Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "The Virtues of Oxygen" by Susan Schoenberger with Green Goddess Avocado Spread on Toast

"They weren't family, weren't the same age, or in remotely the same circumstances. They weren't colleagues either. But when Holly spent time with Vivian, she felt she was in the presence of a spirit akin to her own. They shared a peculiar mix of sentimentality and cynicism, as well as a mutual love of avocados.

--"The Virtues of Oxygen" by Susan Schoenberger

Publisher's Blurb:

From the award-winning author of A Watershed Year comes a heartrending story of unlikely bonds made under dire straits. Holly is a young widow with two kids living in a ramshackle house in the same small town where she grew up wealthy. Now barely able to make ends meet editing the town’s struggling newspaper, she manages to stay afloat with help from her family. Then her mother suffers a stroke, and Holly’s world begins to completely fall apart.

Vivian has lived an extraordinary life, despite the fact that she has been confined to an iron lung since contracting polio as a child. Her condition means she requires constant monitoring, and the close-knit community joins together to give her care and help keep her alive. As their town buckles under the weight of the Great Recession, Holly and Vivian, two very different women both touched by pain, forge an unlikely alliance that may just offer each an unexpected salvation.

Paperback: 242 pages
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing (July 22, 2014)

The Virtues of Oxygen is a beautiful and poignant book about friendship, family, and when friends become your family. I liked that it had depth beyond a typical women's fiction story of small town life and friendship. Holly and Vivian are both resilient characters who are trapped in different ways--Holly by her financial obligations and trying to keep a roof over her family's head, and Vivian by the iron lung machine that has kept her alive for 57-years, since the age of six when she contracted polio. The story is told mostly from Holly's point of view with Vivian's perspective and the history of her life given through her 'podcasts'--part of her online presence and a way she interacts with the world. It's interesting that technology, the thing that has helped Vivian open up her enclosed world, is the same thing that is making the town slowly crumble in the recession and moving Holly's newspaper job toward obsolete. I found Vivian's history and point of view fascinating. In the acknowledgements, the author writes of an article she read back in 2009 about a woman, Martha Mason, who contracted polio at age eleven and lived seventy years in an iron lung, and Vivian emerged from that article and Mason's autobiography, 'Breath,' that I have now downloaded onto my Kindle. (As well as Schoenberger's first novel A Watershed Year--to explore more of her writing.) My only complaint about this book was how quickly the pages went by as I found myself sorry to see the story end, I wanted to spend more time in the town of Bertram Corners and with these characters. 

Author Notes: Susan Schoenberger is the author of the award-winning debut novel A Watershed Year. Before turning her attention to writing fiction, she worked as a journalist and copyeditor for many years, most recently at The Hartford Courant and The Baltimore Sun. She currently serves as the director of communications at Hartford Seminary and teaches writing classes at the Mark Twain House in Hartford. She lives in West Hartford, Connecticut, with her husband and three   children. Connect with Susan at her website,

For my dish inspired by the book, I chose to go with avocados because of the shared love Holly and Vivian have for them. I too am an avocado lover and eat them regularly. Avocado toast is a common snack/meal for me--virtually any time of the day. Usually I keep it simple with just good bread, half of an avocado, a squeeze of lime, a pinch of salt and pepper, and a light sprinkling of Tabasco. Wanting something a little different and special to accompany this book review, I came across an Ellie Krieger recipe at for a Avocado Green Goddess Dip. Being a fan of Green Goddess dressing, it seemed like a great match for the avocado, as well as a nod to Vivian and Holly, two strong and admirable women. 

To keep it chunky for optimum spreading, as well as dairy-free, I made a few small changes, noted in red below.  

Green Goddess Avocado Spread
Adapted from Ellie Krieger for
(Makes about 1 1/3 Cups)

1 medium ripe avocado, pitted and peeled (I used 2 small avocados)
2 scallions (both green and white parts), thinly sliced
1/2 cup buttermilk (omitted)
1/4 cup fresh tarragon
1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 Tbsp sliced fresh chives
2 Tbsp white wine vinegar

(I added 1 Tbsp lime juice) 
fine sea salt and freshly ground white pepper

Put all of the ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth. Transfer to a bowl, season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve. (Note: As I wanted a chunkier texture and had two small avocados, I put one avocado in with the herbs, vinegar and lime juice and processed it until smooth. I then added the second avocado (chopped) and pulsed it several times so that it was still slightly chunky in texture.) 

Notes/Results: Creamy and herby with a nice bit of tang from the vinegar and lemon, this is a tasty spread--especially when slathered on a toasted piece of garlic bread. I liked the chunky texture which made it very satisfying. Although I show a knife and fork in the photos, it is best just picked up by hand and enjoyed. 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.  


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