Monday, May 2, 2016

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "The Girl From the Paradise Ballroom" by Alison Love, Served with a Recipe for Tomatoes and Mushrooms Served Over Creamy Polenta

Buckle up--we are journeying to World War II England, by way of Italy. On today's TLC Book Tour stop, I bring you a Monday escape with a book review and dinner--served on my cheese board. It's Tomatoes and Mushrooms, Over Creamy Polenta, inspired by the historical romance, The Girl From the Paradise Ballroom by Alison Love.

Publisher's Blurb:

An epic love story featuring an Italian singer and a British dancer, set against the backdrop of war-torn England.
The first meeting between Antonio and Olivia at the Paradise Ballroom is brief, but electric.
Years later, on the dawn of World War II, when struggling Italian singer Antonio meets the wife of his wealthy new patron, he recognizes her instantly: it is Olivia, the captivating dance hostess he once encountered in the seedy Paradise Ballroom. Olivia fears Antonio will betray the secrets of her past, but little by little they are drawn together, outsiders in a glittering world to which they do not belong. 

At last, with conflict looming across Europe, the attraction between them becomes impossible to resist–but when Italy declares war on England, the impact threatens to separate them forever.
The Girl from the Paradise Ballroom is a story of forbidden love and family loyalties amid the most devastating war in human history.

Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Broadway Books (April 19, 2016)

My Review:  

I love a good sweeping wartime love story and The Girl From the Paradise Ballroom really gives the reader two good romances. There is the main story between Antonio and Olivia and the side story of the forbidden love between Antonio's sister Renata and Stan, the British constable she falls for. Out of the two, I was more compelled by the secondary story. Although I understood the attraction between Antonio and Olivia and liked both characters, their journey from lust to declared love seemed to rushed/forced while Renata and Stan were the tragic couple I was rooting for and shed a tear over. Still, I enjoyed the both, the book as a whole and especially the glimpse it offers of the Italian experience in London during World War II. My love for historical fiction is based on getting a new perspective or learning something new, and author Love brought that. I liked her vivid descriptions of London in the 1930s and could picture and almost feel it from her words. Although the cast of characters had flaws, they were easy to root for and I found myself drawn to the outcome for the characters I grew fond of so quickly. This is my first book from this author and I will definitely seek out her other books. Side Note: I fell a bit in love with the cover of this book which perfectly captures the time period and feel--gorgeous! ;-)

Author Notes: 

Alison Love is the author of the historical novels Mallingford and Serafina. Her short stories have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, and in 2013 her story Sophie Stops the Clock was shortlisted for the Bristol Short Story Prize. Alison has worked in the theater, television, and public relations. The Girl from the Paradise Ballroom is her American fiction debut.

Connect with Alison on Twitter.

Food Inspiration:

Although mostly set in wartime London, with rations and shortages, there was food (and drinks) to be found in the story. The classic Negronis that Olivia's husband's uncle Dickie mixed and favored, prosecco, champagne Marsala, Lapsang souchong tea, meringues and macaroons, duck with damson sauce and plum tart. On Olivia's first date with Bernie there was roast pheasant and Dover sole meunière,  and of course there was Italian food such as the gnocchi alla Romana--Renata's betrothed Bruno favored with "tomato sauce and a good pinch of black pepper," ricotta dolce, spaghetti, fried lamb's liver, lasagna with ragù, pale vanilla-scented ice cream, and "candied fruit in snowy, grainy heaps of ricotta"--to name just some of the dishes.

Ultimately, it was the gnocchi all Romana which is a Roman-style semolina gnocchi that caught my eye and stomach for my book-inspired dish. Although I did not feel inclined to form gnocchi, I liked the description: "Antonio spooned up a portion of gnocchi, smeared with tomato sauce, Danila had poured the thick yellow porridge onto the tabletop, just as they did in Lazio, and the men were now helping themselves."  In a nod to the dish, I decided to serve creamy polenta on my slate cheese board (easier to clean than the tabletop) and top it with some tomato sauce, mushrooms, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and fresh parsley to use up some odds and ends.

Tomato Sauce with Mushrooms
By Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Serves 2)

3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil, divided
2 small shallots, finely diced
3 garlic cloves, sliced

1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp dried basil
1 (14 oz) canned good Italian tomatoes, slightly drained and chopped

1 small pinch sugar
sea salt and black pepper to taste
1 pint fresh mushrooms, rinsed, dried, thickly sliced 

To Serve:
polenta (make according to package instructions)
freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
chopped fresh basil or parsley.

In a medium pan, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil over medium heat and add shallot and garlic. Saute until soft and translucent, about 5-6 minutes. Add thyme and basil and cook for another minute or two. Add tomatoes and pinch of sugar and simmer over low heat about 15 minutes, until flavors meld, shallots are soft and tomatoes are saucy. Taste and add sea salt and black pepper.

Meanwhile heat remaining 2 Tbsp olive oil in a medium pan. Add mushroom and a pinch of salt. Cook over medium-low heat, for about 7-8 minutes until mushrooms are softened and lightly brown. Add sauteed mushrooms to tomato sauce (lifting them with a slotted spoon to drain any excess liquid) and cook another 3-4 minutes until cooked through.  Season to taste.

To serve: place a layer of cooked polenta on a cutting board or parchment lined table.  Ladle the tomato mushroom mixture on top on the polenta. Garnish with plenty of cheese and chopped fresh herbs. Enjoy immediately.

Notes/Results: Shouldn't more foods be served on a board rather than a bowl or plate?! I think so. It makes it more fun and easy for sharing. This is a simple dish but excellent with lots of flavor and texture. The sweetness of the tomatoes and shallots is delicious with the earthy flavor of the mushrooms and the nuttiness of the cheese. I like to cook my mushrooms separately and them add them in to the tomato sauce when cooked to prevent the watering down of the sauce but you can cook them with the sauce, or just layer them on top of the tomato sauce if you prefer. (I'm easy like that!) Next time I may add a fried egg. ;-) I will make this again.

I'm 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 Girl From the Paradise Ballroom" 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. Everything looks and sounds so good!! I want that book and that food, right now!! Thank you so much for being on the tour, Deb!

  2. I looooooovvvvveeeee polenta! And your topping of mushrooms and tomatoes sounds heavenly.

    The book sounds good too -- a little bit different perspective than normal.

  3. I'm in love with the cover as well and the food! That whole combination sounds absolutely amazing. I love how pretty it looks over the polenta as well. I could just savor the meal while reading the book and it would be quite a lovely night!

  4. Polenta is a favorite of mine, not to mention tomato sauce with lots of mushrooms (preferably sauteed in butter first) and of course, a good historical romance! A perfect combination.

  5. Your polenta with tomato sauce and mushrooms sounds wonderfully savory and delicious! And I do like the idea of serving it on a slate board instead of a plate. :) I like reading anything set in England, no matter the time period, so I'll add this title to my TBR list. Thanks!

  6. Fun post. Cheers from Carole's Chatter!

  7. I like the idea of saving food from a board. We actually do that when Doug grills fish. Haven't had polenta in ages, your version looks way more appealing that I have seen it in the past, or even on our dinner table. Love the flavor combos.

    I have not read that book yet but I saw it was available on Blogging for Books,


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