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The Recipe Club: A Tale of Food and Friendship
The Recipe Club: A Tale of Food and Friendship
by Andrea Israel
Edition: Hardcover
61 used & new from $0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Creative and Engaging, August 11, 2010
Have you ever wondered how childhood relationships form your later years? The Recipe Club discusses that idea through food and friendship.

The Recipe Club is a brilliant book that takes place in the present and past. Told through letters and, later, e-mails, the book follows two women from childhood through adulthood, showing how early decisions can catapult a future.

At the book's start, Valerie, in her late 30s, e-mails her childhood best friend Lily after over 20 years of no communication. As they try to pick up where they left off, pieces from their past come back to haunt them and they have to decide if a newly reinstated friendship is worth it.

After the decision is made, for the entire middle of the book, their past friendship is played out through letters written back and forth from age 10 through 20. At around age 10, Valerie moves away from her best friend Lily. In order to stay in touch, they exchange letters and recipes that deal with what's going on with their lives. Their whole friendship is played out through this correspondence, each letter more honest - and vivid as they get older - than the next. From first kisses to applying to college, the girls go through everything together, regardless of the fact that they're polar opposites. Valerie is the careful, smart one who looks to Lily for boy advice, while Lily is carefree and dramatic, like her theatre-loving mother, one to jump at an opportunity, despite the risks. Every time they start to drift apart, as distance tends to cause this, the two are brought back together. They have a history together, after all.

In the background are their parents - all opposites, and all connected in one way or another. They form the girls to be who they are, and even, in a way, mess them up along the way.

The authors do a wonderful job of letting the characters naturally grow without forcing them. In the ultimate act of "showing, not telling," the action is mentioned as if the reader was there. It even continues between letters. Things are hinted at, briefly described, as if the reader was part of the story; a fly peering down on their lives.

When the book picks back up at the present, towards the end, the tone shifts as the two girls come to understandings about themselves, and each other. At that point, the book is written as a novel, rather than in letters. This drastic change is important, as it brings the reader up to speed, and lets them in on the book's climactic moment.

Despite the shift, it goes back to letters after for a wonderfully complete ending. Without saying too much, the book takes the girls from a time when actions had no consequences to the present when every word spoken or unspoken can mean the restart or the end of a friendship.

The Recipe Club is a wonderful, quick read. The writing is great, and definitely takes on not just the age of the girls, but the time period as well (from the 50s through today). For that, I think it was smart to have two different writers, as each gives their own voice to their character (and I'd love to know who wrote each character). Although the big reveal at the end was a bit predictable to me from the beginning, it was still an interesting way to take the story.

The recipes included were delightful - each one graphically done as the girl would have when she sent it (Lily's recipes had peace signs on a stationary when she encountered her hippie days; Val's had cutesy drawings and hearts when she had her first kiss, and so on). As a typography lover, this part got me the most.

The Recipe Club is a fantastic, addictive read and a really fun cookbook.

Everything Is Going to Be Great: An Underfunded and Overexposed European Grand Tour
Everything Is Going to Be Great: An Underfunded and Overexposed European Grand Tour
by Rachel Shukert
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.99
101 used & new from $0.01

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Insane and Awesome, August 11, 2010
Rachel Shukert is that friend you wish you had. The one that comes back from an amazing adventure and fills you in on everything, leaving you with a gaping mouth and a desire to travel. That's exactly what Everything is Going to be Great is - one delicious adventure that's, thankfully, re-told.

I was introduced to Shukert's work a few years back, when Samir heard about her first book, Have You No Shame, through author Julie Klausner. Convinced I'd like it because I'm Jewish and she's Jewish (in the words of him "aren't you required to like one another's writings?"), he bought it for me. I'm glad he did. She's outrageous, witty, and an extremely talented writer.

So I was especially excited when I heard she had a new book coming out. This book chronicles her European "vacation" (I use that word loosely, as it's far from a vacation), and all of the strange characters she encounters. Starting in New York, when she's given the chance to travel to Vienna with the play she's in (which doesn't play), she decides the take the plunge and go, hoping to - like every other 20-something - find herself. And try to find herself she does, as she travels from Vienna to Zurich to Amsterdam, and meets an amazing cast of characters, including an old man who believes one can't be beautiful and Jewish, a number of skinheads, Italians who throw dinner parties and fix teeth, a duo who think they're vampires, and many, many more - including her now husband. She's robbed, taken advantage of, yelled at - and yet, she lives through everything. It's insane, it's ghastly, it's amazing. Shukert is incredibly honest about everything, and I truly respect her for that.

Rather than long essays, like her previous book, Everything Is Going To Be Great is one giant story. In the midst of the book are pieces of travel advice (that are not necessarily helpful, but really fantastic), including "When Someone Mistakes You For a Prostitute," "Are You About to Be Sex-Trafficked? A Checklist," and "Another Century in Paradise: Phil Collins and the Dutch: A Survey."See? Fantastic. It's one of the most fun memoirs out there.

The book is often shocking, always hilarious, and incredibly introspective. She's the kind of writer who makes you feel like a friends; it's as if you're not reading her book, but she's telling it to you over drinks. And, let me say, despite her insane circumstances, everyone should want her as a friend.

The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games, Book 1)
The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games, Book 1)
by Suzanne Collins
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $10.73
679 used & new from $0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Dark, Crazy, Awesome, August 11, 2010
As you probably know by now, Hunger Games is about a post-apocaliptic North America. The land is now Panem, a country divided into the capital and 12 distinct districts. Each year, to show that the leaders in the capital are all-powerful, two children (a boy and a girl aged 12-18) are chosen from each district to compete in a televised battle royale. The 24 children must fight to the death, until only one stands. That winner will bring wealth and respect back to his or her family and district. The entire event is broadcast to the city for - disgustingly - its entertainment.

Sixteen year old Katniss Evergreen is from District 12, a very poor area known for coal mining. With her father dead, she single-handedly takes care of her mother and younger sister, Prim. When Prim is chosen to be part of the Hunger Games, Katniss volunteers to take her place. So, she and the baker's son, Peeta, are taken to the capital and - eventually - the games, where they have to use every skill possible to literally stay alive.

The book is extremely gripping from page one. Part The Lottery, part Lord of the Flies and part Battle Royale, it brings all of the themes together into one delicious read. And it doesn't hold back. While just a young adult book, Suzanne Collins does not treat her readers like children. From the moment the games begin, character die - brutally. Shocking, terrifying, and utterly engaging, the book doesn't let you put it down.

I enjoyed the overall theme - how the government, when given the chance, can really overtake and overthrow society. I never forgot how much was at stake for Katniss, as she navigated the playing field, and it utterly terrified me. It's a great read for today's society, that's so obsessed with reality tv shows.

There's a reason the book has been linked to the Twilight series. While much better written, it's equally as grabbing. There isn't a vampire, yet there is an underlying romance brewing for Katniss. Yet, as opposed to Bella, Katniss is extremely hardcore. She's not weak, and while at times she does doubt her survival, she continues going. She's a fantastic character.

While brutal, the book was truly fantastic and I'm eagerly awaiting the arrival of the sequel (and the release of the final book of the trilogy - Mockingjay). Seriously, don't doubt it. It may seem similar in theme, but it definitely brings a new spin and is incredibly haunting from page one. It shows the power of children, and, ultimately, the raw talent of the author. It keeps you thinking, as any great book should do.

Pictures of Lily
Pictures of Lily
by Paige Toon
Edition: Paperback
68 used & new from $0.01

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent!, July 14, 2010
This review is from: Pictures of Lily (Paperback)
It was about a year ago when I first discovered Paige Toon, and since then I've devoured all of her books. They're fun, fresh, and completely unpredictable. A far cry from simple chick lit, they give the reader something to think about long after the last page is turned. Thankfully, Pictures of Lily, her newest release, is just the same.

When Lily was 16 years old, she fell in love with someone she shouldn't have fallen in love with. Now, 10 years later, she's engaged to her boyfriend and although she should be happy, she can't get her first love out of her head. When her past comes back, she has a serious decision to make.

Once again, Toon fills a book with beautiful visuals (the natural side of Australia) and deep, personal drama. Written from Lily's perspective, Toon does an excellent job balancing inner monologue with action. While there is much contemplation, it never gets to be too much. Lily is a terrific narrator; her voice is strong and although unsure, it always has a hint of what she really wants. It's extremely honest.

Like her other books, Toon introduces us to memorable characters. Both male counterparts (I don't want to give away too much, as the dynamics are quite interesting) are extremely likable, which makes Lily's decision that much harder. And when she finally makes it in the end, you're relieved, and a bit worried for the one who doesn't get her. He's part of you - you don't want to see him hurt. (Interestingly enough, I cheered on the guy she didn't' chose, although I understood why she went the other way. It made sense, but I love that I was so conflicted. I actually debated it in my mind - embarrassingly often).

The writing is beautiful and addictive. Like her other books, I devoured this one in three days, hardly ever putting it down. The story is relatable, and extremely entertaining - never a dull spot, and full of ongoing leaps. It pushes the boundaries and makes you wonder what, exactly, you would do given the situation?

Like Lucy in the Sky, this one takes place in Australia, and the beautiful outback and city becomes a character in itself. If it wasn't so expensive, I'd fly there right now, just to see the koalas and Opera house. And hopefully the characters.

My absolute favorite part is that, once again, there are many references to her previous books. If you haven't read them, it won't matter, but if you have, you'll enjoy the re-appearance of Lucy and Nathan (Lucy in the Sky), Johnny Jefferson (Johnny Be Good), and Daisy and Luis (Chasing Daisy). I love that they're brought back - it's as if their stories haven't ended; they're still going on at the same time.

Pictures of Lily is a fantastic read, one that takes you on a journey through 10 years. You see the characters age and change - they become someone new, and yet sometimes, quite the same. If you haven't read any of Toon's books yet, definitely check this one out.

Turtle in Paradise
Turtle in Paradise
by Jennifer L. Holm
Edition: Hardcover
162 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Cute and Well-Researched, June 18, 2010
This review is from: Turtle in Paradise (Hardcover)
Although brought up with Little Orphan Annie and Shirley Temple, Turtle knows life isn't that easy - it isn't full of song numbers and happy endings. As a housekeeper with her mom, she's constantly moving from house to house. That is, until her mom gets hired by a woman who hates kids. So it's off to Key West for Turtle, where she's to live with her Aunt, Uncle and three male cousins - all of whom she's never met. But Turtle is tough, she's not afraid.

Once there, she realizes that Key West is quite like another world. It's beyond hot, no one wears shoes, and everyone is seemingly related. But soon enough, she swept up with the tide of things, ditches her shoes, becomes one of the infamous Diaper Baby Gang, learns of secret buried treasure, and slowly comes out of her shell. Turtle learns what's really important, and how sometimes what you really want may be right in front of you.

Holm wrote a great book for kids, one full of adventure, mystery and growth (and even a little bit of history). Every little girl will want to be 11-year-old Turtle, who's sharp, witty, observant and smart. And every boy can identify with her cousins, the Diaper Baby Gang, who pull pranks, are exclusive about the company they keep and may even have their own weak spots. Then there are the adults, who, although air-headed at times, or bossy and mean at others, truly care.

The book has an incredibly amount of detail that's accurate to the time period. From old writers sitting in the pub (Hemingway), to sponge diving to make a living, the Great Depression is a great background. I especially like that it's mentioned, however not made into a brutal plot point. Although lack of money keeps Turtle and her mom apart, it's not because of stock markets or dust bowls. I also enjoyed the detail given to the scenery. Having been to Key West, I delighted in reading about the island during the early 1900s. From the scorpions to the ice cream, everything put you in that tropical state of mind. The book wonderfully culminates with an action-packed ending which invigorates and excites the reader. It's actually a bit scary, but you never lose hope.

Turtle in Paradise is a fast paced read that keeps you on your toes. Whether young or old, the book, along with Turtle's strength and heart, with intrigue, entertain, and thoroughly delight you.

Before I Fall
Before I Fall
by Lauren Oliver
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $14.66
253 used & new from $0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Unforgettable, June 18, 2010
This review is from: Before I Fall (Hardcover)
Samantha (Sam) Kingston has amazing friends, a hot boyfriend, extreme popularity and a promising future. Cupid Day (a celebration of Valentine's Day) should be like any other day - only it turns out to be her last.

And then she wakes up. She has a second chance (actually, seven additional chances) to relive her last day and figure out the mystery surrounding her death. As she repeats the day over and over again, she learns more about those people she knows, and, ultimately, herself. Because only when she gets everything right can she take her next step.

With an amazing sense of style, Oliver creates a story that's both beautiful and haunting; painful and addictive. It's a stark look at high school - how popularity and perfection overrule feelings and truth. Through the carefully created plot, little intricacies are pulled apart to reveal the underlining actuality of it all.

As the days go on, Sam tests her new purgatory-like life and changes things step by step. What if she doesn't get into the car that crashes? What if she doesn't go to the party? What if she's nice to the girl that's always bullied? Every time Sam changes something, much like the butterfly effect, other events start to unfold before her eyes and she learns more about the entire situation. From a stuck up high school student, Sam becomes more human, more real, and utterly compassionate. She starts to see what's more important in the scheme of things. What's more important in life.

Her friends become more complex as well, as you see deeper and different sides of them. Flawed and tragic at times, yet real and passionate at others, you hate them and love them and completely understand why Sam would do anything for them. (I especially loved Kent - LOVED him.)

As the pages roll on, Sam talks directly to the reader, addressing them and almost dares them to defy her. She hints at what she learns, shows what's going on, yet never blatantly throws a lesson in your face. This subtlety is honest and wonderful and really makes you think. Everything beautifully wraps up in the end, lessons and actions, providing a truly satisfying (and tearful) conclusion.

Because for Sam, it's great to be popular, but as she relives her last day, she learns that popularity doesn't mean everything. Having the best boyfriend isn't a prize when he isn't what you want. And maybe that guy, that nobody who's actually quite nice, might be a better choice.

BEFORE I FALL is a book that stays with you. It makes you question each decision you make, whether big or small (as the book shows how the smallest of things - like taking a parking spot - could change the future). But it also dares you to look around and appreciate everything there is. Oliver's addictive prose makes the book so much more than a young adult version of Groundhog's Day; it shows the value behind every action, every thought.

Oliver has an amazing talent, and I can't wait for her second book to come out.

How Did You Get This Number
How Did You Get This Number
by Sloane Crosley
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $25.95
151 used & new from $0.01

12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Insightful and fun, June 18, 2010
Sloane Crosley is an extraordinary talent. Much like the other notorious essay writers of today (Sedaris, Vowell), her essays are private and often hilarious glimpses into her life. From encountering clowns in Lisbon to getting kicked out of Paris, Crosley has seen - and done - a lot. And her essays let you experience her life in a way that feels like you, too, were there.

How Did You Get This Number is a fantastic book, with an extraordinarily strong voice. (Which is obvious, considering her last book, the fantastically titled I Was Told There'd Be Cake, is in development as a series on HBO.) She makes the mundane interesting, the outrageous seemingly normal. Her writing is vivid, detailed and doesn't leave anything out. Her conversational tone is welcoming, and her stories addictive. And throughout it all, you just wish you were friends with her.

Show Me on the Doll, the first and my favorite essay, details her random trip to Lisbon, where she, as mentioned, met clowns, got lost and found a tower that didn't lead to anything. Still, the experience was enlightening in a way a trip to Paris wouldn't have been. Le Paris!, which chronicles two trips to the city beautiful, shows the humor in traveling, and how things aren't always how you remember them to be. Take a Stab at It is a relatable tale about crazy roommates, and If You Sprinkle is a fantastic tale about growing up and who we - and those who were cool in elementary school - become. It's about those passive-aggressive friendships, and how there's no way to predict the future, despite what the game Girl Talk may suggest. Off the Back of a Truck was incredibly surprising - in a fantastic way. While most of Crosley's essays point out her embarrassing moments, with pure self-deprecating writing, this one shows a very honest, vulnerable person getting over a relationship. None of her other essays have documented her dating life, so I found this one especially telling - in a good way. I really enjoyed it, as it shows how much you take on in a relationship, and how sometimes it's too much.

As much as I enjoyed Crosley's first book, I definitely prefer this one. I still have a thing with her last lines (I like last lines to be epic and sometimes hers left me wanting more), and some of her essays were a bit much (to the point that you wonder if it really was all true), but still I really enjoyed the book. Her essays take you through a maze and just when you think you're completely lost, they bring you right back to where you started. She's a tremendous talent, and I can't wait to see what else she has to come.

Postcards from a Dead Girl: A Novel
Postcards from a Dead Girl: A Novel
by Kirk Farber
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.99
71 used & new from $0.01

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Twisted, May 18, 2010
Sid is going crazy. Not only does he have the truly monotonous job of being a telemarketer for a travel agency (where his overly enthusiastic boss constantly offers encouragement over the headsets), but he's also slowly becoming a bit unhinged and neurotic. To the point that he's apologizing to his dog for being out too late - and feeling truly bad about it. He's obsessed with car washes and goes through them over and over again. He loves mud baths. He's a hypochondriac and constantly calling his sister, who is a doctor, for advice. And this is all because his ex-girlfriend, Zoe, has been sending him postcards from her European adventure. The thing is, Zoe has disappeared. And the postcards? They're marked a year ago. Although he knows he can't find her, Sid uses his traveling connections and plans his own jaunt through Europe.

The book brings readers through Sid's mind and out again as he tries to figure out not just this mystery with Zoe, but, ultimately, himself. In a funny, odd, and sometimes macabre book, Kirk Farber points out the mundane parts of life, and the everyday adventures that make them tolerable.

This book is genuinely interesting, in an ordinary sort of way. That is - Farber has an amazing talent of making ordinary moments interesting. Sid could be any other hypochondriac, but you like him. You also don't find it weird that he talks to the spirit of his dead mother, which, apparently, now inhabits a wine bottle. See? Things like that aren't weird in this book.

Sid is a likable main character just trying to get by - and figure out his ultimate mystery: where Zoe is, if she's alive, and why he's getting postcards a year later. It's all very mysterious - and really addictive. The book is an easy read - the writing is superb - and flows nicely, keeping you interested in the next chapter, next page. And when Sid embarks on his journey to Europe to find out just what's going on, you want to be there with him, cheering him on. It's that life-changing venture that you just want to see how it plays out.

It's a fun and often funny read. Definitely a great book to pick up.

Time of My Life: A Novel
Time of My Life: A Novel
by Allison Winn Scotch
Edition: Paperback
Price: $9.33
163 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Very relatable, May 18, 2010
It's a story that everyone dreams about. What if, when life isn't what you wanted, you can go back in time and do some things over. Reunite with a lost relative. Say a final goodbye to a now deceased friend. Get back with an ex-boyfriend. That's exactly what happens to Jillian Westfield, who, in her perfect life with her perfect husband Henry and perfect child, feels lost and not entirely herself. When she learns that her ex-boyfriend, the one she never fully got over, is getting married, she wonders...what if?

That question becomes a reality, when she wakes up seven years in the past, back in her post-college apartment shared with Jackson. With her knowledge of the future, she can do everything over - and right this time, from work to family to relationships. But with each change she makes, she realizes that her future is also changing. As she gets what she thought she wanted, she realizes that maybe things were okay as they were - and maybe her problems didn't actually stem from the two men in her life, but maybe the problem was with her.

Allison Winn Scotch's Time of My Life is an incredibly quick read. Engaging and relatable, it takes you through Jillian's mistakes and makeups over and over again as she learns that hindsight isn't always helpful. An incredibly fun read, and very well written, it made me wish I was Jillian quite a few times.

At first I didn't much like Jillian - I found her problems ridiculous. She was upset that she had a wonderful house, husband, and daughter? She was upset that she didn't have to work? But then, as the cracks were slowly opened, you see the real her and realize that those problems are a big deal, and that life isn't always as great as it looks. Sometimes feeling comfortable just isn't enough. Sometimes it's better to live than survive.

Both men, Henry and Jackson, are fantastic characters, different in their own ways, and you can see why Jillian has a hard time getting over the latter - or, now in the past, why she wants to make sure she doesn't lose him again. With an incredibly amount of perception, Scotch gives Jillian the choice to choose everything all over again, and it's interesting to see where she goes right, and yet where she still goes wrong.

But it's more than just choosing between the two men - she has to revisit work, family and friends. She learns that ignoring problems, and friends, doesn't solve anything. In fact, some of my favorite scenes are her with her friends - they seem very real.

What stuck with me most about this book, though, was this quote:

That is how life should be...shiny and imperfect, but, despite the flaws, still full of promise for the year to come.

Life isn't perfect at times, no, but things happen for a reason. And despite their effects, it's your job to make sure you live the life you want. That you don't settle or become someone you don't recognize. And that's what Jillian learns - that she doesn't have to change the past to be the person she wants to be. That sometimes you just need to revisit who you were to see who you've become.

A wonderful "what if" book that makes me look forward to what else Scotch has in store. Beautifully written, I really enjoyed it.

Avalon High
Avalon High
by Meg Cabot
Edition: Hardcover
124 used & new from $0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely Wonderful, May 18, 2010
This review is from: Avalon High (Hardcover)
Everyone has read the story of King Arthur: the sword in the stone, the holy grail. But what if you one day find yourself trapped in that same story?

When Ellie moves from Minnesota to just outside of Washington D.C. for her junior year of high school, while her parents take a sabbatical to continue their medieval studies, she's not entirely thrilled, yet not dreading it. She soon realizes that her school, Avalon High, is typical enough, with all the typical characters, including football player Lance, gorgeous cheerleader Jennifer, and stunningly handsome senior class president/quarterback/all around good guy Will.

But Ellie quickly learns that things aren't as typical as they seem - not even herself. As the story unfolds, Ellie finds herself in the middle of a crazy drama, one that - shockingly enough - mirrors that of King Arthur's court. As she pieces together the puzzle, she wonders if her story - or, more specifically, Will's, will end just as Arthur's did. Ellie doesn't know what to believe, but she knows she has to try before evil wins again.

Meg Cabot truly has a way with words. I finally picked up Avalon High and I'm so glad I did. Sure, the plot may sound cheesy, but it's not. It's good. Weaving a terrific tale, from page one I was hooked, when there wasn't any medieval lore, when it was just a typical YA novel. But I adored the medieval plot as well. I'm a sucker for Arthur tales.

What I specifically loved about the novel is the characters. Ellie is a great girl-next-door main character that every reader can relate to. Will is gorgeous, and you see why Ellie likes him. Jennifer, Will's girlfriend, was one of my favorite characters due to her duality - you wanted to hate her, you really did, but you just couldn't. Cabot gives reason for every decision, and it's beautifully done. Even Lance, who is more just there than a character, is fun.

There's plenty of romance in the book, but there's mostly action. The ending had me hooked, tearing through the pages until the last sentence.

I highly recommend Avalon High, even if you're not interested in Arthurian lore. I will say one thing - you may find yourself Wikipedia-ing Arthur and Lancelot a few days later, trying to get a little more out of the book.

Expertly combining Arthurian legend with modern day high school drama, Avalon High is a fantastic book that keeps readers guessing the entire time.

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