Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of 'Wildalone' A Novel by Krassi Zourkova, Served with Lemon Poppy Seed Noodles

It's my first TLC Book Tour for 2015 and it's a story filled with mystery, fantasy, and romance. Wildalone is the debut novel by Krassi Zourkova and today's book review is served with a recipe for Lemon Poppy Seed Noodles inspired by the book.

Publisher's Blurb:

In this enchanting and darkly imaginative debut novel full of myth, magic, romance, and mystery, a Princeton freshman is drawn into a love triangle with two enigmatic brothers, and discovers terrifying secrets about her family and herself—a bewitching blend of Twilight, The Secret History, Jane Eyre, and A Discovery of Witches.
Arriving at Princeton for her freshman year, Thea Slavin finds herself alone, a stranger in a strange land. Away from her family and her Eastern European homeland for the first time, she struggles to adapt to unfamiliar American ways and the challenges of college life—including an enigmatic young man whose brooding good looks and murky past intrigue her. Falling into a romantic entanglement with Rhys and his equally handsome and mysterious brother, Jake, soon draws Thea into a sensual mythic underworld as irresistible as it is dangerous.

In this shadow world that seems to mimic Greek mythology and the Bulgarian legends of the Samodivi or “wildalones”—forest witches who beguile and entrap men—she will discover a shocking secret that threatens everything she holds dear. And when the terrifying truth about her own family is revealed, it will transform her forever . . . if she falls under its spell.

Mesmerizing and addictive, The Wildalone is a thrilling blend of the modern and the fantastic. Krassi Zourkova creates an atmospheric world filled with rich characters as fascinating and compelling as those of Diana Gabaldon, Deborah Harkness, and Stephenie Meyer.

Hardcover: 384 pages  
Publisher: William Morrow (January 6, 2015)

Wildalone has a sumptuous, dark and mysterious beauty to it--both the imaginative story itself and the descriptive writing. Even the cover of the book manages to be beautiful but with the faintest bit of menace, much like the images created by the author. Krassi Zourkova (could there be a cooler name???) skillfully blends the modern day with Greek mythology and Eastern-European folklore. I am not an expert in mythology or folklore and she made me want to know more, especially about the samodivi--'wildalones.' (This is an interesting paper on Bulgarian folklore and these wild fairies that were mentioned as 'veela' in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.) Her descriptions of the beauty and history of the Princeton campus had me looking up the university buildings and grounds online to see what parts were real--which turned out to be much of it. For me this folklore and imagery, along with the mystery surrounding Thea's sister were the strongest parts of the book. The romantic triangle with the Estlin brothers was less successful in my opinion. The very stalker-ish and often creepy Rhys and the somewhat less stalker-ish and not-quite-as-creepy-but-slightly-wimpy Jake just weren't that compelling as love interests to me. My other complaint was with the ending--there is a wonderful feeling of foreboding that builds throughout the story but it seems to go out with a whimper rather than a bang at the end. If the ending is to set up a sequel rather than being the ending of a standalone, I get it (and will definitely read the next book) but if not, it left me ultimately unfulfilled and a tad disappointed. This one will appeal to mythology and fantasy fans and it's a good curl up in a blanket and lose yourself kind of book.

Author Notes: Krassi Zourkova grew up in Bulgaria and came to the United States to study art history at Princeton. After college, she graduated from Harvard Law School, and she has practiced finance law in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, where she currently lives. Her poems have appeared in various literary journals. Wildalone is her first novel. Follow Krassi on Twitter, @zourkova.

Although there is not a lot of prominent food inspiration in the book and many meals are described somewhat vaguely, there are some mentions of food. A dinner of sea bass with her college advisor where Thea is trying to identify a taste she says is "not exactly thyme" and turns out to be rosemary. As Thea says, "Rosemary. Or thyme. We all had an herb that could take us home." Rhys arranges dinner at his house featuring Bulgarian dishes like cold cucumber soup, stuffed peppers and feta cheese pie. I was going to make pomegranate sangria like the one Rhys and Thea have at the tapas restaurant but it has been a bit "chilly" here (as much as mid 60-70 degrees F can be chilly) ;-) and for me sangria is a warm weather drink. Ultimately I chose to make something inspired by the poppies on the book's cover and that Rhys conjures up for Thea. Poppy seeds are featured in many Eastern-European dishes, both sweet and savory. I wanted something simple and comforting so I went with pasta.

There are plenty of recipes for poppy seed noodles to be found--with toasted seeds, untoasted seeds, some where the poppy seeds are ground into a paste which seem more traditional but not as 'pretty.' ;-) I wanted a lemony version to use up some local Meyer lemons I had sitting about so I chose a basic recipe for Lemon Poppy Seed Noodles that I found on epicurious, swapping out the chives for parsley and some thyme, and adding a bit more lemon flavor.

Lemon Poppy Seed Noodles
Adapted from Gourmet, January 2003 via Epicurious

6 ounces wide egg noodles
1 1/2 teaspoons poppy seeds
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon finely grated fresh lemon zest 

(I added 2 tsp fresh Meyer lemon juice)
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives (I used flat-leaf parsley and thyme)

Cook noodles in a large pot of boiling salted water until tender. While noodles are cooking, lightly toast poppy seeds in a dry small skillet over moderately low heat, stirring, until just fragrant, about 2 minutes. 

Reserve 1/2 cup cooking water and drain noodles in a colander. Add butter and zest to warm pot and swirl until melted. Add noodles and toss, adding enough of reserved cooking water to keep noodles moist, then stir in poppy seeds, chives, and salt and pepper to taste.

Notes/Results: Lemony, buttery, slightly herby with a little "crunch" from the poppy seeds, this is a quick and easy dish for when you want some comfort food or a basic side dish for a piece of chicken or fish. Maybe just don't make it for 'date night' or any time you don't want poppy seeds stuck in your teeth--they are pesky little buggers. ;-) Quick and satisfying, I would make it again.

Note: A review copy of "Wildalone" 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 the Book Tour and what other reviewer thought about the book here.



  1. I have a friend who lives in Bulgaria - I'll have to ask her to tell me about the folklore sometime, it sounds fascinating!

    Thanks for being a part of the tour.


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