Babe’s got a viable side business working out of Busy Bean’s, the coffee shop in her hometown of Oar’s Rest, creating all sorts of tasty treats from sandwiches to baked goods for the people in her small beach town. Can sweets and savories heal hurt hearts, though, in a summer full of turmoil and new love? It’s hard to say, but in Lillie Vale’s debut novel readers will be treated to not only delicious dishes, but to a deliciously intricate story of friends and emotions, of the summer before the rest of their lives start, and a town that feels like home.
I want to thank Vicky from Vicky Who Reads for facilitating this partnership & Lillie for her guest post today on the tummy rumbling food in Small Town Hearts and much more!
From Lillie Vale
Hi Harker! Thanks for hosting me on your blog today! So excited to chat about my YA debut, Small Town Hearts, all the yummy food Babe conjures up in her kitchen, and, of course, the foods that mean the most to us!
Everybody else: Hi! I’m Lillie Vale, the author of upper YA contemporary Small Town Hearts. It’s a messy BFF breakup + found family novel taking place in the summer after high school, the last summer 19yo bi baking barista Babe thinks she’ll have before her friends Penny and Chad start college in the fall. She has a somewhat co-dependent relationship with the people she loves, and change has never been a good thing, in her experience, so she’s trying to hold on tight during a time when she has to learn how to let go. Matters are further complicated when her ex-girlfriend Elodie returns to their sleepy Maine village of Oar’s Rest at the same time as a mysterious summer boy shows up to rent Babe’s mom’s cottage on the beach.
“It’s hard to figure out if you want something to be a career. Like when people find out I’m not going to college, they get all awkward. They think staying at Busy’s and being a barista is . . . a stepping-stone job. And for most people, it is.” I shrugged. “But I’ve never wanted to do anything else in my entire life. Making people happy with food is something special.”
– Small Town Hearts (pg. 124)
Food plays a huge role in Small Town Hearts. Babe loves taking care of her found family with sweet treats, steaming chowders, fresh-baked bread, and experiments with flavors like goat cheese that her author is way too chicken to try! Nope, nuh uh, sorry, I have an adventurous palate but it does not extend to goat byproducts! 🙈
I joke all the time that Small Town Hearts should come with the disclaimer that it will make you really hungry, and I hear this A LOT from readers that they were craving snacks (or actually went out to get some!) while reading! Which, to my foodie heart, is top-shelf praise.
“The sweetness of a slice of cake has the ability to turn a bad day around. There’s a lot of memories in food, you know.”
– Small Town Hearts (pg. 225)
So I thought I’d chat with Harker about comfort food, and why it means so much to us!
I live on a steady diet of Asian food: khow suey, chicken biryani, shrimp/egg curry, vegetable korma, pad thai, thai basil chicken, and so many more. This stuff takes FOREVER to prepare if you are a turtle at chopping vegetables like me, and in general there’s a lot of prep involved with Asian dishes, and sometimes a very specific order in which to add ingredients, so all in all it can be time consuming.
My mom makes the best chicken gravies/curries. It reminds me of my childhood whenever I smell frying onion. Her butter chicken and chicken tikka masala is *chefs kiss*. Rich, smooth tomato gravy with lots of onion and garlic, oh my gawdddd. Paired with white rice or naan? THE BEST. Also, Indian recipes that require only one clove of garlic? DO NOT TRUST. Who doesn’t love garlic? It’s doing double duty! Not only is it making your food delicious, it serves a very medicinal purpose of keeping you safe from vampires (;
Crisp vegetables, tender meat (or your choice of protein! I often substitute tofu!), the bite of ginger and the sweetness of onions, crunchy bean sprouts and sugar snap peas, chewy re-hydrated mushrooms (my favorite!!!), flavorsome lemongrass and curry leaves, garlicky noodles and sauces, fragrant coconut milk mixed in a delicious, savory broth…I could wax poetic about this all day! Eating any of this is like being enveloped in a warm hug. I know how much time goes into meals, so I appreciate it even more when it’s made for me. It soothes me to a degree I sometimes didn’t know I needed. Sometimes, food can be love.
As a diaspora Indian-American, food is the best way I know how to connect to my heritage. I associate my favorite Indian dishes with stories my mom tells me of her childhood in India, of a world and a time and a place I have never known, yet still feel wistful for.
And when I don’t have the time/energy to cook for myself or can’t beg/bribe my mom to make me something? Nothing beats packet ramen with a ton of veggies and a fried egg (gochujang and pickled radish and greens if you’re feeling fancy)! Wendy’s chicken nuggets, fries, and chili! You haven’t lived until you’ve dipped fries in their chili. So. Freaking. Good. And…corn flakes. I just really like corn flakes.
Harker, what are your favorite comfort foods, and why are they so evocative? Any special memories you associate with food? (Also, I am really hungry right now!!! Why did we think talking about food was a good idea!!! I have no idea what to make for lunch!!! I JUST WANT ALL THE THINGS!!!)
From Harker, the Hermit Librarian
Oh Lillie, I don’t know! Just reading your post made me hungry all over again. Each dish sounded better than the last. 😀
I feel very basic in saying that two of my comfort foods is mac n cheese or Chef Boyardee, both of which are super easy to make when I’m feeling low energy. However, I also enjoy Asian food quite a lot, especially from my local restaurants: brisket ramen, bool go gi, takoyaki, and butter chicken. I haven’t made many of these dishes myself at home because, as you mentioned, these and similar can take a long time to prepare and I often don’t have the energy or the strength (my hands cramp easily when chopping/mixing). I’ve tried some jarred butter chicken sauce which I know isn’t the same as homemade but it suffices and it still quite delicious.
Reading Small Town Hearts made me ache to try some of the dishes that Babe was making. Whether it was the sweets or one of the savory dishes, pretty much everything she made sounded delicious, even if it had an ingredient I’m not partial to (blue cheese is apparently to me what goat cheese is to you, Lillie! *lol*).
Babe’s fare was a bit easier to replicate at home.
(Left to Right – Babe’s “Grilled Cheese” Toastie, Ham & Cheese, Dark Chocolate Chip Pistachio Cookies)
There was one sandwich that jumped out first: a grilled cheese that Babe made with blue cheese, arugula, and apricot jam. I made my twist on this by switching out the blue cheese for gouda and using an arugula/spinach mix. Omg, this was SO good! I’d never thought of putting jam on sandwich before! What a joy! This was supposed to be a grilled cheese and I kind of failed on that in all the iterations I made, so it became more of a toastie, but even only semi-melted the smokiness of the gouda was a real nice counterpoint to the sweetness of the apricot jam.
Since I had the apricot jam and the arugula/spinach mix already and I wanted to make something that Babe would be proud of, I tried to think of a sandwich that would utilize many of the same ingredients. I paired the aforementioned items with some deli ham and sliced swiss cheese to make another sandwich. If you’ve got the energy you can toast it, but if you want something quick late at night, this Ham & Cheese can also be enjoyed cold.
And, of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t try and recreate Babe’s dark chocolate chip pistachio cookies. In Small Town Hearts, Babe includes sea salt in her recipe, which I nixed because I thought that the pistachios would be a bit too salty in the cookies. Next time, though, I would include it and also put more pistachios on top. All in all they were quite tasty! The recipe is the one on the back of the Nestle Tollhouse bag with the addition of the nuts if anyone would care to recreate them for yourself. 🙂
Food is only one part of Lillie’s book, of course. There’s so much more to it, from setting to the characters. Check out the synopsis, purchase links, and my review for more on this debut novel.
Once again, thank you, Lillie, for joining me for this wonderfully delicious guest post!
Published: 19 March 2019
Publisher: Swoon Reads
Category: Contemporary/Young Adult/Romance/LGBT+
Rule #1 – Never fall for a summer boy.
Fresh out of high school, Babe Vogel should be thrilled to have the whole summer at her fingertips. She loves living in her lighthouse home in the sleepy Maine beach town of Oar’s Rest and being a barista at the Busy Bean, but she’s totally freaking out about how her life will change when her two best friends go to college in the fall. And when a reckless kiss causes all three of them to break up, she may lose them a lot sooner. On top of that, her ex-girlfriend is back in town, bringing with her a slew of memories, both good and bad.
And then there’s Levi Keller, the cute artist who’s spending all his free time at the coffee shop where she works. Levi’s from out of town, and even though Babe knows better than to fall for a tourist who will leave when summer ends, she can’t stop herself from wanting to know him. Can Babe keep her distance, or will she break the one rule she’s always had – to never fall for a summer boy?
Rating: 3 Stars
Rep: Bisexual MC, Black SC, biracial ex-LI, Chinese American SC
CW: manipulative friendship, mention of casual drug usage (weed, not shown on the page), alcohol consumption (on page), alcohol abuse (a character drinks and parties to the point of dehydration and sleep-deprivation; two characters get wasted and are too drunk to fully consent to sex with each other); in this edition use of a racist term (tr*be – “It always felt like once people had their tribe, they didn’t have a lot of time for new friends.”) during the included quote. Note: having spoken to the author, she’s accepted this note and while it’s too late to change the current edition, she mentioned correcting it in further print runs.
From the get go, Small Town Hearts had a great knack for setting. At the heart of it was The Busy Bean, the coffee shop where Babe sells her baked good and works as a manager. It has a certain eclectic charm that is illustrated well in the furniture from various patio sets and alternating lettering styles displaying the daily specials on a board.
Vale constructs a comforting setting. Oar’s Rest comes to the reader’s mind not only through visuals that she sets out for them, but through scents that are described and used to round out the image of the town. It almost makes it a 3D image and puts the reader that much more in the story than any other.
There were some characterization choices that I thought were interesting, such as when Babe & Penny compare Penny & Chad’s relationship to Rory and Logan of Gilmore Girls. Penny/Rory, in their respective works (book/show) don’t tend to notice what they’re asking of others, the demands that their actions place on others, and I found this a super apt comparison.
Penny did not end up being my favorite person. There’s some growth on her part, but it was difficult to read her interactions with Babe. There’s language she uses that’s subtly manipulative of Babe & Babe’s feelings as well as judgment toward Levi when “first meeting” him at a houseboat party and offering him weed/alcohol but also “water if you’re not into having fun”.
I wasn’t sure, at first, if the tension between Babe & Penny was casual friends depending upon one another or something else, but as one scene plays out (Penny asking Babe to, essentially, cement a breakup with Chad) it becomes clear that Penny knows what she’s doing. Events spiral from that one request, and from the past decisions that have happened between Babe, Penny, and even Chad, to create a whole mess that intertwines the entire narrative.
Babe & Levi had some sweet moments, despite the tension that was running between them for a variety of reasons. Their dates around town, their conversations, there were some truly lovely, intimate moments that bolstered the quickly formed relationship.
There is something I found slightly odd, maybe offputting, about the tone of the characters. Before their ages were explicitly stated, and perhaps even a bit after that, I would’ve said based on the way they acted, the situations they were in (living conditions, certain freedoms, etc.), that this was more a New Adult novel and that most of the main cast was in their early twenties rather than late teens. Like, there was a disproportionate amount of young people to older (late twenties and up) residents. These characters were all 17-19 and not quite acting like it. They had jobs, “houses”, and responsibilities that didn’t quite mesh with the personalities that had been presented on page.
There is a brief explanation given as to where Babe’s mother is (she works on a cruise ship most of the year) and why Babe is able to afford living in a lighthouse (given funds). It felt a rather convenient way, though, to avoid developing a familial relationship between Babe and her parents because both are essentially absentee what with her mother working on a cruise ship and her father being a relative unknown to the reader.
Overall, while the action seem choppy/repetitive at times, creating a sometimes rough reading experience, what was good was good and what wasn’t awful. I really could see Oar’s Rest in my head and sinking into a setting isn’t always easy. I wish that it was possible to visit such a place, get a picnic lunch at Lorcan’s seafood shack, and wander down to the beach. Small Town Hearts is a wonderfully atmospheric novel and getting to settle down with a snack and a good read is totally something to look forward to with this debut.
About the Author
Lillie Vale, upon discovering she could not be one of Santa’s elves or attend Hogwarts, decided to become a writer to create a little magic of her own. Enjoying the romantic and eerie in equal measure, she’s probably always writing a book where the main characters kiss or kill. Born in Mumbai, she has lived in many U.S. states, and now resides in an Indiana college town where the corn whispers and no one has a clue that she is actually the long-lost caps lock queen. She can be reached on Twitter @LillieLabyrinth and Instagram @labyrinthspine. Small Town Hearts is her debut novel.
I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. Quotes included are from an advanced reader copy and may not reflect the finalized copy.
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