Monday, March 14, 2016

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "North of Here" by Laurel Saville, Served with a Recipe for Blackberry Chia Seed Jam and a Giveaway!

Today's TLC Book Tour Stop brings a review of North of Here, a novel by Laurel Saville, set in Upstate New York in the Adirondack Mountains and following four different people as their lives intersect. Accompanying my review is a recipe for Blackberry Chia Seed Jam, inspired by my reading (and it's also made into an easy and delicious parfait--that's also dairy and gluten free to boot.) And, if you stay to the end, there is a chance to win a copy of North of Here at the bottom of the post. 

Publisher's Blurb:

Many may dream of a simpler life in the north woods, far away from the complications of the modern world. But in her absorbing and uncompromising second novel, North of Here (Lake Union; March 1, 2016), Laurel Saville reveals the dark side of such a life for four young people living in the Adirondack Mountains. This story of misguided decisions, a dangerous back-to-nature cult, and the universal search for meaning and love intertwines these troubled lives into a riveting blend of penetrating love story and persuasive page-turner. Saville, author of the #1 Kindle bestseller Henry and Rachel, once again taps her astute narrative powers in a tale of tragedy, survival, and love.
At the heart of the drama are four unforgettable, strikingly-drawn characters:

  • Miranda: A young “heiress” who discovers that the mountain property she has inherited is encumbered by her father’s debts and misdealing.
  • Dix: A self-assured “mountain man” who is really an educated, financially secure son of two accomplished professionals.
  • Darius: A preppy trust fund refugee who turns his own quest for meaning into a dangerous back-to-nature cult bent on healing lost souls
  • Sally: A brassy, street-smart social worker who, despite being perpetually unlucky in love, ultimately has the foresight to see the perils of loving Darius.
As this masterful novel unfolds, these four will become inextricably entwined in troubles that far exceed simple crimes of the heart.

Hardcover: 262 pages
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing (March 1, 2016)

My Review: 

I was drawn to the description of North of Here; set in the woods of the Adirondack Mountains, "a dangerous back-to-nature cult," and a tag of mystery/suspense (I love me some cults and some mystery). I think it would be more accurately tagged as literary fiction/drama, but that did not stop my enjoyment of this beautifully written novel, even if it wasn't packed with the thrills I thought it was going to bring. The book is written from the points of view of four characters; Miranda, Dix, Darius, and Sally and then loosely divided into four sections; Miranda and Dix, Darius and Sally, Darius and Miranda, and Dix and Sally, as the characters' lives intersect. The first glimpse of these people shows us their surface and my opinions born of those first impressions, changed with a deeper look. Miranda's life has so much tragedy to it that it is easy to feel sympathy for her, while at the same time, wanting to shake her. Dix is a quiet, salt-of-the-earth type--kind and capable--the kind of friend or boyfriend that you would want in your corner. Darius at first seems quirky and mostly harmless, but the growing dread as his true character is revealed added most of the drama and suspense to the story. Sally is prickly and seems burnt out on life but has some hidden depth to discover. As different as they are from each other--in background and personality, all of these characters are lost in their own ways and waiting to see how and if they found themselves is what pulled me along.  

There are not a lot of 'big moments' in the story, but there are twists and turns that build the angst and tension. Nothing is simple--life for these people has more sadness and bittersweet moments, with some small bursts of happy peppered in, which doesn't make it an easy read but it does make it feel real. If you are looking for a sunny, breezy read or lots of action, North of Here is definitely not that book--even the ending, while providing some symmetry and satisfaction, isn't what I would call happy. However, if you like a smart and compelling story with well-drawn characters, this is an excellent one. 


Author Notes: Laurel Saville is the award-winning author of the memoir Unraveling Anne, the novel Henry and Rachel, and the four-part short story “How Much Living Can You Buy,” as well as numerous essays, short stories, and articles. She has an MFA in Creative Writing and Literature from the Writing Seminars at Bennington College.

You can connect with Laurel on her website or on Facebook or Twitter.


Food Inspiration:

Pie would have probably been the best dish to make to represent North of Here as it is something Miranda makes for Dix and then for Darius--apple and blueberry, but I am no pie maker. There is other food in the book such as mentions of gin cocktails, beer and barbecue, apples, and multi-colored eggs from the neighbor's chicken, a cooler of lobsters, comfort food of chicken noodle soup, grilled cheese sandwiches and chocolate pudding, venison stew, trout, a veal dish, ham sandwiches, soup, cookies and garden-grown tomatoes, corn and beans, pizza, and even tofu sprinkled with tamari.

Ultimately I decided to make jam. In the book, Miranda makes and cans jam from berries she gathers, as does Darius (or rather the women of The Source, his back-to nature-commune, aka cult do), claiming that it's "totally organic, from berries foraged locally." Miranda is frustrated that Dix does everything so well and she has nothing "hard" that she is good at, saying "Shit, even your jam is better than mine, and you know it." 

I am not much of a canning wiz, but I do like to make batches of chia seed jam, loving how quickly it comes together, the seeds jelling and thickening the mixture to make something delicious and lower in sugar than what you can buy in the store. Since blackberries were on sale this past weekend (no, my berries were not personally foraged!) at the grocery store, I decided to make Blackberry Chia Seed Jam, sweetened with a little maple syrup. 

Wanting a gluten-free way to use my jam, I made an easy parfait using coconut yogurt and gluten-free granola. A nice way to start the day.   

Blackberry Chia Jam
By Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Makes about 2 cups)

about 1 pound of fresh blackberries, or frozen works just as well
1 1/2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 Tbsp maple syrup, or to taste--depending on the sweetness of your fruit
2 tsp almond or vanilla extract
3 Tbsp chia seeds

Place blackberries and lemon juice in small saucepan over medium heat. Simmer 5-7 minutes, stirring and as the fruit softens, use the back of a wooden spoon to smash it against the sides of the pan to break them down, leaving some chunks as desired.  

Stir in the maple syrup, extract, and chia seeds and simmer for another 4 to 5 minutes, letting the jam begin to thicken. Remove from heat and allow jam to cool and set. Once jam is room temperature, transfer to a jar or airtight container and refrigerate. 

Store jam, tightly covered, for up to 3 weeks in the fridge.

Notes/Results: A nice combination of sweet and tangy with wonderful flavor. This jam goes together really quickly and easily--that hardest part is waiting for it to cool and set before enjoying it. I usually toss in a dash of lemon to brighten my berries and vanilla to round out the flavor, but in this case, I used almond extract instead which was a nice change--adding a little extra nuance of flavor. This was great in the parfait (I like to start with a layer of jam on the bottom) ;-) as well as just to eat and would of course be great slathered on bread or as an ice cream topping too. Although I used fresh berries here, you can make chia jam just as well with frozen berries or other fruit too--I buy a frozen berry mix at Costco and it makes equally delicious jam--just defrost the berries first and cook them less time if you like a 'chunky' jam.

I am sharing this post with Novel Food #26, hosted by my friend Simona at briciole and celebrating the combination of food and books. See her announcement post here.

And, at Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish Reads, a weekly event that is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share. For more information, see the welcome post.

***Book Giveaway!***

The publisher has generously offered a copy of North of Here to one of my readers as part of this TLC Blog Tour. (Open to US/Canada addresses)

To enter the Rafflecopter Giveaway below, leave a comment please (Because I like to read them!) ;-) telling me either what your favorite jam flavor is or why you are interested in reading North of Here.

There are a couple of other optional ways to get entries 1) Tweet about this giveaway (you can do this once per day if you like) or 2) follow me on Twitter (@DebinHawaii) and/or Author Laurel Saville (@SavilleL) on Twitter. (You can still get free entries if you already follow me or Laurel Saville on Twitter.)

The Giveaway runs until 3/28/16. Good Luck! 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Note: A review copy of "North of Here" was provided to me 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 this Book Tour and what other reviewers thought about the book here.



  1. Interesting novel (and I like the book cover). I love the recipe and will definitely try it when berries come around. It's taken me years to try chia seeds but now that I have, I use them a lot. I have never cooked them though, another reason why your recipe intrigues me. Thank you so much for contributing to Novel Food!

  2. I'll need to file this recipe away for blackberry season!

    Don't you love it when books give you a plethora of ideas for Novel Food? Usually one or two stand out, so I don't have a problem picking one to focus on for my post, though my latest book was a little harder when needing to narrow down my decision.

  3. I've made jam before, but not with chia. What a great idea!

  4. Being in Real Estate on the Big Island, we certainly get a number of folks wanting to "go back to the land" not that they were ever there, and then down the line selling up. So, the book does sound intriguing from that perspective alone.

    I've had the intent to make chia seed jam for awhile, and still intend to do it with my mulberries, but so far have only used them in my granola.

  5. OOoh a cooler of lobsters - my idea of heaven. Cheers from Carole's Chatter!

  6. My favorite jam is red raspberry, seedless, please! Those parfaits look great! I'll have to look to see if I can get coconut yogurt at my grocery store. I didn't like coconut flavor for many years; now I need to make up for lost time!

  7. I've never made jam before. Yours looks so good!

  8. Now this sounds like my kind of jam. The only jam I've ever made was in my breadmaker!


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