Saturday, July 24, 2010

Saturday Spotlight ~ Favorite Culinary Cozy Series

Welcome to the Saturday Spotlight, where each week we will have a chance to showcase something new.  It will be the place to gather, talk and shine the “spotlight” on all things book related.  Not to mention a place to discover new to us authors, characters, series and places. 

 Each week I will pick a new theme for us to share our favorite of, and every once in a while I’ll make it a “readers choice” week where you can spotlight whatever you want.

  Some of the different things we’ll be spotlighting are our favorite book, author, female/male character, location, murder weapon, series, other book blogs, giveaway sites, places to get our books and just about anything else book related.

This week my spotlight is shining on my......

Favorite Culinary Cozy Series

The Gourmet Girls series by Susan Conant & Jessica Conant-Park

I am so not just saying that this is my favorite culinary cozy series because I'm good friends with Jessica. I fell in love with this series as soon as I started reading the first book Steamed (A Gourmet Girl Mystery). I love that it takes place in the Boston/Brookline area, places I'm very familiar with. I can picture myself walking down the same streets and going to the same places as Chloe, Josh and the rest of the group. It makes me feel as if I am a part of the story, and there is nothing better than that. Well the only thing better than that is a great series - and the Gourmet Girls series is just that.

My meeting with Jessica almost didn't happen. My good friend Melanie and I had heard that Jessica, along with her mother Susan and author Hank Phillipi Ryan were having an author signing up in New Hampshire and decided to make a day of it (we both live in MA).  We planned on meeting there, having lunch and then go to the signing and meet these wonderful women. Maybe have our pictures taken with them and having our books signed.  Early in the morning of the signing, I got a phone call from my mother that my grandfather had just passed away. I was devastated.  She knew of my plans that day and encouraged me to still go the signing as there was nothing I could do at home until I had to pick them up at the airport.  So off I went, and I am SO glad that I did. Melanie and I had a great time hanging out with these wonderful ladies. And amazing friendships were born!  Now we e-mail all day and chat on the phone at least a few times a week. Jessica has been an extremely good friend to me and her mom Susan is a hoot.  Recently they were gracious enough to invite me to join them for Jessica's sons birthday dinner. Not only did they make me feel welcome at their family dinner but I also managed to keep them quite entertained with my "screw" stories! (Oh, and not to let your mind wander, I work for a nut, bolt & screw company).  I'm looking forward to our next dinner - which better be SOON!

Now, on to the important stuff -- ABOUT THE BOOKS!

  The series is set in the Boston restaurant scene and follows Chloe Carter, a twenty-something half-hearted social work student who would much rather be frequenting local restaurants or browsing gourmet food shops than studying somatoform disorders and marching at the State House. Chloe’s love life and academic life are a constant challenge, but she does hook up with a hot young chef, Josh, and gets an inside look at the tumultuous and chaotic world of professional restaurants. The books are a blend of cozy mystery, chick lit, humor (well, at least, Jessica think so… I suppose it depends on how weird your sense of humor is), romance, and food, and there are tons of recipes at the end of the book so that you can cook up some of the delicacies that you’ve read about

Praise for the Gourmet Girl Series

"Recipes, some by pro chefs, round out this delectable chick lit cozy, which ends on an emotional cliffhanger for Chloe.  - Publishers Weekly, Feb. 2009 , about Fed Up

"Humorous and suspenseful, this romantic mystery will be a delight to many readers." -Romance Junkies about Turn Up The Heat

“I thoroughly enjoyed this novel . . . I read the first page, and loved it, and then the second... and before I knew it I'd devoured the whole book. This would be the perfect summer read, and was interesting, witty and unpredictable (with mouthwatering descriptions of food and even recipes for said food at the back of the book). I'll definitely look out for the next delicious novel by this mother-daughter writing team.”
— Trashionista about Simmer Down

"This scrumptious cozy, the first of a new series, has it all—charming characters, snappy dialogue and mouth-watering recipes." - Publisher's Weekly, about Steamed

"This witty novel has both a slew of suspects and sizzling romance. A delightful debut." -Romantic Times about Steamed

What Jessica has to say about herself

I grew up in Newton, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston, and spent most of my elementary school years explaining my unusual lunches to friends. While other children dined on peanut butter and fluff, I wolfed down spinach pie and oversize olives from the local Greek market, leftover pasta topped with my mother’s homemade pesto, or slices of steak au poivre in crusty French bread. There, admittedly, times I tried to swap with a friend for a “normal” tuna fish sandwich, but I usually adored the yummy packets of food that appeared in my lunch bag.

We were a food-oriented family. We traveled to France a number of times and fell in love with the phenomenal cuisine. My mother slaved over Julia Child’s recipes and taught herself to make even the most complicated dishes. The highlight of trips to visit relatives in Kansas was always the chance to taste the best BBQ the state had to offer. We ate one meal and discussed where the next would be.

I went to Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. Although I loved the school and made lifelong friends, the food was a major disappointment. Campus dining hit me hard. Where was the selection of aged cheeses? Where were the beautifully roasted chickens with baby vegetables? What was a “potato bar”? And what sort of human being would pollute a baked potato with orange cheese sauce and ground beef scum? Just before every trip back home to safety of my parents’ house and fully stocked kitchen, I would make a desperate call home to tell Mom and Dad. “That smoked salmon I love so much!” I’d plead. “And let’s have bouillabaisse one night! With lobster and clams and mussels and shrimp and scallops!” I would greedily demand. “And goat cheese salad with mixed baby greens!” My father would inform that if I insisted on such high-priced ingredients, he and my mother would have to choose between paying my college tuition and feeding me because they couldn’t afford to do both.

I graduated from college with an “Individually Designed, Interdepartmental Major” that I called “Psychology of Women: Social Science and Literary Perspectives,” a major that allowed me to take all the classes I found interesting and to avoid the others. After graduation, with a lot of psychology and English credits, I spent a few years living in my own apartment, cooking what I wanted, and working as a day-care teacher. I then went to graduate school, got my master’s degree in social work, and worked for a number of years with young children and families in early intervention programs.

I met my husband-to-be, Bill Park, while he was the executive chef at a now-defunct Boston restaurant called Cosmopolitan. The second I learned that he was a chef, I had a transcendent revelation: Why hadn’t I been staking out restaurants my entire dating life? I should have been hanging around outside fine dining establishments at closing time and accosting unsuspecting chefs! The day after I met Bill, he took me to the restaurant, gave me a tour of the professional kitchen, and showed me his menu. The menu looked phenomenal. But could he really cook? A few days later he made dinner for me, and, yes, not only could he cook, but he was incredibly talented. And I was in love!

In addition to regularly eating more upscale food than I ever had before, I was introduced to a whole new side of the restaurant world. Bill was full of information and stories about the chaos, competition, harshness, and beauty of the professional culinary world. I couldn’t believe some of the tales I was hearing. Although I’d eaten in plenty of restaurants, I’d had no idea of what was going on behind the scenes. Now I knew.

We eventually got married and had a beautiful son, Nicholas. Bill was working long, long hours at various Boston restaurants, and I was at home with our beautiful, happy baby. Everyone had tried to warn me about tired I would be as a new mother, but it wasn’t until most of my cognitive functions ceased to exist that I realized how right everyone had been. I put ice cream in the cupboard and sugar in the freezer, my hair sat in a knot on top of my head, and I had trouble remembering how to tie my shoes. The exhaustion had an upside: I was so punch-drunk that my sense of humor was in overdrive, and everything hit me as funny. Since I was spending so much time alone with Nicholas, I began talking to him about more than just Peter Rabbit and the Very Hungry Caterpillar; I narrated daily events, entertaining stories of my husband’s culinary adventures, and made-believe tales.

My mother was a well-established author, and after I’d shared the millionth wild culinary story with her, she suggested that we collaborate on a book. Write a book? Me? Huh. The prospect of writing a book felt oddly perfect. An avid reader, I especially loved chick lit and cozy mysteries. The idea for the Gourmet Girl series began to grow. I knew right away that I wanted our book to mix chick lit, mystery, food, and humor: Shopaholic meets Rachel Ray meets Janet Evanovich.

We brainstormed mystery ideas, and my mother put together a twenty-five-page outline. When I had written three chapters, we submitted them, together with our outline, and my mother’s publisher, Berkley, offered us a three-book contract. The day I heard the news, I was stunned and thrilled. Then I panicked. I had to write a book! Actually, three books! With incredible help and guidance from my mother and recipes from my husband, I finished the first book. And the second and the third.

What Susan has to say about herself

I was born in the Merrimack Valley of Massachusetts. The best friends of my childhood were pointers named Stuffy and Nonny. I had imaginary companions as well: a cat named Thirsty Melirsty Medrinkable, a family of dogs, and parents called Mommy and Daddy Suh. Thirsty and the dog family slowly faded away. The Suhs, however, perished suddenly; they ate fish guts and died. My career as a mystery writer thus began in early childhood: I invented animals, and I killed off fictional human beings.

Now, many decades later, I live just outside Boston. My husband is a clinical psychologist with a private practice in Cambridge. Our daughter, Jessica, who is also my coauthor, lives in New Hampshire with her husband and their young son. My husband and I have an Alaskan malamute, Django (pronounced "Jango") and two Chartreux cats, Kansas City (K.C.) and Shadow Celeste. The malamutes in my Holly Winter books are composites, but the cats in Scratch the Surface, Edith and Brigitte, are portraits of my own Chartreux.

Click HERE to check out their blog
Follow Jessica on Twitter
Friend Jessica on Facebook

And before I let you go ~ Susan is also the author of both the Dog Lover & Cat Lover's series. 

Jessica has a fantastic new Young Adult book out - Relatively Famous.  Click on Jessica's name to the left and check our her blog, read about this great book, and to find out how you can order your copy TODAY!


Ashley said...

I love culinary cozy mysteries. I've been indulging in Diane Mott Davidson's series but as I am all caught up I went in search of another cozy series. I came across "Turn Up the Heat" just a couple weeks ago and ordered it-even though it's the 3rd book in the series. I just received it in the mail and am very excited to fall into an addiction with another series! Great post! Thanks for sharing!

Julie P said...

I love all kinds of cozy mysteries and I really enjoyed this post. I am going to add this series to my TBR and Wish lists! Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

I'd read one of these earlier in the year. Love the cozy, chick-lit, mystery genre. Great post.

Anonymous said...

Well this just makes it more so for my to get these cooks. I do love just about any cozy and when there is food even more!

Jessica Park said...

Aw, I'm so overwhelmed and flattered by this huge post about the Gourmet Girl series! Thank you so much! I've always loved culinary mysteries and wanted to do something a little different with this one... have a younger set of characters and a little more pop culture fun thrown in!

dollycas aka Lori said...