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on June 9, 2011
Kate challenges a group of her friends to pursue their own joy in ways that each of them need.

The women are a loosely connected group who were first put together by Marion to be a "baby-holding" help to help Sara out with her newborn twins (and preschooler son). When Kate was diagnosed with breast cancer, Marion thought it only made sense for the group to morph from helping out Sara to being there for Kate, a divorced empty-nester, in her time of need.

When Kate beat breast cancer, she did something that she never thought she would. She agreed to accompany her adult daughter on a raft trip through the Grand Canyon. She figured that she had cheated death once -- why not expand her boundaries while pushing her luck a second time? At her celebration dinner, Marion thinks that each of them should make a pact to do something that is "scary or difficult or that we've always said we were going to do but haven't" (ARC page 8). Kate thought it was a great idea but added "I didn't get to choose mine, so I get to choose yours."

These women were all so different, and so readers will each relate to a different woman's struggles, which would probably make for a good book club chat.

I loved each of them in different ways:

*Hadley, a young widow, trying to push through her grief and figure out life on her own
*Caroline, bookstore owner (love her already!)recovering from a divorce and navigating life as an empty-nester
*Marion, the glue of the group, who needs to be pushed to do something just for her
*Daria, Marion's younger sister, an independent, artistic, free-spirit
*Sara, a good mom, wrapped up in the needs of her family, who is challenged to forget all of them for a while
*Ava, a friend of Kate's who couldn't be there for Kate during her illness and feels like she's being punished
*and Kate, the survivor, brave but not maudlin

This book reminded me a great deal of Erica Bauermeister's first novel The School of Essential Ingredients. The characters and the plot are entirely different, but the beautiful, lyrical language that jumps off the page is the same, and each book looks at a loosely connected group of people, and devotes a section to each character.
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VINE VOICEon July 19, 2011
"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" -- Mary Oliver

That question from the epigraph is pertinent to Kate, who was hit hard by breast cancer and, now recovered, is reluctant to accept her daughter's celebratory challenge to go white-water rafting. But it's also pertinent to Kate's circle of close friends, who support her by agreeing that she also issue a challenge to each of them -- something that will ease a fear and increase the joy and living in their own lives.

I loved Bauermeister's debut novel (The School of Essential Ingredients, a collection of linked stories about the students in a series of cooking classes) and remember ending my review by wishing I could read another set of stories about the next year's class. Happily, JOY FOR BEGINNERS is nearly that, with writing as sensual and lush and stories as tender and hopeful. But here they're even sweeter, gentle to the point of lacking narrative tension, and they lack SCHOOL's sympathetic lead character and unifying story premise. Recommended for readers in the mood for comforting stories about women's friendships.
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VINE VOICEon July 15, 2011
My book club chose Joy for Beginners (well named title, by the way) for our next selection. As I had not read her earlier book yet, I went and got that one first. (It is excellent.) I could not wait to read this book after finishing the first. Though completely different premises, the writing style was very similar, as well as the way the characters are presented. The author writes in a way that can best be described as lyrical. The prose flows and the conversations seem very real.

In this book, the reader is introduced to a number of women, friends for various periods of time (some just with one other woman) but all connected to one woman, Kate, who has survived breast cancer. Kate is a major common thread throughout the story, though each chapter focuses on an individual woman, one at a time.

I liked how the author made Kate very human, with both flaws and attributes that are easy to relate to. Though I have not had to deal with cancer personally, I could still connect to Kate's fears and concerns. The other women are also easy to consider as people we know on a daily basis. Each woman had a situation in her life that she needs to overcome and Kate is able to hone in on that one area in the form of a personal challenge. The only aspect of the book I did not like was that, for the most part, once a chapter was over, the other characters were not reintroduced. I happen to like closure and that lack of knowing what would happen next was difficult for me. However, that is a personal preference and many readers will likely enjoy the possibilities. I could see a sequel from this book, especially with the women whose stories were left hanging, such as Ava, Caroine, Hadley and Robin.

Overall, I expect our book club will have a rich conversation about women, choices, life and death, friendship and more. I am excited to have discovered this author and hope she continues to write more books.
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on June 24, 2011
I really loved School of Essential Ingredients and anticipated this book. Although the book started out interesting, I became bored and started just skimming parts to try to get back to the story, which never happened. The chapters are short stories with details about each of the lives of the main character's friends. The story never brings the characters back together after each one accomplished the challenge that she requests they accomplish. Sometimes, there are large pieces of time that pass in each chapter, days even years, before a character accomplishes her challenge. It would have been nice if there had been periods where the characters came back together for encouragement and follow-up. The story just didn't flow very well. But, if you like books with a plethora of short stories, then you would like this. I think this author has fallen into a formula that just didn't work here.
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on March 29, 2013
The premise that one would choose for your friends what they must do
to challenge themselves - and that they all do it, defied reality. I did
enjoy each of the characters, liked learning how they became connected
to one another, and how each contributed in genuine ways to enrich each
others' lives.
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on March 6, 2013
After reading Erica Bauermeister’s first two novels, I was curious about what she would take on in her third novel. Bauermeister’s first novel about a woman who runs a successful restaurant and offers cooking classes was an excellent addition to the ‘cooking fiction’ genre. The tale of Lillian and her restaurant seemed fairly finished in Bauermeister’s second ‘sequel’ novel (The Lost Art of Mixing), so I was anxious to see if she could pull out yet another great book. After reading this book, I believe she was clearly more than up to the task! I was even more taken with this novel.

The main protagonist, Kate, has just finished a year long bout with breast cancer. To be honest, I have been steering far away from cancer-themed stories these days after having cancer hit much too close to home in my family. However, I read this book anyway, hoping for an engrossing story that would enchant me in spite of the big C, and I found it. Rather than focus on cancer itself, this book focuses on friendship and personal challenges instead. In a gathering surrounded by her friends, Kate is challenged to a river rafting trip by her daughter. They all encourage her to go on the trip (of course, after all, what are friends for???). She in turn individually challenges each of her friends to do something that is very difficult to face. Each woman faces her challenge in unique ways, and Bauermeister resists the temptation to ‘tie every shoelace’ in their stories. Rather, the real read is in how each woman greets her task and goes about facing it.

As you read each of these incredible women’s stories, I hope that you will be as moved as I was at the insights and truths that Bauermeister voices around every turn. There is something so validating and healing about hearing your inner thoughts echoed through another person’s thoughts (fictional or otherwise). I found myself underlining many passages to re-read later, and know that this will be a book I will read at least once more before I put it away in the bookshelf. I recommend it as an engrossing read, and can hardly wait for Bauermeister’s next book.
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on June 8, 2013
This is a fun story of 7 girlfriends, who throughout the years have been there for one another. Some are of the same age, some younger but, all with a tight bond. When one friend, Kate beats cancer, and while at her celebratory dinner with the friends, she decides to challenges herself to something that makes her uncomfortable, which is agreeing to join her daughter on a rafting trip down the grand canyon as a way of feeling alive again. At the dinner one of the friends suggest that each of them should do something that they normally wouldn't do, maybe making them uncomfortable, scared, or just needed. Kate feeling that since she didn't get to pick her own challenge, would like to pick theirs. Knowing each of them well, she gives them each a challenge which is necessary to their moving forward with their lives.. What a great story to read, and I as a reader learned something myself from each of their challenges. This is my second book by this author and really like her style of writing.
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on February 12, 2014
Even though I'd read other books by Erica Bauermeister this book was a wonderful surprise. I am re-reading it again. Never have I met such characters who are now my literary friends. The insights in this book are filling my journal. Again, this author has a special turn with words that makes every page a gem to remember. For anyone who loves their friends, this book is a must!

Joyce Norman, Author
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on April 9, 2012
This was a lovely little novel, each story linked by friendship, compassion, and hope.

Kate, a breast cancer survivor, challenges her closest friends to do something that scares them. With each challenge, we learn more about the women, about the past that shapes them. The two stories that touched me most were Caroline and Hadley. While the other stories focused on redemption of sorts, I felt that these two focused on acceptance.

This is the kind of novel that is passed along from friend to friend, mother to daughter. It highlights the bonds that women form, the way we band together to help one in need. It reminds us to challenge each other, to seek our happiness, to remember that we are more than just a disease, a fear, or an unhappiness. We let those things make our worlds small when we have the power to reach beyond and find our joy. Sometimes it helps to have someone point us in the right direction.

I recommend this Joy For Beginners. Especially if you need a little hope or a little help rediscovering your joy.
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on January 24, 2014
I love love love this book! I received this book in the mail from the publisher right after my now ex-husband had just abandoned my kids and I. The opening chapter spoke directly to my heart. I sat on the side of my bed and wept. I have since re-read it multiple times and have learned somethng new each time. I have bought several copies to give away and have read all of her other books.
I would love to meet Erica Bauermeister to find out how she gained so much wisdom and insight into the human heart, mind and spirit!!!!
After reading this I was inspired to cross off my list some things I was afraid to do but did it anyway!
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