Bonjour readers and welcome back to the table! The universe has continued to deliver me excellent reads with pair-able recipes from around the globe! For our first recipe this week we’re beboppin on over to France. I’ll be bringing you a review of The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager and a recipe for Ratatouille! I read this one as a Traveling Friends read and it’s an excellent book club option – there’s lots of room for discussion and speculation and Sager is honestly just a good time.
Work has been a raging dumpster fire for me these past few weeks and for the first time in a long time I’ve had a weekend to myself so I was able to do a lot of reading and cooking! Get ready for a review heavy week dear readers because I’ve been mowing them down. For today’s recipe I’ve got a delicious, vegetarian, one-pan dinner and at only 187 calories per serving you wouldn’t even know it with these bold flavors. Bold flavors to pair with a bold read!
The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager
When Emma Davis was just 13 years old she attended summer camp at the prestigious Camp Nightingale (known to kids at her school as Camp Rich Bitch). Emma is the last to arrive and the last to leave, what happens in-between is every camper’s worst nightmare. One night, after an argument gone awry Emma’s three cabin mates (Vivian, Natalie and Alison) sneak out – never to be heard from or seen again. Vanishing into thin air.
Everything is a game, Em. Whether you know it or not. Which means that sometimes a lie is more than just a lie. Sometimes, it’s the only way to win.
Now 15 years later Emma is gaining notoriety for her art work. Little do her adoring new fans know – this is a lesson in obsession. An inability to let the past go. Emma can only paint one thing: Camp Nightingale and the 3 girls forever vanishing into the woods. To say she obsesses over the girls and their ultimate demise is the understatement of the century. It is an all-consuming need that shapes Emma and her life from the moment she entered the camp and it has never relinquished its grip.
When former Camp Nightingale owner Francesca Harris-White (Franny) approaches and purchases one of Emma’s paintings and asks to have lunch Emma can’t help her weary curiosity. Franny is here to offer Emma a job. Fifteen years after the closing of Camp Nightingale, Franny wishes to reopen its doors with a new mission to allow girls in based on merit instead of wealth and she wants Emma to be a painting instructor.
So much water. So much land. So many places to disappear.
Sager is a true master of suspense building. While he’s fallen to a lot of typical thriller/mystery topes (unreliable narrator, suspicious wealthy family hiding secrets) he brings a fresh take to these over-done story lines and builds a need within the reader to race to the finish. This one won’t have you wanting to skim just to get to the “who dunnit” at the end but rather savor the pieces and clues that Sager delves out with a deft hand.
Similar to Sagers The Final Girls this is told from one POV but switching between past and present. When these two storylines finally collapse upon one other things really get moving. The reader is left with a hunger, not only to know what happened in the past but what sinister remnants are left lurking around the camp during its reopening. Emma is your typical unreliable narrator which made some of the more implausible plot points a bit more believable and Sager did an excellent job fleshing out why she made the choices she did and how she became the person she is when we meet her.
Even though a branch covers their eyes, I know they’re staring back at me. It’s as if they’ve understood all along that I’d one day return to Camp Nightingale. Only I can’t tell if they’re urging me to go or begging me to stay away.
While there are many things that worked for me in this novel, I was left wanting a bit more. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: compare and despair. I definitely did that to myself in this one by comparing it to Sager’s first work The Final Girls. There was some implausibility here for me with some character dynamics along with the full development into the final twists.
In the end there are ultimately two back-to-back bombshells that are dropped on the reader fairly close together. What I’ll give The Last Time I Lied is that it’s one of the most surprised I’ve been in reading a thriller in a long time. However, while surprise is generally the end goal of a mystery – it doesn’t always mean its well done. Sager’s writing is unceasingly well-done, his prose are detailed, bright and he has an ability to build suspense like nobody’s business. However, I was left here disappointed in the development into the final twists and the ultimate ending. It felt to me a bit out of left field and the penultimate twist felt disconnected to the web that Sager wove and I was hoping for something deeper from it.
Despite a few misgivings I really enjoyed this edge-of-your-seat thriller and I’m thrilled to have found such an amazing authors whose future books I’ll immediately be picking up. The writing is top-notch and the suspense is thick and heavy throughout. While many of the characters weren’t particularly likeable Sager shows that isn’t always necessary to create a gripping read that once you sink your teeth into – you won’t be able to step away.
Long story short:
Suggested for: Lovers of the suspense/thriller genre who are looking for a unique mystery and fans of unreliable but entertaining narrators!
Wham-bam thank you ma’am! Now that we’ve reviewed our read lets pop on down to the kitchen with a veggie-heaven meal that’ll have everyone reaching for seconds!
- Servings: 4-6 (this one would be difficult to cut the size down, but easy to make more – it makes amazing left overs though!)
- Prep time: 15 minutes
- Cook Time: 60 minutes
- Pans required: 1 oven safe dish, or better yet…wait for it…WAIT FOR IT… the most versatile tool in your cooking arsenal – THE CAST IRON SKILLET!!! *screaming applause* – You will need a sauce pan for the optional Bechamel sauce but it adds a lot of decadence to the dish so I highly suggest it!
- 1-2 cups tomato sauce (get good stuff ya’ll – this is your base)
- 4 garlic cloves (minced)
- 3-4 thyme sprigs
- 2 tbsp Olive Oil
- ½ onion (diced)
- ½ tsp chili flakes
- 1 egg-plant (if you have access to a Brinjal AKA a thin smaller eggplant – thinly sliced)
- 1 yellow squash (thinly sliced)
- 1 zucchini (thinly sliced)
- 6-7 sweet peppers (thinly sliced)
- 2-3 red potatoes (thinly sliced, medium-sized)
- Salts & Pepper
INGREDIENTS (Benchamel Sauce) *optional*:
- 1 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1 tbsp all-purpose flour
- 1 cup milk (2%)
- 1/8 tsp nutmeg
Easy edits to make, per preference:
- You can use a red bell pepper if you prefer it over sweet peppers. You would only need one.
- A Brinjal is a smaller, thinner eggplant and would be ideal to create the beautiful pin wheel look. My regular grocery store doesn’t carry it and it’s more for appearance than anything else.
- I highly suggest red or Yukon gold potatoes over a traditional russet or baking potato. The skins will keep the shape of the potato in the sauce much better.
- This works well as a vegetarian main dish or as a side to a protein or with pasta – feel free to serve with whatever you prefer!
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit while bringing 2 cups of water to a rolling boil (you can use a separate pan but you won’t need to use your cast iron until later and boiling the water in the cast iron will cut down on dishes).
- Drop the sliced potatoes into the water and par-boil for 3-4 minutes. Drain on paper towel and set aside. While potatoes cook and cool, slice the squash, sweet peppers and eggplant.
- To make Bechmel – microwave 1 cup milk until warm (30-45 seconds, feel and microwave again if needed. You want it warm not hot). Add the butter to sauce pan, when melted immediately add 1 tablespoon flour and whisk until raw flavor goes away (1-2 minutes). You are not making a roux so do not brown the flour. Add warm milk ¼ cup at a time, whisking constantly until there are no more lumps. Continue process until all milk is used. Season with salt, nutmeg and pepper. Set aside.
- If you’re using a regular baking dish – butter or use cooking spray. Spread a layer of tomato sauce in your cast iron / oven safe dish mix onion, garlic, thyme, red chili flakes, salt and pepper. Mix well but ensure the sauce mixture remains spread evenly over the bottom of the dish. Drizzle béchamel sauce onto the top and swirl into tomato sauce (not mixing completely).
- Layer sliced veggies on top. You can arrange the veggies however you prefer – the spiral works for the cast iron dish but if you create an alternating pattern in any shaped dish the result is the same! *you can create a small stack in your hand and place in the dish to cut down on placing one at a time
- Sprinkle olive oil, salt and pepper over top, cover with parchment paper and bake for 55-60 minutes or until the veggies are tender NOT browned and the tomato sauce is bubbling on the side.
- Let cook for 5 minutes and serve with bread, salad, protein or pasta!
Quote: “I think you should go,” he says as he pushes a plate of ratatouille in front of me. It’s my favorite dish on the menu, steaming and ripe with the scent of tomatoes and herbs de Provence.
Music Mood: Glory by Dermot Kennedy
Have you read The Last Time I Lied? If so, what did you think? What are some tropes you’d like to see a fresh take on? Drop me a note in the comments and let me know!