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That Part Was True Hardcover – February 4, 2014

49 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


How rewarding to perch on the shoulder of a character Barbara Pym might have conjured-a late bloomer who possesses "brickish stoicism" and brews tea on an Aga. So when the British author Deborah McKinlay takes us to "the depths of the English countryside, in a house that was an advertisement for the English countryside," we recognize that a Lively voice-à la Penelope, that is-will be reporting with wry detachment and affection.

That Part Was True is part epistolary, beginning with a fan letter sent by Eve Petworth to Jackson Cooper, a ­Robert-Parkeresque, best-selling American novelist. Cooking earns a starring role in their correspondence; as it continues, he begins to think of her as "his food friend," enjoying on paper "a chaste, if warm, thing based on a mutual interest."

Poor Eve, a divorced romantic pessimist, suffers anxiety attacks, brought on by almost anything outside her four walls. Her daughter, Izzy, and Eve herself consider Eve to have been very bad at mothering. And now Izzy's coming wedding introduces additional angst in the form of Simon, the long-estranged ex-husband and thrice-married father, who is making up for lost time and absent scruples.

Equal space is devoted to Jack, twice-divorced, sort of enjoying bachelorhood in the Hamptons. "For the past 15 years, women had been trying to please him. Not many had managed it." Several now seem "gluey." Especially skillfully rendered is his affair with a diffident New Yorker, Adrienne, a dispenser of unwanted editorial advice. Worse-she's a vegetarian who hardly eats! Mineral water and a salad don't keep good company with omnivore, gourmand Jack. Far-off Eve, on the other hand, is a safe, quixotic object of affection and a source of recipes.

Will a culinary correspondence ("Mutton is good with plums") be enough to fan a flame? I worried that invitations to rendezvous in Paris were premature and unearned or, as Eve's housekeeper warns, "dodgy." But mercifully, Jack and Eve think so too. Jack wishes "he hadn't said that stuff to Eve; it sounded pretentious in the daylight."

Will these pen pals actually meet in a cafe on the Left Bank? McKinlay teases us, allowing them to correspond with a bit more ardor than their nonacquaintance warrants. If we occasionally wince at Jack baring his soul, going poetic, and with Eve responding in kind ("When it had all gone-my buoyant roundness and openness to joy-when it had been stripped away, I tried to forget everything"), we understand that distance and semi-anonymity are making them brave.

I won't say where their missives lead, but I will applaud the sensible outcome. This is England, after all, and we trust that Mrs. Petworth won't do anything rash.―Elinor Lipman, New York Times Book Review

A charming and quick read, That Part was True introduces two innocuous, somewhat lonely, characters who forge an unlikely friendship through mailed letters. The pair's platonic relationship is comforting and reliably innocent, yet their discussion of food and love is wonderfully sensory. The ending is hardly unexpected, but provides a nice wrap-up to this quiet, slice-of-life tale.
After British mother Eve Petworth writes a fan letter to successful American author Jackson Cooper, the two begin a pen-pal friendship that helps Eve cope with her daughter's impending marriage and Jackson with his floundering love life. Over a shared love of food and a common loneliness, the two post-middle-aged friends make plans to meet in Paris. [4 stars]―Leah Hanson, RT Book Reviews

About the Author

Deborah McKinlay has published half a dozen non-fiction titles in the UK, and her books have been translated into numerous languages. Her work has appeared in British Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and Esquire. She lives in South West England.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (February 4, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1455573655
  • ISBN-13: 978-1455573653
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,085,447 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Mason Canyon on February 19, 2014
Format: Hardcover
It all began with a simple letter that fuels this richly crafted story about two individuals, the lives they lead and how they connect. It’s a blend of romance, food, soul searching and forgiveness.

Eve Petworth is a lonely British woman who has cowered down to her ex-husband, her over domineering mother and now her outspoken daughter. She reaches out, through a letter, to American author Jackson Cooper to compliment a scene in one of his books. Thus discovering their mutual love of cooking and food.

Jackson, while quite successful, is also lonely and has his share of awkward problems including his ex-wife’s new lover and an over-zealous neighbor. He finds the correspondence refreshing and a welcome break from his day-to-day life.

The correspondence increases and develops into much more for each of them. They open up to one another offering caring advice. As they begin to confront their own problems, a special meeting is planned in Paris for them to finally meet. However, Eve fears this meeting can never happen.

Author Deborah McKinlay draws you in, making you feel comfortable with both Eve and Jackson. They are realistic and likable with faults and problems readers can relate to.

THAT PART WAS TRUE is a story that will stay with you long after the last sentence has been read. It deals with learning to forgive one’s own past, being honest with yourself and how friendship helps us overcome life’s problems. It’s a touching story with a good mix of romance, intrigue and funny moments, as well as yummy food references (and a couple of recipes).

McKinlay does an excellent job taking the reader from England to America and back again. No matter the location, McKinlay’s vibrant descriptions makes the reader feel they’re in the setting.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on February 21, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book touches in many aspects of life, but in a very unique way. I enjoyed the character, plot and the stomach growling descriptions of recipes.
I read this while my house was under siege with a jackhammer and I was completely distracted and transported. It just made me smile when I finished the book... A perfect ending!
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By booklover343 on February 18, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is not an easy review to write....I'm going to try not to give any part of the plot away so it won't be spoiled for other readers!

Beginning with the title, That Part Was True, which was confusing because it implies and at least SOME of the book is not true I never felt comfortable with this book. I wondered about the title as I read it.

The relationship that starts between Jack and Eve via letters seems more than "unlikely" as it was described by other reviewers. It seems wildly implausible, given the type of book he writes (why was Eve attracted to the book?), his self-centered-ness (his character seems very unlikely to have kept up a correspondence with a "fan"), and Eve's shyness and panic attacks. Maybe the "distance" of writing instead of speaking made it possible, but it did not ring true with me.

They do share a bond over cooking and some of things they discuss were interesting. It just seemed odd to me that Jack is discussing gourmet meals and semi-flirting with Eve in letters while he is dating and bedding other women.

And as to the end....well, it was confusing and not completely satisfying. It seemed to tie some things up too abruptly. At first I expected more pages to explain how it all happened, but it just sort of stops.

I think this could have been a wonderful book but the details made it fall short for me.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Keris Nine on February 11, 2014
Format: Hardcover
I was certain I wasn't going to like this and not just because I have a prejudice against novels that have an appendix of recipes at the end. It's more however that the premise seems very old-fashioned - a '84 Charing Cross Road'-like written correspondence between a lonely rich lady living in the English countryside and an American author that develops into something special. But then the characters are of that generation, both of them approaching 50, both reaching a point in their lives where it's time to look at where they are and re-evaluate if it's where they hoped to be. That's not really much of a recommendation either. What makes you keep reading That Part Was True however it that it is realistic, deals with real-life issues, and the author's handling of the subject keenly recognises this and never lets it slip into idealism or sentimentality.

That's what keeps you reading even if you don't find you particularly relate to the characters or their circumstances. At 48, Eve is of a nervous disposition, divorced, has been bullied all her life by her mother and has never really found her own place in life, but, being from a well-off family she's never had to worry about work, helping out part-time in a charity shop. It's there that she picks up a crime-fiction book by author Jackson Cooper, and particularly liking one description of the joy of ripe fruit, she writes to the author and finds that they have a mutual love of food. Even though he's a successful author Jack has also reached a turning point in his life, both personally and professionally, as he approaches his 50th birthday.

So how can you make this sound appealing? I'm not sure I can, but Deborah McKinlay certainly manages it.
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