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Book Review: Kitchens of the Great Midwest

It seemed to me that this book has been chasing me around for the past 2 years. I kept seeing it on all the blogs, bookshelves and lists for great reads but for some reason, I never added it to my reading list .

Today I wanted to tell you how happy I am that I finally picked it up... My local library has a limited choice of audio books but I was between my audible credits so I grabbed it off the shelf and before I knew it, I was laughing out loud as I listened to it on my way to work. The first chapter is about a father trying to feed his daughter pureed pork shoulder. He literally has no idea what he's doing and it was funny, endearing and so engaging.

I just finished it today. I find a really great joy in immersing myself in the novels I read, and that is especially easy to do when they give recipes as part of the story. I absolutely love that  opportunity to really experience whatever it is that that character themselves get to experience. This morning is a Saturday so since I wasn't going to be driving to work and able to listen to it in my car, I dusted off an old c.d. player I found in the basement and continued listening. I brought it into the kitchen and baked the peanut bar recipe that appears in the book. Pat Prager, I hope I made you proud. The recipe was simple and easy to make. In the story, it had one several blue ribbons in county fairs, beating out several other church going wives who dream of taking home the blue ribbon for themselves.

The book starts with Lars Thorvald and is centered around the life of his daughter, Eva. When Eva was just a baby, her mother Cynthia leaves them  both behind to chase her dreams of becoming a sommelier in California. She never wanted to be a mother and once she left, she never looked back. What happens next sets the ball rolling on the rest of the story- how Eva grows up and how her father's love for food shaped her palate as well. Her unique and powerful taste gives her something to focus on and she finds solace and confidence in food and creating dishes and ingredients that open doors for her in restaurants for her to perfect her craft as a chef.

As she grows up and seeks success, she meets people along the way that have a lasting impact on her life. Those people all introduce Eva to a specific dish or ingredient that leave an impression and you get to know those people in the chapters, so there are several stories all intertwined that are all unique but very special. 

Towards the end of the book, I began to realize how all of these experiences and people were going to connect and how they all threaded together. All the ingredients of Eva's life were finally coming together. It was magical. 

The food, the details, the funny stories, the quirky characters, this story was served just as Eva would serve one of her famous dinners: course by course, with each chapter giving a unique experience that compliments the next course. 

It was truly a treat and one that I will definitely recommend to others! 

Book Review: Without Merit by Colleen Hoover

Happy Pub Day to Colleen Hoover! 
Without Merit is my favorite of her books so far. 

You will never meet a family more unique than the Voss family. You will never meet more quirky characters.
There's a ton of kids, an agoraphobic mother who lives in the basement, a step-mom that lives upstairs and a bunch of kids who really just don't know what the hell is going on. 

There is Merit and her twin sister, Honor and their brothers and father who round out the story. There's also a really pissed off neighbor and a couple terminally ill people in the mix as well. 

I think my favorite part of this book was the very beginning (even though whole book is one great scene after another) when Merit is browsing an antique shop for her next trophy to add to her collection (see what I mean about quirky?) when she unexpectedly ends up kissing a stranger out on the street.  That escalated quickly, I bet you're thinking. And you're right. That's how this book goes. Just one quick, funny, interesting, "Wait, what?!" moment after another. 

With the siblings all trying to hide secrets of their own (sexuality, a penance for loving sick people and a list of other serious topics) Merit is left to her own devices. She can't understand why she can't have a normal family but there are things in her past that not only must she keep hidden, but her secrets are effecting her relationships with her family and even the mysterious boy that kissed her out on the street that day. You'll quickly find out who that boy is but you'll be flipping through the pages, reading as fast as you can to finally figure out why each person in this book is acting the strange way that they are. 

This book is like an onion. Not only did it make me cry, but just when you think you've discovered all you need to know, the characters reveal another layer about themselves. 

It's rich with details, emotions, hard topics, but all of it comes out in a compassionate and deeply moving story. 

It's out today, so grab a copy and tell me what you think! 

You're Invited to Book Chat with Paperless Post

Have you heard of Paperless Post?

It's a super fun and easy way to surprise guests with a classic invitation just like the old days- along with the convenience of doing it right from your phone or email. 

When Paperless Post offered to partner with me, I knew the perfect event I could use my invitations for. Recently, I invited fellow bookworms over to my house for a "Book Chat" night. I've been wanting to have a book club for years but could never get people together, let alone think of a book we would all enjoy reading. On top of that, it was hard to imagine finding the time to read another book on top of all the others I read for reviews. So instead, I decided we could just get together to talk about whatever book we are currently reading. And the night turned out to be everything I was hoping for, and more. 

I of course wanted to use a bookish theme for the invite and Paperless Post came through with the perfect one. They have so many to choose from but I fell in love with this one right away: 

Paperless Post  offers beautiful templates and there are fun choices for colors and patterns for the envelopes too- plus they are animated which just adds a really fun touch for the recipients. They are so easy to customize for your event so every invite is truly unique.

The app allowed me to upload a guest list and send out the invitation to multiple people and then kept track of RSVPs, so I knew who was coming. It was so convenient and easy to build, send and manage the invitation! 

This was the mess that was my shelves as I prepared for Book Chat- picking out what books I thought others would like to borrow was so fun! 

My tips for a no-pressure, relaxed book "club" would just be to offer a comfy setting for your fellow book-loving friends to gather and share what they are reading. I told guests that there was no pressure to talk to the group, they were welcome to just sit back and listen. You didn't have to bring a book to trade but if you wanted to borrow, there were others who brought plenty to it worked out great. I had light snacks and drinks laid out-it was later in the evening so I knew most everyone would have already eaten. Snack foods like pretzels and popcorn are always a good idea! 

I set the books out that I thought people might want to borrow and arranged them in genres- thrillers, non-fiction, historical fiction, family dramas and even made a pile of my husband's personal favorites because he has fantastic taste in books too! 

I bought blank library slips on Amazon for people to use as book marks or, if they were lending out their books to others, they could write their name on the library slip so that others would remember who to return it to. 

I wanted to make sure everyone was comfortable and had a great time. We talked about books we loved, hated, remembered reading from our childhoods and swapped tons of books with each other. It was a bookworm's dream come true! 

Everyone seemed to really enjoy themselves and we all left with a list of books to read based on others' reviews. It was so fun to listen to others talk about their favorites. It helped me realized that I would enjoy reading something out of my usual genre and I love that! 

The best part was the difference of all the books and preferences. Some of us love e-books, others swear by physical copies. One of the ladies admitted to reading the ends of the books when she can't wait to find out what happens and that made others gasp in shock. It was so funny! We all can't wait to get together again!

If you are planning an event or get together, definitely check out Paperless Post's invitations. They have everything from baby showers, baby announcements and more. So fun!