Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li

I really wanted to like this book, but for some reason I couldn’t even finish it. I’ll try to be honest in my review below, but I do encourage you to try and read it if it’s been of interest to you.

Here’s more about the book

35020361The Beijing Duck House in Rockville, Maryland, is not only a beloved go-to setting for hunger pangs and celebrations; it is its own world, inhabited by waiters and kitchen staff who have been fighting, loving, and aging within its walls for decades. When disaster strikes, this working family’s controlled chaos is set loose, forcing each character to confront the conflicts that fast-paced restaurant life has kept at bay. 

Owner Jimmy Han hopes to leave his late father’s homespun establishment for a fancier one. Jimmy’s older brother, Johnny, and Johnny’s daughter, Annie, ache to return to a time before a father’s absence and a teenager’s silence pushed them apart. Nan and Ah-Jack, longtime Duck House employees, are tempted to turn their thirty-year friendship into something else, even as Nan’s son, Pat, struggles to stay out of trouble. And when Pat and Annie, caught in a mix of youthful lust and boredom, find themselves in a dangerous game that implicates them in the Duck House tragedy, their families must decide how much they are willing to sacrifice to help their children. 


Truth time: I didn’t finish reading this book. Normally if I don’t finish reading a book, I don’t write a review for it. But most times when I don’t finish reading a book, I can tell I won’t like it by 100 pages. This took me about 3/4 of the way in to realize that I don’t want to finish reading. However, I feel like I’ve read enough to give you some thoughts. I’ll be giving this a 3-star review because it wasn’t complete trash and I’m not a terrible human that gives a book I didn’t finish a bad review.

The story begins in a mad dash like you’re running through a restaurant with a camera trying to capture all the intricacies of the place. Oh, it’s because you’re basically running through a restaurant in the very first chapter. You see a waiter accidentally drop a glass of water. You see the hostess trying to calm down a guest. You’ve got that group of waiters awkwardly singing Happy Birthday. Then you run to the back to see the craziness of the kitchen. It all feels like a rush of story coming at you and you don’t know how to discern who is what and what is going on.

Then the story finally subsides and like the end of a busy night, the dust settles and the characters finally come into play. From what I’ve read, the story is about a family who struggles to keep their late father’s restaurant open. When the business is mysteriously (less mysterious when you read it) burned down, Jimmy (the youngest son) sets out to start his own restaurant with a more modern spin.

I think this was definitely one of those character-driven novels. You get into these characters’ heads and there’s a lot of them to keep track of. Here’s a list:

  • There’s Jimmy, the youngest son
  • Johnny, the oldest
  • Annie, Johnny’s daughter
  • Ah-Jack and Nan who are long-time employees at the restaurant
  • Pat, who is Nan’s son
  • There’s Jimmy and Johnny’s mother
  • Uncle Pang, unrelated
  • Janine, Jimmy’s love interest

Each of these characters plays an important role in the book, but they also get their own backstories and thought processes so you’re trying to keep up with a ton of characters in a pretty short novel. You’d think with a cast that big you’d have at least dragons and an iron throne to chase after.

The biggest takeaway I got from this novel is that this is the story of a family who immigrated to America and trying to make their dreams come true. For the most part, it has, but on the other end you can understand why Jimmy is so adamant about creating something for himself here than continuing his father’s legacy.

There’s also some crazy mafia vibes coming from Uncle Pang. It seems like he’s the bank roller for any Chinese immigrants in the DC area. However, if you don’t pay or if you try to go against him, then it’s like reading The Godfather.

Aside from all that, this novel was a pretty slow paced one and that might have contributed to my overall feelings to the book. Nothing was really happening and by the time I was at 75%, nothing still had happened. Things just kept on moving forward without any discernible conflict and if all the conflict happens in the last 25% of the novel, then I’m sorry to have missed out.

But I wasn’t compelled by the story. It just seemed like the story of a young person trying to get out from under his father’s shadow and start a new dream. That and some mafia-style money issues took place, but not enough for me to invest and take interest in what happens next.

I’m going to give this one a 3-star review. Even though I didn’t finish the novel, it wasn’t terrible. And I don’t review novels I didn’t like. I just felt like this one wasn’t hitting my interest and it may well do so for others. I would encourage people to test it out for themselves especially if they’ve been anticipating this book. It might be worth your time, but it might just be a flop by 100 pages.

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley for free in exchange for an honest review. My opinions have not been influenced by the publisher or the author.

Simone and Her Books is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. This in no way affects my opinion of the above book.

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