Saturday, December 15, 2018

Book review: Love à la Mode by Stephanie Kate Strohm

Book Summary
Take two American teen chefs, add one heaping cup of Paris, toss in a pinch of romance, and stir. . . .

Rosie Radeke firmly believes that happiness can be found at the bottom of a mixing bowl. But she never expected that she, a random nobody from East Liberty, Ohio, would be accepted to celebrity chef Denis Laurent's school in Paris, the most prestigious cooking program for teens in the entire world. Life in Paris, however, isn't all cream puffs and crepes. Faced with a challenging curriculum and a nightmare professor, Rosie begins to doubt her dishes.

Henry Yi grew up in his dad's restaurant in Chicago, and his lifelong love affair with food landed him a coveted spot in Chef Laurent's school. He quickly connects with Rosie, but academic pressure from home and his jealousy over Rosie's growing friendship with gorgeous bad-boy baker Bodie Tal makes Henry lash out and push his dream girl away.

Desperate to prove themselves, Rosie and Henry cook like never before while sparks fly between them. But as they reach their breaking points, they wonder whether they have what it takes to become real chefs.

Perfect for lovers of Chopped Teen Tournament and Kids Baking Championship, as well as anyone who dreams of a romantic trip to France, Love la Mode follows Rosie and Henry as they fall in love with food, with Paris, and ultimately, with each other.

Flo's Review
Adorable. This book, you guys. Adorable. 

I first heard about it because I attended the Foodie Funactics event at YALLFEST this year and Stephanie was the one who put it together and moderated it. As soon as she described this book, my two friends and I were like, "Ooohhh....!" I knew it was going to be a must-read.

I had the opportunity to listen to the audiobook, and the best thing about it is that the author reads it! She does such a great job, too. Everybody sounds really distinct. This was no easy feat, either, because the students are from all around the world. Stephanie does a great job with the accents, I must say.

You can tell this story was written by a foodie, because the food is described just as lovingly, if not more so, than the romance. I really enjoyed it. Not knowing a lot about how to cook or bake myself, it was fun to see these characters' relationships to food and how they were in the kitchen. Stephanie did a great job with characters. By the end of the book I felt I really knew everyone in Rosie and Henry's friend group well. They were all fully fleshed out individuals, not side characters with minimal characteristics there to comment on the main story line. My favorite, and I already told Stephanie, was Henry's rooomate Hampus. Hampus is everything, you guys. From his morning workouts, to him foraging for food, to Swedish TV show marathon all-nighters with Henry -- Hampus is everything. 

Rosie and Henry were both awkward and realistic teens, and I was rooting for them the whole time. The only qualm I had with this book was the lack of Paris. It was sold as this fantastic love story in the city of love...and I felt like I rarely saw Paris. Like, this story could have taken place in Liberty, Ohio, without much alteration. That's a shame. Paris has so much potential for first love scenes.

But that's it! Other than that, I simply adored this one. Also, I randomly baked a cake about a week or so ago, while I was listening to this audiobook. Coincidence? I didn't do it intentionally, but all the food in this book is so amazing, and maybe I was inspired? 

So, go read this book. In the meantime, I will contact the author again and try to convince her to write a sequel revolving around Hampus. 

Friday, December 14, 2018

Q&A with David R. Gillham, author of ANNELIES: A Novel


Book Summary
The year is 1945, and Anne Frank is sixteen years old. Having survived the concentration camps but lost her mother and sister along the way, she reunites with her father, Pim, in newly liberated Amsterdam. As Anne struggles to overcome the brutality of memory and build a new life for herself, she grapples with heartbreak, grief, and ultimately the freedom of forgiveness. A story of trauma and redemption, ANNELIES honors Anne Frank's legacy as not only a symbol of hope and perseverance but also a complex young woman of great ambition and heart.

Author Interview

ANNELIES is a work of historical fiction that asks the question: What if Anne Frank survived the Holocaust? What sparked your interest in reinventing the life of such a treasured writer?
Anne Frank’s story has always been a story of hope, and hope is the common thread of my writing. Especially under conditions where it’s hard to imagine that such a thing can survive. Probably the most famous passage from Anne’s diary is dated in July of 1944, and in it she writes that, even in the face of war and persecution, she still believes in the basic goodness of people. But the question has been asked, could she still have believed this after experiencing the horrors of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen? It is a challenging question, and one, which I wanted to try at least to answer. This novel is my attempt to do so.

How did you approach writing about a Holocaust victim? How are you able to provide validity to Anne’s story?
As I wrote this story, I was constantly aware of the fact that Annelies Marie Frank was a real person, a person who wrote what would one day become an important addition to world literatures. And yet she died tragically as one of millions of unknown faces. In imagining a life for her had she actually survived, I hope to accomplish two things: to give Anne the life she was cheated of and, through telling the story of one girl, to tell the stories of all the “Annes,” thereby underscoring the lost potential of the millions who perished. Anne Frank’s legacy is one of hope, and it is my hope that if I can offer a reminder of what has been lost, we can dedicate ourselves to repairing the world.

How did you set about researching the novel? How did you use your talents as a novelist to imagine Anne’s story?
In writing this book, my priority has been to honor Anne’s story with honesty and accuracy, so I have remained true to the facts, as I understood them. I’ve read deeply, delving into Holocaust histories, biographies of Anne Frank, and her father, “Pim,” memoirs and transcripts of interviews of people who knew her, as well as studying her diary itself. I’ve traveled to the Netherlands twice in researching ANNELIESTo be better educated in the Jewish experience in Amsterdam, I’ve visited the old Jewish Quarter, the former Diamond District, and the Jewish enclave in the Transvaalbuurt, once left in ruins by a freezing population desperate for firewood. And specifically in relation to Anne Frank’s life, I’ve seen the bookshop where she likely picked out her tartan plaid diary, the Jewish Lyceum where she and her sister, Margot, were sent to school during the occupation, and the former Gestapo headquarters where the Franks and their friends were first detained after their arrest. I’ve explored the Frank family apartment in Amsterdam’s Merwedeplein complex. And, of course, I’ve spent hours inside the Anne Frank House itself. I’ve followed Anne Frank’s path from Amsterdam to the remains of the transit camp Westerbork in the northeastern Netherlands, to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where all the inhabitants of the “House Behind” were shipped by the Nazis on September 3, 1944, to Bergen-Belsen inside Germany, where Anne and Margot Frank died of typhus months later. Through study and access to these resources, I have done my level best to portray the historical backdrop against which the Franks lived with authenticity, sincerity, and respect. 
The portion of the novel set during the period before the Franks went into hiding fictionalizes a chronicle of events recorded in Anne’s diary, although that timeline has been slightly adapted to accommodate the drama, and the dialogue of the characters largely imagined. The dramatic action of the novel after the return of my character “Anne” from Bergen-Belsen is completely fictional of course, though the background of events against which the action unfolds is based on my research of actual postwar history. 

Your last novel, City of Women, was also set in World War II. What attracts you to writing historical fiction, specifically in this time period?
I’ve always been drawn to the past, and consider myself a life-long student of history. I think that history offers many lessons to the present, and that, as a novelist, I am drawn to portraying the parallels. As far as the Second World War is concerned, it seems to me that its sheer scope and tragedy continues to exceed our ability to understand it. So we keep trying. Certainly there have been other brutal and scarring calamities in the length of human history, but few if any have so irrevocably changed the face of the world, and still resonate so widely and deeply. We are living today with the consequences of that war. 

One of the most important relationships in the novel is between Anne and her father, Otto “Pim” Frank. How did you develop this father-daughter relationship, both before and after their traumatic experiences?
Dramatically, Anne and Pim represent two different approaches to redemption after trauma. One approach  (Pim’s) refuses to dwell in the tragedies of the past, and looks only toward a better future. The other approach (Anne’s) refuses to relinquish those tragedies, and by facing them, must try to overcome her own anger and guilt. Both paths may to lead to redemption and forgiveness. Both are valid, even when in conflict, because both are fueled, in the end, by the power of hope. Hope is at the heart of ANNELIES.
In developing the fictionalized relationship between my characters of “Anne” and “Pim,” I read biographical and historical works, such as those produced by Mellissa Müller, Carol Anne Lee, and R.W. Jansen. I watched dramatic performances based on Anne’s experiences. I studied accounts of their father/daughter relationship and their personalities left by friends such as Miep Gies. I watched and re-watched postwar film interviews given by Otto Frank, and listened to the stories of the late Cor Suijk, who knew Mr. Frank personally. But really it was Anne Frank herself, in the pages of her diary, who provided me with the contours and depth of their relationship, which I have attempted to portray and upon which I have extrapolated. 

Did any other writers inspire you while writing ANNELIES?
I had not actually read Anne Frank’s diary until I read Philip Roth’s novel, The Ghost Writer. In it Roth’s protagonist, Nathan Zuckerman, imagines that a young European woman in her twenties, whom he meets at the home of his mentor, is actually Anne Frank. It’s only a moment’s fantasy really, and Nathan quickly realizes that it’s his willing imagination at work. But it was The Ghost Writer that inspired me to pick up Anne’s diary and read it. I was thunderstruck. Not just by her insight and humor, but by her subtle brilliance as a writer. 
Much later on, Cynthia Ozick wrote an article in The New Yorker entitled, “Who Owns Anne Frank?”  It was quite a controversial piece in some ways, but what I recall most was when she asked the reader to consider what important works Anne might have produced had she lived. And that’s when it hit me, hanging onto a strap on the A-train on my way into Brooklyn, that some day I would write a novel about Anne Frank having survived. 
And then, of course, there are the many writers who experienced the Holocaust and bore witness, Eli Weisel, Isabella Leitner, Primo Levi, Etty Hillesum (the Dutch writer whose journal and letters were published after her death in Auschwitz.) Also there are the memoires and reminiscences of those who knew Anne Frank personally, such as Hannah Pick-Goslar, Eva Schloss, Nanette Blitz Konig, and Jaqueline van Maarsen. And many, many more survivors, on whose courageous testimony we have come to depend to form our understanding of what cannot be understood.  

What do you want people to take away from reading ANNELIES?
That hope can survive. That in the face of all obstacles, in the face of destruction, in the face of despair, hope can abide. In fact, it must abide. That is the message of the book. And that, I think, is what Anne Frank tried to tell us. 

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Blog Tour: Guest Post - The Accidental Beauty Queen by Teri Wilson


When I first heard about this book, I thought it sounded simply adorable! I am looking forward to reading it. So naturally, I jumped on the opportunity to participate in the blog tour. I was happy that author Teri Wilson agreed to share about her real-life experience judging beauty pageants. Read her Guest Post below, and then learn more about The Accidental Beauty Queen after the page break.

How was your experience(s) judging beauty pageants? Any funny/unique stories? Lessons learned?

 I’ve judged three pageants over the course of the past two years—the national Miss United States pageant in summer 2017, the Miss Central Texas pageant in Fall 2017, and most recently, the Miss San Antonio/Miss Bexar County pageant just a few weeks ago. The last two pageants I judged were both in the Miss America system. Miss America recently changed their pageant scoring system and completely eliminated the swimsuit portion, so it was really interesting judging with their system before and after the changes. 
The Miss United States pageant invited me to judge because I’ve had a few books made into Hallmark Channel movies and the pageant director and marketing director were both big Hallmark fans. They followed me on social media and saw how much I adore fashion and sparkle (I love following the royal family, so tiaras pop up on my pages a lot) so they reached out with an invitation. I was stunned, but also super excited to say yes. 
I love judging pageants, especially the teen divisions of the competition. Honestly, I’m pretty blown away by teenagers who compete. They are remarkably poised and can carry on conversations about many things I wouldn’t have known much about when I was that age. Without fail, they all have a strong commitment to community and charity work. That was definitely my biggest takeaway from my first judging experience. It was amazing seeing how much the contestants had done for others in their community. I know a lot of people poke fun at pageants, but from my experience the young women who choose to compete are truly wonderful people. I definitely wanted to emphasize this in The Accidental Beauty Queen, which is why it’s got such a pro-woman, body-positive message.
The talent competition is always a lot of fun. It’s amazing what can be truly entertaining. Who knew I loved yodeling? For real. The winner of the last pageant I judged did a yodeling number called “I Want to be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart,” and she completely nailed it. It was adorable. I’ve also found myself sobbing through a sign-language performance of “How Great Thou Art.” Talent is really great because you just never know what to expect. I live for the day I’ll finally get to see flaming batons.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Blog Tour: The White Christmas Inn by Colleen Wright

THE WHITE CHRISTMAS INN
by Colleen Wright
Atria/Howard Books
ISBN: 9781501180606; $15.99

A New England inn seems like the picture-perfect place to spend the holidays. But when a snowstorm shuts the roads and keeps all the guests inside, they find themselves worrying that this Christmas may not be exactly what they dreamed.

Hannah has plans for a picturesque winter wedding, but they come crashing down when her fiancé calls everything off.

Jeanne and Tim don’t know how they’re going to keep the inn open another year – or how to bridge the distance in their marriage. With a flurry of unexpected guests, they’ll have to work together to fix all the problems that crop up. But will it be enough to rekindle their relationship? 

Molly just needs to finish her latest book, but her writer’s block is crippling. And the arrival of Marcus, a handsome widower with two young girls, is exactly the distraction she doesn’t need.

As the characters’ stories intertwine, they discover that with faith, and a little bit of Christmas magic, they just might find hope where they thought it had been lost.

FLO'S REVIEW 
This book was pitched to me as "Love Actually meets The Holiday meets The Hallmark Channel," and since those are two of my favorite Christmas movies, I was immediately here for it. And it delivered to the full extent. I had a full smile on my face as I read this book. I was so easily transported to the beautiful inn. I felt as if I was there, eating all the delicious goodies that Jeanne made, chatting with the guests in the common room while sneaking pieces of pie, and even taking sleigh rides with Luke. Colleen did a great job with the setting and scenery here.

The characters, too. It was so easy to fall into their stories and start rooting for them. I fervently hoped that Jeanne and Tim would fix their financial and relationship strain. I cursed Hannah's fiancé, but then immediately was like, "You're better off without him, girl!" One of the characters threw me for a loop that I wasn't expecting, but it was a delightful loop. This book gave me the exact same feeling as sitting in my jammies on the couch watching Hallmark Christmas movies all day long. Every time I opened the book back up, I found myself once again in a happy place.

If you love Hallmark and Netflix romantic Christmas movies, just go buy this one. Just do it. You won't even regret it. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
COLLEEN WRIGHT was raised in snowy towns in Michigan, where she loved curling up by the fire with a good book at Christmas. She now lives and works in Brooklyn.


Saturday, December 1, 2018

Book review: Sadie by Courtney Summers

Book Summary
Sadie hasn't had an easy life. Growing up on her own, she's been raising her sister Mattie in an isolated small town, trying her best to provide a normal life and keep their heads above water.

But when Mattie is found dead, Sadie's entire world crumbles. After a somewhat botched police investigation, Sadie is determined to bring her sister's killer to justice and hits the road following a few meager clues to find him.

When West McCray―a radio personality working on a segment about small, forgotten towns in America―overhears Sadie's story at a local gas station, he becomes obsessed with finding the missing girl. He starts his own podcast as he tracks Sadie's journey, trying to figure out what happened, hoping to find her before it's too late.

Courtney Summers has written the breakout book of her career. Sadie is propulsive and harrowing and will keep you riveted until the last page.

Flo's Review
Sadie got a lot of pre-publication hype, so as I was really looking forward to reading it. Luckily, it did not disappoint. The set up of the book was truly unique -- a podcast discussing a series of events that happened in the past alongside the narrative of the events as they unfolded. This parallel narrative was interesting -- it was fun to see West discover something that we, the reader, already knew from Sadie.

I can't discuss the end without being spoilery, but here is the feedback I tweeted to author Courtney Summers: asdlkjgao;dsuir[ew0qaj!!!

Speaking of Courtney Summers, I had the opportunity to meet her this year at YALLFEST while I was in the middle of the book. Having the opportunity to speak with her about her book as I reading it was a lot of fun for me. Plus, she's adorable and so sweet.

See?! Adorable and so sweet!
It is always refereeing to read a unique and engaging book, so I was delighted to find that in Sadie.