Book chat: ‘Food Whore’ by Jessica Tom

Food WhoreTia Monroe knows food.

That passion is what propelled her into New York’s fashionable, dirty, complicated, cutthroat culinary world. A young critic and baker once featured in the New York Times, Tia now hopes to gain an internship with a famed foodie at work on her next cook book. . . until that opportunity crumbles like a days-old cookie.

Left starting in the coat check (!) at an upscale restaurant, Tia makes the acquaintance of Michael Saltz: the Times critic known for making and breaking the city’s top establishments. Michael giveth, and Michael taketh away — until a strange medical issue threatens to take everything away from him.

Rich, powerful and well-connected, Michael Saltz needs Tia’s perspective — and her palate — to uphold the lavish life to which he’s accustomed. And Tia? She’s wooed by the promise of Michael finally connecting her to the mentor she wanted in the first place. (The pricey meals, expense account and hot chefs are a bonus.)

But can she get out from Michael’s grasp without getting burned?

Jessica Tom’s Food Whore was fast-paced, light and entertaining — everything I love in good chick lit. Comparisons to a foodie version of The Devil Wears Prada are pretty spot-on, but I liked Tia’s persistence and willingness to step out to reach her goals.

Even if that meant getting stepped on.

As a narrator, Tia could be frustrating, though. She’s frequently gullible, though I can’t pretend I would know better. The plot line with her college sweetheart was a little irritating, given dude was as interesting as plain vanilla ice cream (let him go, lady), but I liked the push-and-pull Jessica Tom established in Tia’s conscience: settle for the old, or strive for the new?

Though Tia is our main squeeze, Michael Saltz — and his creepiness — seep between every crack in the story. He presents himself as Tia’s savior, a one-man ticket to a better life, but I had the sense he was all bluster from the beginning. We know his intentions aren’t romantic (he’s gay), but his obsession with Tia as the one remaining tether to his lifestyle and prestige is . . . unsettling, to say the least.

Food Whore moves quickly — so fast I finished it in a few days, which is a record for this new mama who rarely reads more than a few pages at a clip. It often kept me up past my bedtime, and I found myself thinking about Tia and her madcap adventures throughout the day.

Fans of women’s fiction, tantalizing food descriptions, New York settings and speedy reads will enjoy Food Whore. I really liked slipping into Tia’s stylish shoes for this adventure through New York’s culinary culture — and I would return in a heartbeat.

4 out of 5

Pub: 2015 • GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided for critical consideration

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Books on Oliver’s shelves

Oliver and books

Last Christmas, shortly after announcing my pregnancy, I received a gift for Baby J that made me cry — and it wasn’t just the hormones: two sweet board books from Magan at Rather Be Reading, favorites of her daughter’s. The official beginning of our little one’s library.

In April, Baby J became Oliver, and our son’s book collection has grown exponentially. Like many excited readers and parents-to-be, I’ve been quietly building his stash for years. I wrote about my “secret” book-buying back when he was the proverbial twinkle in my eye, and I’m finally able to share many of the books I’ve been collecting with him.

At nearly 6 months old, Ollie is starting to show an interest in “reading.” I prop him up in my lap with a book in front of us, then try to be patient as we’re inevitably interrupted by baby hands slapping the pages or a hunger cry breaking the momentum.

I love reading aloud. Not to, you know, toot my own horn or anything, but I was pretty much the designated class reader in fourth and fifth grade. So.

Since my reading talents have been dormant for the better part of two decades, I’m really livin’ it up now. The whole reading-to-my-belly thing never felt natural, but reading to an actual infant is an entirely different experience.

Ollie is too little to have obvious preferences, but he does kick his little feet crazily to a few “favorite” books. Here’s what we have stacked in the nursery right now.

(And P.S.: taking a page out of Steph’s book, I created a Goodreads shelf to catalog Ollie’s reading adventures. I plan to keep up with them there!)


Children's books


The Pout-Pout Fish by Deborah Diesen
Illustrated by Dan Hanna
This unique, adorable story — with very clever rhyming — chronicles the Pout-Pout Fish’s excuses to friends as to why he’s a total downer. A shot at love turns that frown upside down. The Pout-Pout Fish is so much fun to read, I find myself thinking of the little rhymes — “I’m a pout-pout fish with a pout-pout face . . .” — throughout my work day. You know: alone.


On the Night You Were Born by Nancy Tillman
If you want an instant parent tearjerker, look no further. A sweet, soothing story describing the uniqueness of each child welcomed into the world.

Nothing we’ve read feels as personal nor has impacted me as deeply as this book, which was a gift from a family friend in New York. We didn’t receive it until Oliver had been home from the NICU for a few weeks, but I read it once and immediately fell in love. I’ve read it with and without Ollie, and have the entire story memorized.

The “night” part is what gets me, I guess. Oliver was born at almost 10 p.m. I remember laying alone in my hospital room after my husband went to see him, the first person in our family to touch his tiny hand. Though I know it’s cliche, we were changed forever. On the Night You Were Born so perfectly summarizes those feelings for me, and how special and unique each tiny baby is. It’s just . . . a beautiful book.


Don Quixote by Jennifer Adams
Illustrated by Alison Oliver
This retelling of Miguel de Cervantes’ famous story is simple, but compelling to little eyes: bold colors and vivid illustrations with both English and Spanish words. Something about this book ignites a fire in Ollie; he kicks his feet like a madman and loves it.


Whoever You Are by Mem Fox
Illustrated by Leslie Staub
A story that packs a powerful punch. Regardless of skin color, nationality or origin, children everywhere are alike, linked and connected. A great primer for teaching about differences, tolerance and friendship.


Firebears, the Rescue Team by Rhonda Gowler Greene
Illustrated by Dan Andreasen
If you know a future firefighter (or even if you don’t), Firebears will captivate them. The story of a rescue squad ready to (adorably) protect the community, the Firebears come to the aid of neighbors and cats stuck in trees before fighting home fires.

Given I was a child so paranoid about flames that my parents purchased a fold-up ladder for my second-story bedroom, this might have freaked me out as a tot — but the message about safety is a good one, and I love the vertical images of the bears sliding down the fire pole. Cuteness.


The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
This classic has enchanted me since childhood with its bright colors, beautiful illustrations and evolution of a hungry caterpillar who eats everything, then eventually emerges as a butterfly. This was the very first book I read to Ollie (who slept the whole time, of course): short and truly sweet!


A Halloween Scare In . . . by Eric James
Illustrated by Marina La Ray
Written for each state (we have Maryland), this Halloween story will delight children and parents equally with its local places, clever state connections (the flag on a mailbox!) and cute story about being yourself and facing fears. My hometown is mentioned, which is really icing on the witch-shaped cake. Very adorable!


I’m always seeking new reads for Oliver’s collection. What are some of your favorites? What books do your little ones adore? Please share!


Dropping everything to read

You know when I felt we were going to be okay, my little family and me?

When my sister shared that April 12 — the unexpected date of my son’s birth — is Drop Everything and Read (D.E.A.R.) Day, a national celebration in which families are encouraged to settle down and enjoy books together at home.

Ramona booksThe date is a special one: Oliver shares his birthday with author Beverly Cleary, who wrote so many of books beloved by children, including me. Chief among them are the “Ramona” stories. I remember borrowing Ramona Quimby, Age 8 from the library so much that my parents eventually broke down and got me my own copy.

When it came to Cleary’s famous sisters, I was the quintessential older sister — the Beezus — to my little sister’s Ramona. Cleary’s stories were the first “chapter books” I related to on a personal level, seeing shades of both Katie and myself in her delightful characters. Along with Judy Blume’s Super Fudge, another book I read constantly, the “Ramona” novels were my earliest introduction to reading as pleasure. The more time I spent with those folks? The more I realized characters can become as “real” as your own dear friends, which has added texture to my entire life.

My elementary school was fortunate to have a fabulous librarian — a woman with whom I’m still in contact. I remember her helping us select chapter books and encouraging our zest for reading, even dressing up as the Dr. Seuss’ Cat in the Hat on special occasions. I was such a dutiful little reader that, after finishing a story, I ran excitedly back to her with completed book reports that would earn me paper “reading mice.” They were more valuable than gold.

Though 10-week-old Oliver isn’t exactly ready to “drop everything and read,” I want reading to be a part of his world from the get-go — and already love sharing stories with him. My favorite right now is Nancy Tillman’s On the Night You Were Born, which never fails to make me ugly cry, but picture book versions of Old MacDonald and Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar are also in heavy rotation.

I’ve imagined building my child’s library and reading books together long before this sweet babe was even a twinkle in my eye. When I was pregnant, I often read to my belly — even when it felt a little silly. In fact, when Ollie was in the NICU, one of the saddest moments I had was sitting in our home library surrounded by the children’s stories I’d been “reading” him for months. I thought I was doing okay — until seeing a stack of board books cracked me right in half.

But that was only temporary, of course. Now that he’s home (and feisty!), I’ve tried to get in the habit of sharing a bedtime — or close to bedtime — story with him. I’ll admit that there have been nights I couldn’t muster the strength, but I already look forward to these quiet moments together and hope that, as he grows, he will do the same.

I want to raise a reader. I want my child to find shades of himself in powerful, courageous, brave and wonderful characters — just like his mom. Though I know Oliver will be his own person, his own man, I know we can find stories that will interest him . . . no matter what he’s someday interested in. And I’m so very ready to walk with him down that literary path!

As a lifelong lover of books, it seemed serendipitous that Oliver’s unexpected birth would fall on a day dedicated to reading — and in honor of a favorite childhood author, no less. My sister shared the news of D.E.A.R. Day with me as I recovered in a hospital bed away from my tiny babe, stunned and hurting and sad.

It felt a little like a novel-toting guardian angel tapping on my shoulder, promising that Ollie and I would have many stories to share.

I couldn’t wait to get started.


Reading with Oliver


Bookish speed dating: getting lost, finding yourself and more

So I’ve, um, gotten a little behind on book reviews.

Which is to say . . . I am ridiculously behind on book reviews.

Even when I was actively getting lost in a story (or four), I lacked the brain power to discuss anything intelligently. So I cataloged my finished reads on a spreadsheet, made a note to review them later and . . . promptly had a baby.

So.

Here I am: desperately wanting to play catch up. These unreviewed books, friends, they’re weighing on me. Weighing down my soul. Making me feel like a failure. Taunting me from their color-coded Google Doc.

Let’s speed date, shall we? I’ll give you a rundown so you can decide whether to pursue a relationship further. I won’t pressure you or follow up with sassy text messages or Facebook notes asking if you and Happiness For Beginners hit it off; your choice to connect in the future is yours alone.

I’m considerate like that.


Happiness for BeginnersHappiness For Beginners
by Katherine Center
Published: 2015
Source: Review copy from publisher
4.5 stars

Though tough to avoid comparisons to Cheryl Strayed’s classic Wild, Center’s novel of a recently-divorced woman who sets off on a wilderness journey of self-discovery and independence — with her kid brother’s best friend, incidentally — is entertaining, sweet and memorable.

I love Katherine’s writing, which flows like a fast-moving current; it’s impossible not to get swept up in her warm characters, compelling setting and relatable plot. At 32, Helen abruptly finds herself starting over — and regardless of where we are in life, readers will find a bit of themselves in Helen’s cautious optimism. Totally loved it.


Tempting FateTempting Fate
by Jane Green
Published: 2014
Source: Audio from library
3.5 stars

Despite having the perfect marriage on paper, Gabby and Elliott struggle with the mundane details of the long-married: not enough time for themselves, each other and their two daughters, who are growing up — but still in need of their parents’ attention.

When a girls’ night out leads to a chance meeting with a younger, handsome stranger, Gabby can’t resist the allure of feeling wanted again. Those feelings — and, later, actions — have far-reaching consequences, however . . . ones even Gabby can’t anticipate.

So I know I sort of swore off Jane Green after the disastrous Another Piece of my Heart, but I was seeking something lighthearted back in March — and I found it here. Though Gabby’s decision-making skills are sketchy at best, I got lost in the endlessly-complicated drama. Good, crazy fun.


Margaret From MaineMargaret From Maine
by Joseph Monninger
Published: 2012
Source: Review copy from publisher
3 stars

After her husband is gravely injured during a deployment, Margaret is left to care for her young son and father-in-law as they work to maintain the family farm. When another serviceman arrives to accompany her to a ceremony in Washington, she is swept up in their powerful chemistry . . . and the idea of feeling free again. But her loyalty is to her husband, even if he’s in a place he’ll never be reached.

I felt for Margaret and Charlie, who seemed star-crossed from the start. I thought their relationship advanced beyond propriety a little too quickly to be realistic (and some of the dialogue was super silly), but still enjoyed this short, heart-wrenching novel.


Coming CleanComing Clean
by Kimberly Rae Miller
Published: 2013
Source: Purchased
3 stars

In this story of growing up in a hoarding household, Miller manages to draw us into her paper- and garbage-strewn world without really opening up to us. It’s a strange thing, indeed, to write a memoir about such a personal topic that still manages to come across as detached — but I finished this short story of Miller’s childhood and college years with a bit of a shoulder shrug. I did finish, though — and that says something. Especially given my sleep-deprived attention span.


The One That Got AwayThe One That Got Away
by Bethany Chase
Published: 2015
Source: Review copy from publisher
3.5 stars

Sarina is a talented architect with great friends, a successful business and a loving relationship with a man she believes will be getting down on one knee in short order. But when an old one-night-stand resurfaces, asking for her design expertise on a new home, Sarina begins to question the past — and her future.

This was the story I was reading the day before my son was born, and for the most part? I succeeded. Chase has created a realistic, could-be-your-bestie narrator in Sarina, and her sexy, playful dynamic with athlete Eamon Roy — a man who once ended them before they could begin — is one with which many will likely relate.

Though it wasn’t a truly stand-out read, it is a layered story that also deals with grief, friendship and pursuing what we truly want. And heck, it managed to (mostly) distract me from impending childbirth, so that counts for something?


Reading between naps

As I assumed would happen after little Ollie’s arrival, my reading has been all over the place.

There are times I can binge-read for hours, feeling focused and content with a sleepy baby in my arms. And other times I’m a knotty-haired, stone-cold mess who can barely open an eyeball to take in the news, let alone get lost in a complicated novel.

Ah, life with a newborn.

But I’m not me when I’m not reading. In the months before my actual due date, I had ambitions to choose a “meaningful” book for the time period of his birth. I didn’t know if I’d have a chance to actually read in the hospital, but I wanted something special and dear to help usher my mama heart into the next phase of life.

I don’t remember what I was reading before my wedding, but I do remember the book I brought to my first date with Spencer: Kathryn Stockett’s The Help. Back in my online dating days, I quickly figured out I liked arriving before my date so I could scope out a good table and settle my nerves. Getting there “a little early” — say, 10 minutes, like a normal person — quickly became a half hour or more, so I took to reading to kill the time.

Plus, you know, I thought it made me look sophisticated.

Choosing “the book” for Oliver’s birth changed when, of course, I became sick with preeclampsia and he arrived eight weeks early. We didn’t have a hospital bag packed before I was admitted, so I had Spence grab whatever was on my nightstand — along with my trusty Kindle — for the long haul.

My family brought magazines; I had the world accessible through my e-reader. But in the chaos of that week-long hospital stay and Oliver’s birth, I barely read a thing. My concentration? Shot. I did finish one book — a simple love story — but forgot the plot almost immediately afterward.

It’s been almost five weeks since Ollie’s birth . . . and I’ve actually finished a few novels. I don’t know when I’m reading, exactly, because I feel like a zombie about 90 percent of the time. Oliver eats every three hours and hasn’t yet mastered the idea of day/night, so he’s awake from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. pretty consistently. We are, too, of course.

Sometimes I watch TV — all I have the energy to do. But other times (magical times, really), I can muster the strength to grab my Kindle. It’s beautifully easy to cuddle a newborn in one arm with an e-reader in the other, and this book-loving mama made sure to begin practicing that skill immediately.

I can’t tax the ol’ brain too much, though. I’ve been popping into lighthearted, easy-to-read stories like Liane Moriarty’s The Husband’s Secret and Jenny Han’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. I stumbled across Kimberly Rae Miller’s Coming Clean, a memoir of the author growing up in a hoarding household, and read that fast, too.



And I’ve been reading to the little guy, of course. We brought books to the hospital so I could introduce him to Eric Carle, a childhood favorite, but I wanted the first book we shared in his nursery to be really special. With the sunshine streaming in, I grabbed a gifted copy of Dr. Seuss’ classic Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

And I cried, of course, holding this tiny baby while talking and thinking and hoping for his winding, unknowable future. Though Ollie’s room doesn’t have a “theme,” per say, Dr. Seuss features prominently. We have a favorite Seuss quote ready to hang and a “One Fish, Two Fish” mobile above the crib he’ll sleep in after moving up from his bassinet . . . someday.

Someday. Some magical, sparkly day.

After the weeks of chaos following his early birth, I finally feel like we’re settling into a routine. Life with a baby in the house is definitely insane — both easier and harder than I was expecting — but full of beautiful little moments, too. I’m gaining a lot of confidence as a parent and Ollie’s caretaker; Spencer and I have changed hundreds of diapers, given dozens of bottles, changed onesies and socks and given our first bath.

Though it probably sounds silly now, those were things that worried me just a few months ago. Fear of the unknown, you know? But if there’s anything I’ve learned from being catapulted into parenthood, it’s this: you’ll figure it out. I was initially panicked that I hadn’t washed his clothes or gotten the nursery together or read the first chapters of the child care book my mom got me. There were just so many things that I thought I had to do, you know?

But we didn’t. When in doubt, we Google. The baby laundry was done and folded in no time. What we didn’t already have — like preemie clothes and diapers — made its way to us through generous friends and family, and the things that would have once paralyzed me with fear — NICU stays! insurance calls! leaving work early! childbirth! — just sort of . . . worked out.

It helps that I’ve changed, too. Though always a calendar-keeping planner, I’ve realized you can’t always shape life into perfect, convenient squares arranged in the pattern of your choosing . . . and I’m a much happier person when I just surrender and adapt. Digging my heels in the sand serves no one. And when pressed? I am capable. Strong. I can handle it.

So many lessons from this crazy, glorious, hard and wonderful time in our lives.

Ones I’ll continue to ponder . . . between naps.

Especially when my Kindle battery finally gives out.


Make new friends, but keep the old: Kindle vs. paperbacks

When an Amazon Kindle arrived under my Christmas tree in 2012, I was tentatively excited — but still unsure about the whole “e-reading” thing.

A lifelong paperback lover, I worried that reading on a screen would feel too much like work — too close to my 9-to-5 spent in front of a flickering computer monitor, not enough like the relaxation I crave. Though much smaller, I’d already tried reading on my iPhone and hated it.

And part of me felt like a traitor, honestly. At a time when online retailers were contributing to the demise of brick-and-mortar bookstores and we began to worry if print was dying, here I was: reading novels on a glowing device, buying e-files and casting aside my hardcovers. With hundreds of physical books in my library, would I no longer be interested in them? Would I get addicted to Kindle convenience and give my paperbacks away?

It sounds silly, maybe: e-reader guilt. But it was there.

The first book I read in digital format — Why Can’t I Be You by Allie Larkin — was . . . well, it was weird. I remember thinking I couldn’t concentrate on the text the way I can when holding a physical book, and I actually wondered if I’d retain any of the plot.

But I was pumped for the Kindle because, you know, it was a cool new gadget, and I was interested in getting review copies digitally. Because space was a premium at home and at the apartment I would later share with Spencer, the appeal of having dozens of books on a device in my hand — instead of stacked around our overflowing living room — couldn’t be denied.

Book I have not readMore than two years into my relationship with my Kindle, I can honestly say that many of those fears — especially the ones about getting rid of my physical books — never came to pass.

As I’ve started recording my books for 2015 on a spreadsheet, I’m tracking not only what I’m reading but how I’m reading it: physical, digital, audio. Where I was once a purist who couldn’t fathom the appeal of audio books, I’ve completely converted — and now spread my reading pretty evenly amongst the three mediums.

Do I still prefer print books? Well, yes and no. Nothing can replace the feel of a real book in your hands, fingers sliding across smooth pages, the sweet heft and look of it. I love real cover art; I like having a physical sense of being halfway through a story, versus “50 percent” through. A real book never needs charging, and it doesn’t have to be stowed before take-off.

But my Kindle has a place, too. I love it when I’m on the go, especially traveling (more room in the suitcase!), and the backlight is awesome. Our living room is pretty dark, and I’ve yet to find a comfortable place to read a physical book without having to squint and angle the book just so. The Kindle takes all that away. Plus, when I want to stay up and my husband wants to go to sleep? I can shut off the lamp, dim the Kindle and make reading in bed comfortable for both of us. Boom!

I miss “real” books when I want to re-read a passage from a previous chapter, or flip back to get a sense of a character I might have originally overlooked. I miss “real” books when a novel has a particularly glorious cover I wish I could gaze at, or when a quote really grabs me — one I wish I could underline and dog-ear. “Highlighting” on a Kindle? Just not the same.

So I switch it up. As we get closer to Baby J’s arrival, I’m trying to get through a backlog of novels I’ve now moved twice: some books I wanted to read as far back as 2008, stories lodged in my library patiently waiting their turn. Though I have no formal “Kindle/print” system, I’m on a sort of every-other-book method.

And it’s working well. I’m still enjoying the books I’ve collected over the years with the convenience of the Kindle for everything else. I mostly use my e-reader for review books these days, and I’m getting the hang of requesting digital copies from the library. Which is free! I love free. Free is good.

Like all major changes, the transition from physical to digital was strange at first — but with time, I’ve come to appreciate the awesomeness of each.

And toting around my Kindle takes “never leave home without a book” — in this case, twenty — to a new level.


Broccoli cheddar and a book for the soul

Bookmark

There’s nothing like treating yourself to lunch.

I stopped for a while, mostly when I went full-force on Weight Watchers and knew that dining out each day was a surefire way to go over my daily points allowance. Lunches out went from commonplace status to special treat — and that wasn’t a bad thing! Not for my wallet, my waistline, my psyche.

When I stopped worrying about lunches every day, I became more productive at work and in my personal life. The time I once used to read over soup at Panera became a chance to run errands, get gas, swing by the grocery store for random items. All those little, annoying tasks we must fit in somewhere.

But I missed those relaxing breaks. A chance to step away from the desk and into the sunshine; an opportunity to reunite with characters, eat a hot meal and gather my thoughts. I don’t mind eating alone . . . it’s one of my favorite things to do, actually. And where I tend to go on my breaks, I’m just one of many sitting solo.

I’ve been spending an inordinate amount of time on Stephanie Perkins’ Isla and the Happily Ever After, a library book I’ve already renewed and will probably have to check out for a third time to make it through. It’s my “lunch read,” and I usually start debating where to take it that day by late morning.

Though I’m still following the basic tenets of Weight Watchers, I have eased up. I have not been tracking, but I feel okay about that. I’ve given myself permission to relax my strict eating — especially as dealing with recent health issues have meant I’m eating only what I can stomach and no more, no less. If that’s just a slice of bread? So be it. I’m not so far down the rabbit hole I can’t recognize that, first and foremost, I need to take care of myself.

Body and mind.

And that’s where the lunches can come in. As work and daily life can get stressful, I’ve returned to treating myself to meals out a few times a week — when I feel the pull to get up and out, soaking up the colors of fall and enjoying the last few warm days before the cold comes bustling in. Sometimes I meet my dad or my sister, but I often head out alone. Lately, with Isla.

And it’s good. Good for the soul.

Almost as good as Panera’s broccoli cheddar soup, you know.