Thursday, May 24, 2012

Book Review: The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman

Emily and Jessamine Bach are opposites in every way: Twenty-eight-year-old Emily is the CEO of Veritech, twenty-three-year-old Jess is an environmental activist and graduate student in philosophy. Pragmatic Emily is making a fortune in Silicon Valley, romantic Jess works in an antiquarian bookstore. Emily is rational and driven, while Jess is dreamy and whimsical. Emily’s boyfriend, Jonathan, is fantastically successful. Jess’s boyfriends, not so much. 

National Book Award finalist and New York Times bestselling author Allegra Goodman has written a delicious novel about appetite, temptation, and holding on to what is real in a virtual world: love that stays.

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Because of the nature of my opinion, this review will be short...

I wanted to like The Cookbook Collector, I really did. When it was released a few years ago, it received rave reviews and was touted as a bit of a modernized take on Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility. And as a fan of Austenesque fiction, this idea intrigued me.

I can understand the rave reviews. Allegra Goodman is a fabulously talented writer. She has more writing skill in two sentences than I will ever compose. I can also see the details that tie this with Austen's work.

That being said, I went from trying to give the book a chance, to tolerating it, to just enduring it. Ultimately I didn't care for the story, the characters, or the massive amount of foodie details when discussing recipes and menus. The only things that kept me from abandoning it were my lingering hopes that it would improve, and my required review for the Vine Program.

There are those out there who will adore this book and relish it with the delight of someone having a fine meal. Unfortunately, I was not one of them. When I finally managed to finish the book today, my immediate vocal response was "Good riddance!"

I will now move on to some true Austenesque fiction, with characters and plot lines that are more of a match for my palate...

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 For those who might want to try The Cookbook Collector,
despite my lack of enthusiasm for it...


Monday, May 21, 2012

Book Review: Dancing at the Chance by DeAnna Cameron

New York City in 1907 is a kingdom of endless possibilities for anyone who dares to dream. The Gilded Age has ended, and immigrants fill the bustling streets. The glamour of Broadway lures those who desire the limelight-but only a few are fortunate enough to thrive in the lights of a city that casts long, dark, and merciless shadows...
Pepper MacClair and her mother arrived penniless in New York thirteen years ago, and their fortune has not changed. A dancer of fluid grace and motion, Pepper is still only one chorus girl among many, struggling for an opportunity to prove herself worthy of something bigger.
For now, Pepper dances at The Chance, a rundown venue long past its prime. It is not only Pepper's workplace, where she has pushed her physical endurance to its limit, but also her home. And as the larger world changes around her and she is pulled into the intrigues of New York's elite, it is her last hope, not only to fulfill her dream, but to fulfill her heart.

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With the recent popularity of PBS's Downton Abbey and the reinvigorated interest in the Titanic, there are many like myself who have turned their attentions to the early 20th century.  NBC’s Smash may have also returned a bit of spotlight to the Broadway stage, with all its talent and behind the scenes drama. If your interests are similar, then I recommend to you DeAnna Cameron’s lovely Dancing at the Chance.  Set in New York City in 1907, it’s a pleasant blend of theater politics, performance and interpersonal relationships.

The main focus of the story is Pepper MacClair, a young dancer who has spent most of her life in the theater, who struggles with insecurities and the desire for love and approval. I enjoyed her development as a character, as she grew from a self-doubting performer, looking for love in the wrong place, to someone who knows where to find her true talent and love. She’s a plucky young lady, and I enjoyed her journey. The characters who surrounded her were interesting as well, from her love interest, to her best friend and the many players working at the fictional Chance theater in New York.

While at times I found the plot of Dancing at the Chance to be a bit easy to predict, I enjoyed Cameron’s writing and how she chose to play out her story lines.  The novel’s conclusion was very satisfying, sweet and even a tad surprising in some moments.  Her protagonists are likeable and her villains are detestable, which makes for enjoyable reading.

I also appreciated that the romantic aspects of the story were decidedly PG in nature. There are many similar authors who could have taken advantage of several scenes, spicing them up unnecessarily. This writer is talented enough that she can convey romance, passion and unrequited love in a way that is realistic without being overly titillating.  For that I offer my thanks to Ms. Cameron.

I’m no theater aficionado, but I have attended a handful of Broadway productions and have participated in several amateur musical theater performances over the years (the latter case being in the orchestra pit as a French horn player).  And while Vaudeville is no longer with us, I do have an appreciation and affection for this world.  Dancing at the Chance takes the reader right into the middle of it, with the on stage nerves, backstage politics and all the relational conundrums between cast members.  If you enjoy the theater, this novel will be a fun diversion for you. For those who are completely unfamiliar with this world, it will not only be an enjoyable story, but a bit of an education can be gleaned from Ms. Cameron’s work.

I offer my applause and a “brava” to author DeAnna Cameron. Vaudeville may have been replaced with more modern productions, but in Dancing at the Chance, it endures and glitters upon this literary stage. Take a seat in the audience, and prepare to enjoy the show!

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Stop by DeAnna Cameron's Website for lots of great Dancing at the Chance content and enter her monthly drawing!

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