Consuming Passions: A Food-Obsessed Life

I think we can all agree that out of all the complex and mysterious creatures out there, there are few more complex or mysterious than the Southern woman. We are sultry one moment and hard-edged business the next. I am convinced that we are inimitable masters in both the arts and the kitchen. Southern women have diverse appetites in everything from the studio to the kitchen as well. When I’m in a reading rut and can’t stand to take a risk on a new author, I turn to a trusted Southern voice who is guaranteed to make me reflect and make my sides split with laughter.

“Consuming Passion: A Food-Obsessed Life”, by Michael Lee West, is the consummate food writing of the South. West effortlessly blends autobiographical sketches with her thoughts and experiences regarding food, and she rewards your reading effort by tossing in at least a recipe per chapter. To get better Southern food lore, you’d have to turn to Craig Claiborne–but give up a few chuckles along the way.

From making cornbread to crafting sugared violets to seasoning a cast iron pan, you will find an endless assortment of clever ruminations on the Southern kitchen. West’s recipes are basic, delicious, and fool-proof, but her confidences regarding failures, successes, and draws in the kitchen that hook the reader and lure her in. Her anecdotes regarding family and friends will alternate between leaving you howling with laughter and shuddering. The uncles in the family all die young, but the aunts know it’s really “death by butter”. When Aunt Dell invites West over for an impromptu roast, the family finds the seasoning has been tainted by none other than weevils. They watch fascinated and horrified as Dell strains the sauce and serves it anyhow. West goes on hot pursuit of a bed supposedly from the childhood home of Margaret Mitchell and walks away with not only the bed but a delicious gingersnap recipe that might have originated from a childhood friend of Ms. Mitchell.

“Consuming Passions” straddles a fine line between witty and informative, leaving the reader to soak up every word and then reread the book. West’s work has since broadened to encompass mainstream fiction such as her popular Teeny series. Yet when I find myself with a craving that I can’t identify, be it literary or culinary, “Consuming Passions: A Food-Obsessed Life” is a regular cure all.

Consuming Passions: A Food-Obsessed Life

West’s Delicious Cellulite-Enhancing Blog

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Paper Woman by Suzanne Adair

“Paper Woman” by Suzanne Adair: A Riveting Historical Read
While searching for a new Southern historical novel to enjoy, I was shocked to encounter a book set in Georgia during the American Revolution. Given that Georgia is one of our nation’s thirteen original colonies, it should come as no surprise that there are fine Southern authors willing to give the South its due regarding another important time period in history. Too often we lose ourselves in the romanticism of the Civil War and forget the importance of the Southern theater of the American Revolutionary War which even many historians have failed to give full credit.
“Paper Woman” is set in Alton, Georgia in 1780, and it is the first of a trilogy of mysteries. It begins innocently enough at a country dance during which we meet heroine Sophie Barton, a twice widowed woman in her early thirties who has earned the nickname “Paper Woman” by running her father’s printing press. Before the night is out, her father, outspoken Patriot Will Barton, has gone missing. Sophie then must identify his body as well as the bodies of two other comrades, but the local redcoats seem less concerned about the murders than they should. We are then plunged into a plot of mystery and international espionage when Sophie vows to uncover what happened to her father. The journey carries us from Georgia to Florida and the Caribbean.

Vintage Grunge Still Life
I don’t know where to praise Suzanne Adair more: for her fine attention to historic detail or for her art of producing wonderfully sketched characters who seem living and breathing friends. Sophie Barton is less glamorous than most heroines penned during this era, and this omission makes her infinitely more likeable. She is eager to see what life holds outside of Alton, competent at her duties at the printing press, and less than moved by the prospect of remarriage. The cast of characters who travel with her on her journey is equally pleasing. Her brother David is a rake whose womanizing exploits will leave the reader with a dry chuckle from one incident to the next, and fellow adventurer Uncle Jacques is the kind of man fresh from the pages of a tall tale. Finally, half-Creek and ex-lover Matthias Hale delivers just enough tortured complexity to round out the characters. I must commend Adair for doing such a beautiful job of including the Creek Indians throughout her plot in such a seamless, believable way. Authors have long shied away from the presence of Native Americans in Southern culture just as they have ignored the American Revolution.
Equally refreshing was the fact that Ms. Adair did not feel the need to include famous historical figures in her novel. The story is carried on the backs of believable characters without altering the course of history. There is nothing so disappointing as weaving George Washington and other contemporaries into a novel when the reader’s cursory glance at a time line reveals it to be impossible.
That being said, as refreshing and adventuresome a book as this is, it is not light reading. The plot is complicated, and it was easy to get lost in the hours before bedtime. At times it felt like the banter between characters was a bit heavy and unrealistic, but it also helped to pump fresh energy into a book which requires all of one’s attention. While I admire Ms. Adair’s commitment to historical accuracy and feel that we gloss over many a topic that ought to be covered in historical fiction, the references to menstruation were too numerous. Once or twice would have been enough to add gritty realism.
I think Suzanne Adair is a fine novelist as well as a very bold one to tackle topics of our Southern heritage that are often overlooked. I look forward to reading more books by Ms. Adair, and out of a total five stars, I will happily assign 4 stars to this book.

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River’s Bend by Charlsie Russell

“River’s Bend” is a strong Southern Gothic suspense novel that begins on a gripping note of intrigue and steadily ratchets up the tension throughout the development of the plot and leaves the reader satisfied (but depressed that the book had to end).

Set in Mississippi around 30 years after the War of Northern Aggression, handsome and wealthy Rafe Stone visits the home of businessman Joseph Collander hoping to buy the majestic River’s Bend home. Mr. Collander has no intention of selling the place; he has more pressing matters on his hands. He has an orphaned niece, Delilah, who has drawn the eye of his daughter’s intended and tells Rafe he can have the place for free if he’ll marry her.

Delilah is a veritable beauty and a spitfire. The reader feels nothing but sympathy for her as she has become the Collander family scapegoat through no fault of her own and wrestles throughout the course of the novel with her desire to belong to and be loved by another with the emotionally safer course of going into business for herself. A secret family tragedy that taints her name with scandal becomes apparent when Rafe takes her to Natchez to live in River’s Bend.

It is the looming phantom that is River’s Bend which haunts and drives the plot of the book and serves further to heighten the tension between newlyweds Rafe and Delilah. River’s Bend, which began as a humble cabin nearly two centuries before and grew to a magnificent showplace replete with tales of misdeeds, towers above Rafe and Delilah as well as the other colorful citizens of Natchez. It reeks of murder, adultery, and treason–not to mention whispers of stolen gold. No buyer has managed to live there long before fleeing the premises.  As Rafe and Delilah investigate each other’s secretive origins and struggle to trust one another, the shadows and noises at River’s Bend loom over them and manage to cast doubt even at relatively peaceful times.

As Rafe and Delilah get to know one another, delightful antics ensue. Their conversations range from distrustful to flirty to angry as they waltz about the uncomfortable dance floor of marriage to a complete stranger. It would also be remiss not to mention the sexual tension between the two. The chemistry between this couple is evident in every conversation and every spat. Delilah, who has a history of feeling abandoned, experiences disappointment and feelings of rejection that are nearly palpable when Rafe decides to try to be respectful of her and let them get to know one another before they consummate the marriage. The language regarding their relationship as it progresses is lush and invigorating:

She hadn’t known how to kiss a few mornings ago in New Orleans, but had been
game to learn, and he’d spent the next three days helping her perfect the technique.
She’d mastered it now, better than any whore on Bourbon street, and he was
eager to teach her more in the way of a whore’s tricks.

Rafe’s and Delilah’s sparring comes to a delightful head against the ghosts and mysteries of Riverside, to an ending that feels all the more complete for the two coming clean about their respective identities. The reader also garners closure regarding the scandals of the house, closure that is well-rooted in Mississippi history. Well-researched and with plenty of romance and suspense, River’s Bend is a novel that I wish I had known about sooner. This book is what I’ve been hoping for since I last read “Steamboat Gothic” by Frances Parkinson Keyes. I have already picked up Camellia Creek, also by Mrs. Russell, in the hope of making some new friends with her richly developed characters.

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Swing by the Loblolly Writer’s House to learn more about Mrs. Russell’s novels and educate yourself regarding the world of self-publishing.

Loblolly Writer’s House