Friday, August 29, 2014

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "Season of the Dragonflies" by Sarah Creech with an Iron Chef's Summery Caprese Salad

There are books that seem made for a cold winter's night, those that are fitting for a rainy Sunday, or perhaps a breezy evening on the lanai. "Season of the Dragonflies" by Sarah Creech is a book that is made for a summer weekend. Summer is dragonfly season after all and this novel, full of family drama and magical realism, is a perfect escape for a sultry summer day, enjoyed with a big glass of icy-cold sweet tea and the scent of gardenias lingering in the air.

Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: William Morrow (August 12, 2014)

Publisher's Blurb:

For generations, the Lenore women have manufactured a fragrance unlike any other. Hidden in the quiet rolling hills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, their perfumery guards unique and mysterious ingredients. A secret known only to a select clientele of movie stars, politicians, artists, and CEOs, the Lenores’ signature elixir is the key to success for the world’s most powerful women.

Willow, the coolly elegant matriarch, is the brains behind the operation. Her gorgeous golden-haired daughter, Mya, is its heart. Like her foremothers, Mya can “read” scents and envision their power to influence events. But Willow’s younger daughter, dark-haired, soulful Lucia, claims no magical touch; wanting no part of the family business, she has left the mountains to make her own way in New York City.

When a divorce leaves Lucia at loose ends, she returns to the Blue Ridge Mountains for an uncomfortable family reunion and discovers trouble brewing. Willow is experiencing strange spells of forgetfulness. Mya is romancing a younger man and plotting to take the reins of the business. A client is threatening blackmail. And most ominously, the strange, magical plants that provide the perfume’s secret ingredient seem to be dying.

With the Lenore empire at stake, the sister who can save their lucrative scent stands to inherit when Willow steps down. Though Mya schemes, Lucia has suddenly begun to show signs of possessing her own special abilities. And her return to the mountains—heralded by a swarm of blue dragonflies—may be the answer they all need.

Capturing the essence of sisterhood with the sweetness of flowers, Season of the Dragonflies is a beguiling tale of practical magic, old secrets, and new love.

I am a fan of the magical realism genre--particularly Sarah Addison Allen and Alice Hoffman, and Season of the Dragonflies has that same feel. I loved the setting of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the town of Quartz Hollow, where Lenore Incorporated was formed and "the most enigmatic, expensive, and successful perfume in history" was created. Creech's writing had me picturing (and smelling) the scenes in my head--the magical fields of the mysterious Gardenia potentiae flower in particular. The concept of a secret perfume that makes its hand-selected wearer the top of their respective field--dance, music, movies, politics..., was fascinating. As much as Season of the Dragonflies is about magic, it is also about family and generations of strong women. It did take me a bit to warm up to the Lenore family so the first part of the book drug a bit. Lucia was the most likeable right off, Willow felt a bit too cold and Mya too angry at the world. As more of their stories and their motivations unfolded, I found myself feeling closer to them, and their somewhat dysfunctional family dynamic felt real. That growing attachment sped up the second half of the book for me, as I wanted to find out what would happen--things get a bit dicey--especially for Mya. Overall, it is a well-written and engaging story--especially for a first novel, and I look forward to reading more from this author. 

Author Notes: Born and raised in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Sarah Creech grew up in a house full of women who told stories about black cloud visions and other premonitions. Her work has appeared in storySouthLiterary MamaAroostook ReviewGlass, and Glimmer Train. She received an MFA in 2008 and now teaches English and creative writing at Queens University of Charlotte. She lives in North Carolina with her two children and her husband, a poet. This is her first novel. Find out more about Sarah at her website, and connect with her on Facebook.

Although not a primary focus, there is food in this book--simmering vegetable stock with herbs, sushi, roast beef with rosemary, hummus and carrots, a grass-fed venison roast with a currant and coffee sauce, sour cherries for a pie, sausage biscuits and cinnamon-infused moonshine.  When Lucia is trying to make homemade supreme pizzas for a dinner with Ben, Willow helps her with the dough then makes a tower of a cherry tomato, a piece of mozzarella, and a basil leaf and pops it in her mouth. That got me thinking of a Caprese salad--one of my favorite salads. When done well, it is like summer on a plate. Then I was watching The Kitchen on Food Network over the weekend and they had a show about tomatoes. Iron Chef Geoffrey Zakarian made his version of a Caprese--simple in terms of ingredients, but a bit more prep than I often take with my tomato salads. Zakarian doesn't like tomato skin, or blanching tomatoes to remove the skin so he quarters his tomatoes, then cuts off the skin with a pairing knife then cutting them into bite-sized pieces. His salad looked amazing and I knew it had to be my dish for the book.

I adjusted the recipe to fit the local tomatoes that looked the best--using larger red vine tomatoes and sweet golden baby tomatoes. With the small basil leaves and little balls of Mozarella, it made for a beautiful plate of salad. 

Summery Tomato & Bocconcini Caprese
Recipe courtesy of Geoffrey Zakarian via The Kitchen at Food
(Serves 4)
1 vine-ripened red tomato
1 yellow tomato
1/4 cup currant tomatoes (or cherry tomatoes cut in half)
1 cup small fresh mozzarella balls (bocconcini)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, cold
1/4 cup loosely packed baby basil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cut the red and yellow tomatoes into quarters, and using a paring knife cut the skin away. Cut the quarters into 1-inch pieces. Scatter the cut tomatoes and currant tomatoes over a platter. Distribute the mozzarella balls between the tomato pieces. Drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with basil and season with salt and pepper.

Notes/Results: Probably one of the best Caprese salads I have eaten, every flavor note was spot on. Taking the time to remove the skin from the tomatoes and cut them into sections makes them even juicier and it is much nicer to eat than sawing through the slices that come with your average Caprese. The little tomatoes add a wonderful candy-like sweetness to the mix. Zakarian said he never uses balsamic because it overpowers the tomatoes and I agree, the olive oil--chilled before dressing and the pepper and sea salt (I used local Alaea salt--sea salt mixed with red alae volcanic clay) allowed the tomatoes and baby basil leaves to shine. Baby basil is another good call--using the small leaves that are tender and bite size works really well in this salad. In fact, with the bocconcini, everything in this salad is bite-sized and easy to eat. Zakarian says this serves 4 but I would say two comfortably as a starter and one hungry girl as dinner. ;-) A little more effort than my normal Caprese but very well worth it and perfect on a humid night. I will make this again.  

Note: A review copy of "The Virtues of Oxygen" was provided by the publisher and TLC Book Tours in return for a fair and honest review. I was not compensated for this review and as always my thoughts and opinions are my own. 
You can see the stops for the rest of the TLC Book Tours and Reviews here.



  1. As I was reading the blurb, I did think of the Allen novel we read for CTB. This ones sounds as good or better. The salad looks fantastic. I do not understand at all people's aversion to tomato skins!

  2. As I was reading the blurb, I did think of the Allen novel we read for CTB. This ones sounds as good or better. The salad looks fantastic. I do not understand at all people's aversion to tomato skins!

  3. As I was reading the blurb, I did think of the Allen novel we read for
    CTB. This ones sounds as good or better. The salad looks fantastic. I do
    not understand at all people's aversion to tomato skins!

  4. A summery book and a tomato salad? There is no better combination in the world in my opinion!

    Thanks for being a part of the tour.


Mahalo for visiting and for leaving a comment. I love reading them and they mean a lot!

All advertising, spam, inappropriate (or just plain rude) comments will be promptly deleted. I do appreciate your right to free speech and to your opinion but I'm not into mean, rude, or mean snarky (non-mean snarky is just fine!) ;-)