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Spaghetti and Peas | The Girls in the Garden

Spaghetti and Peas | The Girls in the Garden
The book tour stops here today for the latest novel by Lisa Jewell called The Girls in the Garden. Set in a communal garden square tucked away in the city of London, we're thrust immediately into the the climax of the story, leaving us in the dark about the cast of characters seen through a haze as Pip discovers her sister Grace's unconscious, bloody body near the edge of a rose garden.

The book is then divided into two parts, "Before" and "After, the former making up the bulk of the story which is told mainly through the voice of three characters—tweenage Pip, her young, timid mother Clare, and the beautiful, slightly older, bohemian-style Adele (mother of Willow, Fern and Catkin, wife of handsome, charming Leo).

After Clare's husband suffers a schizophrenic break that put his family in danger, she and her daughters move into a flat on a quiet street that backs onto a beautiful communal garden that is bordered by homes of all types. This garden is the hub of a little community where parents let kids run free. But from a newcomers perspective, there is also something a little "off" about it all.
Spaghetti and Peas | The Girls in the Garden
The book has a fairly large cast of characters, but Jewell does a wonderful job of making each one's character apparent and part of the plot.  While I'll admit to guessing the "villain" early on, I did doubt myself several times as story unfolded and we're taken a little deeper into the incestuous dark side of this community that looks so idyllic on the surface.

With nobody ever being "brought to justice", I thought the resolution left a little something to be desired. But the more I thought on it, the more I realized that the unresolved ending really fit the tenor of the story and its reflection of real life.

It's not an uplifting or happy-go-lucky read, but if you're in the mood for a dark and moody page-turner, The Girls in the Garden fits the bill. While the subject matter isn't easy-breezy, the read itself is (I finished it over the course of a long day).
Spaghetti and Peas | The Girls in the Garden
Shall we talk about the food? While this wouldn't be considered a "foodie read" in the least, you wouldn't know it by how much food was actually on the pages. All of the following were mentioned at some point: chicken noodle soup, sandwich, crumble, oaty cookies, mashed potatoes, Cadbury Eclairs, muffins, bars full of seeds and raisins, elderflower cordial, fruit bowl, pie, chocolate birthday cake, chocolate truffles, risotto, cereal, vodka martinis, wine, salad, chicken curry, lentil curry, fudge, milk, bananas, chocolate granola, Greek yogurt, Milka Noisette, pizza, sunflower and linseed bread, herbs, chicken stock, chiles, lime, chicken breasts, mushrooms, Japanese noodles, flaxseed, miso soup paste, almond milk, papaya, mango, pineapple, Shreddies, Kit Kats, apples, Bolognese, butter, ice cream (Magnum and Calippo), toasting marshmallows, satsuma, chocolate-topped cookies, cheese puffs, sugared almonds, lasagna, nonalcoholic cocktails, giant red velvet cake, barbecue, Pimm's, sausage, zucchini, kebabs, jacket potato with cheese and baked beans, Champagne, homemade hummus, breadsticks and pasta salad.

But what I chose to go along with this novel was something mentioned early on by Clare, shortly after she, Grace, and Pip moved into their new flat.

"What do you fancy?" she asked, meeting her daughters at the back door. "I can do spaghetti with peas?"
     The girls dropped their park froideur as they came indoors and said yum, and yes please. Spaghetti and peas. A favorite family staple. And cheap too, which was just as well now that Clare was living off a finite sum of money.

A story like this just begs for a plate of comfort food to go with it. And from what I can tell, spaghetti with peas is pretty common in many English homes as a simple and well-loved dish. And you know what? It's going to be a staple in our kitchen now, as well. It looks unassuming, but it actually had such a great balance of flavors—a salty base of bacon fat, with noodles coated in rich cream and Parmesan (not really a sauce, more of a glaze) that are accented by sweet peas and fresh mint. Comfort food.

The Girls in the Garden book tour

The Girls in the Garden

author: Lisa Jewell
publisher: Atria Books (June 7, 2016)
genre: Literature & Fiction | Women's Fiction | Contemporary Women
hard cover : 320 pages

"foodie" read: No, but there is a lot of food on the pages.

opening sentence: Pip stands behind her mother in the tiny bathroom.

teaser: Imagine that you live on a picturesque communal garden square, an oasis in urban London where your children run free, in and out of other people’s houses. You’ve known your neighbors for years and you trust them. Implicitly. You think your children are safe. But are they really?

On a midsummer night, as a festive neighborhood party is taking place, preteen Pip discovers her thirteen-year-old sister Grace lying unconscious and bloody in a hidden corner of a lush rose garden. What really happened to her? And who is responsible?

about the author: Lisa Jewell was born and raised in north London, where she lives with her husband and two daughters. She is the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA TODAY bestselling author of twelve novels, including The House We Grew Up In and The Third Wife.
author headshot

connect with the author: website | facebook | twitter

recipe inspired by the book: Spaghetti and Peas


yield: serves 6-8print recipe

Spaghetti and Peas

prep time: 10 MINScook time: 15 MINStotal time: 25 mins
Cream, Parmesan cheese, mint, and a touch of garlic make the simple, yet flavorful sauce for this spaghetti with peas. Optional bacon addition listed in the recipe.


  • 16 ounces uncooked spaghetti noodles
  • 8 ounces frozen petite peas
  • 6 ounces bacon, cut into 1/4-inch strips (optional) OR 2 teaspoons fat of your choice
  • 1 fat clove garlic, minced
  • 2 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 4-6 ounces freshly shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped
  • sea salt (or freshly grated roasted garlic sea salt, my favorite)
  • ground white pepper


  1. Cook the spaghetti until al dente, according to package directions, adding the peas during the last 3 minutes of cooking time. Reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water before draining.
  2. If using the bacon, cook in a large, deep skillet over medium heat until crisp. Lift out and set on a paper towel lined plate. Pour out all but 2 teaspoons of the bacon grease and any little bacon bits left behind. If you're not using the bacon, just add about 2 teaspoons of olive oil, butter, or even bacon grease that you've reserved from another time to the pan.
  3. Set back over heat and add the garlic, stirring until fragrant but not colored, about 30 seconds. Pour in the heavy cream and let it come just to a boil; reduce to a gentle simmer and let it bubble for 2-3 minutes. Stir in the Parmesan until melted.
  4. Add the drained spaghetti and peas, the mint and reserved bacon (if you used it), and a couple of pinches of salt and pepper; stir until everything is heated through, adding the reserved pasta water. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary before serving.

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.