Book Review: Love à la Mode

love a la modeLove à la Mode
by Stephanie Kate Strohm
Young Adult/Romance/Contemporary Fiction
323 pages
Published November 2018

I’m a baker. I absolutely love baking, it centers me when I’m being scatter-brained and grounds me when I’m in a bad mood. So I instantly identified with Rosie in this novel, who wants to be a pastry chef, currently at a culinary school that focuses more on cooking savory things. I’ve been there. Granted, my culinary school was basically a crash course two-year program at a community college, not “the most prestigious cooking program for teens in the entire world” but I identify with the feeling of being a fish not-quite-out of water. I’d also never seen this put into words before:

“…it was that not knowing that Rosie hated. That was why she loved baking. Baking was all knowing. If you followed the recipe, you got exactly what you intended. An apple pie never surprisingly turned into lemon meringue halfway through the baking process.”

I have some mild anxiety, and I hadn’t realized WHY baking helped, just that it did. But it’s true – baking is about knowing. That quote is in the second chapter, and I knew from then on I was going to love this book. (I was already pretty sure, but that moment drove it home.)

The descriptions of food in this novel – food and cooking, and WHY some people cook – are mouth-watering. I loved seeing the backgrounds of the various culinary students, as they came from all over the world to École Denis Laurent, the prestigious school in Paris. I liked the point made, eventually, that what looks like the “cool kids clique” from outside might not be what it seems. The book even addressed toxic masculinity in the form of Henry’s unwillingness to ask for help from his friends when he was struggling.

At its heart, Love à la Mode is a sweet, fluffy, clean romance with a romantic backdrop of Paris and good food. Sometimes a little bit of happy, lighthearted escapist fiction is what we all need. Especially when it doesn’t neglect representation to do it – there’s only a tiny bit of LGBT+ rep in the book, but the characters come from all kinds of ethnic backgrounds.

From the cover of Love à la Mode:

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 crêpes. 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 à la Mode follows Rose and Henry as they fall in love with food, with Paris, and ultimately, with each other. 

Library Loot Wednesday

slayerOnly picked up one book this week, which is good, because I’ve been in a bit of a slump and haven’t been reading much. I’ve been doing house-buying stuff and playing Minecraft instead! We had a house inspection on Monday – or we tried, anyway. The seller doesn’t have the heater fully installed, so the water also isn’t on. So the inspector couldn’t look at heat or plumbing, and will have to come back out, and will have to redo the Radon test because that requires heat. That’s going to happen at the seller’s expense, but it’s just frustrating. They asked us to have the inspections done within ten days, but had to have done we couldn’t complete them with no working heat! So instead a home inspector, a realtor, and my husband and I all wasted our Monday morning with an inspection that couldn’t be completed. VERY frustrating.

Anyway, I checked out Kiersten White’s Slayer this week, a novel in the world of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I’m really excited to read it! I also discovered, via Twitter, that when we move, I can turn in my current county library’s books at my NEW county library, and they’ll eventually send them back to the correct county and credit them to my account with the correct date. I won’t have to find time to take books back to the originating library, which is a pretty cool deal.

The branch library that is closest to our new house is actually the one we did our passport paperwork at – and it’s a really nice library. So that’s pretty awesome, though I’ll have to make friends with an entirely new set of librarians, and I’ll miss the wonderful ladies at my current branch!

There’s always bittersweet things about moving, I suppose.

TTT – Ten Most Recent Additions to my To-Read List

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. She has a linkup on her blog to collect everyone who’s participating each week! This week’s topic is the ten most recent additions to my to-read list, so let me pull up Goodreads and see what I’ve added recently!

First up I have The Bones of Ruin by Sarah Raughley. I added it because I saw it on Twitter as one of those “this book was just bought by X publisher to be published some years from now” so there isn’t even a cover yet. It’s a fantasy set in Victorian England about a tightrope walker that cannot die. She’s drafted into some tournament thing and learns the “terrible truth” of what she really is, and it’s a POC author, and it just looks fantastic. It’s not due out until 2021, but with it on my To-Read list, I’ll  be notified of any ARC giveaways, and Goodreads will email me to remind me when it’s released.

After that is Nahoko Uehashi’s The Beast Player and Joan He’s Descendant of the Crane, both for the Year of the Asian Reading Challenge. (Descendant of the Crane I had my eye on previously, though. It looks lovely. And that cover is gorgeous.)

Next is Love Poems (for Married People) by John Kenney. It looks amusing. After that is A House of Rage and Sorrow, the sequel to A Spark of White Fire. No cover yet. Hannah Capin’s The Dead Queens Club, a high school version of King Henry and his wives, is up next. I’ve heard good things about it, and it seems appropriate since the Ren Faire I work at runs King Henry’s court as its plot. (Currently Catherine is out of favor and Anne Boleyn is winning the King’s eye – one of the people we play D&D with plays Anne’s father at Faire!)

A lot of these books aren’t out yet – that’s part of why I mark them as to-read on Goodreads, to take advantage of possible giveaways, and the notification when they come out reminds me they exist!

More 2019 releases are Erin Morganstern’s The Starless Sea, about a magic library, Mary Fan’s Stronger Than a Bronze Dragon, and No Ashes in the Fire: Coming of Age Black and Free in America by Darnell L. Moore. That last comes out the soonest, on February 19th!

My tenth book is actually an older book, released in 1989. The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts, by Maxine Hong Kingston, hits both the Year of the Asian Reading Challenge AND my 50 states goal (which I need to make a page for!), since it’s about growing up Chinese-American in California.


Book Review: Taste of Marrow

taste of marrowTaste of Marrow
by Sarah Gailey
Alternate History
187 pages
Published 2017

Another quick novella, Taste of Marrow is the sequel to the bizarre alternate history novella River of Teeth. It picks up a few months after the ending of the first – people have had a chance to heal their injuries from the explosive ending of the first book, and hippos have begun to spread to previously safe waterways. The cast of this book consists of the surviving characters from the first, plus only one more semi-important character.

It’s not quite as good as the first – no explosions and it’s less of a rollercoaster – but there is some character development, and a deeper exploration of a few characters than we saw in the first book. I wish my library had the omnibus edition, because it includes two short stories set in the same world, and I’m very curious which aspects of the world she explored in those.

But this is a fun pair of books, very quick, easy reads, and it’s just fun to say you’re reading a book about hippos and cowboys!

From the cover of Taste of Marrow:

A few months ago, Winslow Houndstooth put together the damnedest crew of outlaws, assassins, cons, and saboteurs on either side of the Harriet for a history-changing caper. Together they conspired to blow the dam that choked the Mississippi and funnel the hordes of feral hippos contained within downriver, to finally give America back its greatest waterway. 

Songs are sung of their exploits, many with a haunting refrain: “And not a soul escaped alive.”

In the aftermath of the Harriet catastrophe, that crew has scattered to the winds. Some hunt the missing lovers they refuse to believe have died. Others band together to protect a precious infant and a peaceful future. All of them struggle with who they’ve become after a long life of theft, murder, deception, and general disinterest in the strictures of the law.

Sunday Freak Out

Oh my god, people. I’m going to be a homeowner. (My husband insists on saying ho-meow-ner, but I refuse to humor him.) We’ve rented all our adult lives, but he graduated college in December, and went from an internship to a full-time position at his company, and we started looking at houses. We put a bid in on Monday, it was accepted Tuesday, and we have the Home Inspection tomorrow. We’re closing later this month and I am SO. RIDICULOUSLY. EXCITED. Our roommates have applied for a nearby apartment – they’ll probably move before we do, actually.

I can’t wait to not have roommates anymore.

The house is gorgeous, a recently remodeled 1920 Colonial. 4 bedrooms, 2.5 bathrooms – a bathroom on EVERY FLOOR! (Our bedroom is currently in the basement, and we have to go up to the main floor to use the bathroom.) The master bedroom is on the main floor, so less stairs if I’m having a bad knee day. The washer and dryer are on the second floor, which is unfortunate, but I’ll deal with it.

And it’s on almost half an acre! We need to put in a garage, a deck, and a hot tub. There’s even room to put in a pool eventually.

So the husband and I have been freaking out because holy crap, we’re buying a house! This is huge.

I’ll try to get some posts scheduled out ahead of time so the blog is still active while we move, but if I miss a few days in late February/early March, it’s because we’re moving! I haven’t quite figured out where I’m putting a reading nook in the new place, but there are some options.

I know I’m rambling a bit. But AAAAAAAHHHHHHHH BUYING A HOUSE.

Book Review: A Spark of White Fire

spark of white fireA Spark of White Fire
by Sangu Mandanna
Science Fiction/Fantasy/Mythological Retelling
311 pages
Published September 2018

This book ripped my heart out and stomped on it. I started crying during one of the last scenes, and thought that was bad enough – then the next chapter just DESTROYED ME. It is the first book in a trilogy inspired by the Mahabharata (which I totally want to read now!) – the second book, A House of Rage and Sorrow, isn’t due out until September. September! What am I supposed to do until then?!

So. Wow. This is the first book I’ve read by Mandanna, though The Lost Girl sounds interesting. Given how good this one was, that one has moved higher on my list.

In A Spark of White Fire, we follow Esmae, a girl who was sent away at birth because her mother was told she’d destroy her family. Trying to subvert those kinds of curses never works out well. She’s grown up an orphan in a different kingdom, albeit one educated by royal tutors with the local princes, as requested by a goddess. (When the goddess of war asks you to educate an orphan girl with your sons, you do it.) All Esmae really wants is to return to her family; she believes the only way to do that, to claim her place with them, is to help her brother regain his throne. And she thinks she can best do that by winning this contest, earning the unbeatable space ship, and pretending to go join her uncle’s family so she has an inside channel to her brother’s enemies. It’s a little convoluted, but it is something that her brother desperately needs, so it kind of makes sense.

Things unfortunately don’t go as planned, and every attempt to escape fate only winds the net tighter.

I loved every character in this book, from the sentient warship Titania (who I wish we’d spent more time with!) to Esmae, her best friend Rama, her cousin Max, her brothers, even her uncle, the usurper king. And the gods. Everyone has such personality. They just leap off the page. Granted, some of them are trying to stab arrows into your heart, but they come to life regardless!

The family dynamics are really what the book is about – no one’s truly in the wrong, here, and no one really wants to kill each other, but pride, miscommunication, and bad advice rips them apart. Esmae and Max are doing their best to reconcile the two halves of the family, but the family resists them at every turn.

I actually picked this book for the Year of the Asian Reading Challenge January prompt, which is “Family.” I moved it up several spots in my To-Read list to make it a January book! I’m glad I did, though, it was absolutely amazing. I can’t wait for the next book!

From the cover of A Spark of White Fire:

When Esmae wins a contest of skill, she sets off events that trigger an inevitable and  unwinnable war that pits her against the family she’d give anything to return to.

In a universe of capricious gods, dark moons, and kingdoms built on the backs of spaceships, a cursed queen sends her infant daughter away, a jealous uncle steals the throne of Kali from his nephew, and an exiled prince vows to take his crown back.

Raised alone and far away from her home on Kali, Esmae longs to return to her family. When the King of Wychstar offers to gift the unbeatable, sentient warship Titania to a warrior that can win his competition, she sees her way home: she’ll enter the competition, reveal her true identity to the world, and help her famous brother win back the crown of Kali.

It’s a great plan. Until it falls apart.

Inspired by the Mahabharata and other ancient Indian stories, A Spark of White Fire is a lush, sweeping space opera about family, curses, and the endless battle between jealousy and love.