Showing posts with label book review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label book review. Show all posts

Friday, July 12, 2019

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "Never Look Back" by Alison Gaylin, Served with Cinnamon Raisin Toast with Cream Cheese & Strawberry (Chia Seed) Jam

Happy Aloha Friday! I am excited to be today's stop on the TLC book Tour for a new mystery/thriller, Never Look Back by Alison Gaylin. I am pairing my review with Cinnamon Raisin Toast with Cream Cheese and Strawberry Jam, a dish inspired by the book. The jam is a simple homemade chia seed jam and there's a recipe included. So pull up a chair and a napkin and join me.

 Publisher's Blurb:

From the Edgar Award-winning author of If I Die Tonight
Reminiscent of the bestsellers of Laura Lippman and Harlan Coben—with a Serial-esque podcast twist—an absorbing, addictive tale of psychological suspense from the author of the highly acclaimed and Edgar Award-nominated What Remains of Me and the USA Today bestselling and Shamus Award-winning Brenna Spector series.
For thirteen days in 1976, teenage murderers April Cooper and Gabriel LeRoy terrorized Southern California’s Inland Empire, killing a dozen victims before perishing themselves in a fire… or did they? More than 40 years later, twentysomething podcast producer Quentin 
Garrison blames his troubled upbringing on the murders. And after a shocking message from a source, he has reason to believe April Cooper may still be alive. Meanwhile, New York City film columnist Robin Diamond is coping with rising doubts about her husband and terrifying threats from internet trolls. But that’s nothing compared to the outrageous phone call she gets from Quentin… and a brutal home invasion that makes her question everything she ever believed in. Is Robin’s beloved mother a mass murderer? 

Is there anyone she can trust?
Told through the eyes of those destroyed by the Inland Empire Killings—including Robin, Quentin, and a fifteen-year-old April Cooper—Never Look Back asks the question:

How well do we really know our parents, our partners—and ourselves?

Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (July 2, 2019)

My Review:

I love a good mystery/thriller, one that keeps me guessing and has lots of twists, turns, and misdirections that make me not want to put it down and Never Look Back delivers. Podcasts and especially true crime podcasts are popular now and the book plays well on that theme, exploring an old crime from the seventies that is resurfacing even though the perpetrators died in a fire at a desert commune. The crime is even more salacious because teenage lovers Gabriel LeRoy and April Cooper murdered twelve people, staring with her stepfather and including a police officer and a young child. Podcaster Quentin Garrison’s late mother was the older-sister of the little girl who was killed, and he blames her subsequent troubled and drug-filled life and his terrible childhood on the murder that tore his mother’s family apart and looks to his upcoming podcast aptly titled Closure, to bring some relief his anger and pain. When a seemingly credible source comes forward and states that April Cooper is still alive, Quentin begins searching for answers, disrupting the life of a film reviewer.

This is my first book by Alison Gaylin, and I am impressed with her writing. She developed interesting and multifaceted characters and skillfully moved back and forth in time, sharing their points of view, including using the pages of April’s journal written as letters to the daughter she hoped to someday have. The mystery slowly unfolds, and the tension rises with each page. Although I had parts of the mystery figured out, there were several surprises that I didn’t see coming. Although I couldn’t binge-read and finish the book in one or two reading sessions due to my schedule, I wanted to keep reading and was disappointed when I had to stop and adult. If you like podcasts, true crime and crime fiction, psychological suspense and thrillers, get Never Look Back on your #TBR list. I’m going to be seeking out Gaylin’s other books.


Author Notes: Alison Gaylin is the award-winning author of Hide Your Eyes and its sequel, You Kill Me; the standalones Trashed and Heartless; and the Brenna Spector series: And She Was, Into the Dark, and Stay with Me. A graduate of Northwestern University and of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, she lives with her husband and daughter in Woodstock, New York.

Find out more about Alison at her website, and connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


Food Inspiration: 
There were some food mentions in the book, both from present day and the seventies time frames. mentions included lasagna, iced tea, IPA beer, wine, pizza, frozen yogurt, Chick-fil-A, Starbucks and McDonald's, French press coffee, pies, grilled cheese with tomato soup and "an ice cube dropped in so you don't get hurt," chocolate ice cream, a gruyere and spinach omelet for one, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, lemonade, lemon meringue pie and a strawberry milkshake, blueberry pancakes, turkey bacon and coffee, steak and eggs, apple pie, glazed donuts, grilled tarragon chicken, mashed sweet potato, fresh asparagus, scrambled eggs and toast, salmon tarragon, pizza, Chinese food and bacon and eggs.


For my book inspired dish I had to go with the very simple cinnamon raisin toast, cream cheese  and strawberry jam as it appeared several times in the book as the comfort food for at least one of the characters and as a bit of a clue, or missing piece of the puzzle. I bought my favorite soft cinnamon-raisin loaf from my local grocery store and whipped cream cheese but decided to make up a batch of chia seed strawberry jam with some on-sale strawberries and manuka honey for a touch of sweetness. 

Most of my jams posted on this blog are made from chia seeds because I like the ease and the fact that the chia seeds do the gelling, so you don't have to add a lot of sugar like you do with pectin.

Strawberry Chia Seed Jam
By Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Makes 2 Pints) 

3-4 cups fresh strawberries, cored and sliced
1 cinnamon stick, optional
1 1/2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

4 Tbsp honey or maple syrup (I used Manuka honey)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup chia seeds (I used white chia seeds)

Place the strawberries and cinnamon stick (if using) in a medium saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the strawberries break down and get syrupy—about 10 minutes.  Mash the softened fruit using the back of a wooden spoon or a potato masher. Leave larger chunks if you like chunky jam. 

Remove from the heat. Stir in lemon juice, honey and vanilla. Taste and add more honey and/or lemon juice if needed. Add the chia seeds and stir well to combine. Let the jam stand about 15  minutes, until cooled and thickened. If you want the jam thicker, stir in more chia seeds 1 teaspoon at a time.

Transfer jam to a jar or other storage container. Once the jam has cooled to room temperature, place in the fridge for a few hours or overnight. The jam will thicken further and become more set once completely chilled. The jam can be stored for 2 to 3 weeks in the fridge or also be frozen for up to 6 months; just thaw in the fridge before using. Enjoy!

Notes/Results:This is definitely a comfort food snack (or dinner if you are me) ;-) The crispy-soft toast with a little butter and a layer of the whipped cream cheese, then slathering it with the jam is very tasty and goes down well with a cup of tea. I'd happily make this combination again.

I'm sharing this post with the Weekend Cooking event at Beth Fish Reads, a weekly event that is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share. For more information, see the welcome post.

Note: A review copy of "Never Look Back" was provided to me by the author and the publisher, Harper Collins via TLC Book Tours. I was not compensated for my review and as always, my thoughts and opinions are my own. 

You can see the other stops for this TLC Book Tour and what other bloggers thought of the book here.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "The Summer of Sunshine and Margot" by Susan Mallery, Served with a Recipe for Sautéed Mushroom & Chive Bruschetta

I love a short work week. Tomorrow is July 4th and I took the day after off for a rare-for-me four-day weekend. I have a delightful summery new novel to kick it off with as today's stop on the TLC Book Tour for The Summer of Sunshine and Margot by Susan Mallery. Accompanying my review is a tasty and elegant little appetizer for a summer night party, Sautéed Mushroom & Chive Bruschetta, inspired by the book.

Publisher's Blurb: 

The Baxter sisters come from a long line of women with disastrous luck in love. But this summer, Sunshine and Margot will turn disasters into destiny…
As an etiquette coach, Margot teaches her clients to fit in. But she’s never faced a client like Bianca, an aging movie star who gained fame—and notoriety—through a campaign of shock and awe. 

Schooling Bianca on the fine art of behaving like a proper diplomat’s wife requires intensive lessons, forcing Margot to move into the monastery turned mansion owned by the actress’s intensely private son. Like his incredible home, Alec’s stony exterior hides secret depths Margot would love to explore. But will he trust her enough to let her in?
Sunshine has always been the good-time sister, abandoning jobs to chase after guys who used her, then threw her away. No more. She refuses to be “that girl” again. This time, she’ll finish college, dedicate herself to her job as a nanny, and she 100 percent will not screw up her life again by falling for the wrong guy. Especially not the tempting single dad who also happens to be her boss.
Master storyteller Susan Mallery weaves threads of family drama, humor, romance and a wish-you-were-there setting into one of the most satisfying books of the year!

Hard Cover 368 Pages
Publisher: HQN; Original Edition (June 11, 2019)

My Review:

Whether it be due to work stresses or the warmer summer weather, I find myself drawn more to lighter reads this time of year. I gravitate to books that help me relax, tell a good story, introduce me to likable characters and despite any drama, generally end on a happy note. Susan Mallery is a great author for this kind of book, and I have reviewed a few of her novels over the years including the recent, California Girls. 

The Summer of Sunshine and Margot is like California Girls in that is about sisters, although there are two in this story. Margot is a somewhat buttoned up etiquette coach who has made the mistake of loving and altering her life for one man, who just can’t seem to grow up. She is determined not to let him back in her life and is busy working with a new client, Bianca, an actress who has a reputation for unconventional behavior but is now set on marrying her true love, an ambassador who needs to keep his dignity to keep his job. The job requires her to move in with Bianca who is currently staying with her reclusive researcher son in a renovated monastery. Margot likes and is attracted to Alec and is worried about failing both him and Bianca. Sunshine is Margot’s fraternal twin and rather than putting all her eggs in one relationship basket, she has made a series of bad very choices in men, and though she loves children and being a nanny, she constantly leaves her positions to follow those bad choices. Sunshine is trying to change her life and working for a successful and widowed landscaper, caring for his young son Conner and has big plans to go back to school, get her degree and lead a better, more responsible life. Both she and Declan are tempted by each other, but don’t want to admit it and hurt Conner or each other. 

Although the sisters are very different in appearance, personality, and in how they approach life, both were deeply affected by their childhood and being raised by their great-grandmother as their grandmother left their mother and their mother left them. They are easy characters to like and to cheer on, as are the supporting characters, especially Conner, Sunshine’s young charge. Mallery writes with humor and heart and captures the bond between sisters well. There are no twists or surprises, but it is a satisfying story that is easy to curl up with and enjoy on the lanai or at the beach. The Summer of Sunshine and Margot is a good choice for your summer reading stack if you like women’s fiction, stories about sisters and family relationships, sometimes snarky humor, romance, and stories about personal growth and second chances.


Author Notes: #1 NYT bestselling author Susan Mallery writes heartwarming, humorous novels about the relationships that define our lives-family, friendship, romance. She’s known for putting nuanced characters in emotional situations that surprise readers to laughter. Beloved by millions, her books have been translated into 28 languages.Susan lives in Washington with her husband, two cats, and a small poodle with delusions of grandeur. Visit her at

Connect with Susan on her website, Facebook, Twitter and on Instagram.


Food Inspiration:

Susan Mallery's books always seem to have plenty of food mentions and there is even a recipe for a quick coq au vin in the back. Food mentions included: ice tea, lasagna roll-ups, salad, garlic knots and zucchini fries, champagne, chocolate, mixed berry pie, brownies, cinnamon rolls, banana bread, burger and a milkshake, a green drink of spinach, parsley, cucumber and kale with a little red apple tossed in for sweetness and a protein drink with almond milk, cacao, banana and vegan vanilla protein powder, martinis and margaritas, crab puffs, white and dark chocolate mousse in a pastry shell, cold avocado and cucumber soup, a chicken and pasta dish with cheese sauce, and a potato casserole. 

I decided to recreate one of the bruschetta appetizers that Margot and Alec put together for a small gathering:

"Margot stirred fresh chopped chives into softened cream cheese, then spread it on the bread and topped it with the mushroom mixture. Alec prepared the more traditional bruschetta, topping the bread with diced fresh tomatoes and feta."

I made mine a bit easier with a cream cheese spread with onions and chives, adding the fresh chives to the top. To punch up my somewhat ordinary cremini mushrooms, I used plenty of butter, thyme and some Trader Joe's Mushroom & Company Multipurpose Umami Seasoning Blend that a friend sent to me--a mix of kosher salt, black pepper, red pepper, mushroom powder, and mustard seed.

Sautéed Mushroom & Chive Bruschetta
Inspired by The Summer of Sunshine and Margot by Susan Mallery
(Yields about Six Servings)

1 small sourdough baguette, sliced
olive oil
3 Tbsp butter

1 shallot, diced
2 to 3 sprigs worth of fresh time leaves
1 lb mushrooms of choice (I used cremini), chopped
2 tsp Trader Joe's Umami Seasoning or your favorite multi-purpose seasoning mix
sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/3 cup Philadelphia Chive and Onion Cream Cheese Spread (or make your own)
chopped fresh chives to garnish

Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat. brush both sides of each bread slice lightly with olive oil. cook them in a single layer until warmed through and grill marks form. Set aside.

Heat butter in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add the shallot and sauté for a few minutes. Add the thyme, mushrooms, Umami Seasoning, a dash of salt and pepper and sauté for about 10-12  minutes, stirring often, until mushrooms are tender and glossy. Taste for seasoning and add more if needed. if mushrooms seem too dry, add a little more olive oil.

Spread each slice of grilled baguette with a layer of cream cheese spread and place a spoonful of mushrooms on top. Top with a sprinkle of fresh chives and serve warm. Enjoy!

Notes/Results: Such an easy and tasty little appetizer to make. I loved the cream cheese and chive spread with the rich and buttery warm seasoned mushrooms. They were definitely moreish and a nice change from the usual tomato bruschetta. they would be perfect with a glass of cold Sauvignon Blanc. I will happily make them again.

Linking up my review with Simona at briciole for her Novel Meals #36 event, where culinary inspiration comes from published literary works. 

I'm sharing this post with the Weekend Cooking event at Beth Fish Reads, a weekly event that is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share. For more information, see the welcome post.

Note: A review copy of "The Summer of Sunshine and Margot" was provided to me by the author and publisher via TLC Book Tours. I was not compensated for my review and as always, my thoughts and opinions are my own. 

You can see the other stops for this TLC Book Tour and what other bloggers thought of the book here.

Friday, June 28, 2019

The Book Tour Stops Here; A Review of "The Islanders" by Meg Mitchell Moore, Served with "Essence-of-Summer" Peach, Strawberry & Blueberry Crisps

Happy Aloha Friday! It has been a long, crazy and rainy week and I can't tell you how happy I am that the weekend has finally arrived. I'm kicking it off with a summer-perfect new book, The Islanders by Meg Mitchell Moore as I'm today's stop on the TLC Book Tour. I've paired it with a recipe for tasty "Essence-of-Summer" Strawberry, Peach and Blueberry Crisps inspired by the book.

Plublisher's Blurb:

J. Courtney Sullivan’s Maine meets the works of Elin Hilderbrand in this delicious summer read involving three strangers, one island, and a season packed with unexpected romance, well-meaning lies, and damaging secrets.

Anthony Puckett was a rising literary star. The son of an uber-famous thriller writer, Anthony’s debut novel spent two years on the bestseller list and won the adoration of critics. But something went very wrong with his second work. Now Anthony’s borrowing an old college’s friend’s crumbling beach house on Block Island in the hopes that solitude will help him get back to the person he used to be.

Joy Sousa owns and runs Block Island’s beloved whoopie pie café. She came to this quiet space eleven years ago, newly divorced and with a young daughter, and built a life for them here. To her customers and friends, Joy is a model of independence, hard-working and happy. And mostly she is. But this summer she’s thrown off balance. A food truck from a famous New York City brand is roving around the island, selling goodies—and threatening her business.

Lu Trusdale is spending the summer on her in-laws’ dime, living on Block Island with her two young sons while her surgeon husband commutes to the mainland hospital. When Lu’s second son was born, she and her husband made a deal: he’d work and she’d quit her corporate law job to stay home with the boys. But a few years ago, Lu quietly began working on a private project that has becoming increasingly demanding on her time. Torn between her work and home, she’s beginning to question that deal she made.

Over the twelve short weeks of summer, these three strangers will meet and grow close, will share secrets and bury lies. And as the promise of June turns into the chilly nights of August, the truth will come out, forcing each of them to decide what they value most, and what they are willing to give up to keep it.

Hardcover: 432 pages
Publisher: William Morrow (June 11, 2019)

My Review:

The Islanders spoke my love language with its focus on food (a bakery owner and a blogger), writers, and a picturesque island community--it's set on the real Block Island in Rhode Island, so I went in pretty convinced that it would be a win for me and it was. Three characters have stories that the author weaves together well, building my interest in all of them and making me root for Anthony, Joy and Lu. Joy is a single mother who lives year-round on Block Island, selling her delicious whoopie pies out of her bakery/cafe and parenting a teenager. Lu, a stay-at-home-mom and her two young sons are staying on the island while her surgeon husband commutes there when his schedule allows. Lu has been keeping some pretty big secrets from her husband and the rest of the world and needs to decide what she wants to do with her popular food blog. Anthony is a talented writer and the son of a famous thriller author. While his first book won him praise from critics and fans alike, a plagiarizing accusation on his second book and his imploding marriage have him going incognito on the island. I liked each of these characters and was never disappointed when the perspectives changed with the chapter unlike other books where I gravitate to one character or story. It felt like much less than 432 pages and I was sorry to see the book end. The setting and its sights, smells, sounds, the food (of course) and the people are all vividly described and had me easily picturing it in my mind. Living on a more tropical island in the Pacific, I find myself drawn to reading about the Atlantic coastal shoreline and the little communities along it and on nearby islands. I'd love to spend time on Block Island--especially if the real-life restaurants are as good as the fictional ones the author created. ;-) 

The Islanders is my first book from Meg Mitchell Moore and I am sure it won't be my last. if you like women's fiction, coastal and small town/community settings, intertwining stories, and novels that include a foodie focus, it will make a great addition to your summer book stack and is perfect for reading at the beach or pool. 


Meg Mitchell Moore works as a non-fiction writer in Newburyport, Massachusetts, where she lives with her husband and three young daughters.

Find out more about Meg at her website, and connect with her on Facebook and Instagram.


With the owner of a whoopie pie shop/bakery (Joy Bombs) and a secret food blogger, The Islanders was full of delicious-sounding food. Mentions included whoopie pies flavors of raspberry cream, pumpkin spice, gingerbread, apple cinnamon and double-chocolate fudge, coffee, screwdrivers, summer chili with lots of vegetables and yellow squash, tacos, salads, lemon ricotta pancakes, broken artichoke salad to go on the side of pasta puttanesca, chicken nuggets, giant blueberry muffins dusted with cinnamon sugar, a farro salad with mozzarella and tomatoes, fresh strawberry and peppermint stick ice cream, a salad with bacon and a poached egg over arugula with homemade Parmesan croutons, spaghetti with clam sauce, a french food truck with salad Nicoise, croque monsieur and madame, pommes frites and macarons, banana chocolate bread pudding with mint creme anglaise, pickles of all sorts of veggies and peaches, grilled cheese, bagels, caramel popcorn, digging for clams, summer vegetable lasagna, roasted broccoli--charred and sprinkled with sea salt, a simple caprese salad with grilled tuna, calamari, tomato and burrata salad, ginger-rubbed swordfish, Thai mango salad with peanut dressing and grilled or stir-fried tofu, shrimp or salmon, macaroni and cheese, grilled scallops, black bean tostadas, skillet cornbread with jalapeno peppers, honey and cheese, spaghetti carbonara with duck confit, grilled tenderloin, cheese souffle, friend chicken, meatloaf, chicken and lobster potpies, banana pancakes spread with homemade almond butter, milk, rosé wine, sangria and Dark 'n' Stormies, fried clams, chocolate Heath bar ice cream, Moscow Mules, salt-and-pepper calamari, a grilled fish sandwich with fries, summer shrimp salad, and strawberry and arugula salad with jalapeno, radishes and feta or goat cheese. 

Although there is a whoopie pie recipe in the back of the book, I am not a baker and even if I was, it's been too hot and too busy to bake so I decided to pick something else as my book-inspired dish. There were actually quite a lot of dishes that I considered making, especially some of the salad combinations. In the end I was drawn to Lu developing an "essence-of-summer" cobbler for her blog. The one challenge is that I much prefer the oat and brown sugar goodness of a crisp or crumble topping than a cobbler crust, so I deviated from the book and made mine an Essence-of-Summer Crisp. In the book, it just has Lu looking at a package of strawberries but I decided that combining multiple fruits says "summer" to me and used strawberries, frozen peaches and blueberries and added sliced almonds to the crust.

"Essence of Summer' Strawberry, Peach & Blueberry Crisps
By Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Serves 4  with Ice Cream)

about 1 lb fresh strawberries, cored and sliced
1 1/2 cups frozen peaches, thawed and chopped into thirds
1 pint fresh blueberries
1/3 cup brown sugar,or more depending on sweetness of your berries
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 tsp ground cinnamon, or to taste
1 1/2 Tbsp cornstarch

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 heaping cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1 Tbsp ground cinnamon, or to taste
1/3 cup sliced almonds
 4 Tbsp salted butter, cold, cut into tiny cubes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a pan with parchment or foil and set aside.

Place the fruit in a medium bowl. In a small bowl whisk the cornstarch into the lemon juice with about 1/4 cup of water until completely blended, pour over fruit and toss until well mixed. Place fruit into an even layer into four (lightly buttered) small oven-safe ramekins and set aside.  

For the topping, mix the flour, brown sugar, oats, cinnamon, and sliced almonds into a mixing bowl. Add the pieces of butter to the mixture and use your fingers to work them into the dry mixture until it is the texture of course meal. 

Spoon topping evening over the fruit, packing down lightly. Place in the oven and bake at 350 degrees F. for about 25-30 minutes, or until the filling is bubbling up through the topping and the topping is golden-brown. If topping seem to be getting too dark/done, cover with foil and continue baking. 

Let the crisps sit for about 15 to 20 minutes and serve warm with ice cream or half-and-half. Enjoy!

Notes/Results: I was very happy with these little crisps, especially with a scoop of Tillamook Marionberry Ice cream on top. The flat ramekins bubbled over a bit, but I was prepared with a well-lined pan underneaths o no real messes were made. Crisps are such big bang for low effort desserts, I will happily make this one again.

I'm sharing this post with the Weekend Cooking event at Beth Fish Reads, a weekly event that is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share. For more information, see the welcome post.

Note: A review copy of "The Islanders" was provided to me by the author and the publisher, Harper Collins, via TLC Book Tours. I was not compensated for this review and as always, my thoughts and opinions are my own.  
You can see the stops for the rest of this TLC Book Tour and what other reviewers thought about the book here.