Rachel Linden is a novelist and international aid worker whose adventures in over fifty countries around the world provide excellent grist for her writing. She is the author of The Magic of Lemon Drop Pie, The Enlightenment of Bees, Becoming the Talbot Sisters, and Ascension of Larks. Currently Rachel lives with her family on a sweet little island near Seattle, WA where she enjoys creating stories about strong women facing big challenges, travel, food, and second chances at love. She promises her readers a happy, or at least very hopeful, ending and infuses each of her stories with a touch of magical realism. Her newest novel, Recipe for a Charmed Life, comes out in early 2024.
Miriam: Welcome, Rachel. Let's start with your first visit to Island Books. Where were you in your career then, and what stood out about the store?
Rachel: When I think of Island Books, I feel I can sum it up best in the word "inviting". I first visited Island Books when my second novel, Becoming the Talbot Sisters, was about to release. If I remember correctly, I came bearing homemade cookies my husband and son had made, and an advanced reader copy of my new book. I was hoping to meet some of the staff and see if they'd be interested in stocking my book. I was instantly charmed by the special Island Books vibe. I love independent bookstores and feel so fortunate that we have so many in our area. Island Books has always been one of my very favorites because of the wonderful, friendly and knowledgeable staff (with fabulous owner Laurie at the helm), the inviting places to sit and stay awhile, and such an excellent and extensive selection of books. They were so warm and welcoming to me on my first visit, and I continue to greatly enjoy and appreciate their enthusiastic support and care for local authors like me! I love every chance I get to be at Island Books because I always feel so welcomed. It's an inviting, enjoyable space with true book lovers, and for a bookworm like me, that's basically my definition of paradise!
Miriam: Rachel, you can't drop a teaser about bringing cookies to Island Books and not share the specific recipe. When many of us think of you, we think, foodie book club, mmmm.....Will you share which cookies you brought to that first event here on the blog? We can make them official "Rachel-Linden's-Take-a-Trip-to-Island-Books cookies" or something.
Rachel: Absolutely! I can't remember exactly which cookies I brought the first time I visited Island Books, to be honest! But here's a recipe for some amazing lemon bars that I know I brought along with an advanced reader copy of The Magic of Lemon Drop Pie! These delicious lemon bars are super easy and super yummy! I enjoy this recipe from one of my favorite baking sites, Sally's Baking Addiction! I amended it slightly, but mostly it is her recipe.
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups + 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
- optional: you can add a bit of the zest of the lemon to the crust for added lemon flavor
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 6 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 6 large eggs
- 1 cup lemon juice (about 4-5 large lemons)
- powdered sugar for dusting over the top of the bars when cooked and cooled
- optional: add a bit of the zest of the lemon to the filling for an added kick of lemony flavor
- Preheat your oven to 325°F. Carefully line the bottom and sides of a 9×13 glass baking pan (do not use metal for these bars) with parchment paper, leaving the paper hanging over the sides so you can easily lift the finished bars out. This is an important step and makes cutting the bars much easier!).
- Make the crust: Mix the melted butter, sugar, vanilla extract, and salt together in a large bowl. Add the flour and stir to completely combine. The dough will be quite thick. Press firmly into your prepared pan, making sure the layer of crust is nice and even with no holes. Bake for 20-22 minutes or until you see the edges of the crust are lightly browned. Remove from the oven. Using a fork, poke holes all over the top of the warm crust (careful not to poke all the way through the crust). This helps the filling stick and holds the crust in place. Set crust aside.
- Make the filling: Sift the sugar and flour together in a large bowl. Whisk in the eggs, and then add the lemon juice (and zest if using) and stir until completely combined.
- Pour filling over the warm crust. Bake the bars for 22-26 minutes or until the center is relatively set and no longer jiggles. (You can give the pan a light tap with an oven mitt to test that the filling is set.) Remove bars from the oven and cool completely at room temperature. It is recomemnded to cool them for about 2 hours at room temperature, then stick in the refrigerator for 1-2 more hours until fairly chilled.
- Once cool, lift the parchment paper out of the pan using the overhang on the sides. Dust the bars with confectioners’ sugar and cut into squares before serving. Enjoy!
Miriam: Thank you! Okay, one last question, now that I'm thinking about The Magic of Lemon Drop Pie. One of the big messages in that book is that instead of looking backward, we should make the best of things and focus on the road ahead. With that theme in mind, as we head toward our store's 50th anniversary, what do you think the road ahead looks like for indie bookstores?
Rachel: Looking forward, I believe indie bookstores will continue to thrive because of the amazing connections they provide between people and great stories. In an increasingly digital world, to walk into an independent bookstore, talk to smart, book loving booksellers, and walk out with amazing stories in our hands...that personal experience cannot be replaced. For authors, independent bookstores offer wonderful opportunities for us to make personal connections with book lovers—both bookselling professionals and readers. I think Island Books does this so beautifully, and what they offer will continue to be valued by readers and authors alike.
Miriam: Thanks so much for stopping by our blog, Rachel. We always love hearing from you.
To our community—if you make Rachel's Lemon Bars, send us a picture! In the next installment of Island Books, I'll be talking to...
50 Years of Island Books: Martha Brockenbrough
Martha Brockenbrough (rhymes with broken toe) is the author of Frank and the Masked Cat and more than twenty books for young readers, including YA fiction and nonfiction, picture books, a middle grade mystery, and a chapter book series. Her next nonfiction book for teens, Future Tense, will hit shelves in 2024.
A faculty member at Vermont College of Fine Arts, she's also the founder of National Grammar Day (every March 4), and she's written game questions for Cranium and Trivial Pursuit.
The former editor of MSN.com, Martha has interviewed lots of celebrities, including the Jonas Brothers and Slash. Her work has been published in a variety of places, including The New York Times. She also wrote an educational humor column for the online encyclopedia Encarta for nine years.
She lives in Seattle with her family. Her favorite kind of food is Indian, although Thai runs a close second. Besides writing, she likes dogs, cats, cooking, weight-lifting, and laughing.
Miriam: I'm so excited to have you here, Martha, especially because my 10-year-old twins LOVED To Catch a Thief and we are big fans of yours. Let's start with your first visit to Island Books. Where were you in your career then, and what stood out about the store?
Martha: That makes my day! The book is set in a slightly distressed Seabrook—if you ever go, the kids will recognize some of the sights!
Meanwhile, I can’t even remember the first time I went into Island Books. I’m a Bellevue native and only a few years older than the store. So let’s just say I have no memories of life without Island Books. As an author, though, I think one of the first events I attended was for the wonderful Jennifer Longo debut novel, Six Feet Over It, inspired in part by her life growing up at a cemetery. My first event with Island Books was a King County Library fundraiser—Garth Nix and I were in conversation with each other. I really love his writing and it was so much fun learning more about how he thinks about storytelling.
I led here with the people, because in truth the writing and reading life isn’t lived only on the page. I love Laurie (and we share appreciation for a good Old Fashioned). I’ve known Lillian and Caitlin for years and through other stores, and I so appreciate people who make a life out of literature. The store itself is an absolute treat. It’s exquisitely edited and I find something I didn’t know I needed every time I go in. It’s also a place I love to shop for gifts, and not just books—the whole store is full of beautiful and joyful objects.
Miriam: We've been to Seabrook and yes they did recognize the sights, funny you mention that. I think that's half the fun of reading local authors who write about the Pacific Northwest! These are great memories, and for us it's all about the people too, so we love that. Tell me, I know we've offered special pre-orders of signed copies of your books over the years. Do you have any special memories of signing in the store?
Martha: Coming to Island Books is like a visit with old friends. Seeing Lillian and Caitlin at Island Books gathers all of those fond memories from other stores in one place—and it’s a testament to the deep knowledge that the stores booksellers have. They are in this work for life. I was a reader first, and truly I always will be. So to have my reader heart in such good hands means the world to me.
Miriam: Thanks, Martha. We're so grateful for to have you and your books in our lives too.
To our Island Books community: In the next 50 Years of Island Books installment, I’ll be talking to author Elise Hooper about how she crashed a staff party the first time she visited our store, and why her underdog stories have a special appeal at Island Books.