Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Double Feature Book Review: Food, glorious food!

By Melissa Amster

In honor of it being Passover this week, I'm reviewing books by two of my favorite Jewish foodie authors. Good thing I read them well before Passover though!

Both synopses courtesy of Amazon.

A Second Bite at the Apple by Dana Bate

Sydney Strauss is obsessed with food. Not with eating it--though she does that too--but with writing about the wonders of the gastronomic world, from obscure fruit hybrids to organic farming techniques. Since food journalism jobs are more coveted than Cronuts®, Sydney pays her bills working for one of TV's biggest egomaniacs--until she's left scrambling for shifts at a local farmers' market.

Stacking muffins for the Wild Yeast Bakery isn't going to win her any James Beard awards. But soon Sydney is writing the market's weekly newsletter, and her quirky stories gain attention from a prominent food columnist. After years of putting her love life into deep freeze, she's even dating again. And then Sydney gets a shot at the story, one that could either make her career or burn it to a crisp--along with her relationship and her reputation...

Since The Girls' Guide to Love and Supper Clubs was one of my 2013 favorites, I was eager to take a "bite" out of Dana's sophomore novel. This one carried the same easygoing charm with a character who was down on their luck and trying to turn their life around, knowing things were sure to end in disaster anyway. I tend to root for the underdog and appreciate characters who don't always have things handed to them on a silver platter. Sydney fit this description, for sure. She does have a lot of chutzpah and I actually got angry at her at one point and enjoyed seeing things blow up spectacularly. I liked how she tried to set things right and learned more about herself and what she wanted as a result of her errors in judgement. Most of the time, I was able to relate to a lot of what she was feeling and experiencing, so it was hard to stay mad at her for long. Especially with some of the funny situations she got herself into where I couldn't help but laugh out loud. While some parts seemed over the top, like at the climax of the story where too much was happening at once, the story was still fun and entertaining overall. I enjoyed seeing more of DC through Sydney's eyes and it made me appreciate the city more and even want to check out the farmer's markets.

Here are my movie casting choices:
Sydney: Kate Micucci
Jeremy (a potential suitor): Mark Duplass
Zach (Sydney's ex): Max Greenfield
Libby (Sydney's sister): Dreama Walker
Heidi (Sydney's best friend): Riki Lindhome (I couldn't have Oates without Garfunkel!)

Dana's next novel, Too Many Cooks, will be out in October and is available to pre-order.

Thanks to BookSparks PR and Kensington for the book in exchange for an honest review.

Recipe For Disaster by Stacey Ballis

To an outside observer, Anneke Stroudt is a mess—her shirts are stained, her fingernails stubby, her language colorful. But, despite her flaws, Anneke’s life is close to perfect. She has a beautiful historic house to restore and a loving fiancĂ© who cooks like a dream.

Until Anneke’s charmed existence falls apart when she loses both her job and her future husband in one terrible day. In need of a new start, she packs up her disgruntled schnauzer and moves into her half-finished home, where she throws her pent-up frustration—and what little savings she has—into finishing the renovation.

But at the first step into the house’s overhaul, Anneke is sidetracked when she discovers a mysterious leather-bound book, long hidden away, filled with tempting recipes and steamy secrets from Gemma Ditmore-Smythe, the cook for the house’s original owners. Slowly, with the help of some delicious food and Gemma’s life lessons, Anneke begins to realize that, just like a flawless recipe, she’s been waiting for the right ingredients to cook up a perfect life all along…

I know I keep saying that each of Stacey Ballis' new novels are my favorite of all her books, but this time I really really mean it. I was waiting for her to have a flawed character whose life isn't perfect, and she delivered with Anneke. There was so much heart and charm put into this story about a woman who can't seem to get things right in her life. The fact that other forces are working against her just makes her more endearing. I even love that her dog Schatzi (whom Anneke "inherited" from her grandmother) doesn't like her. While my biggest complaint is that the novel had to end at all, I do have to admit that I don't know a lot about home renovation and had a hard time visualizing what Anneke was talking about when she was planning out every little detail for the restoration. However, I was able sympathize about certain situations that didn't go right as I had been through some of those before. And while the dialogue felt genuine, I felt like she drew in too much of Jen Lancaster's writing style with periods and question marks at interesting spots. (Example: "Because I? Don't care.") Maybe she did this in previous novels, but I noticed it even more after reading Jen's last novel, Twisted Sisters. In any case, I definitely recommend Recipe for Disaster, whether you're an avid reader of Stacey's books or this is your first experience with them (which won't be your last once you've read this one). And there's even free veterinary advice, if you have a dog. Just a good thing this doesn't have a "scratch and sniff" element! And as always, there are lots of yummy recipes in the back.

I went a little crazy in casting this one! Hope Hollywood is paying attention...
Anneke: Alison Tolman
Emily: Jennette McCurdy
Grant: Jake Johnson
Hedy: Olivia Wilde
Marie: Felicia Day
Caroline: Sarah Paulson
Jag: Manish Dayal
Liam: Chris O'Dowd

Thanks to Penguin Random House for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Stacey Ballis: