from several new angles. Cohen starts by flipping the genders and power dynamics, and by shifting the pivotal form of personal expression from language to cooking. Higgins and Pickering are highly capable female chefs-in-training (knows as Culinarians), while their protege, Elijah Little, takes on Eliza Doolittle's role as the clay to be moulded, from a wryly clever street vendor to a cultured gentlemen chef who can impress royalty. Foodies will have a blast with this, not just because the story contains lots of delectable food descriptions (plus an amazing recipe I can't wait to try out!) but because the food ties in to the other big twist Cohen takes with the source material.
In MFF, the hierarchies go beyond class to also deal with race and religion, and each character brings their heritage to their food. The meals become expressions of culture, and ways to share one's individuality with others. Every spice has meaning. History. A connection to place and time. While Cohen deliberately takes liberties with her 1833 English setting to support her story, we get to witness what Regency life might've been like for a Jewish man or for a biracial woman with an English father and a Filipino mother amid an almost exclusively white Christian high society. It's a delight to see these characters take centre stage in a historic setting, and to see the most obvious ally in the room grapple with behaviours that mirror modern social dynamics.
Those who know the source material will have fun with all the Easter eggs, the nods to song lyrics and famous scenes or characters. Those who don't know the source material can still fully enjoy the food, the flirting, the historic details, and the journeys of self-discovery that lead the three main characters into the kitchen, onto the dance floor, and off to new adventures. It's a joyful read, with a smorgasbord for the senses, a thoughtful look at prejudice, a complicated friendship, and a sweet romance. I think Shaw would be smiling. And also very, very hungry.
✨Apparently I can’t just watch She’s All That 100 times and expect to understand this book lmao✨
My first mistake was basing all my knowledge of My Fair Lady on She’s All That. This as it turns out was not smart. My second mistake was assuming My Fair Lady was an accurate representation of the Pygmalion. My third mistake was eventually reading the summary of the Pygmalion because it confused me more.
This just wasn’t the book for me. There was nothing inherently bad about it, I was just never very interested nor invested in the story. A Dangerous Alliance had mystery and a very sweet romance (with a bit of angst and enemies) and it felt like a YA historical romance. This was just weird. I felt almost like I was in 1910 America or something. Maybe I was. I really don’t know. Nor do I know how old these characters actually were.
I thought I understood what was happening and then I got to a point where I realized that Helena was not in fact going to be the love interest of Elijah. (This was before she was truly horrendous.) I was sad to realize her arc wasn’t going to truly be reformed stuck-up girl or whatever the hell she was, until she went full rat bastard. Like just horrible to this poor boy. Read him to filth. Anyhoo, I thought it was gonna pull a switcharoo. It never did and I was just never interested in Penelope and Elijah together.
Penelope was a pretty flat character, although I did find her Filipina roots very refreshing and interesting. I mean she was a truly good person, I just wanted her to not be with Elijah (until the end, I’ll admit the end was cute). Maybe if I’d read the Pygmalion I wouldn’t have been so surprised. But I did read the summary and it seems it was even more vague there. (Did Eliza end up with the Freddy character there? Wild.) My Fair Lady only had the two main characters to work with so that one (and She’s All That) were obviously obvious. Well I’m assuming My Fair Lady was fairly obvious because I’ve also never seen that. Now is probably not the time to admit I did watch He’s All That though.
Elijah was a character I was rooting for and was interested in his life—he was Jewish so some more great representation and I learned a lot that I didn’t know. He was the least problematic in my opinion, but even then I still wasn’t interested in the cooking because it was so! much! and it wasn’t even food I really wanted to eat. It got kinda confusing what was being cooked and I just made myself a sandwich.
Having read the entire book, I obviously understand why Helena was NOT it as a main love interest, but I wish she would’ve just had a different, less horrible arc my god. Her character was there to represent the values, beliefs, and inherited prejudices of the time, but either fully commit to villainy or really reform her. Because I didn’t find she earned her happy ending. How old was she? Did I imagine that thing she had with the butler? Did I miss the conclusion of that? Idk. (Hopefully she’s not a whole child and him a whole adult because that narrator made his voice seductive I swear. But also aren’t butlers old and this is YA? Idk I’m scared lol. Also to be fair, the narrator’s voice sounded very old especially for Helena. I SWEAR THEY HAD A WITTY AND FLIRTATIOUS REPARTEE.)
Overall, I don’t even know if this is even marketed as a romance? I don’t really care because I assumed it wouldn’t be (and it shouldn’t be), but I think a stronger romance subplot would’ve added a bit more depth. Even then, it really would’ve been fine if I would’ve been more interested in the cooking and less annoyed by the term “culinarian.” Simply put, this book did a lot and I understood about 2% of it. I also wish my brain didn’t create a scenario I was more interested in than the actual book because that’s a one way ticket to disappoint.
This book was absolutely delightful. I love a good retelling of the classics, and the genderbend for Eliza Doolittle, Henry Higgins, and Colonel Pickering was cleverly done and added a fresh spin to the classic tale of Pygmalion. It was just similar enough that I loved the nods to the original, but also just different enough that I had no idea how it was going to end. I especially loved that the writing style was clean and I never questioned whether people living in the 1830s would actually be talking about the same subjects.
Another piece of this tale that I found intriguing was the world building. At first I was so confused because the events that were taking place didn't track with my memory of British history, but when I got to the end Cohen explained everything and I was satisfied. The book takes place in 1833, but instead of William IV being on the throne, his niece, Princess Charlotte, was Queen. It was actually quite interesting to read about Charlotte, because if she hadn't died in childbirth before taking the throne, Queen Victoria would likely never have been born. As a result of this female monarch, British culture was also changed to explore what it would look like if women had more autonomy. Helena and Penelope are both Culinarians, or professional chefs, and discussed in great detail what it was like to be a woman in a professional setting.
One thing that Cohen didn't change was how British culture treated Jews. The discrimination that they faced on a daily basis was a prominent theme, and highlighted the harsh truth that even though Britain never went to the same lengths as Germany did in WWII, the overall attitude towards Jewish people was essentially the same. It was really interesting to read about this social issue and the ways that it impacted people.
On a lighter note, I mentioned earlier that the girls were Culinarians, and so as a result, a huge portion of the book was about the amazing dishes they would prepare or teach Elijah to prepare. Let me tell you that every time I picked up this book I immediately started starving. The descriptions of the food were incredible, and simultaneously made me hungry and made me want to learn more about how to prepare these amazing meals. Plus Cohen included a recipe for their empanadas, and I always adore it when authors let me experience their story by trying the food that the characters love.
Honestly, my only complaint isn't so much a complaint as it is a comment, but I'm not entirely sure that all of the phrases/words they used were entirely historically accurate. They didn't say anything obviously modern, but overall it was just a lot easier to read than books written during that time. Again, not a complaint, just an observation. :)
I received this book for free from Netgalley. All comments and opinions are entirely my own, and I am writing a voluntary review.
My Fine Fellow is a gender swapped My Fair Lady and I adored every cute second of it.
It feels like the Great British Baking Show if it happened in the 1830's. It will constantly make you hungry and want to whip up a simple batch of empanadas.
Helana Higgins is well to do lady obsessed with the Culinary Arts and a rising star in her field. When she happens upon a poor street merchant (Elijah Little) with a talent for cooking...she believes she can turn him into what it takes to be the next gentlemen chef worthy of any accolade.
Helana...along with her best friend Penelope take Elijah under their wings and teach him what it takes to cook at the next level and in turn each get way more than they bargained for.
This book is so darling and the audio was excellent. Its about food and friendships and finding your worth. It deals with prejudices against people of other cultures and religions like Elijah and Penelope (being Jewish and Philippine) and really has some fun and wonderful character growth.
There themes of friendship and what it means to truly be there for someone irregardless of the benefit to your own self. It had the sweetest little romance too that will put a smile on your face.
Really happy I read this one, it just made me feel GOOD!
UPDATED REVIEW: A scant three stars. I love the premise (and the cover!) and was hoping for a real showstopper ... or, at the very least, something with style if not substance. However, after a promising start, I found it too bland. The story has so much potential, I'm sad I didn't adore it. I like the alternative history and the "Culinarians", sweet Penelope trying to fit into a British society that wouldn't look favorably upon her if they knew of her beloved Filipino mother, and Elijah's Jewish heritage and the way he tries to honor his late parents and his faith while trying to make his way in a London that is very unfair to the Jewish people. Yet, I almost quit reading it half-way through as I was not feeling particularly invested in the characters. Perhaps if one is really, really into cooking one might enjoy all the descriptions of ingredients and food preparation and various recipes, but I really would have preferred more character development. I wanted more of the romance between Elijah and Penelope, what a great foundation with them bonding over their heritages that they feel comfortable sharing with one another yet have to hide from society at large, but I think after nearly half the book we've perhaps had one slight heart flutter and that's about it and then most of the romantic passages later on had to do with allusions to suns and moons and Penelope feeling strange pains in her palms (?) when she thought of her (as yet) unrequited love. Mostly they just look at each other and smile. I’m all for a sweet romance but this one was slow as molasses. Still, it’s nice to find a sweet romance and this one is very clean. Meanwhile, Helena is a Hermione type who a bossy know-it-all who probably doesn't mean to be as rude as she usually seems but is fairly one-dimensional. I appreciate that the author tried to show a character who didn't see anything problematic about her attitudes toward other religions or ethnicities yet had actually been quite hurtful, yet her revelations felt a little forced. Maybe much of her annoying behavior is to match her Higgins counterpart in "My Fair Lady" (I watched it once, years ago, and it was never my favorite musical so, while I remember the overarching plot, I don't remember all the details -- I chiefly recall Eliza wanting a room somewhere, far away from the cold night air, and that the rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain. So, maybe I'm shortchanging this and some of the nods to the musical, though I did get the "I could have danced all night" reference). The secondary characters feature very little; it’s mostly a three character production. The second half of the book was stronger in terms of more interesting plot as (not really much of a spoiler here) Elijah makes it into the culinary competition) but I still felt frustrated by the characters' actions at times. Most especially, A great idea that, unfortunately, feels undeveloped. I feel like it needed more time to "prove” ;-) Maybe it was a rush job after her first novel's success, or perhaps this was actually an earlier novel and then got brought up for publication after the success of her first. It feels like a novice effort, though one made with love.
Well, color me disappointed. I had somewhat high hopes for this book. I absolutely loved Jennieke Cohen's debut novel, Dangerous Alliance. I was beyond excited when I found out she had another ya book coming out. My excitement waned a little bit though when I found out it was going to be a My Fair Lady retelling. I adore old movies so I went through a phase of watching as many as I could find. I'm a big fan of Audrey Hepburn and musicals so naturally, I decided to watch My Fair Lady. To put it nicely, I didn't care for the film. It was too long, the music was just OK and the main love interest was an irredeemable jerk. That movie kind of put me off movie musicals for a while. So yeah I was kind of hesitant to read this because of that.
This book (thankfully) isn't a straight-up retelling of My Fair Lady. The author definitely improved the story with certain changes. However, I still didn't like it. I think the main issue I had was with the characters. I just didn't care about any of them. They all were kind of bland. The plot also wasn't that interesting. Nothing surprised me. I love food just as much as the next girl but all the culinary talk bored me at times.
The entire time I was reading this I couldn't help but wish I was reading the author's other novel. This was nowhere near as good as Dangerous Alliance.
These books are so gorgeous! My copy of Dangerous Alliance with sprayed edges by @bookish_signs . I just love covers with intricate designs with lettering or borders.
This is a standalone and runs along the storyline of My Fair Lady but with Mr. Elijah Little the street food seller that Helena Higgins and Penelope Pickering Culinarian students wish to use as a school project. He far surpasses their expectations, well at least Penelope's. Helena is a bit high in the instep and only thinking of her own self interest, where his success is concerned.
Penelope is half Filipino and half English but presents white. Helena can not understand what her life is like considering she ignores Penelope's heritage and discounts it. Considering the times and her class it seems accurate but as her friend what a b.
Elijah, who is Jewish gets entered into a gentleman's contest for the culinary arts and Helena finds nothing wrong in deceiving everyone. Let's just say Helena has lots of groveling to do later.
I loved the premise of their project that they wanted to prove that anyone could be taught to be a gentleman/woman and be from anywhere in society. They did prove their theory. And watching Elijah go from a dirty street kid to a handsome young man, which I don't think they realized, was there was fun.
The longing between the two characters when there was someone standing in the way was frustrating. I don't mind the miscommunication trope, you know why? How many people actually confront others or say things as they are when they want to? I am not talking about in the shower or 3 hours later. It makes it that much sweeter when they realize they wanted to be with each other.
After reading Dangerous Alliance, I was really excited to jump into My Fine Fellow. I don't really know much about My Fair Lady, so I'll admit that I was intrigued to see how this was going to play out. With the roles reversed, I ended up enjoying the characters a lot more than I expected to. I did think that the beginning was rather slow though but that's because of all the information we are getting.
Once we started diving into food and the romance, well, it definitely got better. Like a lot better in my opinion. I also really enjoyed the representation throughout this. Penelope is half-Filipina and Elijah is Jewish. Both deal with their fair share of prejudices and bigotry throughout the book.
In a way, I think it brought them closer together. Whether it was romantically or with the amazingly yummy food being constantly described throughout this book. Seriously, I'm starving. Other than that, things don't magically come easily to anyone and that was honestly refreshing. You see the struggles that they go through and watch them grow or adapt from it. Some may be obvious to the eye, but others aren't.
In the end, I definitely enjoyed this retelling. Kind of makes me want to watch My Fair Lady or eat something delicious.
In an alternate history 1830s England, Helena and Penelope are in their last year at the prestigious Royal Academy for Culinarians. Helena is at the top of her class and Penelope is determined to prove that cuisine doesn’t just have to be European to be delicious. When they meet Elijah, a street vendor selling his pasties to passersby, Helena sees the opportunity for the perfect final project: transform Elijah into a gentleman chef!
I have been a fan of Pygmalion since I read it in high school. My love of the rags-to-riches transformation was cemented when Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison sang and danced their way into my heart in My Fair Lady. I was quite excited to see that Jennieke Cohen created an alternate history retelling and I dove in with eagerness … though I was a bit worried my stomach would growl and my mouth would water the whole time I read.
While the story was enjoyable and the secondary plot of the romance was charming, I found that the tale never elevated itself past “good” for me. Why wasn’t my stomach growling, my mouth watering, my heart pitter-pattering for Elijah’s changes? While the descriptions of food were present, I never really felt like I was connecting with the dishes as Penelope told Elijah one should: “Remember that the first thing anyone does is eat with their eyes. Before the diner even takes a single bit, what they see, hear, and smell is what will often entice them to eat—or to partake of some onther dish if they have the opportunity. For the ultimate, transcendent food experience, the mind must be engaged on multiple levels. That is the way to keep your food from being better than common. …” Yes, I am aware I was reading and not dining. But I have read many a book where I’ve wanted to plop it on the table and race to order take-out or make a run to the local bakery because the descriptions have been so luscious that I cannot help but want to eat!
I also longed for more from the characters. I really wanted to hear more about Penelope’s life as a bi-racial young lady. I wanted to understand Helena’s background as a rich young woman on her own in London. I just never felt very invested in the characters, their backgrounds or futures. My heart should have soared at the end. Instead, I was like “Well. Okay.”
I know others will find a connection with this story that I did not. This is why it is so great there are so many books, so many talented authors, and so many readers! Every story has its reader … this one just wasn’t 100% mine.
The key issue for me was the character of Helena, who I didn’t care about and couldn’t stand. She got so much page time early in the book, I was starting to wonder whose story this was. The other two key characters, Penelope and Elijah, were flat and underdeveloped. So I found this story difficult to get into and increasingly difficult to pick back up.
I was never a fan of My Fair Lady, which this is a retelling of, so that probably didn’t help.
It's a retelling of My Fair Lady with a delightful-sounding twist, so of course I was eager to get into it (I mean... the idea of cooking playing such a major role in an alternate-history 19th-century London... What more could you want?!). I read the whole book over the weekend and enjoyed every minute of it. The main characters were adorable--especially Penelope; we really don't see as many genuinely sweet female leads as we should these days--the food descriptions plentiful, and the story itself rife with references to the original musical. Penelope's heritage and Elijah's background were both explored in a touching way, though there were some aspects I would've wished to see addressed later in their arcs. My biggest complaint is really that the writing had the potential to be lovely, but it slipped into a more stilted modern style far too often to really immerse you in the time period. The language could have been used to suit both the story and the arc about their background more, and it would've made it even better.
But overall, I did enjoy this. It's pretty lighthearted and not as funny as I'd hoped, but I still loved the twist to the beloved musical. Not sure how much I'd recommend this book, though.
I wish I'd known sooner that this is set in an alternate timeline, it would have saved me a lot of time and confusion! So, in case other readers are confused (it is detailed in an author's note at the end, but that's, you know, at the end): in the history we know, Princess Charlotte died in childbirth, leading directly to Victoria's ascension. In this novel, she survived the birth - although apparently the child didn't, as Charlotte's baby in our history was a boy and in the novel is a girl - and took the throne, leading to a period of a lot more freedom for Britian's ladies. They're now actively encouraged to take up professions, and the most highly esteemed of all is Culinarian - what we might call a high level chef, almost exclusively women.
All this backstory is given to us in dribs and drabs throughout the story, so it was a while before I felt that I fully understood what was happening.
Now, a confession; although I know the story, of course, and I know some of the songs - I've been in a choir ever - I have no memory of ever seeing the movie. So although I could follow the story perfectly well, I'm probably missing injokes and references to characters and moments from the movie or show.
I enjoyed this, and I thought it was cleverly written, but I wasn't desperate to get back to it and find out what was going to happen; I read it in several sessions over several days, which is not like me. I still recommend it, but I don't think it's a page turner.
Good, but not great. I'll keep an eye out for more by the author.
4.5 Stars -- My Fine Fellow is such a fun, charming historical fiction. This book is made for historical fiction readers who love books featuring food. It is also a retelling of My Fair Lady/Pygmalion by George Shaw. I came to love the story of My Fair Lady through the Audrey Hepburn movie and this book really hits many of the major beats of the story. I loved how the author named the chapters after popular phrases or lyrics from the musical. I loved the gender-swap and central theme of food. Helena and Elijah were spot on. Helena is just as bossy, brilliant, blunt, and condescending as Henry Higgins. She's brilliant but abrasive and high-handed. She was a tough pill to swallow for most of the book, but she eventually learns her lesson. I appreciated that the author took her time with Helen's eventual self-realization. Elijah is the the perfect Eliza Dolittle. From the swagger and confidence he shows in the beginning, the animosity he carriers for Helena while appreciating her genius. I especially loved how the author captured how trapped Elijah feels as he's trained to be a gentleman chef. He can no longer return to his old world, but doesn't know how he fits into his new one.
Alternate History However, this is a book set in an alternative history where Princess Charlotte, daughter of King George IV, didn't die in childbirth. In this alternate history, she ushered in an age of progress where upper class women are able to take on careers and make a name for themselves, instead of only being valued for what worth they might bring to a marriage. To be a Culinarian trained out of the Royal Academy is the most prestigious of careers. This is explained in the author's note at the end of the book, but I think it may have been helpful to have explained this alternate history in the synopsis as it may confuse readers.
Diversity The author also added some much appreciated diversity into the book through two of the three main characters - Penelope Pickering and Elijah Little. Penelope is mixed race of English/Filippina and Elijah is Jewish. These play an important part in the story. While this is an alternate history, the author balances showing the prejudices and bigotry against those who are different during that time in England with a hope for a brighter, more tolerant future for these two characters. I'll admit the situations and outcomes surrounding these two are "unrealistic" but I believe the author included the racial and ethnic diversity for readers who rarely get to see themselves in historical fiction books - like myself. I love historical fiction set in regency and victorian England, and I have never read one with a non-white protagonist. To be fair, I don't go looking for these, but coming across it in a book like My Fine Fellow made me feel warm and happy inside. The author is Filipina and Jewish so I believe she wrote it for herself too. She writes more about the diversity as well as gives more historical context towards mixed race and Jewish people in her author's note at the end.
I did hope for a little more exploration of Penelope's experience as a biracial person. We get mentions of how her parents stay out of England to give Penelope a greater chance of success but I would have liked to see more moments with her parents or more letters between them. There is more focus on the struggles that Elijah faces but I think that makes sense with the My Fair Lady retelling aspect.
Food, Food, SO MUCH FOOD So fair warning that this book talks about food a lot. The three protagonists love cooking so it's expected, but there are many sections that go into detail regarding the preparation, cooking, and descriptions of food. This will be dry to some readers. I really enjoyed all the descriptions, and as someone who does not cook or bake at all, I found these entertaining and easy to understand. There is a competition element in the story at the end, which helps with the pacing of the book. The beginning of the book is devoted to setting up the characters and bringing them together. Helena and Penelope are training Elijah so the descriptions are more technical, but the second half of the book is where things pick up as we focus more on the characters' struggles and growth.
Romance No spoilers. There is a romance in this book and it's fairly (pun intended) obvious who the main players in the romance will be. The romance is definitely a secondary plot. This is a historical fiction, not a historical romance. It develops slowly and cautiously. The romance was sweet and gentle, and added a nice touch to the conclusion of the book.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book and I highly recommend this to historical fiction readers! I would have given it five stars but there were some pacing issues in the middle where the story seemed to meander a bit. I would have also liked to see more of Helena and Penelope's struggles. We get mentions of Penelope's, but not much of Helena. Sure, she is a wealthy white woman from an aristocratic family that is fully supportive of her career aspirations. She always gets her way and she's super talented. But she is also neglected by her family and lonely. Being a Culinarian is her only way to prove to her family and the world that she has value. I wanted to see more of her vulnerability, not only in ways that involve Penelope and Elijah.
** Thank you to Harper Teen/Epic Reads for sending me a finished copy to review.
This YA historical fiction novel is a wonderfully clever and charming gender reversed My Fair Lady/Pygmalion retelling full of culinary delights! I really enjoyed the reimagined 1830s England setting and the role reversal as up-and-coming female Culinarians Helena Higgins and Penelope Pickering set out to transform Elijah Little from a street vendor to a gentleman chef. The story largely focused on Elijah’s culinary training and the mouthwatering dishes, but the author also highlighted the disparities in class, race, and religion during that time period. As a Jewish boy, Elijah was not permitted to own a shop or enjoy certain other rights afforded to white Christian Englishmen. Penelope, a biracial character, was disparaged for her Filipina heritage and cuisine. They both felt they had something to prove, and I couldn’t help rooting for them the whole time! I loved how they incorporated their cultures in their cooking and realized that their backgrounds, while important, didn’t completely define them.
*I received a gifted eARC from the author, publisher, and Let’s Talk Books Promo in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Thank you to Netgalley and Harper Teen for access to this eARC in exchange for an honest review.
My Fine Fellow is an adorable gender swapped version of My Fair Lady set in an alternate 1830s England. The story follows Elijah Little (a poor Jewish street vendor), as well as, Helena and Penelope (two up-and-coming culinarians at the height of society). Like the original story, Helena decides, as her final project in culinary school, to try and elevate Elijah in the eyes of society by teaching him the latest culinary skills in order to become a gentleman chef.
Overall I really enjoyed this clean romantic comedy! The story was engaging, it was easy to pick out the elements of the original story, the culinary school aspect was fun, and I really loved both Elijah and Penelope. At times the use of very modern culinary techniques drew me out of the story and had me second guessing the setting of the story but I think for most people it wouldn't bother them that much.
I would love to see who they would choose to narrate an audiobook.
Such an amazing read! I thoroughly enjoyed this book from start to finish, and I thought that it was such a creative retelling of My Fair Lady (with a better ending too)! I fully did not expect to come out of this with another favorite, but alas, here I am! I have not one ill thing to say about this novel, it’s just such a great read! If you like period romances, if you like historical fiction, if you like My Fair Lady, just do yourself a massive favor and read this book!
Thanks to #NetGalley and HarperTeen for allowing me to read an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
Jennieke Cohen's reimagining of My Fair Lady is set in an alternate England, where Princess Charlotte lived to become Queen, women have rights, and Culinarians "are the crème de la crème of high society." Lady Helena Higgins and Penelope Pickering (both 17) are the top students at the Royal Academy of Culinaria Artisticus. For their final semester they must complete a project highlighting their abilities. Penelope will showcase recipes from the Americas, especially those from her Filipino heritage. After a chance meeting, Lady Helena has decided to turn Elijah Little, a poor street vendor, into a gentleman chef, thereby proving that anyone can rise in society with the proper education. Elijah just wants to learn enough to be able to have a little shop with a kitchen of his own in which to sell his pastries. What follows is a clean Rom-Com that is a combination of Food Wars and Pygmalion that will have you laughing out loud and wishing you could taste the dishes they create. The author includes historical notes and a recipe for Chocolate Coconut Empanadas.
I adore My Fair Lady, and this book butchers that classic play. Maybe it's my distaste for gender-bent retellings (as they never seem as good as the original), but this particular take on the story falls flat as a pancake.
The biggest issue I have is with the dialogue. Nobody, absolutely nobody, talks like that. And they certainly did not talk like that in turn-of-the-century England. I inwardly facepalmed multiple times.
But if not for the romance, I may have graciously bestowed another star upon this book. Alas, the author clearly did not know anything about the original story, for they set up a romance between Anyone who's read My Fair Lady knows that's just wrong. Not only that, but every young-adult romance cliche is crammed into the story, and I can't decide if the main trope is insta-love or friends to lovers. Honestly, it's probably a combination of the two. Predictable, boring, and tasteless.
The plot itself lacked flavor as well. I did enjoy the descriptions of the various dishes cooked up throughout the story, that I will confess. But the characters (whiny), the pacing (choppy), and the storyline (tedious) nearly caused me to DNF halfway through. The only reason I kept reading was because I wanted to see if Helena would get a redemption arc.
---------- In conclusion: I wasn't entertained while reading the book, but I sure was entertained while seeing how many times I could slip food puns into this review.
First sentence: In the year 1833 of the Common Era, a fair ten years since King George IV died and his much beloved daughter, Princess Charlotte, succeeded him as Queen Charlotte of England, Ireland, Hanover, and so on and so forth, one Miss Penelope Pickering stood in the shadowed portico of St. Paul's London, wondering how much longer she'd have to wait for her dear friend Helena Higgins.
My Fine Fellow is a YA adaptation--a spin--on the classic musical My Fair Lady which is an adaptation of Pygmalion. Helena Higgins and Penelope Pickering team up to teach a young street vendor, Elijah Little, how to become a gentlemen chef. The two young heroines are still in training themselves, mind you, but they feel that with their "expertise" and a little luck, they can fool everyone with their finished project. If all goes well, he'll be cooking for Queen Charlotte herself.
The novel is told primarily through Penelope Pickering's perspective--with perhaps a few moments here and there from other characters.
It is set in an alternate history one where Princess Charlotte survives childbirth and goes on to reign as Queen. Queen Charlotte is ALL about women's rights, women's equality, opening up all education and careers to women.
The novel definitely is heavier than you might expect. You might suppose that this would be a light, entertaining, silly read. And it is--in places. The heaviness comes in with race and racism. In some ways there's no recovering from that.
The book provides an opportunity for rants. If you've ever had a strong opinion on HENRY HIGGINS (from the original), then you might enjoy the ranting against Helena Higgins. But really, the characterization is minimal.
I feel this book is too 'modern' for its own good. Just my opinion. I think the dishes they were having the characters prepare scream out Food Network from the past ten years AND not like any recipe you'd find in any book from the nineteenth or even twentieth centuries. Granted, this is an alternate history, but, still.
I know nothing about My Fair Lady. Apparently this is a gender bend on that? Maybe so.
I did think this book was incredibly sweet. I liked the plot set-up and all of the FOOD. Oh my goodness, so much baking and cooking. I think I was hungry half the time just listening to this because everything sounded delectable. I’m a sucker for a good cuisine book and this nailed it.
I struggled the most with Helena. I knew her character was meant to be unlikeable but wow did she really annoy me. Hallelujah for the growth she showed in the end after Penelope and Elijah both showed some backbone and told her to get with the program and off of her high horse.
Penelope and Elijah were easily one of my favorite parts. Such a tender and slow burn acquaintances to lovers romance. I adored the way they connected over food and their history. The meaningful conversations surround those of mixed race and Jewish decent in the time period brought another complex layer to this read. I really enjoyed this one and the audiobook was fantastic too.
Overall audience notes: - YA Regency Romance - Language: none - Romance: kisses - Trigger/Content Warnings: racism, anti-Semitism, discrimination, misogyny, loss of parents
I actually read a young adult novel that I loved and couldn’t put down! Now, I have no problems with YA, I just feel like I’m too old to read them but much like the musical this book is loosely based on, this one is timeless and ageless!!
This is My Fair Lady meets Chopped with a wonderful bit of feminism sprinkled in where women monarchs rule the day and young ladies can have big goals.
It does touch on the prejudice of people with mixed races and anti-Semitism during 1830s England which also causes pause into feelings that sometimes rear its ugly head in the present day.
It’s got romance and humor and a wonderful story of working hard to achieve your goals.
It’s got sweet characters and stubborn characters and they are all fantastically written.
If you are a fan of My Fair Lady, the play on names from those characters to the characters in this novel is the best!
Helena Higgins has a final project to complete graduation and become a Culinarian from the Royal Academy. She finds a street hawker named Elijah Little who makes a decent empanada. Helena makes Elijah her final project by turning him into a gentleman baker.
Along with Helena’s best friend, Penelope Pickering the trio work to make Elijah worthy of a Princess.
This was such a fun read! It was a gender swapped retelling of My Fair Lady meets olden days cooking competition. It really was a delight.
Helena Higgins, Penelope Pickering, and Elijah Little conspire together to take Mr. Little from street vendor to gentlemanly shop owner. I loved all of the nods and references to the original source material, although I did wait in vain for a "Just you wait, Helena Higgins," which was rather disappointing. 😅
And holy smokes did this book make me hungry. Ravenous. The descriptions of food were mouth watering.
It took me about half the book to wrap my head around the fact that the details didn’t matter, there wasn’t enough world building to make this foodie, regency London mashup make sense. Once I stopped trying to figure out the details I was able to enjoy the food imagery which is what I really came for.
I really enjoyed this book. All in all the retelling was a well constructed and well flushed out, which made it enjoyable to read. I loved how the author peppered in little lines and details from the original texts too. I appreciated how the author created so much personality to the Pickering character because it’s not something we find in the movie musical. She keeps the brashness and selfishness of Higgins which is indicative to the character for sure. The Dolittle character was given all the personality we love about them from Pygmalion and My Fair Lady. My one unhappy point was the change she made to them as far as religion. In a way i felt it made him more interesting but at the same time, Dolittle shouldn’t have to be made more interesting. It felt…unnecessarily thrown in (even if it had some relevance at the end). I had other issues about minor details (I’m a stickler for historical accuracy, what can I say?) but these were not big qualms, just small personal opinions. I liked most that someone put in tremendous time and energy in making a lovely retelling of one of my favorite stories
Thank you to Netgalley and HarperTeen for my copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This is a very sweet retelling of My Fair Lady - with a few fun twists. Best friends and students at the prestigious Culinarian school in 1830s England, Penelope and Helena enjoy tasting food from the Americas. A seller of empanadas creates a debate over his authenticity. Helena even dares to state the seller could own his own shop if he were of gentlemanly social standing. Elijah Little decides to take Helena up on her offer much to her shock. After some quick thinking, Helena decides Elijah will be her Senior Project - not only teaching cooking and its basics but also manners and good social breeding. Humor. Romance. Friendship. This book has a lot to offer, though at times the plot can be very slow.