Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Book Tour Stops Here: Review of "The Runaway Wife" by Elizabeth Birkelund, Served with Nigella's "Go Get 'Em" Chocolate & Coffee Smoothie

Today's hot and muggy Tuesday has me conjuring up cold places like the Swiss Alps, the setting for today's TLC Book Tour stop, "The Runaway Wife" by Elizabeth Birkelund. Along with my review, I am pairing this quirky little novel with my version of Nigella Lawson's "Go Get 'Em" Smoothie.

Publisher's Blurb:

Three beautiful French sisters entrust an American hiker with the mission of rescuing their mother high in the Alps. 
But what if she doesn’t want to be found?
Recently fired from his high-power finance job and dumped by his fiancée, Jim Olsen has come to the Swiss Alps to clear his head. At the charming Cabane des Audannes, he meets Clio, Thalia and Helene Castellane, who are on a quest of their own: their mother, Calliope, has fled to these mountains to escape her philandering politician husband’s most recent scandal. As snow threatens to descend upon the Alps, the women have come to bring their mother home.
But the sisters are at the point of surrender; it is time for them to return to Paris. Buoyed by wine and inspired by their beauty, Jim impetuously volunteers to assume their search, but soon realizes that he is in over his head. The Alps are filled with beauty and danger, not the least of which is Calliope’s desire to stay hidden. And all the while Jim finds himself haunted by the memory of her daughters and conflicted in his desire for them.
The Runaway Wife is a story of adventure, survival, and romance—and of a man’s discovery of a world outside his conventional life and a new vision of himself within it.

Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Harper Paperbacks (July 12, 2016)

My Review:

On vacation with a friend in the Swiss Alps, nice-guy and slightly sad-sack Jim Olsen is taking a break before starting a new job he is not thrilled about and trying to get over a broken engagement. (His fiancee delightfully told her parents it was over a month before she told Jim--so that the cake, the reception room at the Plaza, and other wedding preparations could be canceled.) At La Cabane des Audannes, an Alpine hutte (a stopping/sleeping place), they meet three French sisters--Thalia, Clio, and Helene. The sisters are searching for their mother (Calliope) who has vanished into the Alps when her politician husband's latest affair is publicly rubbed in her face. Jim is drawn to the women--especially the alluring Thalia, and because of his thrall and his 'nice-guy-ness,' decides to help them by looking for Calliope and bringing her back. The fact that he is an American, unfamiliar with the mountains and inexperienced in hiking, doesn't seem to phase him, or the sisters who have to get back to their lives and jobs. After getting lost and some missteps along the way, Jim finds Calliope, who has no wish to return and fights to stay hidden from the men in helicopters her husband sends after her. Calliope seems to know or sense a lot about Jim and her intuitiveness causes him to reflect on his own life, while he tries to convince her to return with him before the snows come and the mountains become even more dangerous.  

The Runaway Wife is a charming and unique book. Beyond Heidi as a child and The Sound of Music, I have not read or seen many books or movies with a Swiss Alps setting. The author captures their beauty, danger and mystery well--they are almost a character in the book. Jim is a loyal and likable character and I found myself rooting for him, as well as the free-spirited Calliope-trapped in a bad and loveless marriage. There is a lyrical, almost magical feel to Calliope and the mountains which captured Jim, as well as my imagination and I hated for the story to come to an end. And the end was probably my biggest disappointment with this book--I wanted more--more details and more of a 'big finish.' I know that life is seldom wrapped up in a bow, but it felt a bit unfinished to me, especially for some of the characters. Despite my lack of love for the ending, I definitely enjoyed my time with Jim in the Alps and would recommend this book if you like quirky novels about finding yourself, as well as finding yourself in a unique place and situation. A good summer read when you need to think cooling, snowy thoughts. ;-)

Author Notes: Elizabeth Birkelund is the author of one other French-inspired novel, The Dressmaker. As a freelance magazine journalist, Elizabeth was the personal finance columnist for Cosmopolitan and wrote for more than fifteen years for Working Woman, Self, and Glamour, among other publications. She lives in New York City.
Connect with Elizabeth on Facebook.


Food Inspiration:

While there is not a lot of food mentioned in this book, there was one clear winner for a book-inspired dish; Ratatouille--which was mentioned several times as it was a meal Calliope made for Jim from her garden. Why isn't it my pairing for this book? I just made it a few weeks ago for Food 'N Flix (an awesome grilled one in fact!) and after getting through all of the rain of Tropical Storm Darby, we are left with 82 degrees F. with 74% humidity and 'feels like 90 degrees F.' weather so far this week. It is just too darn hot for me to stand over the stove or even chop and grill.

I read this book during the storm and consumed a couple of cups of hot cocoa (mentioned in the book) while reading, so I had hot cocoa in my mind, but I needed something cold. I thought about granita or an iced mocha but then I found a Nigella Lawson recipe for a Go Get 'Em Smoothie, featuring coffee and malted chocolate drink powder. I thought the title totally fit the book with Jim sent to go get Calliope, so it became my dish.

I made a couple of small changes to the recipe--using coconut milk, reducing the honey, and needing a kick this afternoon, increasing the espresso powder. My changes are noted in red below.

Nigella says, "This is truly a weekday special: a breakfast that combines food and drink for people who don't feel they've even got time to sit down in the morning. If the person-in-a-hurry is miniature in stature, and not progressed to caffeine intake, then replace the camp coffee with a tablespoonful of peanut butter. Extra protein and ultra delicious. I keep overripe bananas, peeled and cut into four, in bags in the freezer, which helps give ice-creamy bulk to the smoothie and dispense with the need for ice."

"Go Get 'Em" Smoothie
Slightly adapted from Nigella Lawson, Nigella Expres via The Food Network
(Makes 1 Serving)

1 peeled banana, cut into 4, from the freezer
2/3 cup milk (I used coconut milk)
1 Tbsp honey (I used 1 Tsp honey)
4 tsp malted chocolate drink powder (recommended: Ovaltine)
1 tsp strong coffee or 1/2 tsp instant espresso powder (I used 2 tsp espresso powder)

Put all ingredients into a blender and whiz to mix.

Pour into a tall glass and drink before dashing out of the door

Notes/Results: This smoothie was quick and simple to make and completely hit the spot on a humid afternoon. I liked the flavor (and the buzz) I got by increasing the espresso powder and found that since I used coconut milk, which is naturally sweet, that the reduced 1 tsp honey was plenty for me. This was rich, thick and delightfully iced mocha-ish without being cloyingly sweet. I will happily make it again. 

I'm linking this post up to I Heart Cooking Clubs where this week is Potluck--our chance to make any recipe by our current featured chef Curtis Stone, or any previous chef like Nigella Lawson. 

I'm also linking up this review and recipe to the Weekend Cooking event 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.

Note: A review copy of "The Runaway Wife" 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. I think this book sounds lovely. I just finished reading about the Italian Alps in a similar summer-read novel. I want to book a trip. I love this smoothie drink for a morning beverage instead of coffee (especially now that we are in this heat dome!)

  2. I am a coffee drinker so this recipe really appeals to me.

  3. This would be good to make because when I buy bananas I always seem to buy one or two too many and they end up going bad before I use them. From now on I'll just make this smoothie.

  4. Quirky book, sounds like it would keep my interest. I love Nigella's smoothies. Freezing the bananas works so well as you don't have to use any ice. I'm glad you posted this because I hadn't made this smoothie in years.
    I'm with you, about the heat, holy cow it's unbearable.

  5. I don't think I've read any book set in the Alps or having anything to do with them, but the setting sounds absolutely magical and amazing.

    Thanks for being a part of the tour!

  6. The book doesn't appeal to me but the smoothie does. We are big smoothie loves.

  7. I have seen this recipe and thought it sounded delicious!I like the changes you made - especially with the extra espresso powder. The book also sounds like a winner. What a fabulous setting!

  8. A smoothie recipe without bananas -- my dream! At first I thought this was it, but I guess not. Maybe bananas are the defining feature of smoothies? I hate bananas, will continue to wait.

    best... mae at maefood.blogspot.com

  9. I'm often drawn to books based on where they take place and being that this takes place in the Alps is definitely a draw,if you will.Such a pretty location and nice to imagine them in your own mind as you read.
    Love how you came up with the inspiration for this drink. I made this way back when we cooked with Nigella and loved it then. Perfect for a chocolate fix.

  10. I fancy coffee in a smoothie. Have a great week. Cheers from Carole's Chatter

  11. Sounds like a fun book, a shame our library system doesn't carry it. That smoothie would certainly help in this weather, a pick-me-upper and refreshing as well.

  12. The book sounds cute. BUT coffee mocha banana smoothie??? I might dust my blender off for this one.

  13. I am not a huge fan of coconut milk, but with milk I'll put the recipe on my bottom open recipe list ;-)

  14. I love your smoothie recipe. I'm a big chocolate fan, so this one is right up my alley.

  15. That looks slurping-ly good! Using coconut milk sounds so creamy and nice! I could drink this anytime of the day.

  16. I will have to find that book. Looks like a good read.
    And the smoothie looks great. Coconut milk - I will have to try in my smoothies.


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