Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "The Story of Our Lives" by Helen Warner, Served with a Recipe for Bagels and Lox with Homemade Veggie Cream Cheese

Happy Tuesday. I'm excited to be a stop on the TLC Book Tour for The Story of Our Lives, a novel by Helen Warner. Accompanying my review are Bagels and Lox with a recipe for homemade Veggie Cream Cheese, inspired by my reading. 

Publisher's Blurb:
They think nothing can tear their bond apart, until a long-buried secret threatens to destroy everything.
Every year they have met up for a vacation, but their time away is much more than just a bit of fun. 

Over time, it has become a lifesaver, as each of them struggles with life’s triumphs and tragedies.
Sophie, Emily, Amy and Melissa have been best friends since they were girls. They have seen each other through everything—from Sophie’s private fear that she doesn’t actually want to be a mother despite having two kids, to Amy’s perfect-on-the-outside marriage that starts to reveal troubling warning signs, to Melissa’s spiraling alcoholism, to questions that are suddenly bubbling up around the paternity of Emily’s son. But could a lie that spans just as long as their friendship be the thing that tears them apart?

Paperback: 416 pages
Publisher: Graydon House (February 6, 2018)

My Review:

I am a bit of a sucker for good women's friendship stories, especially when they span years or even decades and give you a front-row seat to see how different characters and their relationships grow and evolve. The Story of Our Lives covers the years between 1997 and 2007 in the lives of Sophie, Melissa, Amy and Emily, who became friends during their first year of university. The women gather annually for a 'girls' weekend away, where they reconnect and share (or don't share--there are some big secrets being hidden) what is happening in their lives. Each character faces different personal and professional challenges that run the gamut from relationship and marital challenges, infidelity, pregnancies, miscarriages, and postpartum depression, addiction, domestic abuse, and career issues. Although some of the subject matter is heavier in tone, the author keeps it from bogging down too much and happy moments occur frequently. For the most part, the four main characters are likable and relatable, although some grew on me more quickly than others. 

With a few chapters devoted to a year (each year has a 'news bite' with a major story from that year which is interesting to think back on) and often featuring an emphasis on one of the characters and their perspectives, the 400+ pages moved quickly and the story flowed well. There are no big surprises and a few things that were easily predictable, but the writing and characters are engaging and I found myself sorry to have the book end. The Story of Our Lives is a great 'escape' novel--the weekends away are often set in beachy locations in Britain and it makes for a relatively quick and enjoyable read. If you are a fan of women's fiction, contemporary fiction, and stories about the highs and lows of friendships and relationships, you'll enjoy this one.


Author Notes:  

Helen Warner is head of daytime for Channel 4, where she is responsible for shows such as Come Dine With Me and Deal Or No Deal. Previously she worked for ITV where she launched the daytime talk show Loose Women and was editor of This Morning. She lives in East Anglia with her husband and their two children.


Food Inspiration:

At first I feared there wasn't going to be much food inspiration in The Story of Our Lives as food mentions seemed few and far between, but some finally appeared including bacon, pizza, salmon, pancakes, green olives, asparagus, home-made canapés, crisps, croissants with homemade strawberry jam, gin and tonics, champagne, cava, and all manner of other alcohol.

It was the mention of a beach breakfast Amy made that gave me my book-inspired dish:

"Amy had prepared a feast of smoked salmon and cream cheese bagels, beautiful, exotic fruit salads, plus bread and croissants she had freshly baked herself." 

I love bagels with lox and it gave me a great excuse to make a batch of Veggie Cream Cheese from a recipe I had recently pinned from TheKitchn.com. Veggie cream cheese or schmear is one of my favorite things to get at a good bagel place and I liked the idea of making my own and pairing it with the smoked salmon--along with capers and a sprinkling of Trader Joe's Everything But the Bagel Seasoning Mix.

I made a couple of small changes to the recipe--using fresh thyme because I had a bunch left over from this week's soup, replacing the salt with celery salt, and adding a lone stalk of celery I had sitting in the produce drawer. 

Veggie Cream Cheese
Slightly Adpated from Meghan Splawn via TheKitchn.com
(Makes about 1 1/2 cups)

1/2 medium carrot, peeled & cut into 1-inch pieces
(I added 1 small stock celery, peeled & Cut into 1-inch pieces)
1 medium scallion, cut into 4 pieces
1 small clove garlic, smashed
1 small sprig dill (I used thyme)
1/4 medium red bell pepper, seeded & quartered
1/2 tsp kosher salt (I used celery salt)
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
8 oz cream cheese, room temperature
1 Tbsp olive oil

Place carrots (and celery) into the bowl of a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped (about 5 pulses). Add the scallion, garlic, leaves from thyme sprig, bell pepper, salt and pepper and pulse until finely chopped (about 5-7 pulses). Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula. 

Add cream cheese and olive oil and pulse until the cheese and vegetables are completely incorporated (about 7-10 pulses). 

Serve immediately or store tightly-covered in the fridge for up to a week. 

Notes/Results: I have made lots of different flavored cream cheeses and don't know why I never tried a veggie cream cheese before. It is really good and tasted much fresher than the store-bought version. I like the way the flavors of the different veggies come through and the pop of flavor from the garlic, celery seed and thyme (I am sure the dill in the original would be fabulous too.) I think it tastes even better after sitting overnight in the fridge as the flavors meld. It paired well with the salmon and capers--the flavors are all strong--so they didn't overpower one another. I used a regular cream cheese but you could easily use a lower-fat substitute or even sub in a vegan cream cheese if you are avoiding dairy. In addition to using it on bagels, the recipe author recommends it as a sandwich spread, on crackers or stirred into hot pasta and I think it would be delicious in any of those applications. I will definitely make it again.

I'm sharing this post with 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 Story of Our Lives" was provided to me by the author and the publisher, via 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. The book looks good and the bagel looks yummy!

  2. The book sounds good -- and glad it felt like it went quickly (at 400 pp!). I don't thing there's anything wrong with predictable; not every book has to have a twist. I love the sound of that homemade veggie cream cheese. I'm definitely keeping that in mind next time we have bagels.

  3. Making my own flavored cream cheese never occurred to me! You say it tastes fresher than the premade kind, which I find very believable, as veggie cream cheese is one I usually avoid — just put the veggies on the sandwich with the salmon. Love your idea!

    best... mae at maefood.blogspot.com

  4. That veggie cream cheese looks yummy. Enjoyed hearing about the novel. I enjoy women's friendship stories too.

  5. Lovely bagel. Have a great week. Cheers from Carole's Chatter

  6. I had to go and google what lox was! And I think that we would call the veggie cream cheese a dip. I should think about trying this as we do enjoy a snack of dips and crackers on occasion and this would at least be a little healthier!

  7. I have never even thought of making my own. (When I read your post title, I had vegan in my head and was totally intrigued as how you were going to pull this off.)


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