Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Group Review: Joy For Beginners


Summary: Having survived a life-threatening illness, Kate celebrates by gathering with six close friends.  At an intimate, outdoor dinner on a warm September evening, the women challenge Kate to start her new lease on life by going white-water rafting down the Grand Canyon with her daughter.  Kate, however, is reluctant to take the risk.  That is, until her friend Marion proposes a pact: if Kate will face the rapids, each woman will do one thing in the next year that scares her.  Kate agrees, with one provision — she didn’t get to choose her challenge, so she gets to choose theirs. ~product description

Alice's Review:  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. 

Final Take: 3/5

Jenn's Review: After becoming addicted to Sarah Addison Allen's novels, I was searching for more food lit; Erica Bauermeister's The of Essential Ingredients (recommended by Ms. Allen) was one of the first books I read on my food-lit quest ~and I loved it. So I was excited when I learned Ms. Bauermeister had a new novel. Though it is contemporary fiction, not food-lit, and a little out of my normal genre comfort zone, I felt confident that Ms. Bauermeister's ability to weave a story would keep me engaged. I was not disappointed.

As with The of Essential Ingredients, there are several characters whose lives intersect because of one more central character. In Joy for Beginners, it is Kate who is having a victory dinner to celebrate the remission of her cancer. She assigns each friend a goal, something that must be accomplished in a years time. They aren't scary or impossible things, but, having spent so much time with them as they helped her through her illness, they are things she has gleaned will help them move on with their lives. Each woman gets their own chapter and we learn a little about their past and their present. Everyone makes progress, and sometimes in surprising ways.

My only regret is that Erica Bauermeister never delves into the character's futures. This is also very similar to The of Essential Ingredients.  As the novel drew to a close, I found myself wishing for one more summative chapter including all the women. Though her final chapter is about Kate, which is probably as it should be, as she is the ribbon that binds this group together. I guess you could say, her novels are a bit like life, open ended for continuous adventures. Still, I longed for a tad more closure.

However, I know I will return to Erica Bauermeister again with each new novel, for her insight is so keen. She takes defining moments in life, and gives you a snapshot and I love that about her writing.

Final Take: 4/5

Julie's Review: I love that we all have such different tastes in books and yet  Joy For Beginners is one that is right up my alley but I probably wouldn't have known about it except for Jenn. What starts off as a celebratory dinner with friends to celebrate Kate beating cancer, quickly turns into a challenge of fears. Kate's friends encourage her to go white water rafting with her daughter. Kate agrees but then tells her friends that each of them need to conquer a fear of theirs. The catch, Kate gets to pick what they need to conquer.

What we get in the novel is a chapter dedicated to each of the women at the dinner. What we get is 9 unique stories about these women's lives. These women are your friends, your mom and your sister. Some stories were more interesting and intriguing than others, but that's life. Some people have more to overcome than others. While some fears might not seem big to us, they are big to that person.

Each of the women's story doesn't have nice bows to wrap them up but you do feel that you aren't hanging without an ending. You know their lives will go on after these challenges and that each will be ok facing a fear, perhaps they will be even stronger because of it.

As always you have the stories you connect with as a reader and that will be different than everyone. I connected with Caroline's story. Not because of getting a divorce but because of having to purge books. I mean it's not their fault her husband was a jerk?! I also liked Sara's story. As a mother, who adores her children, I can only dream of taking a trip on her own to some place like Italy. Now, I'm not sure I'd go there, I'd want to share that one with my family but I'd be on a beach somewhere. (Traveling for work doesn't count here).

I think there is something for everyone in this novel. It makes you think about what your fear would be to conquer. I'm still thinking about mine. :) As we are either on or coming up on Spring Break and then summer, this would be a great read for either of those or a nice long weekend.

A couple side notes:  This book was on my Christmas wish list to my husband so he went out of his way to get me a copy but the only one he could fine was a large print version. So I read a huge hardcover with huge words in it. It could have been worse, a small print version.

Also, I seem to be reading a lot of authors that are from Seattle lately. I feel like I need a trip there to scope out everything in their books.

Final Take: 3.75/5


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