Review | Sean Brock’s South

Sean Brock’s South by Sean Brock

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Sean Brock’s South is an exciting collection of traditional Southern recipes with a twist. I loved the in-depth introduction from Brock explaining his life-long deep appreciation and exploration of Southern food and culture.

“Eating in the moment was the way we ate when I was growing up in the mountains of Southern Appalachia, although we were doing so because it was natural and made sense. This concept continues to be my guiding light when creating and cooking food for my guests.” *

Striking photos by Peter Frank Edwards create a mood and atmosphere reflective of the recipes.

South is divided into nine sections and include many Southern staples like grilled/fried okra, fried green tomatoes, pimento cheese, and hot water cornbread. Brock offers some great tips in his recipes and also provides ingredient sources (compiled into a helpful list at the end of the book).

I eat seasonally so receiving an advance copy of this book in the summer has made for an incredible experience. So far I’ve tested the fried okra,  cheeseburgers with special sauce, and fried green tomatoes.

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Fried okra.  This was seriously the quickest batch I’ve ever made! The five ingredients are mixed together in one bowl, which saves so much time and made me wonder why I’ve never thought to do it this way before.

 

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Fried green tomatoes.  Placing the battered slices in the fridge for about 30 minutes before frying was a helpful tip to eliminate the egg wash typically used.

 

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Cheeseburger (with special sauce). I tweaked this recipe a bit. Brock grinds chuck roast & flank steak for his burgers but I used our tried & true grassfed ground beef from our fave farm, Tink’s.  I added bacon (also from Tink’s), lettuce, onion, and a fried green tomato to top it off.  The special sauce was perfect!

I’m looking forward to chilled summer squash soup with buttermilk and sunflower seeds, pit cooked chicken sandwiches, and peanut butter chess pie in the near future!

Many of the recipes are time intensive and require planning ahead. Some ingredients will require more than a quick trip to the grocery store or to your garden.
For beginners, a lot of these recipes could look intimidating with long ingredient lists, and frustrating to many for items not commonly stocked in the average pantry (even in the South).
While South will not be used often for quick weeknight meals, it will offer some unique dishes when you have time to devote to cooking.

Thanks to Artisan Books and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review. Sean Brock’s South is scheduled for release on October 15, 2019.

*Quote included is from a digital advanced reader’s copy and is subject to change upon final publication.

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Review | Heaven, My Home

Heaven, My Home (Highway 59 #2) by Attica Locke

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Heaven, My Home picks up a short time after the conclusion of Bluebird, Bluebird (read my review here) with Texas Ranger Darren Mathews back to work after his suspension is lifted — but this time behind a desk.  He’s trying to make things right with his wife and has chosen to stay off the road while working to put together a federal case against the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas.

It’s not just the desk job and his fragile marriage stressing Mathews out these days.  His own mother is now blackmailing him after finding a damning piece of evidence in the case that had him on suspension in Bluebird, Bluebird.

In the midst of his personal drama, Mathews is called to investigate the disapperance of nine-year-old Levi King in the small lakeside town of Jefferson.  Levi’s father is a key player in the Aryan Brotherhood and he’s currently serving hard time.  It’s possible someone has taken his boy to get to him but when Mathews arrives in town, he finds more than a few complicated layers to peel back and local history that has impacted several generations on Caddo Lake.

Locke has crafted yet another intricate and compelling crime novel in the Highway 59 series!  The country noir vibe is still strong, there are multiple plot points that are creating higher stakes, and I’m just as invested in Mathews’ personal life as I am in his current case!  Locke skillfully describes racial tension and attitudes in Texas and how it drives Mathews personally and professionally.

This is a series you definitely need to read from the beginning to understand the characters and ongoing plot.  I recommend it to readers who enjoy country noir, mystery, and crime.

Huge thanks to Mulholland Books and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review.  Heaven, My Home is scheduled for release on September 17, 2019.

Review | The Grace Year

The Grace Year by Kim Liggett

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Oooh I can always depend on Wednesday Books to release heart-pounding mature YA thrillers tackling intense subjects!

The Grace Year can easily be compared to The Handmaid’s Tale, Lord of the Flies, The Power, and Hunger Games but this is a solid novel that holds its own!

In Garner County, females are believed to have magic, especially girls on the edge of womanhood.  Each year the County banishes the sixteen year olds to a remote gated location to dispel their magic so they may return pure, obedient, and fit for marriage.   But not every girl returns home.

Those who return do not speak of the grace year because it’s forbidden.

Sixteen-year-old Tierney James has no desire to be a wife.  She understands that she will become property and all she wants is to be free of the strange superstitions and burdens the women must bear for their human nature.  Her father has taught her many skills that are usually only taught to sons in hopes she will survive her grace year.

The grace year girls must survive the harsh elements, the poachers (men waiting in the woods in hopes of grabbing a girl for horrific purposes), and each other.

“Look around. We are the only Gods here.” *

Alone for the first time in their lives, some of the girls are more willing to embrace the magic they’ve been told that they have and shun others.  A twisted society forms within the gates and readers examine the relationships and motivations of the girls while realizing there’s much more wrong than we were initially told.

“But isn’t that how every horrible  thing begins? Slow. Insipid. A twisting of the screw.” *

Atmospheric and chilling, The Grace Year is a dystopian novel that explores the power women have and how it’s abused in male-dominated societies, how religion is used to keep people in line, and how women are systematically divided against one another.

“We hurt each other because it’s the only way we’re permitted to show our anger. When our choices are taken from us, the fire builds within. Sometimes I feel like we might burn down the world to cindery bits, with our love, our rage, and everything in between.” *

Overall, this is a top-notch YA dystopian/horror novel that focuses on female empowerment.  There’s some romance but thankfully it doesn’t overshadow the strong plot.  I loved some of the unexpected twists that Liggett threw in to make this even more of a page turner.  And the ending.  Oh my.  Such an amazing ending!

“My eyes are wide open, and I see everything now.” *

I highly recommend this book to readers who enjoy YA, horror, dystopia, and speculative fiction/thrillers.

Thanks to Wednesday Books and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review.  The Grace Year is scheduled for release on October 8, 2019.

*Quotes included are from a digital advanced reader’s copy and are subject to change upon final publication.

Review | Imaginary Friend

Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky

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Okay dear readers, gather around for a segment called “Unpopular Opinion Time”.

Imaginary Friend was THE most highly anticipated novel of 2019 for me.  I have waited t w e n t y years for a new novel from Stephen Chbosky!  His debut novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower is my favorite book of all time so of course I’ve been looking forward to what he would write next.  I was thrilled to learn last year that Chbosky had penned an epic 700 page horror story.

I finished Imaginary Friend yesterday and … I didn’t love it.
*hangs head in shame as everyone gasps dramatically*

Christopher Reese and his mom Kate haven’t had an easy life since Christopher’s father’s suicide.  They’re in debt and now Kate has gathered up her son and a few belongings to escape an abusive relationship.
They stop in a small town called Mill Grove, Pennsylvania and Kate feels she’s found a safe place for her and her son where they won’t be found.

Chistopher’s never been a great student due to a reading disability, he worries about his mom a lot, and he’s bullied regularly.
Christopher vanishes for six days before emerging from the woods, seemingly unharmed.  Suddenly life takes an unexpected turn for Christopher and his mom.  They win the lottery and are able to purchase their own home and climb out of debt.  Christopher begins doing well in school and even has a small group of friends.

But then there’s the nice man who wants to protect him from the hissing lady in his nightmares and the voice telling him he has to build a treehouse in the woods by Christmas.

As the holiday looms large, everyone in Mill Grove seems to be losing their minds.  Voices are telling everyone to prepare for a war and Christopher knows it’s up to him to win the war and save the town from the nightmare.

My main issues with this book:  Christopher is seven-years-old.  This is a horror novel, obviously I’m going to suspend my disbelief for entertainment purposes, but I have a six-year-old of my own and couldn’t wrap my mind around this kid and his friends being only seven.  Christopher’s thoughts and actions (even before he vanished) made me imagine him to be older so that when childish thoughts or activities were mentioned, it felt awkward and out of place.
Then there’s the repetition.  There are several descriptive phrases used multiple times, from the appearance of the treehouse steps being called baby teeth to the cloud that hangs around town being an all-seeing eye.  I mean, I get it, it’s symbolic, let’s keep this story moving forward.
I didn’t feel like this book came together until the last quarter, which makes it a bit underwhelming.

What I liked about this book:  Chbosky carefully crafts his story by following several characters whose fates are all linked.  It’s the tried and true formula for master of horror Stephen King and it was successful here, switching perspectives to advance the story.
I loved the relationship between Christopher and Kate; it was so genuine and I certainly identified with Kate as a mother!
The creep-factor on this book was a slow burn.  There wasn’t much in the beginning but by the end I had serious goosebumps.

Overall, I liked this story.  It tackles the heavy subject of good vs. evil with Biblical symbolism and looks at the way people deal with personal sin.  It’s obvious Chbosky took great care in every detail of the plot and the relationships between characters with definite inspiration from Stephen King.

It was a loooong set up to get to the heart of the book.  Page count doesn’t intimidate me and never factors in to my decision to read a book but in my opinion there were several scenes/chapters that could’ve been removed or edited down to the benefit the story.

If you love stories about kids fighting evil with sinister creepy old school Stephen King horror vibes, Imaginary Friend is worth checking out.

Huge thanks to Grand Central Publishing and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review.  Imaginary Friend is scheduled for release on October 1, 2019.

 

Review | The Babysitters Coven

The Babysitters Coven by Kate Williams

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This book was ridiculous in the best way!  Described as “Adventures in Babysitting meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer” I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to read this.

Esme Pearl is surviving high school with a keen fashion sense and a babysitters club with her best friend Janis.  When a freak accident happens in driver’s ed, Esme finds herself on the hook for a large sum of money in damages and is left with a ton of questions about supernatural abilities.

Cassandra Heaven arrives in Spring River intent on becoming part of the babysitter’s club that Esme sees as a lame joke now that she’s seventeen.  When Cassandra confides she discovered a note from her now deceased mother telling her to “find the babysitters”, the new friends discover that their fates are intertwined thanks to a long line of women known as Sitters who protect a portal in our world from demons.

Unfortunately for Esme and Cassandra their Giles/watcher is the former interior decorator turned Spring River football coach named Brian and he’s been too busy with the season to teach the girls about their newfound powers.

Brian assures them that the portal is still firmly closed and that there’s plenty of time for him to teach them but when a young girl they’re babysitting is kidnapped, they have no choice but to cast some spells and hope that the Synod (the governing magic council) will help them out.  (See, ridiculous, right?!)

This book seriously made me laugh out loud at times with its droll humor.  Esme’s wit and cynicism were spot-on for a seventeen-year-old and I love that the characters make references to The Babysitters Club, Buffy, and The Craft and acknowledge the obvious similarities.

If you grew up watching the above-mentioned shows/movies and appreciate the pop culture, you’ll appreciate The Babysitters Coven!  I also recommend to readers who love paranormal YA.  While parts of the story moved slow and the ending fell a bit flat, the humor kept it entertaining and it’s also the beginning of a series so readers will have more answers in the future.  For me, it was just plain fun.

Thanks to Delacorte Press and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review.  The Babysitters Coven is scheduled for release on September 17, 2019.

 

Review | Tinfoil Butterfly

Tinfoil Butterfly by Rachel Eve Moulton

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Emma’s trying to forget the past and finds herself recklessly hitchhiking across the U.S. with a guy named Lowell who has gone from harmless and dumb to a creepy potential serial killer.

Just outside the Badlands of South Dakota, Emma decides to make a run for it and ends up stranded in an abandoned town with a loaded gun and a snowstorm creeping in.

Emma takes shelter in an old diner where she meets Earl, an odd young boy wearing a tinfoil mask.  Earl creeps her out but she’s desperate to find gasoline to get her out of town before the snowstorm hits.

Before long, Emma is pulled into Earl’s isolated world that quickly spirals into a house of horrors.  Confronting the boy’s demons, both real and imagined, brings Emma’s tragic past to the surface and the two make a choice to survive.

Tinfoil Butterfly is a tough book for me to rate.  It’s a horror story so obviously I was willing to suspend my disbelief for a chilling story.  I found myself several times saying out loud, “Nooooo, why would you do that?  Who does that?” when there were major red flags / creepy vibes.  (I’m that person throwing popcorn during a movie and yelling my frustrations at the screen.  From the comfort of my own home of course.)
*Yells at book* Get out of there girl!  I’d rather take my chances walking to the next town in a blizzard!

Emma has a terribly sad and over-the-top disturbing past that readers learn in a series of flashbacks.  Earl’s current situation is also over-the-top and heartbreaking.  I liked that the two characters found kindred spirits in each other but it felt rushed.

Overall, this read like an average horror movie:  I was entertained and appreciated the disturbing atmosphere but was never invested.

And finally, this book is billed as “The Shining meets About a Boy” and that is completely inaccurate.  The comparisons stop at boy in an isolated location.

I’d mention this book to readers who enjoy horror with metaphysical elements.

Thanks to MCD x FSG Originals and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review.  Tinfoil Butterfly is scheduled for release on September 10, 2019.

Review | The Long Call

The Long Call by Ann Cleeves

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Detective Inspector Matthew Venn is standing uninvited outside of his father’s funeral when he receives a call that a body has been found on a nearby beach.

Setting aside his personal grief, he begins his investigation into the murder of Simon Walden.  The case becomes personal when he discovers that the victim had recently began volunteering at the Woodyard, the community center run by Venn’s husband Jonathan.

When a vulnerable woman goes missing from the Woodyard after Walden’s death, the cases at first appear unrelated.  Venn’s superior investigating skills are put to the test as the case hits even closer to home when his mother who disowned him and the evangelical community that he left behind become involved.

The Long Call is an excellent police procedural.  It’s the beginning of a new series from Ann Cleeves and serves as a great introduction to Matthew Venn and his colleagues.  This slow burn mystery kept me invested and clues were revealed at a decent pace.  Nothing is as it appears and Venn and his team piece together the truth in a smart and believable way.
The best part of this book was the complex relationships and I’ll pick up book two to learn more about Venn!

Thanks to Minotaur Books and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review.  The Long Call is scheduled for release on September 3, 2019.

 

Review | Rebel Girls

Rebel Girls by Elizabeth Keenan

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It’s 1992 and Athena Graves is figuring out who she is in her Baton Rouge, Louisiana Catholic high school.  She has feminist views, a love for punk rock, and an appreciation for the up-and-coming riot grrrl movement after hearing a Bikini Kill demo while visiting her mom in Washington state over the summer.

Athena is shocked to hear a rumor spreading that her younger pro-life sister Helen had an abortion over the summer.  While the sisters know it didn’t happen, Helen is embarassed and stunned when the guidance counselor removes her from the clubs she participates in based on the accusation.  How can a girl be punished for a vicious rumor and zero proof?

The sisters work together, despite their different views on abortion, to fight the unfairness of the situation.  The title implies rebellion but these girls are not rule breakers and they’re still young enough to fear consequences, even if they feel they’re standing up for what’s right.  They work within the boundaries of the school’s rules to speak out against the injustice in vague but obvious ways while holding back anger against the authority figures who are allowing the problems to continue.  In other words, the characters are completely realistic.

“I knew what the riot grrrl ideals were. Support girls around you. Don’t be jealous of other girls. Avoid competition with them. Being loud and crying in public were valid ways of being a girl. Being a girl didn’t mean being weak or bad. Claiming your sexuality, no matter what that meant to you, was a good thing. And the revolution was open to anyone.” *

The story is genuine and it will offer nostalgia for readers who grew up in the 90’s.  The atmosphere was perfect for the time period and the events are historically accurate.

Rebel Girls is a YA novel that looks at both sides of the abortion debate within an ultra-conservative and religious state.  It does so in a way that will be highly relatable for teens because it focuses on peer reaction and makes an honest effort to fairly portray each side without being preachy or political.
While the guidance counselor and the main “mean girl” could at times be caricatures of the controvery, it didn’t go completely overboard.  There is some romance that didn’t add to but also didn’t overshadow the story.

My favorite thing about Rebel Girls, other than the copious amounts of riot grrrl references, is that it focuses on girls supporting girls.  We do not have to share the same beliefs in order to lift one another up and encourage each other.

I recommend this book to readers who enjoy contemporary YA and feminism that looks at timely / controversial topics in fair and relatable ways.

Thanks to Inkyard Press and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review.  Rebel Girls is scheduled for release on September 10, 2019.

*Quote included is from a digital advanced reader’s copy and is subject to change upon final publication.

Review | The Second Chance Supper Club

The Second Chance Supper Club by Nicole Meier

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Julia Frank has reached a level of success she’s always dreamed about in broadcast journalism.  The problem is she didn’t realize there would be so much pressure to maintain it.
After a risky on-air claim against the mayor, Julia finds her reputation in ruins and she’s forced off the air while the station does damage control.  Too embarrassed to stick around the city, she hastily boards a plane for Arizona to visit her sister, leaving her fiancee James to figure out what’s going on.

Ginny Frank was once a successful chef in NYC, working in the most elite restaurants and earning a Michelin star.  That all came to a grinding halt when her parents died suddenly in a car accident.  Her sister Julia couldn’t be bothered to leave the city and fly back to Arizona to tie up all the loose ends.  Ginny and her daughter Olive stayed in Arizona after taking care of the estate and started their own secret supper club, Mesquite, around their dining room table.

The sisters haven’t spoken in three years when Julia shows up on Ginny’s doorstep.  Ginny holds a lot of unresolved hurt and resentment against Julia and would love to shut the door in her face but with her underground business barely able to make ends meet, she puts Julia to work.

Together the sisters start over in their relationship and in their careers proving it’s never too late to start over.

The Second Chance Supper Club is a heart warming story about sisters, second chances, and some amazing food served around a table in the Arizona desert.  The story unfolds at a fast pace with everything falling into place for a happy ending.  This is a quick and cozy read- a perfect palate cleanser between heavy reads.

Thanks to Lake Union Publishing and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review.  The Second Chance Supper Club is scheduled for release on September 10, 2019.

Review | Savage Appetites

Savage Appetites: Four True Stories of Women, Crime, and Obsession by Rachel Monroe

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Our society has become obsessed with true crime.  Podcasts, books, TV shows, websites, and TV channels devote hours to discussing crimes.  Statistically speaking, it’s women who are fueling this obsession.  The overwhelming majority of true crime readers and true crime podcast listeners are female.  According to Monroe, forensic science is one of the fastest growing college majors and seven in ten of those students are female.

Rachel Monroe has chosen four stories to discuss the history of forensics and the true-crime obsessed while also analyzing her own fascination with the genre and its effect on her life.

“The four women in this book were encouraged to lead small lives or to keep parts of themselves hidden; becoming entwined with a famous crime enlarged their worlds and allowed them to express thing they couldn’t otherwise voice.” *

Savage Appetites divides four stories into chapters, including:  The Detective, The Victim, The Defender, and The Killer.

The Detective tells readers the story of Frances Glessner Lee, a wealthy heiress who used her time and money to create Nutshells—painstakingly detailed miniatures of crime scenes that were used as training tools for law enforcement.  Lee was an unlikely detective whose obsession with crime was tolerated because of her wealth.

The Victim follows the bizarre story of life for actress Sharon Tate’s family after her death at the hands of the Manson Family.  Tate’s younger sister Patti eventually became the family spokesperson after her mother’s death with the support of Alisa Statman.
In 1990, Statman moved into the Beverly Hills guesthouse on the property where Sharon Tate and her friends were murdered.  Statman claims she only became interested in the history of Sharon Tate after she moved in and helped writer Bill Nelson with some research.  Either way, she eventually became close with Patti and continued to raise Patti’s children and speak for the family after her death.

The Defender explores the relationship between Lorri Davis and death row inmate Damien Echols, one of the “West Memphis Three” accused of murdering three eight-year-old boys in Arkansas.  Lorri and Damien became acquainted through letters after Lorri watched a documentary about the murders and believed Damien to be innocent.  She quickly became fixated on the case and began a romantic relationship with him. Lorri left a successful life in NYC to move closer to Damien.  The couple married and Lorri devoted all of her time to the case.
The West Memphis Three gained the support of several celebrities who funded further investigation that could lead to new evidence that would allow for a new trial and all three men were eventually released from prison.

The Killer details the progression of an online chat between Lindsay Souvannarath and her friend James who both shared an obsession with Columbine shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold.  The pair eventually begin planning to open fire at a mall in Nova Scotia but an anonymous tip prevents them from carrying out their plan.  Many people believe their discussion was mostly bravado and the young couple would never have actually opened fire but there was certainly intent since Lindsay boarded the plane to Nova Scotia to meet James.

I found all four of these stories to be fascinating and enjoyed the discussion and structure of the book.  All four women are vastly different and that’s why the stories work so well together.

“The more time I spent with their stories, the more I realized that there wasn’t a simple, universal answer to why women were fascinated by true crime—because “woman” is not a simple, universal catergory. Obsession was a recurring theme in their lives, but that obsession wasn’t monolithic. It stemmed from different motivations, had different objects and different implications.” *

Savage Appetites is four true crime stories that explore obsession and motivation in relation to women who gravitate to the subject.
I recommend it for readers who enjoy true crime and sociology.

Thanks to Scribner and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review. Savage Appetites: Four True Stories of Women, Crime, and Obsession is scheduled for release on August 20, 2019.

*Quotes included are from a digital advanced reader’s copy and are subject to change upon final publication.