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How to Eat a CupcakeHow to Eat a Cupcake by Meg Donohue.
Annie Quintana grew up in the apartment over the garage of the grand St. Clair house in San Francisco. Her mother Lucia, straight from Ecuador, was nanny and baker to the St. Clairs, whose only daughter, Julia, was the same age as Annie. Lolly St. Clair and Lucia were even close friends. And until the trauma and cliques of high school drove them apart, Annie and Julia were best friends. Lucia died suddenly right before the end of high school, causing everything fall apart. Now, nearly ten years later, Annie is working as a baker, while Julia has just quit her high-powered New York job to plan her San Francisco wedding. They meet at a party at the St. Clair’s house, as Julia is helping her mother run the party and Annie is delivering cupcakes. Julia is weighed down with a Painful Secret, the cause of which is not spelled out until late in the book but which was immediately obvious to me early on. At the risk of being spoilery, if you are sensitive to pregnancy issues, this book, which looks light and sweet on the surface, is probably not for you. At any rate, Julia is struggling with depression for the first time in her life. Annie’s cupcakes bring her the first bit of happiness she’s experienced in a long time, and she offers to fund Annie’s opening her own cupcakery, sharing ownership during the year Julia’s in San Francisco, and transferring sole ownership to Annie afterwards. While Julia did some pretty dirty things back in high school – we find out gradually over the course of the book how awful they were – Annie can’t resist the chance to make her lifelong dream come true. They find a beautiful little site in the Mission District and begin work on Treat. Complicating factors include recurring vandal attacks on the store, the reappearance of Julia’s ex and Annie’s old crush Jake Logan, and the continued disappearance of Lucia’s old journal, which contained both her thoughts and her recipes. I was expecting this to be more typical chick lit, with heavy focus on the romance, but while there is a little romance, it’s secondary to Annie and Julia’s re-developing friendship, and love interests fade in and out without the usual angst. For the cupcake lovers, there are some nice descriptions of Annie’s fancy cupcake flavors, but no cupcake baking tips or recipes, as there were in The Icing on the Cupcake. (I still dream of making the ginger lime cupcakes from that book – yum!) I often find that the villains in these books feel tacked on – the real conflict lies in the relationships and character growths, and while that is still the case in this book, it’s a little better engineered than others. Annie and Julia both show convincing character growth, and I was rooting for both of them and their cupcakery.
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book coverThe Icing on the Cupcake by Jennifer Ross Our would-be heroine is Ansley, Dallas sorority girl and socialite. Her life has been perfect up until now, when she is dumped by her fiance in the middle of a fraternity party, for being mean. And, we discover, she is mean, the kind of popular girl whose status has always meant that she could do pretty much anything she wanted and have people smile at her. She decides that the only solution is a retreat masked as a deliberate life change: moving to New York City to live with her estranged grandmother. Despite the lack of any contact since Ansley’s mother was five, her grandmother welcomes her in, but tells her that she must find a job within two months if she wants to stay. Since Ansley had planned on never having a job outside of (nanny-supported) motherhood, this is a challenge. Instead, she turns to her real passion: cupcake baking. Well, yes, we will all figure out what Ansley’s new job will be before she does herself. The book is sweet and mostly predictable, as Ansley sweetens up and her fractured family reunites, except that the required romance involves the grandmother rather than Ansley, a nice twist. Every chapter concludes with a Waitress-like cupcake recipe: Hole in the Heart red chocolate cupcakes, for example. The recipes are very tasty looking, and seem like Ross is an experienced cupcake baker herself – these are not just regular cakes baked in a muffin tin, and have lots of fun flavors, like lime with ginger frosting or chocolate with chiles. This is a delightful summer read that will likely inspire you to take a trip to the kitchen or your local cupcake shop.
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book coverThe Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen 28-year-old Josey Cirrini will never be the southern belle her mother was, or the beloved civic figure her father was before his death. She’s resigned herself to a life dedicated to caring for her domineering mother, comforting herself with a secret closet full of candy and snack cakes. (Every chapter is also named for a thematically appropriate sweet.) And then one day a trashy, outspoken woman turns up in the closet and refuses to leave. Josey recognizes Della Lee, who is clearly on the run from someone. At Della Lee’s prompting, Josey leaves the house without her mother to get a sandwich from a small sandwich shop. Chloe, the owner, is only a couple of years older than Josey. She’s just kicked out her boyfriend, Jake, who revealed that he cheated on her. Here is where we start noticing that the book isn’t your average chick lit. Chloe and Josey become friends, of course, but eggs cook hard and coffee boils in the pot when Jake and Chloe are in the room together. And Chloe has a book problem. They just show up when they think she needs them, and follow her around until she reads them. Usually she likes them, but not when the books seem to be telling her something she doesn’t want to hear. The only magic around Josey seems to be the unpleasant kind that pulls in her stomach and lets her know whenever the mail man, Adam, is getting close. Josey finds that there’s more to herself and her family than she knew in this bewitching story. As with Addison’s Garden Spells, this was one I found myself sneaking away to read.
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book coverEverything Nice by Ellen Shanman Prickly Mike loses her job, too, when her lecherous boss Brian is fired from a prestigious ad agency. Suddenly she discovers that everyone wants team players with people skills and already knows she has neither. Soon she’s in a downward spiral, drinking too much, sneaking in to her ex’s comedy club performances to hear him rail against her, and pushing away Gunther, her only friend. Just when she’s being evicted, her father, widowed when Mike was four, announces that he’s engaged and his fiancée is moving in. The fiancée suggests that Mike ask about a job at her former place of employment, an all-girls charter school. Now she’s stuck teaching Life Skills to a terrifying group of giggling and whispering thirteen-year-olds. Mike as a character was hard to like at first, but things turned around so nicely that I couldn’t be offended at the unsurprising redemptive ending. Because sometimes a little redemption is a beautiful thing.

The Flirt

Jul. 26th, 2008 02:38 pm
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Here's some sweet summer fun:

book coverThe Flirt by Kathleen Tessaro Imagine yourself finding that the spark has gone out of your marriage. You’d like to get things going again, but since part of the problem is that you’re not feeling amorous, either, you’re not sure where to start. If you are a man in London, enter the hired flirt, a “professional massager of the female ego”, who will conduct a chaste yet thrilling flirtation with your wife. She’ll start being excited about herself, and you’ll start being excited about her. On the other hand, if you are a woman in a similar position, you could visit Bordello, and have the proprietress make seductive yet subtle custom lingerie, such that you won’t look like you’re trying at all, but your husband will nevertheless find you irresistible.

These are the two businesses that we are introduced to at the beginning of this book, along with a mélange of characters. There’s Hughie, an out-of-work actor, applying for the job of professional flirt, and his love of the moment, Leticia Vane, proprietress of Bordello. Hughie’s running up a tab at the local café, where Rose, a young single mother, is the waitress. Sam, a regular there and a plumber is called to fix a problem at Bordello. Rose interviews for a household job at the home of Olivia, a rich and sad American, but Olivia takes her for an up-and-coming artist instead. Jonathan works for Olivia’s wife Arnaud, a tennis ball billionaire. Not only is Arnaud an impossible boss, but Jonathan’s wife Amy is pregnant for the fourth time and both of them are wondering what happened to their dream of domestic bliss. The interlocking characters and plot lines rise like beaten egg whites to make a delightful meringue of a book, filled with comic situations and bittersweet chocolate reflections on the messiness of love and the fleeting nature of romance.
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book coverNice to Come Home To by Rebecca Flowers Prudence Whistler has always been just that – prudent. She’s always had a written plan for her life, and followed it to the letter. At 36, though, her plan is crashing down around her. She’s fired from her job at a non-profit and her boyfriend dumps her just as she had decided that he’d be an OK husband. Her younger sister, Patsy, is a single mother who believes in following her heart, and who’s still holding out for true love. Pru has always been sure that she’s better at life than Patsy – but a weekend trying to parent two-year-old Annali by herself as well as suddenly finding Patsy and herself in the same boat has her reconsidering. A crazy cat, a couple of gay best friends, a few NPR inside jokes, and some inappropriate romantic choices round out at lighten the story. Her search for a vocation, love and family is authentic and tender without losing the sense of fun.
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book coverI’d Tell You I Love You, but Then I’d Have to Kill You by Ally Carter. Narrated by Renee Raudman Hooray for fluffy teen chick lit mixed with adventure! Fifteen-year-old Cammie Morgan goes to the Gallagher Academy in Virginia. It poses as a boarding school for bored rich girls, but really, it’s a top-secret spy school. She’s the daughter of the principal, has good friends, speaks all twelve required languages fluently, and is starting her first year of Covert Operations. On her first assignment, she meets a boy. A boy who actually notices Cammie, nicknamed the Chameleon for her ability to go unnoticed. Smitten, Cammie begins her first practical cov ops experiment in order to date him, secret identity and all. Romance! Adventure! Close calls! It’s a fun book (with one sequel and another on the way), and seems as if it would make a very fun setting for a role-playing adventure, for those interested in such things. The audio book narrator had a kind of breathy teen voice that worked well for scenes on how she didn’t know the language of boy, but seemed a little overdone considering that Cammie was a whole lot more self-aware than most teens her age. I got over this as I listened to the book, and highly recommend this for people interested in a zippy teen romance/adventure.

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