Friday, July 1, 2011

Review: Joy for Beginners

Summary: At an intimate, festive dinner party in Seattle, six women gather to celebrate their friend Kate's recovery from cancer. Wineglass in hand, Kate strikes a bargain with them. To celebrate her new lease on life, she'll do the one thing that's always terrified her: white-water rafting. But if she goes, all of them will also do something they always swore they'd never do-and Kate is going to choose their adventures.

Shimmering with warmth, wit, and insight,
Joy for Beginners is a celebration of life: unexpected, lyrical, and deeply satisfying. -- Putnam

I so enjoyed Erica Bauermeister's prior novel THE SCHOOL OF ESSENTIAL INGREDIENTS (my review) that I couldn't wait to read her new one -- JOY FOR BEGINNERS. I have seen many positive reviews for this novel so I pretty much knew I was in for a treat. And I figured if it was at all like THE SCHOOL OF ESSENTIAL INGREDIENTS, then I'd have a few hours of pure entertainment.

I am happy to say that JOY FOR BEGINNERS lived up to my expectations... and probably even exceeded them. I thoroughly enjoyed this beautiful, and very touching, novel. In fact, as was the case of THE SCHOOL OF ESSENTIAL INGREDIENTS, this book managed to appeal to almost all of my senses. There were so many exquisite descriptions of delicious food, fine wines, exotic locations, and even quality books. JOY FOR BEGINNERS is definitely one of those novels that will appeal to women of all ages.

JOY FOR BEGINNERS begins when Kate and her friends meet to celebrate Kate's successful battle with cancer. During the party, Kate announces that she has agreed to go white-water rafting with her daughter (despite her extreme fears) if.... and this is a big one... all of her friends complete a challenge that Kate sets for them. Kate comes up with some interesting tasks -- some of which initially don't make much sense. However, Kate obviously knows best because each challenge allows her friends to discover important lessons about themselves and life in general.

JOY FOR BEGINNERS is divided into different sections for each of Kate's friends as well as a final chapter about Kate. This is the same format that Ms. Bauermeister used in THE SCHOOL OF ESSENTIAL INGREDIENTS, and I thought it worked well in both novels. I loved getting to know each woman and how they approached Kate's challenges. Of course, there were women whose stories I related to more than others; however, all of the women were terrific (and well developed) characters and I loved seeing how much they grew as a result of completing Kate's amazing challenges.

After reading JOY FOR BEGINNERS, I can now say that I am indeed a fan of Ms. Bauermeister's. I absolutely can't rave enough about all of the ways she can make see, smell, and even taste while reading her wonderful prose. But this novel was much more than just a celebration of the senses. JOY FOR BEGINNERS also evoked very strong feelings in me concerning the "joy" of female relationships and how precious life is. I think most readers will recognize either themselves or their friends in these characters; and I can pretty much promise that you will shed a few tears for these women (and maybe for yourself.) I absolutely treasured this novel because it did evoke so many feelings in me.

I'm sure it's no surprise that JOY FOR BEGINNERS would make a fantastic book club pick. There is a reading guide available with eleven great questions, but I think most female book clubs could jump right in with their own impressions about the characters and their stories. Some of the themes that you might want to further explore include friendship, marriage, love, family dynamics, grief, loss, forgiveness, acceptance, mothering, and healing. It truly is a book filled with so many concepts to ponder.

I highly recommend JOY FOR BEGINNERS for anyone who loves beautiful stories about women. But I have to warn you that you might want to sit down with a box of tissues when you read it.

Thanks to the author for sending me a copy of her novel.

11 comments:

iwriteinbooks said...

Ah, I've heard a lot about the weepy factor on this one. Still, crying included I think I need to read it!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I cried the most during the cancer walk chapter. I think it was a combination of reading it and remembering when Dawn did it!

Sandy Nawrot said...

Well, School of Essential Ingredients just blew me away on audio. I'm still thinking about it years later. So I know I must read this one, but am waiting (hopefully) for it to become available on audio. I love her format, when we get to dip into each person's life and learning about their circumstances. Come on, audio book people, get cracking!

Sheila (Bookjourney) said...

I love books about womens friendships! Thanks so much for this review! I have seen this one before but had not taken the time to know more about it. Now I want it! :)

Bailey (The Window Seat Reader) said...

It was definitely a tear jerker. I also think you're so right when you say different women resonate more with each reader.. my mom and I both read this and it was neat to see which ones she enjoyed most and which ones were my favorites!

Megan said...

Your thoughts on this book totally echo mine. Having read both of her novels, I definitely count myself a fan of Erica Bauermeister now, too. She does do a brilliant job of appealing to the senses, and to the emotions. I read most of Joy For Beginners on the train, but I'm glad I finished it at home because by the time Kate's chapter rolled around I was in (sloppy) tears.

Donna said...

Sounds like a great book. Thanks for the wonderful review. I am a new follower. I would like to invite you to my blog for a visit (and hopefully a follow.) I write book reviews and stories about my crazy life. Donna

http://mylife-in-stories.blogspot.com

bermudaonion said...

I read this book on our trip and, like Jill, cried during parts of it. (I thought about Dawn too!). One of the things that really struck me about the book was that the women were supportive and caring, instead of competitive, which is the way I think friendships should be. This is a book that will stand the test of time.

stacybuckeye said...

I've got this one one the way and am waiting with my Kleenex!

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

yup, that's the chapter I bawled through! This book totally took me by surprise - I was expecting something "light" and got totally caught up in some of the stories. I'll be going back to read SCHOOL OF ESSENTIAL INGREDIENTS!

Stacie said...

I loved this book too. I think it is my favorite so far this year. I loved the way she wrote it too, giving each woman her own chapter.