November Book Reveal: Kitchens of the Great Midwest

Kitchens of The Great Midwest by  J. Ryan Stradal

Kitchens of the Great Midwest, about a young woman with a once-in-a-generation palate who becomes the iconic chef behind the country’s most coveted dinner reservation, is the summer’s most hotly-anticipated debut and already a New York Times bestseller.

When Lars Thorvald’s wife, Cynthia, falls in love with wine–and a dashing sommelier–he’s left to raise their baby, Eva, on his own. He’s determined to pass on his love of food to his daughter–starting with puréed pork shoulder. As Eva grows, she finds her solace and salvation in the flavors of her native Minnesota. From Scandinavian lutefisk to hydroponic chocolate habaneros, each ingredient represents one part of Eva’s journey as she becomes the star chef behind a legendary and secretive pop-up supper club, culminating in an opulent and emotional feast that’s a testament to her spirit and resilience.

Each chapter in J. Ryan Stradal’s startlingly original debut tells the story of a single dish and character, at once capturing the zeitgeist of the Midwest, the rise of foodie culture, and delving into the ways food creates community and a sense of identity. By turns quirky, hilarious, and vividly sensory, Kitchens of the Great Midwest is an unexpected mother-daughter story about the bittersweet nature of life–its missed opportunities and its joyful surprises. It marks the entry of a brilliant new talent.

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November Book Reveal: The School of Essential Ingredients

14495262_2076533319239204_4288445087724873587_nThe School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister

Once a month, eight students gather in Lillian’s restaurant for a cooking class. Among them is Claire, a young woman coming to terms with her new identity as a mother; Tom, a lawyer whose life has been overturned by loss; Antonia, an Italian kitchen designer adapting to life in America; and Carl and Helen, a long-married couple whose union contains surprises the rest of the class would never suspect…

The students have come to learn the art behind Lillian’s soulful dishes, but it soon becomes clear that each seeks a recipe for something beyond the kitchen. And soon they are transformed by the aromas, flavors, and textures of what they create.

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Book Club Discussion: You are a Badass

Welcome to the Book Club discussion for You are a Badass, by Jen Sincero. Below is a list of discussion questions to get the conversation started. We are excited to hear your thoughts in the comments section below. We’ve added our thoughts for each question as well. Feel free to answer all the questions, or pick and choose a few questions to discuss!

1. What were your main takeaways from the book?

I am not really one for manifesting things through thought, but rather than dwell on her points relating to that, I took away that thinking positively and upwardly (is this a word?) are a great start to achieving your goals.

Her discussion on examining self truths also resonated. She suggests thinking about things you say that start with “I always” and “I never.” I believe she calls this section “Becoming aware of your stories” and it really stuck with me. I think everyone has a tendency to define their own personality and make grand declarations about their tendencies (For example: I’m an introvert! I hate exercise!). She points out that this can be limiting and suggests breaking free of your own self defined personality boundaries.

2. Did the author’s style of writing appeal to you? Did you find it to be entertaining? Too brash?

I enjoyed her style of writing. It was a nice change from the cut and dry tone of similar motivational books I have read. The tone made it feel like she was speaking directly to you, which made the novel almost feel like being personally coached or mentored.

3. What did you think of the fact that the author ended each chapter with “Love Yourself”

I think I just kind of started jumping over this last one once I realized it was repeated at the end of each chapter. It is a good reminder though!

4. So far, have you made any changes in your own life based on the advice given in the book?

I would say I have already adopted two things.

Ask Yourself Why! I am fairly self- aware, but I have been trying even harder than usual to ask myself why I am about to say or doing something, particularly if it leans towards negative attitude. I am already catching myself more. This goes along with the section in which she discusses thinking about why you may dislike something and really break down your thought process.

Get rid of your stories! I have also been trying not to limit myself based on the own definition of my personality I have created over the years. Basically trying to let go of the grand declarations I make about myself to others.

Share your comments below!

Book Club Discussion: Better Than Before

Welcome to the Book Club discussion for Better Than Before, by Gretchen Rubin. Below is a list of discussion questions to get the conversation started. We are excited to hear your thoughts in the comments section below. We’ve added our thoughts for each question as well. Feel free to answer all the questions, or pick and choose a few questions to discuss!

1. If you could magically, effortlessly change a few habits, which habits would you pick? Why?

I would exercise regularly, meditate, remember to floss every day and wake up earlier. All these things are important to my overall health and also my ability to have a more productive day (besides flossing). They are also the habits that I struggle with the most!

2. Are you an Upholder, a Questioner, an Obliger, or a Rebel? Did the Four Tendencies help you gain a better understanding of your patterns of habit-formation?

I am an Upholder. I love to do lists, schedules and setting goals for myself. I learned more about other people’s habit formation than I think I did about my own. It helped me to realize not everyone is going to go about forming habits in the same way as me and I shouldn’t expect them to!

3. Have you ever found it easier to form a habit (for good or bad) when you were starting something new—when you were taking the first steps, when you had a clean slate?

Definitely! I’ve found the best time to start a new habit is when moving into a new place. Another great time for me is after coming back from a vacation. Taking advantage of a clean slate has really worked for me when starting new habits.

4. What are some of your treats—both healthy and unhealthy?

Naps, reading, browsing blogs, laying by the pool, organizing

Share your comments below!

October Book Reveal: The Silent Sister


The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain

Riley MacPherson has spent her entire life believing that her older sister Lisa committed suicide as a teenager. It was a belief that helped shape her own childhood and that of her brother. It shaped her view of her family and their dynamics. It influenced her entire life. Now, more than twenty years later, her father has passed away and she’s in New Bern, North Carolina, cleaning out his house when she finds evidence that what she has always believed is not the truth. Lisa is alive. Alive and living under a new identity. But why, exactly, was she on the run all those years ago? What secrets are being kept now, and what will happen if those secrets are revealed? As Riley works to uncover the truth, her discoveries will put into question everything she thought she knew about her family. Riley must decide what the past means for her present, and what she will do with her newfound reality. Told with Diane Chamberlain’s powerful prose and illumination into the human heart and soul, The Silent Sister is an evocative novel of love, loss, and the bonds among siblings.

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October Book Reveal: The Lake House

14183768_2057788267780376_883995121238209519_nThe Lake House by Kate Morton

From the New York Times and internationally bestselling author of The Secret Keeper and The Distant Hours, an intricately plotted, spellbinding new novel of heartstopping suspense and uncovered secrets.

Living on her family’s idyllic lakeside estate in Cornwall, England, Alice Edevane is a bright, inquisitive, innocent, and precociously talented sixteen-year-old who loves to write stories. But the mysteries she pens are no match for the one her family is about to endure…

One midsummer’s eve, after a beautiful party drawing hundreds of guests to the estate has ended, the Edevanes discover that their youngest child, eleven-month-old Theo, has vanished without a trace. What follows is a tragedy that tears the family apart in ways they never imagined.

Decades later, Alice is living in London, having enjoyed a long successful career as an author. Theo’s case has never been solved, though Alice still harbors a suspicion as to the culprit. Miles away, Sadie Sparrow, a young detective in the London police force, is staying at her grandfather’s house in Cornwall. While out walking one day, she stumbles upon the old estate—now crumbling and covered with vines, clearly abandoned long ago. Her curiosity is sparked, setting off a series of events that will bring her and Alice together and reveal shocking truths about a past long gone…yet more present than ever.

A lush, atmospheric tale of intertwined destinies, this latest novel from a masterful storyteller is an enthralling, thoroughly satisfying read.

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Book Club Discussion: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

Welcome to the Book Club discussion for The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, by Gabrielle Zevin. Below is a list of discussion questions to get the conversation started. We are excited to hear your thoughts in the comments section below. We’ve added our thoughts for each question as well. Feel free to answer all the questions, or pick and choose a few questions to discuss!

1. Consider the setting. Why do you think the author chooses to set the book on an island? How does the island setting reflect A.J.’s character?

I liked the island setting because I felt that A.J. didn’t quite fit there, He almost seemed to be a misfit in his own life. When I found out he quit school to start a bookstore with Nic things made a little more sense. I can picture him being a professor.. The island could certainly stand as a symbol for the way A.J. separated himself off from the world in general. It seems this was always his demeanor, but it worsened after Nic died. Maya’s entrance into his life reverses this and A.J. is able to open up and let people back in as she grows up.

2. Perhaps oddly, vampires are a recurring motif in the story: for example, when A.J.’s wife throws the vampire prom and when A.J. watches True Blood to court Amelia. What do you make of the references to vampires?

The vampires were a fun pop-culture inclusion that made the book a bit less stuffy. The fact that A.J. ends up liking True Blood more than he thought was a fun anecdote that added to his character development. It is interesting that in both cases it is the women in his life that force A.J. to step out of his comfort zone and accept gimmicky pop-culture tropes, something A.J. never would have done on his own.

3. Did you find Ismay’s motivations for stealing Tamerlane to be forgivable? How do you think she should pay for her crime? Why do you think Lambiase lets her off?

This was one of the only plot points in the book that I didn’t particularly like. It seems silly that Ismay would steal a book from A.J. when her husband is a successful author and they likely aren’t hurting for money. She likely felt that giving Maya’s mother an object to resell, rather than giving her cash, was somehow less terrible. Lambiase was right to let her off, so much time had passed and the truth would have opened up some wounds that were best left alone.

4. At one point, Maya speculates that perhaps “your whole life is determined by what store you get left in” (page 85). Is it the people or the place that makes the difference?

This is one of the quotes from the book that stuck out to me, particularly because it was something Maya pondered when she was very young. Even though it comes from a child’s thought process, it was a poignant statement. Life in general is happenstance, and I often think about how where you are and when can alter the course of your life.

5. How do you think the arrival of the e-reader is related to the denouement of the story? Is A.J. a man who cannot exist in a world with e-books? What do you think of e-books? Do you prefer reading in e- or on paper?

I don’t think I would have made this connection on my own, without the prompting of this question. It is a poetic way to think about the introduction of the e-reader into the story. Personally, I prefer physical books. I have used my sisters kindle a few times and it feels kind of odd. That being said, it is pretty convenient!

Explore Further! Author Interview

Questions by: Hello Book Lover & Lit Lovers

Book Club Discussion: A Window Opens

Welcome to the Book Club discussion for A Window Opens, by Elisabeth Egan. Below is a list of discussion questions to get the conversation started. We are excited to hear your thoughts in the comments section below. We’ve added our thoughts for each question as well. Feel free to answer all the questions, or pick and choose a few questions to discuss!

1. What kind of pressures and challenges do the main characters face throughout the story, and how do they cope with them? Which methods seem to be the most effective for dealing with these obstacles?

The main challenge Alice deals with throughout the book is balancing her job and her family. She does not cope very well, always giving in to the demands of her job over her family. Her husband is faced with having more responsibility around the household and he also does not handle it very well either. In the end, communication is key when dealing with these obstacles. If they had all been a little more open about what they needed, the issues could have been dealt with much sooner.

2. How are technology and social media represented in the book? Are they presented positively or negatively—or does the author offer a mostly neutral view? Explain.

I think technology was represented negatively in the book. Scroll was portrayed as a company just looking to make money through advances in technology. They did not seem to respect the employees or the book selling industry that they would ultimately be trying to shut down. You feel bad for Susanna throughout the story as the owner of the bookstore, further putting technology in a negative light.

3. Genevieve recalls George Bernard Shaw’s maxim, “Progress is impossible without change.” What message does the book offer about the themes of progress and change?

The message from the book is that change is definitely necessary for progress but be careful how you go about it.

4. Do you feel that Alice made the right choice by accepting the job at Scroll? Do you feel that she made the right choice by leaving the same job later? How did both of her decisions impact those around her? How did her decisions contribute to or detract from her own development and sense of self and well-being? Discuss.

At the time, I feel that Alice definitely made the right decision to accept the job at scroll. She was doing what she thought she needed to do in order to support her family and it also happened to be something she was interested in doing. She definitely made the right choice to leave the job later. After trying it out it was obvious it wasn’t the right job for her to be able to balance work and family. The toll it was taking on her family life was ultimately not worth it. At the beginning Alice felt that having this sought after job was the best way for her to feel better about herself. By the end, she realized her family is her first priority.

Questions by: Hello Book Lover and Simon and Schuster

September Book Reveal: Better Than Before

image1 (2)The second book option for September is Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin!

The author of the blockbuster New York Times bestsellers, The Happiness Project and Happier at Home, tackles the critical question: How do we change?

Gretchen Rubin’s answer: through habits. Habits are the invisible architecture of everyday life. It takes work to make a habit, but once that habit is set, we can harness the energy of habits to build happier, stronger, more productive lives.

So if habits are a key to change, then what we really need to know is: How do we change our habits?

Better than Before answers that question. It presents a practical, concrete framework to allow readers to understand their habits—and to change them for good. Infused with Rubin’s compelling voice, rigorous research, and easy humor, and packed with vivid stories of lives transformed, Better than Before explains the (sometimes counter-intuitive) core principles of habit formation.

Along the way, Rubin uses herself as guinea pig, tests her theories on family and friends, and answers readers’ most pressing questions—oddly, questions that other writers and researchers tend to ignore:

• Why do I find it tough to create a habit for something I love to do?
• Sometimes I can change a habit overnight, and sometimes I can’t change a habit, no matter how hard I try. Why?
• How quickly can I change a habit?
• What can I do to make sure I stick to a new habit?
• How can I help someone else change a habit?
• Why can I keep habits that benefit others, but can’t make habits that are just for me?

Whether readers want to get more sleep, stop checking their devices, maintain a healthy weight, or finish an important project, habits make change possible. Reading just a few chapters of Better Than Before will make readers eager to start work on their own habits—even before they’ve finished the book.

September Book Reveal: You Are a Badass

13892017_2035500466675823_9183095353354067673_nGet inspired with our first book choice for the September”Make it Happen” Box: You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero

In this refreshingly entertaining how-to guide, New York Times Bestselling Author and world-traveling success coach, Jen Sincero, serves up 27 bite-sized chapters full of hilariously inspiring stories, sage advice, easy exercises, and the occasional swear word. If you’re ready to make some serious changes around here, You Are a Badass will help you: Identify and change the self-sabotaging beliefs and behaviors that stop you from getting what you want, blast past your fears so you can take big exciting risks, figure out how to make some damn money already, learn to love yourself and others, set big goals and reach them – it will basically show you how to create a life you totally love, and how to create it NOW.

By the end of You Are a Badass, you’ll understand why you are how you are, how to love what you can’t change, how to change what you don’t love, and how to use The Force to kick some serious ass.