I must admit, I was captivated by this book from the first sentence. After all the main character’s first name is Morgan.
Her surname is Christopher (name of my middle son) and her boyfriend’s name is Trey (name of oldest son). There’s a Jon in there somewhere, I’m sure!
The extra pull is that the novel is set in my adopted state of North Carolina jumping back and forth from the early forties and to the present. But it is the writing that really captures the reader. You feel like the characters are your peers. You find yourself dancing in a time warp while you are cheering for the heroine(s).
This is my next pick for our Super Supper Book Club. Gather your readers, give them the title and dole out the recipes for what will be a roller coaster discussion and meal.
Morgan Christopher’s life has been derailed. Taking the fall for a crime she did not commit; she finds herself serving a three-year stint in the North Carolina Women’s Correctional Center. Her dream of a career in art is put on hold―until a mysterious visitor makes her an offer that will see her released immediately. Her assignment: restore an old post office mural in a sleepy southern town. Morgan knows nothing about art restoration, but desperate to leave prison, she accepts. What she finds under the layers of grime is a painting that tells the story of madness, violence, and a conspiracy of small town secrets.
After a year, you get your hands on a cell phone for the first time. Who do you call?
Was it brave or crazy for Jesse’s family to aid Anna?
Does Morgan ever come to accept that alcohol is a problem for her, or does she simply comply with her parole requirements?
My Southern inspiration for this Super Supper Book Club menu is Jesse’s family’s Sunday dinner. I take the liberty of substituting Anna’s least favorite vegetable (collard greens) with my delicious recipe for Swiss chard. I exchange corn on with cob for creamed corn. In place of stewed tomatoes liberated from the family’s root cellar, I substitute slow roasted cherry tomatoes.
The author didn’t mention a dessert, but I bet the farm, there was strawberry shortcake somewhere, sometime on Sundays. My swaps are allowed, because all these recipes are rooted in my love of the South. Lest there be controversary during the discussion, keep those paintbrushes close to allow everyone to express themselves.
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Super Supper Book Club Menu: “Big Lies in a Small Town” by Diane Chamberlain
It’s “Read An eBook Week” and my recipes and read are available for immediate download! Host a Southern-style book club supper with “Almost Sisters” by Joshilyn Jackson and my “Sunday Best Dishes” menu.
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Last year I discovered authorJoshilyn Jackson and devoured every book she’s written in record time. For me, her characters, strong Southern women, strike a chord with so many attributes I aspire to. Her heroines face challenges that we can identify with, although hopefully in not such a dramatic manner!
For this book club, I’ve chosen the book “The Almost Sisters”. This is not her most recent book, but I find it to be very current given our present political climate. And although this book is in no way political, it does deal with issues in the headlines.
“With empathy, grace, humor, and piercing insight, the author of gods in Alabama pens a powerful, emotionally resonant novel of the South that confronts the truth about privilege, family, and the distinctions between perception and reality—the stories we tell ourselves about our origins and who we really are.
Superheroes have always been Leia Birch Briggs’ weakness. One tequila-soaked night at a comics convention, the usually level-headed graphic novelist is swept off her barstool by a handsome and anonymous Batman.
It turns out the caped crusader has left her with more than just a nice, fuzzy memory. She’s having a baby boy—an unexpected but not unhappy development in the thirty-eight-year-old’s life. But before Leia can break the news of her impending single-motherhood (including the fact that her baby is biracial) to her conventional, Southern family, her step-sister Rachel’s marriage implodes.
Worse, she learns her beloved ninety-year-old grandmother, Birchie, is losing her mind, and she’s been hiding her dementia with the help of Wattie, her best friend since girlhood.
Leia returns to Alabama to put her grandmother’s affairs in order, clean out the big Victorian that has been in the Birch family for generations, and tell her family that she’s pregnant. Yet just when Leia thinks she’s got it all under control, she learns that illness is not the only thing Birchie’s been hiding.
Tucked in the attic is a dangerous secret with roots that reach all the way back to the Civil War. Its exposure threatens the family’s freedom and future, and it will change everything about how Leia sees herself and her sister, her son and his missing father, and the world she thinks she knows.”
There’s a pivotal scene in the book that serves as the catalyst for bringing Leia home to Alabama and her grandmother. Birchie and her caretaker, Wattie attend a potluck supper after Sunday church. It’s Birchie’s out-of-character outburst in front of the parishioners that sends a distress call to Leia.
Here are a couple of book club discussion questions to get you started:
There are multiple relationships in the novel that fit the title The Almost Sisters description. How did the title take on new meaning to you as the story developed?
Despite her worsening dementia, Birchie is still a strong character throughout the book. How would you describe her lifelong friendship with Wattie? Did your impressions change throughout the novel? Why do you think Birchie chose to keep their true relationship a secret even as times changed?
Leia makes the decision to hide her pregnancy early on and keeps her secret throughout much of the story. Do you think Leia made the right decision? Were you surprised by the characters’ reactions when her pregnancy was revealed?
I’m embarking on a new year of writing that celebrate others like me, who LIVE TO EAT! Just such a person is 28-year-old Alex Rold.
Rold takes eye popping, UNREAL, mouthwatering Instagram photos of all his foodie adventures in Atlanta, Georgia. It’s not the marketing analyst’s day job but perhaps it should be. I know his mother…yet I found my foodcentric cohort on his IG page, @roldinginthe_eats through drool of mouth. Sufficed to say, I was hardly the first one to notice Alex’s keen eye for superlative places to eat.
He was featured on Atlanta Eats a little over a year ago, when he said his nosh hobby really took hold and sent him on a photographic tour of the famed Buford Highway – a 7 mile path of restaurants, food halls and markets, that really are a dream come true for anyone with taste buds.
Buford Highway has its own China Town and massive food courts, with stalls that are like a United Nations in food: Korean, Mexican, Vietnamese, Dominican, African, you name it!
“If you’re not used to Buford, it can be overwhelming. The diversity you’ll find there, sometimes language barriers – it’s the best Asian food, best true Szechuan food, I’ve had in my life. I’m there almost every night of the week,” said Rold.
He recommended we all try the numbing peppers at Good Luck Gourmet and Masterpiece. Nam Phuong is definitely a favorite haunt for Vietnamese food.
Rold said his near daily trek down the four-lane highway, stretching from just north of Atlanta (Brookhaven) to Duluth, GA in Gwinnett County, has been the path toward more than just amazing food.
Being food oriented has also been the path toward the best friendships of his life.
“I recognize friends from Instagram on Buford Highway all the time – people I never would have met were it not for our shared love of eating,” he said.
Clicking through the IG pages of his fellow Atlanta food advocates, one can find recommendations for the best fried Korean chicken wings, dumplings, tandoori chicken, Pho, tacos, burgers and ice cream.
I, @jorjmorgancooking have followed them all and urge my own food blog subscribers to do the same. The photo below is one of Alex’a Instagrams. It reads:
The Shed Burger – @creekstone_farms grass fed angus beef on brioche topped with homemade bacon jam and smoked Gouda. Served with fries.
If you are looking for similar pics of gorgeous grub, check out his friends on these Instagram pages:
In the meantime, here’s a list of best international Buford Highway restaurants according to the Travel Channel, and my solemn vow that I will persuade Alex in the near future to join my Super Supper Book Club – because I know he likes to cook almost as much as he loves to go out. Don’t worry, Rold. I won’t breathe a word of what happened when you invented your own ice cream flavor with limited edition Captain Crunch.
Speaking of gourmet, here’s Alex’s own effort at making Japanese soufflé pancakes, which he said his New York Times Cooking subscription taught him how to make.
I may feature my own version of these fairy tale cakes sometime in February, and bring a short stack to my next Super Supper Book Club, should we decide to feed and read on a novel like Crazy Rich Asians next.
Welcome to my Super Supper Book Club where we merge a book club with a supper club for an evening with friends that combines food and thought (with a few gossipy moments interspersed!)
On the 3rd Monday of each month, I’ll give you a summary of a book I’ve read and really enjoyed. I’ll also give you a supper club menu with recipes that are built around the theme of the book. You assemble your friends, give them the book title and dole out the recipes so that everyone brings a dish to the party.
While you’re discussing and dining, snap a picture of your event. Post the pic to my Facebook/Instagram pages and enter to win a cookbook for your next dinner party. Sounds like some FUN, yes?!
Set in the fictional town of Crystal, Colorado, The Gifted School is a keenly entertaining novel that observes the drama within a community of friends and parents, as good intentions and high ambitions collide in a pile-up with long-held secrets and lies. Seen through the lens of four families who’ve been a part of one another’s lives since their kids were born over a decade ago, the story reveals not only the lengths that some adults are willing to go to get ahead, but the effect on the group’s children, sibling relationships, marriages, and careers, as simmering resentments come to a boil and long-buried, explosive secrets surface and detonate.
I loved The Gifted School’s relevance to today’s headlines. It was dark but hilarious! I urge you to listen to the podcast, Gangster Capitalism once you’ve read the book. Listening to it is sure to spark even more conversation for your book discussion.
I already cooked up some conversation starters for The Gifted School…
What is the higher education endgame when parents have to compete for quality daycare placement for their babies?
Who is in competition, the child or the parent?
What games are played in the name of educational opportunity?
My inspiration for The Gifted School Super Supper Book Club menu is school lunch. Not the school lunch of our childhood experience. You remember sliding those compartmentalized trays down the waist-high counter in the cafeteria while those sweet kitchen ladies doled out scoops of mac ‘n cheese and spoonful’s of mushed veggies, don’t you?
This menu might find its way to a gifted school dining table. Watch out for the competitive members of your club. Afterall, there is no special school placement or award for the best prepared dish…. or is there?
Super Supper Book Club Menu
A Gifted School
Kale Salad with Strawberries with Goat Cheese and a Nutty Topper
Canvas and Cuisine page 111
Veggie-Filled Meatloaf Muffins
Sunday Best Dishes page 87
Mac ‘N Cheese “n Peas
Sunday Best Dishes page 85
Favorite Fruit Crumble
Canvas and Cuisine page 340
This is an excellent side veggie that goes with most everything. For a full-on veggie meal, serve the succotash over a baked sweet potato with a drizzle of maple syrup over the top!
MAKES 4 SERVINGS
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium zucchini, sliced, about 2 cups
1 large red onion, peeled and diced, about 1 cup
1 large jalapeno pepper, seeded, veins removed, diced, about ½ cup
1 (10-ounce) package frozen corn, thawed
1 (10-ounce) package frozen peas, thawed
1 (10-ounce) package frozen lima beans, thawed
1 (10-ounce) package frozen okra, thawed
1 whole marinated roasted red pepper, diced, about ½ cup
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon Creole seasoning
1 teaspoon (or more) hot pepper sauce
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon coarse black pepper
Heat the butter and the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the zucchini, onion and jalapeno pepper and cook until soft. Stir in the remaining veggies. Pour in the tomatoes. Season with Worcestershire, Creole seasoning, hot pepper sauce, salt and pepper. Simmer for 5 minutes.