Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "Whistling Women" by Kelly Romo, Served with the Ultimate Breakfast Sandwich: Grilled Cheese Egg In A Hole

Today's TLC Book Tour stop serves up a review of the very unique historical fiction novel Whistling Women by Kelly Romo. It's got the 1935 world's fair in San Diego, a nudist colony, dark secrets, and plenty of sister and family drama all wrapped together in one utterly enjoyable book. Accompanying my review is the "ultimate breakfast sandwich"--a Grilled Cheese Egg in a Hole, that was inspired by my reading.

Publisher's Blurb:

A buried secret keeps two sisters apart.

Life went terribly wrong for Addie Bates in San Diego, and she’s been running from those memories ever since. For fifteen years, the Sleepy Valley Nudist Colony has provided a safe haven for Addie to hide from the crime she committed. But when the residents pack up to go on exhibit at the 1935 world’s fair in San Diego, Addie returns and must face the thrilling yet terrifying prospect of reuniting with her estranged sister, Wavey.

Addie isn’t the only one interested in a reunion. When her niece, Rumor, discovers she has an aunt, Rumor is determined to bring her family together. But it’s not so easy when the women are forced to confront family secrets, past and present.

Set against the backdrop of the 1935 world’s fair, Whistling Women explores the complex relationships between sisters, the sacrifices required to protect family, and the lasting consequences of a single impulsive act.

Paperback: 414 pages
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing (November 17, 2015)

"A whistling woman  and a crowing hen always come to some bad end" 

My Review:  I was pulled to Whistling Women for several reasons--the bonds between sisters and nieces, the backdrop of the world's fair and exposition, a glimpse a life in a nudist colony in the 1930s--it all intrigued me and immediately captured my imagination and heart, holding on tight throughout each page. The story is told from the points of view of Addie, shifting back and forth from her present to her past, and her niece Rumor. These are the characters we get to know the best and are the most likable and enjoyable. Addie is easy to root for from the start--she had a tough childhood and young adulthood that continues to impact her, causing her to hide away in the controlled life of the nudist colony. Rumor is what you might expect from a fifteen-year-old, impulsive, rebellious, passionate, and stubborn--caught between childhood and adulthood. The main supporting characters are harder to get to know and to connect with through most of the book. Rumor's eighteen-year-old sister Mary comes across as shallow and puts on airs with her habit of calling everyone "darling"--although the love and bond the sisters have for each other is touching. The least likable of the four women is their mother, (Addie's sister) Wavey, with her drinking and other lifestyle choices and her often lackadaisical treatment of her daughters. As the story unfolds the reasons behind her actions and temperament are revealed, along with the secrets she has been hiding, and it is then that Wavey becomes more sympathetic. Addie's friends in the nudist colony are colorful and interesting and the world's fair and its Balboa Park setting, primarily the Eden-like Zoro Gardens Nudist Colony exhibit, almost seem characters as well.

The exact nature of the dark family secrets are revealed gradually, although they are hinted at enough that the reader can predict what is coming--this does not take away from the story however, and there are still details and surprises to learn. It's not always an easy or happy read as there is domestic and childhood sexual abuse and its lingering effects, as well as some violence that happens, but the story is a good one and although poignant, it doesn't dwell in the sadness, remains hopeful in tone, and has some very funny moments mixed in too. I find the whole nudist colony experience intriguing for some reason--especially back in the 1930s when it was even more of a social taboo. Getting a glimpse at that life and finding out how Addie ended up there for so long was interesting. (Although just in case you were wondering, I will not be packing my bags for life in a nudist colony.) ;-)

Really the only thing missing for me in this Whistling Women (and what I love, love, love in historical fiction that is based on real events) is an afterword about the book, including the research the author did and where the story idea came from and what interested her in the subject. That extra info always fascinates me and hooks me even more and I usually end up looking online for further details. It was a slight disappointment not to find anything in the book or much on the author's website other than a mention that the book came from her love of San Diego and Balboa Park. When I did look online, I found many key elements of the book such as the 1935 California International Exposition in San Diego, the Zoro Gardens Nudist Colony Exhibit there, and celebrity evangelist "Sister Aimee"--Aimee Semple McPherson were all real. It was fascinating to read more information and to look at some of the pictures that exist from that era as it was exactly as I was seeing it in my head from the author's words. It's such a special book (with a gorgeous cover too) that an afterword and perhaps a reader's guide with discussion questions would have made it even better and satisfied my geeky need for background details

Putting that minor disappointment aside, Whistling Women was a truly engaging and enjoyable read; one of my favorites for the year. If you like family and coming-of-age dramas with strong female characters, have sisters and nieces, and enjoy historical fiction (or even if you think you don't like historical fiction--this novel may change your mind), give this book a try. 


Author Notes: Kelly A. Romo currently lives in Oregon with her three children where she teaches writing, literature, and social studies. She loves the outdoors; hiking, kayaking, and camping. Kelly grew up in California running around with all her thrill-seeking cousins and siblings; jumping off cliffs into the Colorado River, exploring caves on the beaches of Mexico, riding dirt bikes, water skiing, and snow skiing. 

Connect with Kelly on her website, Facebook, or Twitter


Food Inspiration:

It's not a foodie book, but there was food inspiration to be found in Whistling Women. Much of it is the simple fare cooked by Wavey, Mary or Rumor--toast, fried eggs cooked in butter, soup and crackers, bean soup with vegetables and homemade noodles, shredded wheat cereal, a ham sandwich and a glass of milk, iced tea and lemonade. There is also lots of fair and boardwalk food like ice cream, candied apples, popcorn, scones, and cotton candy. The members of the Sleepy Valley Nudist Colony are expected to be vegetarian from their founder/leader Henrich's golden rule of no meat, so they eat a lot of fruit, oats, breads and jams, although Addie "longed for bacon, a chicken leg, or a single slice of ham." A celebration dinner for the colony at a restaurant included "everything on the menu that didn't include meat"--like "cantaloupe with fruit, sliced tomato salad fantasie, cauliflower persillé, potato garbure, sauteed mushrooms, cheese enchiladas, and native beans."

Life in the colony included meals so Addie did not have much experience cooking and when she began to practice it was on eggs, so I wanted to include them in my dish. Rumor shows her how to make a grilled cheese sandwich and since I am always craving them myself, I decided to make my book inspired dish from a combination of the eggs and grilled cheese. I pinned a recipe for what was called "the ultimate breakfast sandwich" recently and really wanted to make it. It takes one of my favorite childhood breakfasts "egg in a hole"--which we called ding-dong eggs at my house, and puts it into a grilled cheese sandwich. Yum! 

I feel a little bit bad because I made egg in a hole inspired by sisters for a book review last month and don't like to repeat myself, but this one is different enough I think and definitely crave-worthy enough to merit trying. ;-)  I made a slight change to the preparation of the recipe--which has you leave a cheese-free area in the center of the sandwich where you cut out the hole for the egg. I wondered why wouldn't you have the cheese in there so that instead of a fried bread "topper"--you get a little round grilled cheese sandwich to dip into the yolk? I left the cheese in. 

The recipe author says, "For this recipe, I use a pro-tip I learned from Five Guys: use mayonnaise instead of butter on the outside of the grilled cheese. It's way more spreadable and adds just a little oomph of flavor to the sandwich."

Grilled Cheese Egg in a Hole
Slightly adapted from The Cooking of Joy via Food 52
(Serves 1)

2 slices soft bread, like white or potato
1 to 2 teaspoons mayonnaise
1 to 2 slices sharp white cheddar cheese or your favorite melty cheese (I used Muenster and sharp cheddar but probably more than I should have!--see Notes/Results below)
1 large egg
freshly ground pepper
sea salt

Old Bay Seasoning (optional) 

Start heating a non-stick pan on medium-low. Spread a thin layer of mayonnaise on one slice of bread and place the bread mayonnaise-side down in the pan. 

Cut the cheese into thirds. Place one-third on each side of the bread in the pan. Cut the remaining third in half and fill in the top and bottom of the gap between the other slices of cheese, leaving a cheese-less square in the middle. [Editors' note: You want to cover the entire slice of bread except for the square in the center where you'll be cutting a hole through the sandwich.] {Deb's note: I covered my entire piece of bread with cheese to get a mini sandwich rather than just the grilled bread for dipping.}

Spread a thin layer of mayonnaise on the other slice of bread and place it on top of the cheese, mayonnaise-side up. Cook the sandwich for a few minutes until the bottom is golden brown. 

Flip the sandwich over. Using a cookie cutter or a drinking glass, cut out a hole in the middle of the sandwich about 2 1/2- to 2 3/4-inches wide. Remove the circle of bread (you can continue grilling this on the side of the pan) and crack the egg into the hole. Cover and cook until the egg is set to your liking. 

Slide the sandwich onto a plate. Season the egg with freshly ground pepper and sea salt. (I also shook on a little Old Bay Seasoning--which I love with eggs.) Serve with tomato soup, if you like.

Notes/Results: My execution of this dish suffered a bit because (Say it isn't so! Can it really be done?!) I "over-cheesed" my sandwich. I would normally question the concept that you can have too much cheese but in this case, where you should see an egg yolk peeking out from the white, it got covered by the cheese oozing out. You see I couldn't decide between Muenster and sharp cheddar so I used a layer of both and it was oozy, gooey, and delicious but it challenged me in both the appearance and in making a deeper well for the egg, resulting in difficulty cooking the egg white through to my liking while keeping it as yolky as I like. In the end it was still fabulous and I had enough yolk for dipping. I did love my mini round grilled cheese lid and recommend keeping that step. Also, I tried the tip of using mayo instead of butter on the outer bread but used the garlic vegan mayo I had on hand and it was fabulous--much easier to spread than butter and you get the same crisp outer crust. I will add that tip to my grilled cheese sandwich making from now on.

Is it easier to just slide a fried egg on top of a grilled cheese? Yes it is ...but, much like food in miniature sizes or food on sticks, an egg in a hole is just more fun. ;-) Good for breakfast, or any time at all, this sandwich would be excellent dipped in good, creamy tomato soup as the recipe author suggests. I will decrease the amount of cheese and happily make it again. 

Note: A review copy of "Whistling Women" 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. still sounds good with all that cheese!

  2. I've been making eggs in a hole for my son quite often recently. He is allergic to dairy so I can't do this version for him but I'm totally going to try it for myself - it looks delicious!

    Thanks for being a part of the tour.

  3. Thanks for the recipe. It reminds me of the dish made in the movie "V".


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