What She Ate by Laura Shapiro

  • Title:  What She Ate: Six Remarkable Women and the Food that Tells Their Stories
  • Author:  Laura Shapiro
  • Genre:  Nonfiction
  • Pages:  320
  • Published:  July 2017 – Viking
  • Source:  Publisher

Description:  Everyone eats, and food touches on every aspect of our lives—social and cultural, personal and political. Yet most biographers pay little attention to people’s attitudes toward food, as if the great and notable never bothered to think about what was on the plate in front of them. Once we ask how somebody relates to food, we find a whole world of different and provocative ways to understand her. Food stories can be as intimate and revealing as stories of love, work, or coming-of-age. Each of the six women in this entertaining group portrait was famous in her time, and most are still famous in ours; but until now, nobody has told their lives from the point of view of the kitchen and the table. 

It’s a lively and unpredictable array of women; what they have in common with one another (and us) is a powerful relationship with food. They include Dorothy Wordsworth, whose food story transforms our picture of the life she shared with her famous poet brother; Rosa Lewis, the Edwardian-era Cockney caterer who cooked her way up the social ladder; Eleanor Roosevelt,  First Lady and rigorous protector of the worst cook in White House history; Eva Braun, Hitler’s mistress, who challenges our warm associations of food, family, and table; Barbara Pym, whose witty books upend a host of stereotypes about postwar British cuisine; and Helen Gurley Brown, the editor of Cosmopolitan, whose commitment to “having it all” meant having almost nothing on the plate except a supersized portion of diet gelatin. (publisher)

My take:  What She Ate is an interesting book that, in the end, made me examine (and appreciate) my own food story. Of the six stories, two stood out for me. Shapiro introduced me to author Barbara Pym. Upon finishing her story I placed a couple of her novels on my TBR list. I’m not sure why she wasn’t there before! Equally interesting and more entertaining was Eleanor Roosevelt’s chapter. I’m always intrigued when I hear about people who treat food only as fuel and not a source of enjoyment. I loved learning about the food served at the White House during her husband’s presidency. All in all, I found What She Ate to be a worthwhile read and recommend it to fans of culinary biographies.

Praise for What She Ate:

Recommended Summer Reading
by ELLE, Bon Appétit, and Eater.


“A unique and delectable work that sheds new light on the lives of women, food, and men. .”—Kirkus Reviews


“…six crisply written, ardently researched, and entertainingly revelatory portraits of very different women with complicated relationships with eating and cooking…. A bounteous and elegant feast for hungry minds.”BookList, Starred Review

“Establishes Laura Shapiro as the founder of a delectable new literary genre: the culinary biography.”—Megan Marshall, Pulitzer-prize winning biographer


“The idea that eating habits reveal aspects of character is ever-intriguing, and it’s presented here with charm and insight.”—Mimi Sheraton, former restaurant critic for the New York Times and author of 1000 Foods to Eat Before You Die
“Laura Shapiro has done it again! She’s given us a fascinating and wonderfully entertaining history of six women of the last two centuries you might never have thought of as foodies, yet here they are, distinguished by how differently they dealt with the overwhelming importance of food in their lives.”—Marion Nestle, author of Soda Politics


Laura Shapiro has written on every food topic from champagne to Jell-O for The New York TimesThe New YorkerThe AtlanticSlateGourmet, and many other publications. She is the author of three classic books of culinary history. Her awards include a James Beard Journalism Award and one from the National Women’s Political Caucus. She has been a fellow at the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library, where she also co-curated the widely acclaimed exhibition Lunch Hour NYC.



The Expatriates by Janice Y.K. Lee

  • the expatriates (1:2016)Title:  The Expatriates
  • Author:  Janice Y.K. Lee
  • Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
  • Pages:  336
  • Pub. date:  January 12, 2016 – Viking
  • Source:  Publisher; NetGalley

Description:  Janice Y. K. Lee’s blockbuster hit debut novel The Piano Teacher was called “immensely satisfying” by People, “intensely readable” by O, The Oprah Magazine, and “a rare and exquisite story” by Elizabeth Gilbert. And now, in her long-awaited follow-up, Lee explores with devastating poignancy the emotions, identities, and relationships of three very different American women living in the same small expat community in Hong Kong.

Mercy is adrift. A recent Columbia graduate without a safety net, she can’t hold down a job—or a man. Hilary, a wealthy housewife, is haunted by her inability to conceive a child she believes could save her floundering marriage. Meanwhile, Margaret, ostensibly a happily married mother of three, questions her maternal identity in the wake of a shattering loss. As each woman struggles with her own demons, their lives crash into one another in ways that could have devastating consequences for them all. Moving, atmospheric, and utterly compelling, The Expatriates confirms Lee as an exceptional talent and one of our keenest observers of women’s inner lives.  (publisher)

My take:  The Expatriates is the story of three women who find themselves living in Hong Kong and connected to each other in unimaginable ways. The synopsis explains it all. What I found compelling was Lee’s way of getting to the core of each woman. They share a similarity or two but each is unique in her circumstances. As they come to understand each other they gain perspective on their own lives.

I found myself relating the most to Margaret. I could understand her reaction to the horrible loss. My heart ached for her as I wondered how I would go on after such adversity.

Lee’s portrait of Hong Kong’s expatriate community drew me in. In a way, it was like any community here or abroad with people trying to fit in or trying to maintain a sense of where they came from.

I liked this novel but thought it wrapped up a bit too civilly. Then again, perhaps that just shows the growth experienced by the women.

Giveaway winners!

That’s right – two giveaway winners to announce today:

Congratulations to

Patti H.

winner of

Fly Away Cover

Fly Away by Kristin Hannah

Thanks to all who entered the giveaway!

*  *  *

Congratulations to

Anne B.

winner of

steal the north

Steal the North by Heather Brittain Bergstrom

Thanks to all who entered the giveaway!

  • Winners selected by Random.org
  • Giveaway books provided by the publishers

Spotlight and Giveaway (US): Steal the North by Heather Brittain Bergstrom

steal the north

Vocally graceful and fearlessly intimate, STEAL THE NORTH (Viking; On-sale: April 14, 2014; $27.95; ISBN: 9780670786183), Heather Brittain Bergstrom’s debut novel, is a striking portrait of modern identity, faith, family, and love in all of its forms. The story, which Bergstrom deftly narrates in various voices, centers around Emmy, a California teen who discovers her mother’s past, the family she never knew she had, and an extraordinary love in the land of her birth, eastern Washington state. With atmospheric prose and engaging characters, Bergstrom has delivered a novel that will appeal to literary and commercial fiction readers alike.

Emmy Nolan is a sheltered and introverted sixteen-year-old living in Sacramento with her mom, Kate, when a phone call comes from an aunt she never knew existed. Fifteen years earlier, Kate had abandoned her only sibling, Beth, fleeing their tiny eastern Washington town and the fundamentalist Baptist church that had condemned her as a whore. Beth, who’s pregnant for what she knows is the last time after countless miscarriages, believes her only hope for delivering the baby is Emmy’s participation in a faith healing ceremony.

Emmy reluctantly goes. Despite uncovering her mom’s desperate and painful past, she soon finds she has come home—immediately developing a strong bond with her Aunt Beth and feeling tied to the rugged landscape. Then Emmy meets Reuben Tonasket, the Native American boy who lives next door. Though filled with passion, their love story mirrors those of the generation before them, who fear that their own mistakes are doomed to repeat themselves in Emmy and Reuben.

STEAL THE NORTH is an imaginative and deeply felt debut, one whose characters live at a nearly intolerable level of vulnerability. Yet, as fragile as they may seem, Bergstrom has imbued them with a tremendous inner strength, proving that the idea of home is a spiritual one, that getting over the past is hope for the future, and that the bond between family is truly unbreakable. Reminiscent of Sara Gruen, Sue Monk Kidd, and Ann Patchett, Heather Brittain Bergstrom is a  remarkable new voice in contemporary fiction.


Bergstrom’s magnetic debut resonates on several levels, but first and foremost it is a poignant story of the love between two mismatched teens… The reader becomes involved in this thoroughly engaging first novel’s denouement because of how perceptively Bergstrom has drawn her central characters.” —Booklist

A strong debut… The book is far more than a story of love or belief, and its layers are peeled away as the narrative progresses. Bergstrom takes the reader so deeply into the characters.” Publishers Weekly

 “A carefully crafted family drama.” —Kirkus


About the author:  Heather Brittain Bergstrom has won fiction awards from The Atlantic MonthlyThe Chicago TribuneNarrative Magazine and others, and a story was named a distinguished and notable story for The Best American Short Stories in 2010. Her short fiction has been published in several literary journals and anthologies. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing. She is from eastern Washington and now resides in northern California. For more info check out her website at http://heatherbrittainbergstrom.com.



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The Widow Waltz by Sally Koslow

the widow waltz

  • Title:  The Widow Waltz
  • Author:  Sally Koslow
  • Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
  • Published:  June 2013 – Viking
  • Source:  Publisher

Synopsis:  Ben Silver had it all—a successful law practice, a New York apartment overlooking Central Park, a beach house, fine art, club memberships. Yet when a massive coronary fells him while training for the New York City Marathon, it’s revealed that his life was a lie. He’s left his wife, Georgia Waltz, and their two daughters almost penniless.
Georgia must now rally to support her family while mourning a husband whose private enigmas keep surfacing. To her surprise, she also discovers that it may even be possible to find new love in the land of Spanx and wrinkles. Meanwhile, her daughters must face the responsibilities of adulthood that they have avoided and put their hidden talents to work.

My take:  When golden boy Ben Silver dies his wife and daughters find out he wasn’t quite the man they thought he was. Their lives have changed overnight and they’re left to solve a mystery – why did he leave them without the expected inheritance but instead needing to sell off possessions in order to live? 

As mother and daughters slowly get their bearings they begin to move forward in directions they’d never anticipated. Georgia Waltz is witty and sometimes snarky. At first she grated on me but I soon understood her defense mechanisms and enjoyed her take on her new life. I especially appreciated that Koslow addressed dating in middle age realistically and with humor. I think there are a lot of readers our there who would love more novels with strong 50-something women dealing with life-changing events.

Filled with colorful characters The Widow Waltz is an entertaining novel that could be read in a few hours. The Widow Waltz is about acceptance and forgiveness and what being a family means – and sometimes it’s not what you’d expect.

The Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn

Title:  The Kitchen Counter Cooking School – How a Few Simple Lessons Transformed Nine Culinary Novices into Fearless Home Cooks

Author:  Kathleen Flinn

Genre:  Cooking; Memoir

Published:  September 2011 – Viking

About: (back of arc) After graduating from Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, writer Kathleen Flinn returned with no idea what to do next, until one day at a supermarket she watched a woman loading her cart with ultra processed foods. Flinn’s “chefternal” instinct kicked in: she persuaded the stranger to reload with fresh foods, offering her simple recipes for healthy, easy meals.

Inspired, Flinn rounded up nine novices from varying backgrounds who were insecure about their cooking skills. After kitchen “makeovers” and a series of basic cooking lessons where they learned to wield knives, trust their taste, and improve their food choices, the women found a common missing ingredient – confidence.

My take:  I wish I’d had this book when my kids were young. I think I would have made more informed choices instead of opting for convenience. My food choices have been better over the years but there’s still room for improvement. This book is going on my kitchen bookshelf for quick reference. I’m also going to search out a knife skills class in my area. That seems to be the one aspect that all nine students valued most. It gave them confidence. Flinn explains what to look for in a chef’s knife: how it’s made, how it should feel in your hand, etc.

There are basic recipes scattered throughout the book and I plan to try most of them. After reading about specific lessons I feel like I can braise meats, make soups, sauces, vinaigrettes, and cut up or roast a whole chicken. Seriously, I have never roasted a whole chicken – but I will now! That’s a testament to The Kitchen Counter Cooking School – it made me feel like I could do this.

A few months after the classes ended Flinn visited the students to see how they were doing in terms of making changes in their cooking. It was interesting to see how they incorporated what they’d learned into their lives.

I recommend this book to fans of cooking, memoirs, and anyone who needs inspiration to make positive changes in the kitchen as well as the grocery store.

Source:  Viking via Goodreads First Reads

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The First Husband: A Novel by Laura Dave

Title:  The First Husband: A Novel

Author:  Laura Dave

Genre:  Fiction

About:  Annie, a travel writer in her early 30s, returns home from a recent trip to find that her long-time boyfriend (the one she thought would eventually be her husband) has decided he needs a break from her. She’s not completely shocked by the bad news because she had just watched Roman Holiday and something bad always happens after she watches that movie. But she manages to move on each time. This time she moves into a completely unexpected relationship which takes her on a journey to figure out what or who she wants.

My thoughts:  At  244 pages The First Husband is a fast, funny, and heartfelt novel about the roads taken and sometimes not taken to find grown up love – the kind that lasts.

Laura Dave’s characters are charming and quirky and most seem to be on the same quest as Annie. There’s a lot of emotion packed into this story as it twists and turns its way to a satisfying conclusion.

The First Husband is one of those books that had me thinking about it long after I finished reading it – always a good sign.

Recommend?  Yes! Read it on the beach or your favorite backyard chair or in your house. Just read it!

Source:  Viking