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Fall 2019 Cookbook Releases I'm Excited For (Regional & Ethnic)

The only thing I love doing more than reading is cooking. Unfortunately, it is so darn hot that I haven't wanted to spend any time getting hotter in the kitchen! I am eagerly anticipating cooler weather so I can get back to cooking and I am especially looking forward to these October 2019 (regional & ethnic) cookbook releases:⁠

Rustic French Cooking Made Easy: Authentic, Regional Flavors from Provence, Brittany, Alsace and Beyond by Audrey Le Goff 

Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking, Limited Edition by Nathalie Dupree, Cynthia Stevens Graubart 

Tuscany Favourite Recipes: Traditional Cooking by Vinci Bellomo , Paola Baccetti, Laura Giusti, Franco Palandra 

Rome Favourite Recipes: Traditional Cooking by Carla Magrelli, Barbara Santoro 

Oaxaca: Home Cooking from the Heart of Mexico by Bricia Lopez, Javier Cabral 

Pasta Grannies: The Official Cookbook: The Secrets of Italy's Best Home Cooks by Vicky Bennison 

South: Essential Recipes and New Explorations by Sean Brock 

Seeking the South: Finding Inspired Regional Cuisines by Rob Newton 

Wok On: Deliciously balanced meals in 30 minutes or less by Ching-He Huang 

Asian Noodles: 86 Classic Recipes from Vietnam, Thailand, China, Korea and Japan by Maki Watanabe 

I've got a long list of fall cookbooks I'm excited about so I decided to break them up into sections. Stay tuned for my other selections!

Hot New Releases for Your Summer Reading List (Leawood Lifestyle July 2019 issue)

One of my latest articles in Leawood Lifestyle magazine's July issue, check out the issue HERE or read the article below 

Hot New Releases for Your Summer Reading List
by Rhiannon Johnson
Photography provided by publishers 

The kids are out of school and your summer schedule is likely filled with travel plans, pool parties, and fun summer activities. If you are looking for the perfect books to add to your suitcase or beach bag, we have some suggestions for everyone in your family. 

Middle Grade
  • All the Greys on Greene Street by Laura Tucker, illus. by Kelly Murphy Twelve-year-old Olympia is from a family of creative New York City artists: her father restores paintings, her mother sculpts, and she loves to draw. After her father leaves a cryptic note and disappears in the middle of the night, her mother won’t get out of bed, and someone keeps calling about a missing piece of art, Olympia know she has to do something and courageously sets off to find her father.

Young Adult
  • Aurora Rising by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff The graduating cadets of Aurora Academy’s Class of 2380 are being assigned their first missions and while star pupil Tyler Jones had visions of recruiting his own dream squad, his fall from favor leaves him in charge of a leftover group of misfits. Just when he thinks things can’t get worse, he rescues Aurora Jie-Lin O’Malley (who’s been trapped in cryo-sleep for two centuries), starting a war millions of years in the making—leaving Tyler’s squad as the last hope for the entire galaxy!
  • The Red Scrolls of Magic by Cassandra Clare and Wesley Chu High Warlock Magnus Bane and Alec Lightwood are finally enjoying a much needed vacation after the Mortal War when an old friend delivers news about a cult called the Crimson Hand, which has strange, close ties to Magnus. The pair set off on another adventure, this time across Europe to track down the demon-worshipping cult and its leader before chaos erupts worldwide.

  • Lock Every Door by Riley Sager Jules Larsen happily accepts her new job as an apartment sitter at Manhattan’s glamorous Bartholomew hotel despite the strange rules of no visitors, no nights spent away from the apartment, and no disturbing the other residents. After a fellow apartment sitter goes missing, Jules begins digging deeper into the hotel’s dark past and discovers this is not the first occurrence of an apartment sitter going missing at the Bartholomew.
  • Home Remedies by Xuan Juliana Wang Xuan Juliana Wang layers bizarre fixations, family expectations, cultural heritage, and the tech-driven modern world to showcase the unique pressures of her characters and their quests in her stunning debut collection featuring twelve stories of complex, ambitious, and achingly self-conscious Chinese millennials.
  • It’s Hot in the Hamptons by Holly Peterson In the Hamptons, rules don’t apply, especially in matters of money and the heart. Surrounded by wealthy Hamptons men and husbands having numerous affairs, friends Caroline and Annabelle undertake an experiment of their own. Caroline resists at first, but after reconsidering, the two friends make a pact. Over the course of the steamy summer filled with old lovers and affairs, Caroline considers risking it all for happiness and love. 

Midlothian Lifestyle (Virginia) July 2019 issue

Title: Summer Reading: Grab Up These Hot, Newly Released Novels from Virginia Authors 
Sidebar: This summer, dive into a smart legal thriller and a high-stakes story of school admissions
Written by: Rhiannon Johnson 
Photography: provided by publishers

The Gifted School by Bruce Holsinger (releasing July 2, 2019)
Charlottesville resident and University of Virginia professor, Bruce Holsinger, delivers an addictively voyeuristic look at the lengths ambitious parents will go for their children when a new gifted school opens in their community. Four young couples who have happily raised their families together for over a decade while striving to balance careers, parenthood, and marriage find that trying to secure a coveted spot for their children in the new school becomes one pressure too many. Cracks begin to form, relationships become strained, and past problems resurface between friends, spouses, and siblings. As parents pit their children against each other in their aggressive pursuit of prestige, the previously close-knit community begins to unravel, with simmering resentments finally boiling over and long-held secrets destroying families and freindships. Told from multiple (child and adult) perspectives and peppered with vlog entries, texts, and standardized testing questions, this addictive and darkly entertaining novel captures a fictional community’s obsession with achievement. However, in the age of debates around public, private, and charter schools, and in light of the recent college bribery scandals, The Gifted School also stands as a timely social commentary on privilege, meritocracy, race, class, elitism, and ethical standards in modern America.

The Substitution Order by Martin Clark (releasing July 9, 2019)

Author Martin Clark draws on his nearly thirty years of experience as a (now retired) Virginia circuit court judge to create a meticulously plotted novel full of legal traps and tricks that will have you rooting for its underdog main character while wondering how he will outsmart everyone conspiring against him. After being disbarred and separating from his wife, Kevin Moore trades in his suits and legal pads for an apron and a hairnet—to work at SUBstitution sandwich shop. His days are mind-numbingly full of preparing complicated phone orders for nearby factory staff and dealing with problematic locals. Determined to set his life right by quietly passing his days working at SUBstitution, Kevin initially refuses a mysterious man’s proposition to profit off a multimillion-dollar scam built around Kevin’s own disbarment. Days later Kevin realizes the proposition wasn’t actually an option but a threat. Armed with his legal savvy, a twenty-year-old computer-whiz coworker, and a rambunctious rescue puppy, Kevin fights to clear his name, retaliate against an onslaught of blackmail, and stay out of prison while attempting to expose a crew of high-powered con artists. Cleverly written and packed with frustrating legal loopholes and court system roadblocks, The Substitution Order is a whip-smart page turner that will keep readers on the edge of their seats.

Review: Supper Club by Lara Williams

Supper Club by Lara Williams (releases July 9, 2019 from G.P. Putnam's Sons)
**I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review** 

Supper Club by Lara Williams is definitely not a mainstream "everyone will love it" book. I am putting it in the "difficult to love but I appreciate it" category, right alongside The Goldfinch and The Golden Child. Supper Club initially interested me in that the main storyline is about a secret society of women who gather to eat, but the book as a whole focuses on art; artistic expression; and women's relationships with food, friends, and lovers. 

Overall, I had a few problems with the timelines and the cooking instructions (while matching the theme) felt out of place. Trigger warnings for rape, eating disorders, and drug and alcohol abuse.

Review: Tiny Hot Dogs by Mary Giuliani

I love a food memoir but Mary Giuliani's "Tiny Hot Dogs" missed the mark for me. I had never heard of the author but I thought a book written by the "Caterer to the Stars" would have some hilarious stories and slip ups. Unfortunately, the slim volume is almost entirely about her personal life and I found her constantly self-deprecating humor(?) annoying. On the upside, there are delicious appetizer recipes accompanying each chapter that are worth checking out.⠀

Review: We Went to the Woods by Caite Dolan-Leach

We Went to the Woods by Caite Dolan-Leach  (releasing July 2, 2019 from Random House)

Certain that society is on the verge of economic and environmental collapse, five disillusioned twenty-somethings make a bold decision: They gather in upstate New York to transform an abandoned farm, once the site of a turn-of-the-century socialist commune, into an idyllic self-sustaining compound called the Homestead.

My Review:
Five people with different personalities are going to live off the land/get off the grid...and only one has any farming experience.仄‍♀️Obvious pitfalls arise such as food lasting through the winter and complicated friendships/sexual relationships, but those aren't even the main story. There are arguments with neighbors over chemical dumping and partnerships with another nearby intentional community over acts of civil disobedience and picketing. Knowing that other intentional communities have failed, the main character Mack takes it upon herself to figure out why they failed so that this one will succeed. But while she focuses on her research, everyone else is focusing on something else.

Reviews: The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs and Mrs Everything

I received copies of these releases from the publishers/Netgalley

I went into one of these books expecting to love it and I kept skipping over the other one because I thought I wouldn’t—then the results were opposite!

I was so excited to read The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs (The Physick Book #2) by Katherine Howe (releasing June 25, 2019 from Henry Holt & Company) because I loved her 2009 release The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, but TDoTH fell flat for me. While the first book in the series was full of witches, old books, and a long abandoned house, this installment was messy and missed the mark on what fans were looking for in the follow-up.

When I accepted the ARC offering of Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner (releasing June 11, 2019 from Atria Books) I was second-guessing myself because I’ve read a couple of Weiner’s previous releases and they were hit or miss for me. In her “Dear Readers” letter at the beginning of the book Weiner states that in addition to being the longest book she has ever written it is also the most ambitious work she has ever attempted. I love that she “went big” and succeeded. Spanning decades in the lives of two sisters, Mrs. Everything is a masterpiece of her-storical fiction.

Review of The Darwin Affair by Tim Mason

The Darwin Affair by Tim Mason (releasing June 11, 2019 from Algonquin Books)
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.


London, June 1860: When an assassination attempt is made on Queen Victoria, and a petty thief is gruesomely murdered moments later—and only a block away—Chief Detective Inspector Charles Field quickly surmises that these crimes are connected to an even more sinister plot. Was Victoria really the assassin’s target? Are those closest to the Crown hiding something? And who is the shadowy figure witnesses describe as having lifeless, coal-black eyes? Soon, Field’s investigation exposes a shocking conspiracy in which the publication of Charles Darwin’s controversial On the Origin of Species sets off a string of murders, arson, kidnapping, and the pursuit of a madman named the Chorister.

My Review:
I hate the predicability and mediocrity of most contemporary thrillers/mysteries and have become so frustrated that after reading The Au Pair and Anonymous Girl at the beginning of the year I totally gave up on them. I dipped my toe back in with this mystery hoping the Victorian time period would provide a pleasant reprieve and thank goodness it did! This smart story included all the scientific minds of the time, secret religious organizations, a loveably unlucky inspector, and a cast of manipulated misfits all wrapped up in a conspiracy and multiple murders. I definitely recommend this one and my advice is to pay close attention as you read because there are a lot of characters.

Review: The Unbreakables by Lisa Barr

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
I received no additional compensation. 

On Sophie Bloom's 42nd birthday she not only finds out that her husband has been cheating on her but that he is the top cheater in their town. She then runs to France to comfort her teenage daughter, who is experiencing her own heartbreak. In a whirlwind of actions, "chance" meetings, and moments of epiphany, Sophie "must decide what is broken forever...and what it means to be truly unbreakable."

Author Lisa Barr can definitely create delicious settings. From Sophie's upscale home and neighborhood to Paris to the artist enclave of Saint-Paul-de-Vence, each mental picture I created was dreamily sigh-worthy (comparable to Under the Tuscan Sun). Barr also hit the nail on the head describing Sophie's internal struggle to put her needs before those of her daughter and husband after so many selfless years. I loved how Sophie embraced life, art, love, and sex but I did have a problem at the end of the book and with one of the characters. (SEE BELOW for spoilers)

On a side note, let me talk about this cover. I think it is what truly drew me in and made me decide to read this book. I want to be this woman: stylishly dressed with a perfect red lip, enjoying a pastry and coffee in a caf矇. Instead, I'm in my sweaty workout clothes after walking at the park, my hair's a mess, and I'm eating my regular daily breakfast in my dream kitchen...so, a very close second. I'll take it! 

***SPOILER ALERT: Do not read this section if you do not want to know some story "spoilers"!***

Problem #1: Sophie and Gabe's daughter, Ava. After her pregnancy scare she doesn't seem to mature one bit! She is still a whiny brat..there I said it!

Problem #2: Why in the world did Sophie sleep with Gabe again at the end? She just had lots of mind-blowing sex in Europe and now she sleeps with her sleazeball cheating husband as some sort of closure? Nope! I hated that twist. 

Review: How Not to Die Alone by Richard Roper

[I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review]

Happy Pub Day to How Not to Die Alone by Richard Roper and Happy Back from the Brink of Death Day to my basil plant!

I read this heartbreaking, sweet, and funny novel on Saturday and really liked it. Dark humor at its best...

Andrew works with death for a living. Searching for people’s next of kin and attending the funerals if they don’t have anyone, he is desperate to avoid the same fate for himself. Thankfully, he has a loving family waiting for him when he gets home to help wash the day’s cares away. At least, that’s what his coworkers believe. Andrew didn’t mean for the misunderstanding to happen, yet he’s become trapped in his own white lie. The fantasy of his wife and two kids has become a pleasant escape from his lonely one bedroom with only his trains and Ella Fitzgerald records for company. But when Peggy, a new coworker, breezes into his life, Andrew is shaken out of his routine. She doesn’t notice the wall he’s been safely hiding behind and their friendship promises to break it down. Because in all Andrew’s efforts to fit in, he has forgotten one important thing: how to really live. And maybe, it’s about time for him to start.

As for my basil plant...we shall see!

Review: Hacking Darwin by Jamie Metzl

Hacking Darwin by Jamie Metzl
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review

"Genetic engineering isn't some far-off fantasy. It's arriving faster than most of us understand or are prepared for."

Wow! I loved this book. I picked it up and put it down several times to read other books but I kept coming back to it because every single chapter, page, and concept was absolutely fascinating. Jamie Metzl details a broad range of topics that arise when biology and technology intersect, such as:

· personalized/precision medicine
· stem cells
· exponential generational increases in IQ
· CRISPR sequences
· gene therapies
· transhumanism
· GMOs

He also posits both sides of the myriad ethical, religious, moral, and political issues that have come about now that our DNA is as "hackable as our information technology" and points out that by "retooling our own genetic code, the choices we make today will be the difference between realizing breathtaking advances in human well-being and descending into a dangerous and potentially deadly genetic arms race."

I found myself daydreaming about so many currently unthinkable scenarios (good and bad) to come, which genetic manipulations will be embraced and which will be the dividing issues, and how each scientific achievement builds on the ones before it. For example, IVF was once an impossible sounding concept but now it is a fairly common occurrence. So many possibilities....

Review:: The Dictionary Wars: The American Fight Over the English Language by Peter Martin

The Dictionary Wars: The American Fight Over the English Language by Peter Martin
(releases 5/28/19 from Princeton University Press)
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I received no additional compensation. 

I have always considered a dictionary to be an informative collection of words, a writing companion, and a seemingly endless source of ideas—not necessarily a controversial publication. The Dictionary Wars taught me that I was oh so wrong. The historical conflicts surrounding American dictionaries were intense! As a new republic America’s first lexicographers, Noah Webster and Joseph Emerson Worcester, wanted an American dictionary that would rival Samuel Johnson's 1755 British Dictionary of the English Language, but they each had their own ideas about what that dictionary would entail. Webster believed an American dictionary “ought to be informed by the nation's republican principles.” Worcester, however, “thought that such language reforms were reckless and went too far.” After Webster’s death, the Merriam brothers acquired Webster’s publishing rights and launched another language war. With libel suits and fraud claims galore, The Dictionary Wars: The American Fight Over the English Language is a word nerd’s dream.

Also included in my pic is my new favorite lunch/dinner for one: Rice Cake Bruschetta

Review of The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins

The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins (releasing May 21, 2019 from Harper)
I was given a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
I received no additional compensation. 

Dubbed the Mulatta Murderess in the London papers, Frannie Langton stands accused of murdering her employer, scientist George Benham, and his wife Marguerite, but she cannot remember the events of the evening. While Frannie awaits her trial she recalls her childhood on a Jamaican sugar plantation, her apprenticeship to her master/father, and her travels to London.

What began as a slave narrative of plantation injustices and abuses became the story of a smart and educated woman forced to perform scientific experiments on others while being a subject herself before she is given to another scientist to watch over (and report back to him about) his wife.

The Confessions of Frannie Langton is a mix of science, slavery, and societal expectations with a sweet thread of a love story woven in. I definitely recommend this one!

Read an excerpt of the book HERE

Review of Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep (@aaknopf)

Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep (5/7/19 from Knopf)

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

I struggled with this book for about 2 weeks, picking it up and putting it down. I wanted to read about Harper Lee, the true-crime book she was working on after To Kill a Mockingbird, her friendship with Truman Capote, and how her book was going to compare with Capote’s In Cold Blood. However, the book is divided into 3 sections (“The Reverend”, “The Lawyer”, and “The Writer”) meaning I waded through 2/3 of the book (and massive amounts of information concerning Alabama politics, the complicated family tree of a serial killer, and the origins of life insurance) before I got to read about Lee. I now understand why the author laid it out in such a way, but reading this book I felt like I took some winding country road and was lost a couple of times along the way. I would recommend this to Harper Lee fans with a bit of a disclaimer to read the table of contents before diving into your reading to be prepared for the story’s trajectory.

Back Cover:
Reverend Willie Maxwell was a rural preacher accused of murdering five of his family members for insurance money in the 1970s. With the help of a savvy lawyer, he escaped justice for years until a relative shot him dead at the funeral of his last victim. Despite hundreds of witnesses, Maxwell’s murderer was acquitted–thanks to the same attorney who had previously defended the Reverend.

Sitting in the audience during the vigilante’s trial was Harper Lee, who had traveled from New York City to her native Alabama with the idea of writing her own In Cold Blood, the true-crime classic she had helped her friend Truman Capote research seventeen years earlier.

I loved this debut of short stories: Home Remedies by Xuan Juliana Wang

Home Remedies by Xuan Juliana Wang (releasing 5/14/19 from @hogarthbooks)
**I was given an advanced copy of this book from the publisher and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review**

In twelve stunning stories of love, family, and identity, Xuan Juliana Wang’s debut collection captures the unheard voices of an emerging generation. Wang’s unforgettable characters – with their unusual careers, unconventional sex lives and fantastical technologies – share the bold hope that, no matter where they’ve come from, their lives too can be extraordinary.

My review
Let me cut to the chase...I've added Wang to my "auto-buy" authors list. If this is her debut, I can only imagine what else is to come...and I'm excited for it! Her ability to create layers of depth in each short story and characters who are complex, ambitious, and achingly unsure of themselves had me tearing through this entire collection in a single morning.

April Wrap Up

and in a snap, another month wraps...

Here's what I read in April.

Have you read any of these?

What was your favorite read last month?

The Farm ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Homeland Maternity ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Girl He Used to Know ⭐️

The Dreamers ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Women's Work ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Violent Abuse of Women in 17th and 18th Century Britain ⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Pie Lady ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Witches of New York ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Little Darlings ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Decoded ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Acclaimed Atlanta Author Makes Fiction Debut: Jessica Handler’s The Magnetic Girl transports readers to an electrifying era of American history

**This review was featured in the May issue of Alpharetta Lifestyle magazine**

Read it HERE (Alpharetta Magazine) or HERE (my portfolio)

Thirteen-year-old Lulu Hurst shares a special connection with her disabled younger brother Leo, but she has big dreams of a future far away from her rural north Georgia home—a future where she will not become her brother’s sole caregiver. Yearning to see the world and thankful for her ability to change her family’s dire financial situation, Lulu agrees to follow her father’s plan to capitalize on America’s newfound fascination with Spiritualism, Mesmerism, Magnetism, and electricity. Claiming Lulu can pass electricity through canes and throw men out of chairs with an “electrical charge” which she came to possess from a lightning storm over their house, Lulu and her parents take “The Magnetic Girl” on the road. While traveling by train to perform to enthusiastic crowds from the vaudeville stages along the Eastern seaboard, Lulu absorbs every new experience while reading an obscure book from her father’s study, The Truth of Mesmeric Influence. Convinced she can move beyond her current “marks” and parlor tricks to apply the secrets from the book to heal people, Lulu wants to change the act, but will her father agree?

Imagine the split second before the dice finish rolling, before a tipped back chair rights itself, or before the sleight of hand is slyly applied. You may ask yourself “what is the most likely possibility?" but you must also acknowledge the disconnect between your mind’s logic and your heart’s will to believe. The Magnetic Girl magically exists in that single breath when fates are decided. Full of family secrets, sacrifices, fame, and greed The Magnetic Girl will transport you to a late 1880s America where curiosity, dreams, and delusions challenged people’s beliefs at every turn. Author Jessica Handler’s spectacular talent for portraying the unique complexities of girls and women shines through in her telling of the journey of Lulu Hurst “The Georgia Wonder.” From awkward and outcast farm girl to captivating vaudeville star, Lulu discovers her power over her patrons, parents, and most importantly within herself. 

Jessica Handler is the author of Braving the Fire: A Guide to Writing About Grief and Invisible Sisters: A Memoir. The Magnetic Girl, Handler’s debut fiction novel, has already received accolades from multiple fellow authors and publications, a starred Kirkus review, and is the first selection of Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain Fund Book Series.

Melanie Golding Blends Brothers Grimm and Postpartum Panic in her debut novel, "Little Darlings"

Little Darlings by Melanie Golding (April 30, 2019 / Crooked Lane Books)
** I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review **

Goodreads Summary:“Mother knows best” takes on a sinister new meaning in this unsettling thriller perfect for fans of Neil Gaiman and Grimms’ Fairy Tales.

Everyone says Lauren Tranter is exhausted, that she needs rest. And they’re right; with newborn twins, Morgan and Riley, she’s never been more tired in her life. But she knows what she saw: that night, in her hospital room, a woman tried to take her babies and replace them with her own…creatures. Yet when the police arrived, they saw no one. Everyone, from her doctor to her husband, thinks she’s imagining things.

A month passes. And one bright summer morning, the babies disappear from Lauren’s side in a park. But when they’re found, something is different about them. The infants look like Morgan and Riley―to everyone else. But to Lauren, something is off. As everyone around her celebrates their return, Lauren begins to scream, These are not my babies.

Determined to bring her true infant sons home, Lauren will risk the unthinkable. But if she’s wrong about what she saw…she’ll be making the biggest mistake of her life.

Compulsive, creepy, and inspired by some our darkest fairy tales, Little Darlings will have you checking―and rechecking―your own little ones. Just to be sure. Just to be safe.

My Review:Holy cuckoo crazy cakes! I needed to take a minute to reattach my head before I wrote this review. What I thought was going to be just another take on the oh so overused unreliable female narrator trope turned out to be a wonderfully creepy novel that jumped right onto my list for favorite books of the year. 

In this spooky tale a sleep deprived new mother of twins believes a woman is trying to steal her babies and replace them with creatures.   While her less than supportive husband wants her to stop making such a fuss and get down to the business of mothering, a curious detective starts digging into the mother's claims. 

Disney fairy tales are one thing but Grimm's fairy tales are...well...grim. While there has been an explosion of fairy tale retellings in recent years no one has done quite what debut novelist Melanie Golding has by inventing a totally new psychological horror story. Just like the Brothers Grimm, Golding has managed to play on our fears, twist our thoughts, and cause the hairs to stand up on the back of our necks. Disturbing in the best possible way, I am recommending this to everyone...except new mothers!

After a little research I learned that Golding was inspired by the ghostly folktale ‘The Brewery of Eggshells’ (read it HERE, the accompanying illustration alone is enough to give you a nightmare) which she includes in the novel. She has also received a movie deal for this story so I'll be keeping my eye out for that.

Dinner and a Book: The Farm by Joanne Ramos and Enchilada Stuffed Shells

The Farm by Joanne Ramose (May 7, 2019 from Random House
*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review* 

Goodreads Summary:
Nestled in the Hudson Valley is a sumptuous retreat boasting every amenity: organic meals, private fitness trainers, daily massages--and all of it for free. In fact, you get paid big money--more than you've ever dreamed of--to spend a few seasons in this luxurious locale. The catch? For nine months, you belong to the Farm. You cannot leave the grounds; your every move is monitored. Your former life will seem a world away as you dedicate yourself to the all-consuming task of producing the perfect baby for your 羹berwealthy clients.
Jane, an immigrant from the Philippines and a struggling single mother, is thrilled to make it through the highly competitive Host selection process at the Farm. But now pregnant, fragile, consumed with worry for her own young daughter's well-being, Jane grows desperate to reconnect with her life outside. Yet she cannot leave the Farm or she will lose the life-changing fee she'll receive on delivery--or worse.
Heartbreaking, suspenseful, provocative, The Farm pushes our thinking on motherhood, money, and merit to the extremes, and raises crucial questions about the trade-offs women will make to fortify their futures and the futures of those they love.

My Review: 

"Maybe because the baby she is now carrying is a stranger's, the child of someone who invents cures for cancer, or someone who gives more money away then Jane will ever see in her lifetime."

What would it take for you to be a surrogate? Would you feel fulfilled knowing you made someone's dreams come true? What if it was possibly the only financially feasible option for you to provide a better future for your own child?  Now, imagine a sanctuary where the surrogates to the super rich are able to receive the absolute best care during their pregnancies...but best care for whom? Do you think this center would be concerned with the mother's mental and physical health beyond how these factors affected the fetus? Add in the layers of class systems, immigration, race, and technology and the already complicated arrangements of surrogacy are taken to the next level in Joanne Ramos' The Farm.

Is this a science-fiction or futuristic novel? I don't think so. Ask yourself: Is it so much of a stretch to think there aren't "Farms" in our world full of human trafficking, sweat shops, and cheap labor?  While we obsess (rightly so) about the loss of reproductive rights in the myriad feminist dystopian novels that flooded the market in the last few years, take a moment to consider the other end of the spectrum where women capitalized on their reproductive power. 

This book had a few flaws within storylines, but I am beyond willing to overlook them for the total story. Loved this one and lots of food for thought!

Speaking of food...here's the recipe for the Vegetarian Enchilada Stuffed Shells in the picture above:

Ingredients12 ounces jumbo pasta shells(3) 10-ounce cans red enchilada sauce (I used 2 mild/1medium)1/4 cup light sour cream(1) 15-ounce can black beans drained(1) 15-ounce can corn(1) 4-ounce can green chiles drained1  red bell pepper (chopped)1/4 red onion (chopped)8 ounces shredded Mexican or Cheddar cheese 1/4 cup green onions (chopped)

  1. Preheat oven to 350°.  Spray 9" x 13" pan with non-stick spray and set aside.
  2. Boil shells for 6-7 minutes in large pot of salted water. Drain and let cool.
  3. Combine enchilada sauce, sour cream, beans, corn, chiles, peppers, and red onions and heat to warm (not hot) in a medium saucepan. 
  4. Holding a (slightly cooled) shell in one hand, use a slotted spoon to scoop the filling into the shell and place shells side-by-side in the pan until completely filled. 
  5. Pour extra filling and sauce over shells and in cracks. 
  6. Top all shells with the shredded cheese, and bake for 15-20 minutes. 
  7. Remove pan from oven and sprinkle top with green onions.

Review: The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker

The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker (January 15, 2019 /Random House)
*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher*

Goodreads Summary: 
In an isolated college town in the hills of Southern California, a freshman girl stumbles into her dorm room, falls asleep—and doesn’t wake up. She sleeps through the morning, into the evening. Her roommate, Mei, cannot rouse her. Neither can the paramedics who carry her away, nor the perplexed doctors at the hospital. Then a second girl falls asleep, and then another, and panic takes hold of the college and spreads to the town. As the number of cases multiplies, classes are canceled, and stores begin to run out of supplies. A quarantine is established. The National Guard is summoned.

My Review:Do you ever pick up and put down a book multiple times before you pick up momentum or do you move along if it doesn't catch you right away?

I changed my mind about 10 times as I read The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker. I was so excited to read this book that I took it on vacation to Cabo with me in November. I read a few pages but couldn't get into the story. I thought it was just because my brain was hazy on booze and sunshine. I tried to get into again at the end of December when I wanted to wrap up any unfinished books before the New Year, but it still didn't grab me. I put it aside and then picked it up this last weekend and read it all in a single day. Part determination and part the fact that the story finally grabbed me. As I read I had so many conspiracies about what was going on, but one smaller storyline (Rebecca's) has stuck with me more than the entire rest of the book.

Review: Fireside Chat with a Grammar Nazi Serial Killer by Ryan Suvaal

Fireside Chat with a Grammar Nazi Serial Killer by Ryan Suvaal
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

Seventeen gruesome killings across the United States, within a span of six months and there is one clear connection among victims. They were all writers.
While media is decorating the murders with sensationalist stories, and law enforcement is playing catch-up, the homicidal maniac remains elusive and secretive. Things get very interesting, when one day she decides to appear on an internet talk show for an honest fireside chat.

My Review:
Do typos make you grit your teeth? Do dangling modifiers make you murderous? One woman has decided she just can't take one minute more of messy grammar and goes on a killing spree to retaliate against the onslaught of incorrect apostrophes, sentence structures, and grammatical mistakes. This is a quick little read (23 pages long) that will have any word nerd cracking up.

Review: Women's Work by Megan K. Stack

Women's Work by Megan K. Stack (April 2, 2019 from Doubleday)
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

Goodreads Summary:
When Megan Stack was living in Beijing, she left her prestigious job as a foreign correspondent to have her first child and work from home writing a book. She quickly realized that caring for a baby and keeping up with the housework while her husband went to the office each day was consuming the time she needed to write. This dilemma was resolved in the manner of many upper-class families and large corporations: she availed herself of cheap Chinese labor. The housekeeper Stack hired was a migrant from the countryside, a mother who had left her daughter in a precarious situation to earn desperately needed cash in the capital. As Stack's family grew and her husband's job took them to Dehli, a series of Chinese and Indian women cooked, cleaned, and babysat in her home. Stack grew increasingly aware of the brutal realities of their lives: domestic abuse, alcoholism, unplanned pregnancies. Hiring poor women had given her the ability to work while raising her children, but what ethical compromise had she made?
Determined to confront the truth, Stack traveled to her employees' homes, met their parents and children, and turned a journalistic eye on the tradeoffs they'd been forced to make as working mothers seeking upward mobility--and on the cost to the children who were left behind.
Women's Work is an unforgettable story of four women as well as an electrifying meditation on the evasions of marriage, motherhood, feminism, and privilege.

My Review: 
Megan K. Stack and her husband traveled the globe as foreign correspondents. They worked the same hours, slept in the same hostels, interacted with the same contacts--on the whole, they were equals. When they start their family, her husband disappears back out into that "valued" working world while she stays home with their son (and plans to write a book). It is here that the avalanche of inequity begins. Realizing she can't just write while the baby sleeps (do women still believe this?), she employs local Chinese and Indian women to handle the child care, cooking, cleaning, shopping, and the endless list of tasks involved in running a household and raising a family. On the surface this arrangement looks mutually beneficial for all women involved, however, there are often numerous unseen/unspoken tradeoffs. Stack wonders "Who is caring for these workers' children while they care for my children?" and "Where are the lines drawn when you live with someone and they care for your family but they are not your family?" Obviously this book points out the privilege of situations where white foreigners can hire local help from underdeveloped communities in/near where they live, but Stack's openness about her guilt, confusion, and her daily accounts of the complicated relationships makes this less a story of the exploitation of cheap labor and more about why all "women's work" is so undervalued in the first place. 

I'd recommend this as a follow-up to "Fed Up: Emotional Labor, Women, and the Way Forward" by Gemma Hartley and "Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother's Will to Survive" by Stephanie Land. 

Review: Homeland Maternity by Natalie Fixmer-Oraiz

Homeland Maternity by Natalie Fixmer-Oraiz (March 2, 2019 from University of Illinois Press)
*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*

Goodreads Summary:
In US security culture, motherhood is a site of intense contestation--both a powerful form of cultural currency and a target of unprecedented assault. Linked by an atmosphere of crisis and perceived vulnerability, motherhood and nation have become intimately entwined, dangerously positioning national security as reliant on the control of women's bodies. Drawing on feminist scholarship and critical studies of security culture, Natalie Fixmer-Oraiz explores homeland maternity by calling our attention to the ways that authorities see both non-reproductive and "overly" reproductive women's bodies as threats to social norms--and thus to security. Homeland maternity culture intensifies motherhood's requirements and works to discipline those who refuse to adhere. Analyzing the opt-out revolution, public debates over emergency contraception, and other controversies, Fixmer-Oraiz compellingly demonstrates how policing maternal bodies serves the political function of securing the nation in a time of supposed danger--with profound and troubling implications for women's lives and agency.

My Review:
I took a Women's Studies class in college which focused on the various patriarchal pillars of military regimes. Going into the class I assumed we would focus on "other" countries, but as the class progressed my eyes were opened to the layers of control the United States military holds over our nation's citizens and those we "protect". 

As the saying goes "hindsight is 20/20" and it is easy to pinpoint previous times in American history where reproduction was forced or heavily encouraged as a form of patriotism, such as enslaved colonial African-American women or white, suburban "Baby Boomer" women. It is also easy to see times when reproduction was disapproved of and thwarted, most notably during forced sterilizations of Black, Native American, and institutionalized women in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. Now we see a daily news cycle highlighting the various new ways the government wants to control every aspect of reproduction. 

While this definitely is an example- and proof-heavy text, Fixmer-Oraiz has organized the various aspects of how national security is entwined with reproduction into an understandable (yet jarring) piece of work. 

Review: The Girl He Used to Know by Tracy Garvis Graves

The Girl He Used to Know by Tracy Garvis Graves (April 2, 2019 from St Martin's) #partner

Goodreads Summary:
Annika Rose likes being alone.
She feels lost in social situations, saying the wrong thing or acting the wrong way - she just can't read people. She prefers the quiet solitude of books or playing chess to being around others.
Apart from Jonathan. She liked being around him, but she hasn't seen him for ten years. Until now that is. And she's not sure he'll want to see her again after what happened all those years ago.

Annika Rose likes being alone.
Except that, actually, she doesn't like being alone at all.

My Review:

**WARNING: Spoilers ahead**

Nowhere in the summaries, accompanying press releases, or dust jackets/covers was there any indication of the major historical event that would drive the end of this book. I suppose if I really would have analyzed the dates at the beginning of the chapters I would have seen where the 2nd storyline was heading--the September 11th terror attacks. I felt so duped. I mean....I was pissed! I never would have read this if I knew what the last 25% of the book was going to be about. I was 50/50 enjoying the storylines for the first 3/4 of the book. I definitely loved the character of Annika, who is on the autism spectrum. I loved reading about her ways of thinking and her routines and was so glad to read a book containing a character with these traits. I even loved the unique boy meets girl love story that evolved. Then the sex scenes. Ugh. 1 part thumbs up (consent is sexy, yay!) and 1 part thumbs down (really detailed and while I am so far from a prude, just no). So at this point I would have written a review that said just that and maybe a "not for me but maybe for you" bland statement. That's before the September 11 "twist". Who isn't personally affected by this event? Who wasn't extremely affected by it? Everyone has their "where were you" story and everyone was shaken and devastated. I feel like the author focused on an event that everyone agrees was emotional and capitalized on it. While some readers may flock to a September 11th love story, I definitely would not. I believed the book was going to be about the unique struggles of a relationship when a person is on the autism spectrum. The fact that nowhere is September 11 mentioned in the book's description makes me feel conned and triggered. 

Review: Save Me the Plums by Ruth Reichl

Save Me the Plums by Ruth Reichl (April 2, 2019 / Random House)
*I received a copy of this book from the publisher/Netgalley in exchange for an honest review*

Goodreads Summary:
Trailblazing food writer and beloved restaurant critic Ruth Reichl took the risk (and the job) of a lifetime when she entered the glamorous, high-stakes world of magazine publishing. Now, for the first time, she chronicles her groundbreaking tenure as editor in chief of Gourmet, during which she spearheaded a revolution in the way we think about food.

When Cond矇 Nast offered Ruth Reichl the top position at America's oldest epicurean magazine, she declined. She was a writer, not a manager, and had no inclination to be anyone's boss. And yet . . . Reichl had been reading Gourmet since she was eight; it had inspired her career. How could she say no?
This is the story of a former Berkeley hippie entering the corporate world and worrying about losing her soul. It is the story of the moment restaurants became an important part of popular culture, a time when the rise of the farm-to-table movement changed, forever, the way we eat. Readers will meet legendary chefs like David Chang and Eric Ripert, idiosyncratic writers like David Foster Wallace, and a colorful group of editors and art directors who, under Reichl's leadership, transformed stately Gourmet into a cutting-edge publication. This was the golden age of print media--the last spendthrift gasp before the Internet turned the magazine world upside down.
Complete with recipes, Save Me the Plums is a personal journey of a woman coming to terms with being in charge and making a mark, following a passion and holding on to her dreams--even when she ends up in a place she never expected to be.

My Review: 
I've always been a magazine lover. From Highlights in grade school to my teen magazines (Sassy, YM, Seventeen) in middle school, and my obsession with fashion magazines in high school. I loved that there was a world out there that was full of animals and adventures, fashionable high school students, and edgy and elegant women living it up in the big city. As a mom and wife I looked for answers of how to feed my family and make a happy home in every homemaking and cooking magazine I could find. It took until my late 30s to figure out that I can take in all the information I find in magazines but I don't need to measure my worth against them. Just like I enjoy reading about or watching the antics of Anna Wintour, I am not building my day around her thoughts--as you would see from my daily uniform of yoga pants. Same for Ruth Reichl. She's lived a life totally submerged in the food trends of New York, pursued culinary travels through Europe, and run the top food magazine before the internet consumed almost all traditional media. I admire her career and empathized with her struggles to juggle her career with being a mother, but I also felt a disconnect when she discussed some aspects of working in the magazine industry. I enjoyed the behind the scenes views she provided but with the constantly rotating cast of characters I found myself wanting to know why this or that coworker with this or that background now had this this title.  

Quick summary: This is a memoir of a food writer with a focus on her career and the who's who of Conde Nast/Gourmet in the aughts. While interesting, I wanted more personal food stories.