Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Sara and Melissa Talk About...Food

 We've been running a column series to get more personal with our readers. Since lots of chick lit novels focus on food and cooking, we decided to share our own thoughts on this topic. 

We're always open to topic suggestions, so please don't hesitate to share those in the comments. We'd also love to know if you can relate to anything we've said or hear your own thoughts on the topic. So don't be shy. :) We look forward to getting to know you as much as we're letting you get to know us. You can find our previous columns here, in case you missed them.

Sara Steven:                                                                                                                                         
I’m in my final year at Arizona State University, and I find myself with nothing but electives to get me through the next two semesters. One of the classes I’m enrolled in for this semester is a food and human health course, because I love food. And I love health.                                                                                                                                      But now I’m sort of regretting it.
It’s not the class. The instructor is great, and I feel like I’ve learned so much so far. But that’s the problem. Last week we learned about the changes that have occurred in our food sources--the amount of nutrients derived from food, the soil our fruits and vegetables come from. The thing is, it’s not nearly as good as it once was, before industrialization took over. Before pesticides, before the dreaded GMOs. It’s all about supply and demand, which means producing produce and food that lasts longer and is convenient and available, but this means producing food that isn’t as high in quality.

In the back of my mind, I know this. In fact, when we moved to Arizona six years ago, I discovered that our next door neighbor was in charge of a food co-op and we were lucky enough to receive fresh fruits and vegetables grown locally by surrounding farms, all for a very affordable price. Twenty-five dollars a week. But then the co-op shut down. And the new grocery store just two miles down the road called out to me, and while it’s easy to buy the organic produce in the store, it’s just as easy not to. 

We have farmer’s markets out here. In over one hundred degree temperatures. I know. It sounds like I’m making excuses, doesn’t it? And I am. Because the convenience factor is so nice to have, but the more weeks that go by, I can’t ignore all of the factual information I’m learning in this food class. 

Courtesy of The Sugar Free Diva

I’ve always said that I’m a fairly healthy person, but I notice that as I age, some of the comfort foods I’ve always enjoyed are the same ones that cause a lot of chaos now. I can’t out-eat anyone at a buffet anymore--trust me, that was a sight to behold. I can’t outrun the calorie-laden meals, most likely due to my metabolism or my age or the fact that I’m not as strict about exercise like I once was. Certain foods cause me misery, and the ones full of sodium make me feel like I’ve taken up salt licking as a hobby. I figure I can try to make some small changes right now, like eating more produce, produce that comes from local farms. I put in a little research and found that there’s a market that’s close by, open seven days a week, and why not check it out, just to see what’s out there. It’s a small step, but it could be a huge step into living a healthier lifestyle, while helping out the local farms and businesses nearby. It can’t hurt. 

First step: eating healthier produce. Second step: curtail the daily sweets rations. Huh. Well, maybe I shouldn’t be so hasty with that...


Melissa Amster:                                                                                                   
I realize that I am sharing this post right before a fasting holiday is about to start. However, it's fitting for this topic as I wanted to talk about something significant that has to do with what I eat. If you didn't know this already, I keep Kosher. Simply put, I follow some rules about eating based on commandments given in the Torah, such as not mixing meat and dairy and not eating shellfish or pork. There's more to it than that, such as dipping new utensils, glassware, and metal ware (such as pots and pans) into a mikvah before being able to use those items. I also keep separate sets of dishware, pots and pans, utensils, cups, etc. My house has two ovens and two sinks, as well. 

The food items that I purchase need to have a symbol, known as a hecksher, in order to be allowed in my house. Usually this is a circle around a U, known as OU, or a star with a K inside, amongst a few other certifiable symbols. Thankfully, a lot of name brand foods I like (and the store versions) are usually Kosher, such as Oreos (and most Nabisco products), Kellogg's cereals, most ice cream brands, you know...the important stuff. ;) Unfortunately, Kraft macaroni and cheese is not certified, but I've found some decent Kosher substitutes. Also, I need to buy specially certified meat and cheese products. 

One of my favorite lines from The Office

I didn't always keep Kosher and only started about eighteen years ago, after my husband and I got engaged. We eased our way into it with baby steps instead of just going cold turkey on giving up items we were used to. I had stopped eating at McDonald's a little while before we started on our Kosher journey. I don't even miss it now. There are some things we both miss, but my husband is an amazing chef and has been able to recreate a lot of the things we used to enjoy prior to keeping Kosher. 

A few years ago, we started purchasing Gardein vegan products. (Thankfully, those are sold at our local Kosher supermarket!) That has made a huge difference for us, as it has opened up a lot of cooking options. When we want to have tacos or put meat into lasagna, we get the Gardein soy crumbles and my husband flavors them according to what we're eating them with. They're really good! When we want chicken parmigiana or chicken Fettucine Alfredo, we use the crispy chick'n patties. They are perfect for either meal. We've also enjoyed their meatless meatballs ("it tastes the same...if you close your eyes"--Rent) with spaghetti and parmesan cheese, or their chick'n strips in fajitas. We also enjoy their Mandarin crispy chick'n. (And then we can have ice cream afterward.) 

When Passover comes around, there's a new set of Kosher rules that we have to follow, which means no bread, pasta, green beans, corn, rice, and some other products, as well. We also have different sets of pots, pans, plates, utensils, etc (also for both meat and dairy). However, my husband has been able to make some delicious dishes where you can't even tell they're for Passover. He adapts a lot of his regular recipes for the holiday. I make matzah lasagna and matzah mac n' cheese, as well. Both are favorites in our house. And then there's matzah pizza, which tastes best on shmurah matzah, as it is thinner and crispier. 

I hope this gives you some insight into what it's like keeping Kosher. I'm always glad to answer any questions you may have. Sara has heard me talk about all the rules and products so often that she could easily keep Kosher if she ever wanted to. :)

Talk about food with us! Just share your thoughts on the topic in the comments.

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Book Review: Will They, Won't They


By Sara Steven

When life goes off track, sometimes the only thing you can do is go back to where it all began...

Emmy Palmer is the star of Bragadon Forest, the biggest fantasy series on TV; adored by the public, living the life of glamour and luxury in London.

But when scandal strikes, Emmy must escape the city and return to her seaside hometown to lie low and wait for the storm to pass.

Emmy's agent decides it would be a good look to star in the community Christmas pantomime, but who else could be playing her leading man but her ex-boyfriend who she may or may not have ditched to move to London a decade ago...

As the show approaches, love and friendships blossom and the real question is - Will they? Won't they? (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads.)

From the get-go, I knew Emmy’s story would be an interesting adventure. We learn that she portrays a Daenerys-like character on a television show that reminded me a lot of Game of Thrones,  and when the tabloids and paparazzi run rampant, along with sudden family tragedy, she decides to head to her hometown in order to get away from the limelight and seek solace. 

Being back in Marram Bay reads like a comedic tragedy. In one scene, she finds herself in a unique potential love triangle with two unsuspecting men, as well as back-and-forth banter with a handyman. Her two teen siblings don’t care one iota that she’s famous, giving her grief whenever they can, and Emmy’s aunt Vee is hilarious. There were times I actually snorted at some particular line or retort. I really loved the dialogue that went on between all of the characters, and when theater owner Felix Valentine puts pantomime player Pippa in her place--ooh, boy!

Will They, Won’t They? is a story filled with humor and fun, as well as emotional connections that tie into how Emmy feels about her family, but I think the biggest thing of all is discovering what makes Emmy tick, and what she ultimately wants out of life. While she has enjoyed her time on Bragadon Forest, the reader gets the sense that there is something out there for her, that she’s looking to maybe do more, and be more. Whether she can find that back at Marram Bay through redefining lifelong friendships and relationships with family, through a Christmas pantomime--well, that becomes a question of, will she, won’t she? And I really hoped she would. This was a charming, five-star read!

Thanks to Rachel's Random Resources for the book in exchange for an honest review.

Purchase Links:
Amazon UK * Amazon US

Portia MacIntosh is a bestselling romantic comedy author of 16 novels, including The Plus One Pact and My Great Ex-Scape. Previously a music journalist, Portia writes hilarious stories, drawing on her real life experiences.

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Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Spotlight and Giveaway: Apples Never Fall

We are excited to celebrate the publication of Liane Moriarty's latest novel, Apples Never Fall. Melissa is currently reading this and enjoying it so far. Thanks to Henry Holt, we have FIVE copies to give away!

If your mother was missing, would you tell the police? Even if the most obvious suspect was your father?

This is the dilemma facing the four grown Delaney siblings.

The Delaney family is a communal foundation. Stan and Joy are the envy of all of their friends. They’re killer on the tennis court, and off it their chemistry is palpable. But after fifty years of marriage, they’ve finally sold their famed tennis academy and are ready to start what should be the golden years of their lives. So why are they so miserable?

The four Delaney children—Amy, Logan, Troy, and Brooke—were tennis stars in their own right, yet as their father will tell you, none of them had what it took to go all the way. But that’s okay, now that they’re all successful grown-ups. Well, that depends on how you define success. 

One night a stranger named Savannah knocks on Stan and Joy’s door. She says she chose their house because it looked the friendliest. And since Savannah is bleeding after a fight with her boyfriend, the Delaneys are more than happy to give her the small kindness she sorely needs. If only that was all she wanted.

Later, everyone will wonder what exactly went on in that household after Savannah entered their lives that night. Because now Joy is missing, no one knows where Savannah is, and the Delaneys are reexamining their parents’ marriage and their shared family history with fresh, frightened eyes.

"I loved it. An absolute page-turner with all the wit and nuance that put Liane Moriarty head and shoulders above the crowd. Liane Moriarty shows once again why she leads the pack."
―Jane Harper, New York Times bestselling author of The Dry and The Survivors

Liane Moriarty is the author of the #1 New York Times bestsellers Big Little Lies, The Husband’s Secret, and Truly Madly Guilty; the New York Times bestsellers Nine Perfect Strangers, What Alice Forgot, and The Last Anniversary; The Hypnotist’s Love Story; and Three Wishes. She lives in Sydney, Australia, with her husband and two children.

Visit Liane online:
Website * Facebook 

How to win: Use Rafflecopter to enter the giveaway. If you have any questions, feel free to contact us. If you have trouble using Rafflecopter on our blog, enter the giveaway here.

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Giveaway ends September 19th at midnight EST.

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Monday, September 13, 2021

Book Review: The Juggle


By Sara Steven

It was only a blip. Just a little mistake. But in the world of television, Dan Whitehead’s little slip could cost him his career. 

His only chance is to swap roles with his wife, Molly, who works part-time behind the scenes at the show. It’s just for a few weeks. Easy. What’s so hard about looking after their twins and taking a step away from the limelight for a bit? Only, it’s not quite as simple as Dan may think. With more time, his past begins to haunt him. Then, when a friendly school-mum makes him an offer he can’t refuse, is she everything she seems?

Meanwhile, Molly is more than happy in her hoodie and yoga leggings - not that she ever does yoga. She’s more of a stay at home and listen to self-help kind of girl. Why would she want to go back on-screen when she doesn’t even like leaving the house? But she needs to save her husband’s job, after all, it is all her fault. Then, when she’s offered an exclusive interview on the other side of the world, her life in Cherry Blossom Park is under threat. Why is she the only person to ever be offered this interview? Dan must never know the truth.

The Juggle is more than just a story about parents keeping everything in the air. It’s about secrets from the past and hopes for the future. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon)

There are two polarizing personalities at play within Molly and Dan’s marriage, with Dan being the frontrunner, the one who seeks the limelight, while Molly prefers to hide away in the shadows, convinced she wouldn’t be good enough to be on-screen, anyway. It wasn’t always that way, though. Flashback moments provide a lot of important background information into the eventual breakdown of who Molly used to be, before the husband and the kids. It was something I could really relate to, as a wife and mother, too. Dan’s mistake becomes her potential step back into a life she hasn’t lived in years, and the whole prospect of it seems daunting.

Dan has a lot of secrets. At first, I wondered if The Juggle would focus primarily on this couple’s eventual decline from the way they once were, but Dan’s secrets paralleled the premise perfectly. On top of the secrets are the strange and unusual activities that are happening in Cherry Blossom Park, and when Dan finds himself caught up in the middle of it all, it threatens his self-identity, as well as his marriage and family. While I had a pretty good hunch as to what was going on behind the scenes, I appreciated the way it all unfolded for the reader, dodging us down one potential hypothesis to the next. 

Dan isn’t the only one with secrets. Molly’s exclusive interview involves someone from her past that Dan has no idea of, which went against the type of character Molly appears to be. I really liked that. If nothing else, no one can pigeon-hole Molly into being something that she ultimately isn’t. Or, maybe she is? That became one of the larger questions that needed answered, since Molly doesn’t think very highly of herself, compared to how everyone else around her feels about her. It made me wonder if the biggest interview of her life and career would have the expected results we might expect, or if it would stir up more trouble. 

I’ll be honest: due to various reasons, I read The Juggle in one day! I don’t ordinarily do that. But, what started as an innocent peek into Molly and Dan's stories, turned into an hours-long bender into the night, and into the morning, too. It kept me engaged, and given the way the dialogue and scenes are set up, I wanted to keep going. It was an intimate look into self-identity and self-worth, and worthy of the five stars I’ve given it!

Thanks to Rachel's Random Resources for the book in exchange for an honest review.

Purchase Links:
Amazon US * Amazon UK

*This novel is part of a series but can be read as a standalone.

Ellie Barker is a television reporter and presenter. The Juggle is her second book. She lives in Bristol with her husband, two sons, and a Labrador named Cookie. 

Visit Ellie online:
Website * Facebook 



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Friday, September 10, 2021

What's in the mail

Melissa:

The Younger Wife by Sally Hepworth from St. Martin's Press (e-book via NetGalley)
Hate Me Like You Mean It by various authors from Tracy Krimmer (e-book)
A Single Rose by Muriel Barbery from Europa Editions (e-book via Edelweiss)
The Bookbinder's Daughter by Jessica Thorne from Bookouture (e-book via NetGalley)
The Paid Bridesmaid by Sariah Wilson from Kaye Publicity
The Liz Taylor Ring
by Brenda Janowitz from Harlequin (e-book via NetGalley)
The Secret of Snow by Viola Shipman from Harlequin (e-book via NetGalley)
When Sparks Fly by Helena Hunting from St. Martin's Press
Somebody's Home by Kaira Rouda from Thomas and Mercer (e-book via NetGalley)
A Day Like This by Kelley McNeil from SparkPoint Studio  (e-book via NetGalley)
Bad Luck Bridesmaid by Alison Rose Greenberg from St. Martin's Press (e-book via NetGalley)



Sara:
Taylor Partially Matured by Grayson Avery from Rachel's Random Resources (e-book)
The Juggle by Ellie Barker from Rachel's Random Resources (e-book)
Couples Wanted by Briana Cole from SparkPoint Studio (e-book via NetGalley)
The Perfect Find by Tia Williams from Grand Central Publishing 
Five Years Later by/from Sarah Kraft (e-book)


Christmas Wishes at the Chocolate Shop
by Jessica Redland from Rachel's Random Resources (e-book via NetGalley)
A Little Piece of Paradise by T.A. Williams from Rachel's Random Resources (e-book via NetGalley)
Beneficence by Meredith Hall from Jennifer Musico (e-book)
Jami:
The Child of Auschwitz by Lily Graham from Grand Central Publishing 
The Seven Visitations of Sydney Burgess by Andy Marino from Grand Central Publishing 
The Arc by Tory Henwood Hoen from St. Martin's Press (e-book via NetGalley)
The Shaadi Set-Up by Lillie Vale from Putnam (e-book via NetGalley)





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Spotlight: Paper Airplanes

It’s the end of summer, 2001. Erin O’Connor has everything she’s ever dreamed of: good friends, a high-powered career at a boutique Manhattan firm, and a husband she adores. They have plans for their life together: careers, children, and maybe even a house in the country. But life has other plans. Daniel is a trader who works on the 101st floor of the World Trade Center.

Erin is drinking margaritas on a beach in Mallorca, helping her best friend get over a breakup, when she hears a plane has crashed into Daniel’s building. On a television at the smoky hotel bar, she watches his building collapse. She makes her way home with the help of a stranger named Alec, and once there, she haunts Ground Zero, nearby hospitals, and trauma centers, plastering walls and fences with missing-person flyers. But there’s no trace of Daniel.

After accepting Daniel’s death, Erin struggles to get her life back on track but makes a series of bad decisions and begins to live her life in a self-destructive fog of booze and pills. It’s not until she hits rock bottom that she realizes it’s up to her to decide: Was her destiny sealed with Daniel’s? Or is there life after happily ever after?

“This haunting novel captivated me from the beginning. Forney pulled me in with her gorgeous prose and a heroine who made my heart ache. I rarely cry when I read, but Paper Airplanes had me sobbing. This is the kind of book that only comes around once in a lifetime.”
—Laura Heffernan, internationally best-selling author of Finding Tranquility and Anna’s Guide to Getting Even

Purchase Paper Airplanes

Tabitha Forney writes books to appease the voices in her head. She’s a mom, attorney, and yoga devotee who lives in Houston with her three kids and a husband who was on the 85th floor of the North Tower on 9/11 and lived to tell about it.

Visit Tabitha online:
Website * Facebook * Twitter * Instagram



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Thursday, September 9, 2021

Book Review: The Living and the Lost

By Jami Denison

Just as traditional romance books have a prescribed ending—the Happily Ever After—historical fiction novels also have their own pre-conceived conclusion: The War is Over! But just like a wedding doesn’t end life’s complications, the end of a war doesn’t stop the misery and suffering. Historical fiction author Ellen Feldman’s latest release, The Living and the Lost, takes place in post-World War II Berlin. The war may be over, but no one is happy. What’s left when the bombs have stopped dropping? 

Millie (Meike) Mosbach and her younger brother David are both posted to Berlin in late 1945, as U.S. soldiers serving in the American occupation. Millie, a Bryn Mawr graduate, is working to keep Nazis out of the media, while David is helping to settle displaced persons. But Millie and David aren’t Americans—they’re German Jews who escaped Berlin shortly before Kristallnacht. Millie, especially, finds it hard not to judge all the Germans harshly, especially the “Frauleins” in her office who trade favors with U.S. soldiers for lipstick, nylons, and chocolates. “Fraternization” is strictly prohibited, and when Millie spies David out with a German woman one night, it breaks her heart.

Most wartime novels tend to be plot-driven with an obvious structure and conclusion. The Living and the Lost, which takes place in pre-and-post war Berlin as well as the United States, isn’t quite so linear. The story, told in third person, is almost all Millie’s, with only occasional segues into David’s point-of-view. Millie is haunted by how she and David left Berlin, and what happened to the parents and younger sister they left behind. Shortly after the story begins, Millie is confronted at work by her long-lost cousin, Anna, who begs Millie to help her find the daughter she left behind with a German Aryan neighbor. I thought this plot would feature heavily throughout the book, but it’s wrapped up rather quickly. 

Episodic and atmospheric, The Living and the Lost is less about what Millie does and more about who she becomes. Can she find it in her heart to forgive Germans who did what they had to do to survive? Can she find it in her heart to forgive herself? When does the quest for justice become a thirst for revenge? 

The setting also works to challenge expectations. Readers first see Millie as she’s picking out an apartment in Berlin. But that apartment is already occupied by a woman and her young daughter; Millie is requisitioning it, and the tiny family is forced out of their home. I’d read such scenes many times in World War II fiction taking place in France; I never expected to find an American army officer doing the same thing. Similarly, Feldman peppers the book with scenes of desperation in black markets and among the ruins of Berlin, while U.S. officers and their friends and family get everything they need in the PX. The juxtaposition is jarring.

Why is World War II fiction so popular, especially among American readers? I think there are two reasons in particular: One, we are the “good guys” who saved France and England, defeated the Germans, and liberated the camps (even if we didn’t join the war until 1941), and two, the assurance that “it could never happen here.” I read The Living and the Lost the same week Tucker Carlson broadcast from Hungary, praising the country’s authoritarian leader for his approach to immigration and calling recent arrivals to the U.S. “chaos and filth and crime growing all around us.” 

Carlson has the most-watched cable news program in the country. 

I no longer believe it could never happen here. Rather than a comfort, books like The Living and the Lost feel like a warning. 

Thanks to St. Martin's Press for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Ellen Feldman:

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