Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "The Possessions" by Sara Flannery Murphy, Served with a Recipe for (Not) Chicken and Mushroom Piccata

Today's TLC Book Tour stop features The Possessions by Sara Flannery Murphy,
an atmospheric, unique and slightly creepy thriller, with a touch of the supernatural about it. Accompanying my review is a recipe for a lemony (Not) Chicken and Mushroom Piccata, a dish inspired by the book.

Publisher's Blurb:

In this electrifying literary debut, a young woman who channels the dead for a living crosses a dangerous line when she falls in love with one of her clients, whose wife died under mysterious circumstances.

In an unnamed city, Eurydice works for the Elysian Society, a private service that allows grieving clients to reconnect with lost loved ones. She and her fellow workers, known as “bodies”, wear the discarded belongings of the dead and swallow pills called lotuses to summon their spirits—numbing their own minds and losing themselves in the process. Edie has been a body at the Elysian Society for five years, an unusual record. Her success is the result of careful detachment: she seeks refuge in the lotuses’ anesthetic effects and distances herself from making personal connections with her clients.
But when Edie channels Sylvia, the dead wife of recent widower Patrick Braddock, she becomes obsessed with the glamorous couple. Despite the murky circumstances surrounding Sylvia’s drowning, Edie breaks her own rules and pursues Patrick, moving deeper into his life and summoning Sylvia outside the Elysian Society’s walls.

After years of hiding beneath the lotuses’ dulling effect, Edie discovers that the lines between her own desires and those of Sylvia have begun to blur, and takes increasing risks to keep Patrick within her grasp. Suddenly, she finds her quiet life unraveling as she grapples not only with Sylvia’s growing influence and the questions surrounding her death, but with her own long-buried secrets.

A tale of desire and obsession, deceit and dark secrets that defies easy categorization, The Possessions is a seductive, absorbing page-turner that builds to a shattering, unforgettable conclusion.

Hardcover: 368 pages
Publisher: Harper (February 7, 2017)

My Review:

This book is difficult to review in much detail beyond the blurb above without giving away plot points and the mysteries contained in its pages and I don't want to spoil it. I will say that it is strange and has a somewhat dystopian vibe and a bleak sort of beauty to it that drew me in almost immediately. The city and time it is set in are unnamed and there are times it feels futuristic and other times it feels like it could be set in the current day, or at least in the very near future. The author has woven the story together adeptly so that the less believable, more supernatural bits are cottoned in enough reality to make them convincing, while still being very *trippy* and fantasy-like. 

I often have challenges with books where I don't connect in some way with the main character and Eurydice (Edie) is difficult to connect tonwith her sparse way of relating what is happening and her purposeful distancing of herself from others. It worked though--providing added mystery and making me second-guess what would happen next. I also enjoyed the moral questions the novel made me think about. What if it were possible to channel a loved one through a service that offered up the 'bodies' of workers to communicate with and spend time with them, or say something that was not said while they were alive. Morally, is it justifiable? What are the ways it could be a positive and does that outweigh the negatives of altering the natural order of things?   

At times the pacing was erratic--it felt slow in various spots where I wanted more tension-building and then other times it felt too quick when I wanted more details and time to absorb them. Not everything is tidily wrapped up at the end--but overall it engaged me and left me thinking and wanting more. The fact that it is a debut novel makes it even more impressive in its uniqueness and execution.


Author Notes: Sara Flannery Murphy grew up in Arkansas, where she divided her time between Little Rock and Eureka Springs, a small artists’ community in the Ozark Mountains. She received her MFA in creative writing at Washington University in St. Louis and studied library science in British Columbia. She lives in Oklahoma with her husband and son. The Possessions is her first novel.
Find out more about Sara at her website, and connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


Food Inspiration:

There isn't a lot of food in the pages of The Possessions--various alcoholic beverages like beer, wine, whiskey and champagne, along with coffee and pink lemonade. There's mention of lunch in a cafe with the smell of fresh bread, food on delicate wicker trays, and a sandwich with red pepper and tomato. There are the visuals of the lotus pills, plum--both the fruit and the vivid lipstick on the cover, a bowl of cereal leftovers with pinkish rings, and birthday cake. The most detailed mention is the one I ended up taking my inspiration from for my book-inspired dish; a dinner that Edie cooks for Patrick of chicken capers and lemon. 

I've brought a bottle of wine to Patrick's house tonight. Glossy pink chicken under plastic, a glass bottle of brined capers, two lemons, olive oil. 

"What are you making?" he asks.

"It's a recipe my mother used to make." 

--The Possessions, Sara Flannery Murphy

I made the assumption that the dish was a chicken piccata--one of my favorite dishes when I still ate meat and poultry and one which I dabble in making meat-free variations that capture the flavors. 

I really wanted to make a stir-fried lotus root dish since the pills the bodies used to channel the dead were called lotuses and whether or not they were made from lotus--it made me think of the flowers. Unfortunately, likely because I was looking, I could find no lotus root at any of my local stores this week. Instead, I decided to make a meat-free version of Edie's family dish. 

Having a strong love of lemon and capers, I have made several meat-free versions of chicken piccata before--using mushrooms or chickpeas to stand in for the chicken breast. For this dish I wanted to use a vegan chicken replacement as a nod to the bodies, becoming the loved ones of their clients through an artificial means (how deep is that?!) ;-) Unfortunately, without driving into Whole Foods or a natural foods store, I couldn't find the right type of chicken substitute best for this dish (a scallopini-style chicken breast) and instead ended up with a package of grilled strips. I decided to supplement the mock-chicken with mushrooms for better flavor and texture.  

(Not) Chicken and Mushroom Piccata
By Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Serves 2 to 3)

2 Tbsp vegan butter or olive oil
1/2 sweet onion, quartered and thinly sliced
about 12 to 14-oz total chicken substitute of choice, or mushrooms or combination of both
3 cloves garlic,thinly sliced
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 Tbsp cold water + 1 Tbsp cornstarch
1 cup light vegetable stock
3 Tbsp capers, drained
3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper 
linguini or pasta of choice, cooked al dente according to package direction 

In a medium-large pan, heat vegan butter/oil over medium heat. Add onions and chicken substitute if using saute for 6 to 7 minutes, or until onions are softened and chicken pieces are lightly browned. Add the garlic and thyme saute for another minute or two. Add mushrooms if using and cook about 5 minutes, until mushrooms begin to brown and soften, releasing their juices. 

Add white wine to pan and cook 3-4 minutes to reduce by about 1/2. Meanwhile, make a slurry by thoroughly combining cold water and cornstarch in a small bowl until completely mixed. Add the slurry and the vegetable stock to the pan and cook, stirring over medium heat until sauce is thickened--about 5 minutes. 

Add chopped parsley, capers, and lemon juice and cook another minute or two. Taste and add sea salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper to taste.

To serve, place a small mound of pasta in a shallow bowl and top with the sauce and piccata mixture. Garnish with additional parsley, lemon zest and black pepper if desired. Enjoy! 

Notes/Results: Taste was spot on and the dish, had I used just the mushrooms, would have been an A+. Unfortunately, I should not have stuck to my desire to have a vegan chicken substitute in the dish and just gone with the meaty crimini mushrooms when I couldn't find the best type of chicken. Although these strips had an OK texture, the mushrooms were markedly better and they brought my self-rating down to a B. Still the recipe was tasty and it can be adapted to whatever you want in place of the chicken--pressed tofu, meat substitute, cauliflower steaks, chickpeas, etc.--even chicken if you are a carnivore. ;-) I like my piccata sauce plentiful and slightly thick for topping pasta (or rice or mashed potatoes) but you can omit the cornstarch slurry and have a thinner sauce as well. All-in-all, even with the chicken-sub mix, this dish hit the spot and solved my piccata craving. I will happily make it again. 

I'm linking this post up 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 "The Possessions" was provided to me by the publisher, Harper Collins and TLC Book Tours. 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 TLC Book Tour and what other reviewers thought about the book here.



  1. Unique is certainly the right word for this book. I know I've never heard of anything quite like it!

    Thanks for being a part of the tour.

  2. Chicken Piccata is my go-to dish when judging the quality of an Italian eatery. I must try this no-chicken version. Good review, Deb.

  3. Chicken Piccata is a favorite around here as well! Which reminds me that I haven't made it in awhile! This sounds like a strange and interesting book and one that's a good read despite the flaws.

  4. I adore chicken piccata! I bet I'd like the non-chicken variety too. The cover of this book is an eye-catcher!


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