Thursday, January 14, 2021

Pineapple Upside Down Cake and a Book Review for the #BigLiesinaSmallTownParty

I am very excited to be taking part in the #BigLiesinaSmallTownParty this week, celebrating the paperback release of Big Lies in a Small Town, a novel by Diane Chamberlain and sponsored by The Book Club Cookbook!

For this recipe party, we were tasked to read the book and make a recipe inspired by it. Although I'll discuss some of the food in the book below, there was one recipe I knew I had to make given the correlation to the state I call my home, Hawaii; Pineapple Upside Down Cake!  

But first, let's talk about this book, full of secrets and lies in a small southern town. 

Here's the cover blurb: 

North Carolina, 2018:
Morgan Christopher's life has been derailed. Taking the fall for a crime she did not commit, her dream of a career in art is put on hold—until a mysterious visitor makes her an offer that will get her released from prison immediately. Her assignment: restore an old post office mural in a sleepy southern town. Morgan knows nothing about art restoration, but desperate to be free, she accepts. What she finds under the layers of grime is a painting that tells the story of madness, violence, and a conspiracy of small town secrets.

North Carolina, 1940:
Anna Dale, an artist from New Jersey, wins a national contest to paint a mural for the post office in Edenton, North Carolina. Alone in the world and in great need of work, she accepts. But what she doesn't expect is to find herself immersed in a town where prejudices run deep, where people are hiding secrets behind closed doors, and where the price of being different might just end in murder.

What happened to Anna Dale? Are the clues hidden in the decrepit mural? Can Morgan overcome her own demons to discover what exists beneath the layers of lies?

Publisher : St. Martin's Press (January 14, 2020)
Publication date : January 14, 2020

My Review: 

I can't believe this is my first book by Diane Chamberlain! I have a couple of her novels on my Kindle but time and massive TBR piles keep getting in my way. I was drawn to this book right off the bat as historical fiction is my jam, and I love dual narratives and timelines. I also love art and stories about artists and their process, so I enjoyed how vividly those aspects were captured both in Anna painting the post office mural as part of the New Deal Public Works of Art Project, and in Morgan's restoration of Anna's work decades later. I am impressed with the research that the author did on these subjects, as well as the local history of the very real Edenton, North Carolina. I always say that the best historical fiction has me Googling the historical events surrounding it, and Chamberlain had me reading all sorts of extra information.

Character-wise, she pulled me into these two young women's lives immediately, both are lost and at a crossroads, and both have tragedy in their pasts. I found myself happy to flip back and forth in the chapter perspectives, equally interested in both story lines. There was enough tension built in wondering what happened to Anna that I sped through the book and didn't want to stop reading it, but I wanted to savor it too. I also liked how well Diane Chamberlain tied the stories together, particularly at the end of the book. My only very minor complaint is that the ending and epilogue had me wanting even more of both women's stories. That's testament to how much I enjoyed Big Lies in a Small Town. I would recommend it to any fans of historical fiction, southern-set fiction, art, and mystery fans. I am going to be investigating Chamberlain's The Silent Sister next as, it's on my Kindle and ready to go.


Author Notes:  Diane Chamberlain is the New York Times and international bestselling author of The Stolen Marriage, The Dream Daughter, and Big Lies in a Small Town. She lives in North Carolina with her partner, photographer John Pagliuca, and her sheltie.

You can connect with Diane on her website, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter

Connect with St. Martin's Press at @stmartinspress on all social media


Food Mentions: 

For food in the book, there was a variety mentioned from both decades including soft-boiled eggs and sausage in a flat patty, grits, sweet tea, coconut cookies, Cheerios, Nabs (a peanut sandwich cookie), burgers, chocolate-iced sheet cake, pastries, Yankee Pot Roast, a ham sandwich, butter cookies, a chicken wrap, BLT, and chef's salad, a dinner of fried chicken, whipped potatoes, collard greens, corn and canned tomatoes, Moscow Mules, beer, a lunch plate of chicken salad, tuna salad, a bit of candied apple, and a slice of American cheese, chicken and dumplings, biscuits, pad Thai, cold leftover stew, ginger cookies, eggs and melons, blueberry muffins, pizza, and Hunan chicken and egg rolls.  

There were a few things I was tempted to make like the collard greens, the Moscow Mule (mainly because I bought a copper mug on Zulily) ;-) or the coconut cookies, but it was a scene where Anna meets her landlady Miss Myrtle, when she first arrives in Edenton that sealed my dish pick. 

"They sat down to a snack of tea and squares of pineapple upside down cake baked by Miss Myrtle's maid, Freda, who offered Anna a warm smile but didn't speak."

Pineapples are a sign of hospitality in the South, and since I live in the land of pineapples and Aloha, I wanted to make this dessert classic. If you know and visit this blog, you hear me say time and again that I AM NOT A BAKER!  This is true and why I pulled in a boxed cake mix to simplify it (and it's much cheaper than buying a bunch of baking ingredients that I seldom use). A can of Dole pineapple rings and their juices, a jar of maraschino cherries, brown sugar and butter rounded out the mix to make it partially homemade. 

Pineapple Upside Down Cake
Courtesy of Duncan Hines
(Makes about 8-10 servings, depending on pan used)
non-stick cooking spray
1 stick butter (1/2 cup)
1 1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 large can Dole Pineapple Slices in 100% Pineapple Juice (rings + reserved juice)
7 maraschino cherries, or more depending on size of pan
1 box Duncan Hines Signature Perfectly Moist Pineapple Supreme Cake Mix (or yellow cake mix of choice)
1/3 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs
whipped cream to serve, optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease the sides of pan (I used a large round pan) pan with cooking spray. Place the stick butter into the pan and place in the oven while it is pre-heating, making sure to pull it out once the butter is melted and bubbling. 
While the butter is melting, combine the cake mix, liquid (use the pineapple juice from draining your can of rings as the majority of the 1 cup water called for in the cake mix recipe (I got about 3/4 cup of juice) and use water to make up the rest of the called for amount), vegetable oil, and egg. Mix for about 2 minutes at medium speed with an electric mixer.
Sprinkle the pan melted butter heavily and evenly with the brown sugar. Arrange the pineapple slices and cherries on top of the brown sugar. And gently pour the cake batter on top of the pineapple slices and cherries. (I give the pan a couple of light taps on the counter to evenly settle the batter.)
Bake cake about 35 minutes or until a toothpick or skewer comes out clean when poked into the center of the cake. Let the cake cool on a rack for about 10 minutes then run a knife on around the sides of the pan to loosen the cake. Place your serving platter on top of the cake and carefully flip it over so your pineapples are now on top.  Pour any remaining juices in the pan all over the cake.
I like to serve it warm with whipped cream on the side--although it is perfectly delicious cooled as well. Enjoy!  

Notes/Results: What's not to like about pineapple upside down cake? It brings back childhood memories for me as my mom baked them sometimes when I was growing up. The pineapple juice and the pineapple cake mix give it an extra pineapple punch and the cherries, while not required, make it pretty and give it that retro vibe. It's just an easy-to-make, sunny, happy-vibe, and overall delicious cake that I will certainly make again.

Check out this link for the #BigLiesinaSmallTownParty at The Book Club Cookbook to see the other bloggers taking part and their delicious recipes!

Mahalo to St. Martin's Press and The Book Club Cookbook for the review copies of the book and for hosting this fun event. I received no compensation for my participation and, as always, my thoughts and opinions are my own. 

Find The Book Club Cookbook here:

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Sharing this post with the Weekend Cooking event hosted by Marg at The Adventures of An Intrepid Reader. It's a weekly event that is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share. Here's a link to this week's post.



  1. Glad to be partying with you today! Never apologize for using a boxed cake mix when the results come out like this. I loved this book too. Not surprised b/c most of what Judy sends out is stellar! There was a lot of food but I lost my list and had to rely on memory. Glad you called out all the food here. Be safe and well!

  2. I love that you made this cake, especially because it's so representative of your home state! The collard greens were delicious (that's what I made), so maybe you'll give those a try sometime too :) Nice to be able to party with you today — I enjoyed stopping by your blog!
    - Megan @ The Hungry Bookworm

  3. Your cake is lovely. I often start out with a boxed cake mix. You can't argue with results. I really enjoyed this novel too.

  4. I saw your photo on Facebook and it made me want to bake! I resisted, because we're trying to stick to more savory baking (that is, bread) these days. I need to cleanse from the holiday sugar.

  5. I was telling Debra that I liked a previous Diana Chamberlain book and I'd like to read this one too. Love the cake, makes me want to get going in the kitchen so I can have some too.

  6. I know that I will love Diane Chamberlain books...when I try them that is! And your cake looks amazing!


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