Joy for Beginners by Erica Bauermeister

There’s something very comforting about Erica Bauermeister’s books — they’re sort of  “stop and smell the roses”  reminder.   For me, when she describes the smell of freshly baked bread, I swear I’m going to master making it from scratch, even though my past attempts at bread -baking have often yielded less-than satisfying results.  Indeed, at times I’ve been too embarrassed to throw it out for the birds!  (I mean, really, what if even they didn’t eat it?) But enough about me.

As in her first book, The School of Essential Ingredients, each chapter focuses on a different character.  In her new one, Joy for Beginners,  the characters are all women and all friends, even though they are different ages and at various stages in their lives.  These women don’t live Pollyanna lives — loved ones still die, couples still divorce, some parent-child relationships stay strained — but through it all, their friendships remain strong and continue to provide the support and encouragement each of them needs.

The book opens with a potluck dinner party, celebrating Kate’s recent victory over breast cancer.  Kate agrees to try something she’s always feared– white-water rafting– but in return, each of them must also promise to do something they find difficult, though Kate  gets to pick their challenges.  In some cases, the task seems surprisingly simple, such as baking bread or discarding books left by an ex-husband.  Still, Kate seems to have an innate sense as to what her friends need most.

I really enjoyed this book.  It’s a perfect gift for a good friend — or for someone who wants to make bread from scratch!

A Fond Farewell

We want to take a minute to say a giant “thanks!” to one of our favorite blog post contributors here at Info Cafe – Tana will be leaving the Davenport library at the end of this week in pursuit of new adventures and we will miss her. She’s an excellent writer with a wide range of reading interests that has helped to make our blog diverse and dynamic. With over 120 posts to her credit Tana wrote, among other things, about “literary” fiction, non-fiction covering contemporary issues and many of the themed displays at the library. I particularly liked Tana’s series of RAGBRAI posts, written in 2008 starting with the July 22 post. They showcase Tana’s wit and good humor and are just plain fun to read.

If you’re lucky enough to know Tana personally, you know she’s smart and funny and cheerful and generous, all of which are excellent qualities in a reference librarian. And in a friend.

Good luck and best wishes always Tana!

 

The Atlas of Love by Laurie Frankel

How do you define family? Is it just the people you’re related to by blood or by marriage? Or does it include the friends that stand by you through thick and thin? What about the people that leave but come back? And what about those that live on only in your memory? In a world that is constantly redefining itself, who do you call your family?

Despite their differences Janey, Jill and Katie become best friends, bound together by the common stresses of working as post-grad students in Seattle in The Atlas of Love. When Jill becomes pregnant and then is abandoned by the baby’s father, the three form a makeshift family and come together to raise Atlas themselves. Juggling teaching schedules, classes and child care at first seems just possible if everything goes smoothly, but of course, life is not smooth or predictable. Katie falls in love and decides to marry, Jill becomes depressed and begins to drift away and Janey struggles to hold everything together by herself. Then Atlas’ absent father returns and the little family is thrown into chaos. The resulting turmoil of anger, fear, concern and yes, love means that while almost everything is different, one thing stays the same – family. Family that is no longer defined by rigid rules, but is flexible enough to encompass all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds, all drawn to one common goal – to love and support each other no matter what.

Narrated in Janey’s wry voice, this book moves from laugh-out-loud funny to infuriating to sweet and sad as these young women define and redefine their own improvised family.

Cooking for Friends by Alison Attenborough and Jamie Kimm

Cooking for holidays continues here at Davenport with this mouthwatering book, great for the festive season – or any season.

cookingforfriendsThe holidays have always been about family and tradition, but the modern reality is that for many people, our blood relations are scattered across the country (and the world) While “coming home for the holidays” is a wonderful option, it’s not always possible. And so, if we’re lucky, our friends become our family.

Cooking for Friends by Alison Attenborough and Jamie Kimm celebrates these special people and times with simple, elegant recipes. There’s nothing too complicated or over-the-top here; the emphasis is on really great food and sharing it with some of your favorite people. Fresh, in-season ingredients and straightforward cooking techniques give this book a modern edge. Recipes run the gamut from drinks and starters to soups and salads to main dishes and desserts.

One great feature is their numerous “four ways” suggestions where they take one main ingredient and show four different ways to prepare it – “potatoes four ways” has whole potatoes with spring herbs, roasted fingerlings with garlic, red potatoes with gruyere and new potatoes with creme fraiche. You’ll also find an “inspired by” section which lists fruits, vegetables, herbs and even flowers that are available by season and then puts together menus that makes the best use of them.

The Wildwater Walking Club by Claire Cook

Wildwater Walking ClubThis is the perfect vacation/summer/beach book – light and fun but not too trashy (so you don’t have to be embarrassed to be seen with it) with a fun story line and a simple message – invest in yourself, it’s your most valuable asset.

The Wildwater Walking Club opens with Noreen Kelly taking an early buyout from her company and then discovering that she’s been dumped by her boyfriend the same day. Suddenly, she has time on her hands and has no idea what to do with it. Noreen has always defined herself by her job and her relationships, hardly taking the time to look at the world around her. Sad and lonely, she goes for a walk. Which eventually leads to longer walks, meeting new friends, starting adventures she never would have tried before, finding herself.

This charming story of women’s friendships, loyalty and getting involved will make you happy and hopeful – and it might just inspire you to put on a pair of walking shoes and start walking!