Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Book Reviews & a Recipe: Three Novels of Love and Loss & Warm Chocolate and Banana (Cup)Cakes

I seem to have gotten into a bit of a theme this month with the books I have been reading. With these three novels (two sent to me for review and one I selected myself), they are centered around love and loss. Sure, there was sadness in reading these books and there were plenty of tears shed over them, but at their heart these are well-told stories about strong women, hope, and the power of love and how it helps us get through the toughest times we can imagine. All three are great summer reads

"The Summer We Came to Life" by Deborah Cloyed, follows Samantha, who joins her childhood friends--Isabel, Kendra and Mina every summer on a fabulous vacation along with Isabel and Kendra's mothers, Jesse and Lynette. This year is different as Mina has passed away from cancer six months ago and Samantha, who is especially close to her, struggles to face a life without her best friend and can't imagine their annual trip without her. Still, the group shows up in Honduras where Samantha is waiting for her "artist in residence" to begin at the university. Bringing along Mina's father Arshan, and Kendra's father and Lynette's husband, Cornell, they head for a Honduran beach house.

The group's stories are told and the past and present are interwoven as Samantha searches for a way to go on without Mina and tries to decide what direction her life should take. She looks to a journal, given to her by Mina before her death, and where the two friends have communicated back and forth about the afterlife and theories about trying to contact each other when Mina is gone. At first I found this back and forth and particularly the discussions of different physics theories to be a little distracting from the rest of the book but Cloyed manages to pull it all together for a touching and absorbing story that lingers in the mind long after the book is finished.

The five women in "The Art of Saying Goodbye" by Ellyn Bache don't have much in common other than the neighborhood they live in. Julianne is a divorced nurse who seems to have a second sense that allows her to "feel" when a patient is dying--an ability she does not want. Ginger struggles to balance her family life with her desire for a career. Andrea has spent the past 10 years worrying about her daughter who battled kidney cancer as a young child and it has taken a toll on her marriage and her life. Iona, older than the rest of the group, lost her beloved husband in a tragic accident and struggles with her anger and bitterness. Paisley, a beautiful young wife and mother, is the center of their group, the one that brought them together and who adds the spark of life to the group.

When Paisley is diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer the women come together to support her and all are changed by the experience of losing a friend and realizing the beauty and promise in their own lives. Told from the point of view of each of the characters, it's a touching, well-written book that illustrates the meaning of friendship and love.

Callie, the central character in Jane Green's "Promises to Keep" is adored by everyone. A beloved wife, mother of two, an older sister, a daughter and a friend, she is happy and settled into her comfortable life until the breast cancer she thought she had beaten reoccurs and her prognoses is grim. Her husband Reece adores her but is focused on his busy travel-filled career and is rarely home for any length of time. Callie's younger sister, Steffi is a (mostly) vegan chef and free-spirit who has avoided any form of settling down. Her best friend Lila has finally met a wonderful man and is fond of his young son but very resentful of his demanding ex-wife. Callie and Steffi's parents, Honor and Walter are long-divorced but still struggle with being in the same room together. They are brought together to support Callie and her children in an emotional year that changes all of them in ways they don't expect.

Green is a prolific chick-lit author but "Promises to Keep" has an emotional pull that her other books lack, probably due to the fact that it was inspired by Green's best friend, Heidi, who lost her life to breast cancer a few years ago. This one really tugs at the heartstrings.

Books that make me emotional call for comfort food and definitely chocolate. ;-) I didn't have to look too far for a recipe as "Promises to Keep" ends its chapters with recipes, as Steffi is a chef. Many of the recipes sounded delicious and I will likely try more than a few of them, but the one that caught my eye and stomach first was the Warm Chocolate Banana Cake. Apparently a family recipe from Jane Green's mother, it is a fudgy cake, moist with ripe bananas. Because cakes are a bit unwieldy for me and I either toss them, share them, or eat them all, I chose to make it into cupcakes instead--portion control and the leftovers can be given away or frozen and enjoyed in moderation.

Warm Chocolate and Banana Cake
Adapted from "Promises to Keep" by Jane Green

1 cup plain baker's chocolate
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
3 eggs, beaten
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
3 ripe bananas, mashed

Pre-heat oven to 350º F.

Melt the chocolate over a bain-marie (or my lazy way of VERY, VERY slowly melting in a microwave.)

Cream together the butter and sugar until pale. Add the eggs gradually while beating. Stir the flour, baking powder and cocoa together and fold into the wet mixture. Add the bananas and melted chocolate. Mix well.

Bake for 45 minutes.

Notes/Results: This is a simple to make and delicious cake--full of chocolate goodness. In addition to making cupcakes from the recipe and dusting them with a mix of cocoa powder and powdered sugar, I made two small changes based on the ingredients I had on hand. I didn't have any plain sugar in the house so I used some coconut palm sugar (more like a brown sugar with caramel notes). Also, I only had white wheat flour so I used that. I don't think either made a major difference in the taste and texture with all that chocolate. ;-) Speaking of chocolate--you could whip up a ganache or frosting to top them, but these do stand really well on their own without any extra sweetness. I love how moist these cupcakes were with the fudge-like texture and bits of mashed banana. Wonderful warm and pretty great cold too--I would make them again.

So what are you reading this summer?

Obligatory Disclosure Statement: Copies of two of these books were provided by the publishers however I was not compensated for this review and as always my thoughts and opinions are entirely my own.


  1. These books do sound gut-wrenching, but sometimes that's what you're in the mood for! And truly I'm always in the mood for fudgy cupcakes. These look so good!

  2. Ok I wanted to read about the books, but I Was just drawn tot he CupCakes. and I am hosting a guess what I will be making!

  3. these cupcakes sound perfect & comforting! I was reading "Bella Tuscany", but forgot the book on my dining room table before I left for Hawaii :(

  4. I think if I were to read these books I would probably cry my eyes out and then proceed to eat everything in the house. These are the kind of books that really make you think and inspire you to be thankful for the people in your life. I love your chocolate banana cakes and couldn't agree more on melting the chocolate in the microwave. Who can be bothered to dirty another dish melting something over the stove? Looks great!

  5. Joanne--they were emotion-inducing but had some humor in them too.

    A Fine Balance--I hope you enjoy them. ;-)

    Kat--I'll have to check that book out sometime. ;-)

    Kim--yeah--I think I am glad I didn't have the cupcakes by me when I started reading them. ;-)

  6. Joanne--they were emotion-inducing but had some humor in them too.

    A Fine Balance--I hope you enjoy them. ;-)

    Kat--I'll have to check that book out sometime. ;-)

    Kim--yeah--I think I am glad I didn't have the cupcakes by me when I started reading them. ;-)


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