Thanks so much for inviting me to your reader’s blog. My book is currently being purchased by Lake Union Press (to be republished in August) with an advance for a second book to be completed within the year.
My inspiration to write “Simmer and Smoke” occurred one December afternoon in 2010. I was visiting my ancestral graveyard in Stewartville, a back-woods, confederate flag-waving town in Alabama. As I watched a young woman and child wander down the road, I wondered how a young mother could escape a town of racism, poverty and crack houses. That evening I wrote the first page of “Simmer and Smoke”.
One of my protagonists, Mallory, is a version of myself in that we both had similar upbringings in the Deep South and both share a love of cooking, writing and photography. As well, we had by-lines in a newspaper and then, dot com. Mallory is a more twisted, tortured and exaggerated version of who I was at her age, but, unlike Mallory, I’d had a couple of kids and a divorce under my belt. Having owned a specialty food store and worked in marketing for an upscale grocery chain, I’ve gotten to know many Shelby’s in my life, as well.
Simmer and Smoke: A Southern Tale of Grit and Spice
by Peggy Lampman
GENRE: women's contemporary fiction
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A single mother who dreams of becoming a chef.
A food writer who just lost the love of her life.
Two women discover what's worth fighting for in this deliciously rendered novel that illuminates the power of food, love, friendship and family on the human heart
1. ASSEMBLE INGREDIENTS:
Shelby Preston--a young, single mother trapped in a hardscrabble life in rural Georgia--escapes her reality as she fantasizes herself a respected chef in a kitchen of gleaming stainless steel and pans shimmering with heat. Mallory Lakes--an Atlanta newspaper food writer--may lose her job, and searches for her muse in a shot glass of illusion.
Mallory secures her job by crafting a zealous doppelgänger to satisfy the expectations of an illusive cyber audience. This also mollifies the memories of her lover who recently bolted; no warning. Shelby persuades her mother to take care of her daughter so she can pursue her dream of going to chef school in Atlanta. She cooks them a special dinner said to bring good luck; Lord knows her family could use a pot of something good.
Chasing desires and ambitions, the women's lives unravel down a path beyond the kitchen, then weave together in an unsettling culinary landscape of organic farms and shadowy borders--some borders not meant to be crossed. As Mallory combats her demons with booze and pills, and Shelby battles the odds stacked against her for becoming a chef, the women discover what's really worth fighting for.
An author chosen Excerpt (mine is further down in the review!):
Ashes in a box vanished into the ground. All my life I’ve yearned for something more, something I struggle to define. An image lies in wait, appears in a flash, then gone. It’s in the brushed edge of a dream that leaves behind no memory, only a warming prickle of joy. It’s in the smell of fresh-turned soil after a frost, ancient and newborn. It’s in the taste of honeysuckle nectar—what the wood nymphs drink, I tell my child—that we dot onto our tongues every spring.
AUTHOR Bio and Links:
Peggy Lampman was born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama. After graduating from the University of Michigan with a degree in communications, she moved to New York City, where she worked as a copywriter and photographer for Hill and Knowlton, a public relations firm. She moved back to Ann Arbor, her college town, and opened up a specialty foods store, The Back Alley Gourmet. After selling the business, she wrote under a weekly food byline in The Ann Arbor News and MLive. This is her first novel.
Amazon Buy Link
So first let me say that I am thrilled to be able to review a fellow Ann Arbor author's work. It's so important that we support each other in this business and I am happy to do so via one of the most important ways: recommending this book personally to more readers.
Disclaimer: I am NOT into cooking. I mean, other than the fact that it's required of me as wife/mom of 3 (2 of whom have flown the nest but you get me). I was not terribly creative with our weekly meals but they were balanced and I didn't keep junk food much beyond popcorn and pretzels in the house. My mom rounded us all up every Sunday for a beautiful meal, however and I still look forward to them, even if by this time next year, it'll just be me, her and the hubs instead of the loud, many times arguing, 3-kid onslaught.
But our worlds do revolve around food without at doubt. Ms. Lampman's novel, Simmer and Smoke is a beautiful, creative reflection of how food binds us together--families, friends, neighbors, co-workers--we are all just somehow more comfortable when we're gathered around a meal.
The book is divided into two points of view (well, 3 but I'll get to that in a sec). Shelby is the poor white trash, single-formerly-teenaged mama of a little girl with a slight disability; daughter of Noreen who chain smokes and cuts hair in her cellar for a living and whose prized decoration is a jackalope head mounted on her living room wall over the cardboard table that serves as their dining room furniture. These are people I knew growing up in Eastern Kentucky I can assure you. Ms. Lampman draws them convincingly, without a lick of the judgement or condescension that is present in some presentations of poor Southerners.
Mallory is the polar opposite. Silver-spoon enabled Atlanta country club, or more precisely Buckhead which also resonates with me. I've been there quite a few times myself. Had friends who lived there for several years. I get what it's about too. Mallory and her brother have had everything handed to them and she's the first to admit it. I'll be the first to admit I did not care for Mallory for about 90% of this book. Yes, she's been dumped by the love of her life. Yes, she's sustained other personal losses, people close to her who died young. Yes, she is about to get downsized thanks to the Great Downsizing of American Media. But still...
The women's lives intersect when Shelby gets a job in Atlanta, at a ritzy grocery store making the rotisserie chickens mainly for the sake of getting chef school tuition while her mama raises the little girl back home. Mallory shops there a lot now that she's parlayed her firing into a much more successful life as food blogger. As someone who is "on" nearly 24-7 myself for various reasons I get the buzz that Mallory sustains at first over her "instant celebrity." And her first encounters with Shelby did not endear her to me either. She had what I would call a typical rich, Southern big city girl's snooty response to someone whose grammar isn't perfect and who seems awestruck by her very presence.
But the book evolves and as it does, you really come to appreciate the full force of the author's skill. By giving the reader Super Deep First Person Point Of View (if that's not a thing I just made it up)--and by that I mean these women are very much into internalizing almost everything that happens to them and that process is provided as part of the narrative--Ms. Lampman allows you to grow to like Mallory as she is growing out of her annoying poor little rich girl snooties and into something else. (I super liked her when she blew a gasket at that god awful "pop up dinner." )
Now the food bits were pretty cool. Just because I don't like to cook does not mean I don't like to eat and I was raised on things like Hoppin' John, pimento cheese and pulled pork. But I guess for me personally, I loved this book because it effectively crossed a barrier that I lived my entire growing up years. My parents were college professors in a small Kentucky town. We were surrounded by families like Shelby's yet by virtue of being affiliated "with the college," we had a bit of a rarified sensibility. This book proved to me what I learned by having friends across the spectrum--wealth or "book learnin'" is not a fair measure of a person's humanity.
I recommend Simmer and Smoke to readers who like stories about women in friendships who sometimes make bad choices, are not nice or supportive of each other 100% of the time (like real people sometimes act) but who do allow themselves to learn from their mistakes and draw strength from those around them be they moms, daughters, friends, or my favorite "Aunt Mama." This is a very charming Southern-style novel on many levels and should appeal to plenty of readers.
A Four-Lager Read!
OH and I have to include MY favorite excerpt because when you read as much as I do, when a turn of phrase sticks with you like this one did it bears sharing. I love me some Noreen, a.k.a. "Mama."
I sensed he was a mean seed threatening to grow, but he was one good-looking son-of-a- gun, and could sweet talk a rose into blooming. Said I was prettier than a rose, said he loved me. Not having a daddy, I craved to hear a man say those words. I mistook the sex for love, but what I really learned of love, the love’s that’s as clear as the head of a creek, I learned from Mama and Miss Ann. Men are a long upstream to paddle.