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The Recipe Club by Andrea Israel and Nancy Garfinkel

The Recipe Club by Andrea Israel and Nancy Garfinkel is a narrative mostly written in emails and letters, shifting from a budding friendship between young girls and blossoming into adulthood.  Beyond the emails and letters, the novel also includes recipes, which mesh well with the story as each of the girls deals with lost loves and problems with family, including Lovelorn Lasagna.

The novel begins after Valerie and Lilly have endured a 26-year silence in their friendship.  After an attempt to regain their lost companionship, the narrative shifts to letters written as children and the start of their recipe club.  Recipes are garnered from their parents, family, and friends and often coincide with events in the girls’ lives.  Many of the letters are ripe with adolescent angst and childlike retorts as they quarrel over ideals and perspectives.

“It was so awful.  I was standing in a crowd of other girls I know, and the boys came up to inspect us like we were fruit to be picked.  I only got asked to slow-dance once, by a kid who looks like Ichabod Crane with zits.  We stepped on each other’s feet so hard that I was actually relieved to sit by myself for the rest of the night.”  (page 136 of hardcover)

Valerie is a straight-laced student and highly moral girl who doesn’t understand her friend Lilly as she begins to emulate her free-spirited, actress mother more and more and rebel further against her straight-laced father.  Val spends a great deal of time wondering whether her friendship with Lilly is solid and kowtowing to her friend’s desires and opinions.  In many ways these letters get a bit trying, but eventually Val evolves into a stronger woman.  Lilly’s letters are very self-centered, which also can be exhausting, but eventually Lilly is reformed.

Overall, The Recipe Club is an interesting collection of letters, emails, and recipes that illustrate the frustrations women find in relationships with one another.  The time passes quickly with these women, but in the end, the women reach a satisfying place in their relationship.

This is my 47th book for the 2010 New Authors Reading Challenge.

Undercover by Beth Kephart

Elisa, a adolescent Cyrano de Bergerac, uses her love of words, nature and skating to navigate not only school and peer pressure, but also her family’s problems.  As a spy in Undercover by Beth Kephart, Elisa creates lines of verse to help her fellow male students make their girlfriends and soon-to-be girlfriends swoon.  She does so with stealth and folded scraps of paper without much thought, until Theo comes along.

“Dad likes to say, about both of us, that we’re undercover operatives who see the world better than the world sees us, and this, I swear, has its benefits.”  (page 8 )

Elisa takes much of her dad’s advice to heart, and much of that is probably because he’s away on business a lot of the time.  She spends quite a lot of time observing and creating verse until in Honors English she comes upon the tragedy of Cyrano, which effectively turns her philosophy upside down.  Beyond spending her days writing poems, she’s discovered a pond to provide her inspiration.  When it freezes over, she decides to skate . . . something she has never done before.

Undercover is a story about a girl who digs deep for courage, a courage she needs to write, to deal with fellow classmates, and to hold her family together.  Readers will connect with Elisa as they would reconnect with themselves, particularly if they were the student with few friends, felt that they were on the outside in many situations, or who wrote in their dark room at night alone.  Elisa is that girl in all of us.  She’s the young woman unsure of herself, her surroundings, and her abilities, but who is pushed beyond her self-imposed limits to reach higher, strive for more and dream big.  She does not want to be Cyrano.

Undercover will resonate with readers, push them to feel lonely when Elisa is alone, cheer up when she triumphs, and cry with happiness when all is right with the world.  The only drawback is that readers will not want to leave; they’ll want to know what happens with Theo, her rivals, and her family.  Kephart deftly uses language to paint each scene and elicit emotion, connecting the reader to Elisa through her casual narrative.  In many ways, readers will love this as much or more than Kephart’s Nothing But Ghosts.

I borrowed my copy of Undercover by Beth Kephart from the public library.

***Also, I forgot to mention that I took this book out upon Jill at Rhapsody in Books‘ recommendation.***

The Lace Makers of Glenmara by Heather Barbieri

Heather Barbieri‘s The Lace Makers of Glenmara is set in Ireland as the main character, Kate Robinson, leaves her life in the United States to take the journey to her ancestral lands that she was supposed to take with her mother.   She leaves her home after failing to make it with her own clothing line and the break-up of her relationship with Ethan.  After a rough journey in the rainy countryside, Kate happens upon the small village of Glenmara and its quirky residents from motherly widow Bernice to abrasive Aileen.

“Everyone had been so sure she and Ethan would get married, that she would catch the bouquet at the medieval wedding they attended that March (the couple being devoted not only to each other but to the Society for Creative Anachronism), the event at which he left her, if not at the altar, just southwest of it, next to an ice sculpture of a knight in shining armor that had begun to melt, a moat of water at his feet, his sword soon no more than a toothpick.”  (Page 6)

Switching between points of view, Kate’s perspective is rounded out by the narration of William the traveler, Aileen, and Bernie.  Readers will be drawn into the stories of Kate and her friends as they search for peace and acceptance among themselves and others. Each of these women deals with not only sorrow and loss, but also shaken confidence.

“‘Like Colleen said, mistakes aren’t necessarily a problem,’ Bernie told her.  ‘Sometimes they lead you in a different direction.  Who says you always need to follow the rules?  Breaking the pattern can be the very best thing, even though it can be scary at first.'”  (Page 91)

Barbieri creates a cast of characters as tumultuous as the weather and diverse as the scenery of Ireland.  Kate is broken, and many of the other characters are broken as well.  It takes lace making and camaraderie to heal.  Glenmara, unfortunately, is a town in the middle of nowhere where religion is more than a passing moment on Sundays.  Can these women overcome their own fears and rekindle the beauty within themselves?

The prologue to the novel, however, that outlines what you need to sew and draws parallels between sewing and life changes is a bit overwrought, especially when Kate becomes part of the lace making guild.  Readers are likely to draw those parallels on their own without shining a bright light on it.

Meanwhile, the evolution of these characters and what they cultivate through their friendships is an amazing transformation for these women that will leave readers wondering what relationships in their lives have transformed them.  Barbieri’s writing is captivating and will pull readers into the Irish countryside.  An emotional evolution for the characters and readers set against the backdrop of beautiful Irish hills and cliffs.  Be ready to jump off and join them.

Check out the rest of the TLC Book Tour stops.

About the Author

Heather Barbieri is half-Irish. Her paternal ancestors left counties Donegal and Tipperary  after The Great Famine and worked in the coal mines of Eastern Pennsylvania before settling in Butte, Montana. Her impeccably dressed maternal grandmother was a descendant of a lady-in-waiting to Queen Victoria and instilled an avid interest in fashion in her granddaughters. Barbieri’s first novel, Snow in July (Soho Press), was selected as a Book Sense Pick, a Glamour magazine “Riveting Read,” and a Library Journal Notable First Novel. Before turning to writing fiction full-time, she was a magazine editor, journalist, and film critic. She lives in Seattle, Washington, with her husband and three children, and is currently working on her third novel.

Also check her out on Facebook.

This is my 3rd book for the Ireland Reading Challenge.

This is my 36th book for the 2010 New Authors Reading Challenge.

Raven Stole the Moon by Garth Stein

Garth Stein’s Raven Stole the Moon was originally printed in 1998, but was recently republished by Harper following Stein’s success with The Art of Racing in the Rain (my review). The Tlingit legend — including that of Raven — that becomes Jenna Rosen’s life is absorbing, blurring the lines of reality and folklore.  Jenna’s life fell apart upon the death of her son in an accident, and she spirals out of control, seeing psychiatrists and taking addictive pharmacological substances.  After emerging from a drug haze, she and her husband Robert go through the motions until Jenna makes a definitive move to change her life.

“The two options were mutually exclusive.  There was no middle ground.  Maybe I’m a little crazy and there are some spirits.  No.  It was either/or.  And Jenna was determined to find out which.”  (Page 199)

Set in the 1990s in Alaska and Washington State where it’s about “recapturing the glory of the eighties at a discount,” Stein crafts a surreal tale where reality blends with the past, the present, and folklore turning men into beasts and soul robbers and generating three dimensional characters ready to deal with the unknown and irreparable grief.

“Digging deep down into the crust of the earth, pumping black goo up to the surface, cooking it in aluminum containers so it can be used in a BMW.  The evolution of Man smells like gasoline.”  (Page 35)

Despite the tragedy in these pages, readers are on the edge of their seats as they ride with Jenna through the Alaskan wilderness to unravel the mystery behind her son’s death and uncover her heritage as a descendant of the Tlingit tribe.  Along the way, Jenna is joined by a lonely young man and a wild dog, while being pursued by a private investigator hired by her husband to find her.  Just as Jenna relaxes, the unknown creeps up on her alongside the harsh reality of the life she left behind, which all threatens to impinge on her life suspended in limbo.

Stein not only create dynamic characters; Dr. David Livingstone, the shaman who is consulted during the construction of Thunder Bay, resembles the original from Joseph Conrad‘s Heart of Darkness who was based upon a real missionary and explorer of Africa.  Stein’s Livingstone undergoes a transformation to take on the visage of evil, but he is also a presence that hovers over the story, like Conrad’s character.

Readers will be surprised by how much is packed into Raven Stole the Moon and by how quickly the story unravels and carries them along down river with Jenna and her compatriots.  The only possible nit-picky thing to point out is that the time line gets a bit muddled when jumping between the story of how Thunder Bay came to be and Jenna’s current journey, which could have been rectified by revealing the story of Thunder Bay as Jenna makes her way through the wilderness.  However, that is a minor complaint in an otherwise captivating, suspenseful story that readers will be hard pressed to forget when the final page is turned.

This is my 10th book for the 2010 Thriller & Suspense Reading Challenge.

One Amazing Thing by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni‘s One Amazing Thing is brilliant in its ability to capture reader’s attention and hold it throughout the narrative as the points of view change and characters share a life-changing moment.  Divakaruni’s writing places readers in the room with her characters and traps them there, making the terror of their impending doom real.  Each character is at the visa office seeking papers to travel back to India when something happens and causes the building to partially collapse upon them.

“I am Cameron, he said to himself.  With the words, the world as it was formed around him:  piles of rubble, shapes that might be broken furniture.  Some of the shapes moaned.  The voices — no, it was only one voice — fell into an inexorable rhythm, repeating a name over and over.”  (Page 11)

Uma is among the first of the characters introduced and she’s a college student who enjoys observing others and creating stories for them, which is why she suggests that each of the survivors — in an unknown disaster — tells the group about one amazing moment that changed their lives.  Many of the stories are heartbreaking, but all of them serve as a basis of understanding.  They create a place from which these different people, with their various prejudices and perspectives brought together by circumstances beyond their control, can begin to accept one another.

“Farah.  She had entered Tariq’s life innocuously, the way a letter opener slides under the flap of an envelope, cutting through things that had been glued shut, spilling secret contents.  Her name was like a yearning poet”s sigh, but even Tariq was forced to admit that it didn’t match the rest of her.”  (Page 30)

Book clubs will have a lot to discuss, including what makes life worthwhile to what moments in life would you revisit if you were trapped.  Imagine seeing one amazing thing before you die.  Then recall your memories.  Yes, you have seen one amazing thing though it may have seemed ordinary at the time, but it becomes extraordinary to you.  Divakaruni’s prose is frank and her characters are dynamic and flawed.  One Amazing Thing is just that.

Thanks to Divakaruni for sending me a review copy of her novel.

***I also appreciated that One Amazing Thing is printed on Certified Fiber Sourcing as part of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative.***

About the Author:

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is an award-winning author and poet. Her themes include women, immigration, the South Asian experience, history, myth, magic and celebrating diversity.

She writes both for adults and children. Her books have been translated into 20 languages, including Dutch, Hebrew, Russian and Japanese. Two novels, The Mistress of Spices and Sister of My Heart, have been made into films. Her short stories, Arranged Marriage, won an American Book Award. She teaches Creative Writing at the University of Houston.

This is my 3rd book for the 2010 South Asian Author Reading Challenge.

This is my 34th book for the 2010 New Authors Reading Challenge.

This is my 9th book for the 2010 Thriller & Suspense Reading Challenge.

Fool by Christopher Moore (audio)

Christopher Moore‘s Fool is loosely based upon William Shakespeare’s King Lear.  If you haven’t read King Lear, what are you waiting for?  Talk about a tragedy of one’s own making.  The source material centers on a king who splits up his kingdom between his daughters based upon their professions of love for him, but of course, one daughter deigns to tell the truth rather than gush and engage in hyperbole.

“‘I’ve never even seen them,’ Taster said.

‘Oh, quite right.  What about you, Drool? Drool? Stop that!’

Drool pulled the damp kitten out of his mouth.  ‘But it were licking me first.  You said it was only proper manners–‘” (page 40)

In Moore’s version, King Lear’s fool of many years — an appropriately named Black Fool — Pocket plays a significant role in the downfall of a king and a kingdom.  Pocket has a hidden past of his own that involves an abbey, an ankress, witches, and more.  He’s sarcastic, runs rampant with his verbal barbs at the royal family, but he’s got a darker streak that trends toward manipulation behind the jokes.  Pocket is great at planting the seeds in the players’ minds from the Bastard Edmund to Lear’s daughters Regan and Goneril.  In a way, Pocket is a comic relief fool, but he does have a sidekick who is — Drool.

“‘I shagged a ghost,’ said Drool to the young squires.  They pretended they couldn’t hear him.

Kent shuffled forward, held back some by the alabaster grandeur of my nakedness.  ‘Edmund was found with a dagger through his ear, pinned to a high-backed chair.’

‘Bloody careless eater he is, then.'”  (page 168)

Some of the best parts of the book are the jibes at the main royals, but also the references to other works by Shakespeare.  Moore definitely knows his literature, and is a master at rearranging syntax to create new images and environments within the Shakespearean middle ages  He stretches the edges of that world and tosses it out into the moat.  Readers who need a laugh out loud book to chase away the blues, are looking for clever prose and outlandish characters, and seeking a literary jaunt should pick up Fool.

“‘So, it sounds as if you’re thinking of conquering more than just the petting zoo?’

‘Europe,’ said the princess, as if stating the unadorned truth.

‘Europe?’ said I.

‘To start,’ said Cordelia.

‘Well, then you had better get moving, hadn’t you?’

‘Yes, I suppose,’ said Cordelia, with a great silly grin.  ‘Dear Pocket, would you help me pick an outfit?'” (page 255)

However, the ending of the novel could leave readers feeling flat or unsatisfied.  Overall, Fool by Christopher Moore is a “bawdy tale.” Moore has a number of fun books, and readers who enjoy humor, particularly dark or raunchy humor with a bit of whimsy, will love his books.  Moore is always a riot.

My husband enjoyed the audio version on our daily commute, laughing and giggling into work, but was seriously disappointed with the ending.  In his words, “The sexual jokes were funny and the ending sucked.”

Check out this great video:

FTC Disclosure:  I listened to the Fool by Christopher Moore on audio CD, which I borrowed from the library, and read portions of the book from another library copy.

Bite Me: A Love Story by Christopher Moore

Christopher Moore‘s Bite Me: A Love Story continues to the trials of the Countess Jody, Lord Flood, and their minion Abby Normal.  It is the third book in the series set in San Francisco and focuses mainly on Goth teenager Abby Normal, her boy-toy and ultra-nerd Foo Dog (aka Steve), and her gay BFF Jared as they battle a city of vampyre cats . . . and rats.  The Emperor of San Francisco and Detectives Cavuto and Rivera return along with the Animals, Flood’s former colleagues of the Safeway stocking crew.

“I am Nosferatu, bee-yotch.”  (page 176)

“It just goes to show you, like Lord Byron says in the poem:  ‘Given enough weed and explosives, even a creature of most sophisticated and ancient dark power can be undone by a few stoners.’

I’m paraphrasing.  It may have been Shelley.”  (page 6-7)

Moore’s writing is crass and humorous and will have readers laughing out loud about how thick Abby is and yet so smart about the magical.  He has a way with language and creating and adopting slang for his characters, like booticuity, ownage, Mombot, va-jay-jay, and Skankenstein boots.   The vampyres are equally good and bad in this novel, but Abby and her friends are all that stand between San Francisco and total annihilation.  From katanas to LED sunlight jackets and UV lamps to flame throwers and Grandma’s special tea, these kids have tricked out rides and kung-fu skills like no one else.

“The outside city people live on, like, a different plane of existence, like they don’t even see the inside people either.  But when you’re a vampyre, the two cities are all lit up.  You can hear the people talking and eating and watching TV in their houses, and you can see and feel the people in the streets, behind the garbage cans, under the stairs.  All these auras show, sometimes right through walls.  Like life, glowing.” (page 226)

Even more enjoyable is how Moore intertwines other story lines from his previous books, particularly Dirty Job.  It is fun for readers to see how characters from other novels pop in and add spice to the vampyre mayhem.  Moore is a very talented writer with a gift for making readers laugh.  Those who love vampire novels should read the entire series — Bloodsucking Fiends and You SuckBite Me is another laugh-out-loud novel from Moore for those of us who need to step into another world, destress, and laugh intelligently.

This is my 1st book for the 2010 Vampire Series Challenge.

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FTC Disclosure:  I got my copy of the book from the local library!