A satisfying first novel by Gee; perfect for the book-club circuit and beyond.

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FRIENDSHIP BREAD

Another addition in the recent trend in popular fiction: Small groups of women improve their lives by engaging in a domestic comfort. This time it's bread making.

Julia and her small daughter Gracie find a gift on their doorstep—a plate of bread, a note and a bag of starter dough. Though Julia is not a baker, and has little interest in...life (more on that later), Gracie convinces her mother to follow the instructions and make Amish Friendship Bread. Part of the requirements are to split the bag of starter into three, bake one loaf for yourself and pass on the rest to someone else—a culinary chain letter. The novel traces the effect of the Friendship Bread on a small town, jumping from neighbor to neighbor, but focuses on a small group of women whose lives need mending. Julia’s son Josh died five years ago, and since then life is a daily struggle and her marriage is a mess; Hannah is soon to be divorced by her husband, a famous classical musician (as she once was before an injury); Madeline is struggling to run her tea shop and come to terms with the kind of stepmother she was; Edie is pregnant and is sure it will ruin her career as an investigative journalist; and, finally, Livvy is also expecting, but her husband has just lost his job, and her sister Julia won’t speak to her—she’s still blamed for Josh’s death. Gee admirably weaves the various lives together, linked more often than not by sadness and disappointment, and demonstrates that simple companionship is a powerful balm. The novel’s title, and even its conceit, promises a kind of homespun sappiness that the narrative thankfully avoids, delivering instead thoughtful portraits of women on the brink of finding better versions of themselves.

A satisfying first novel by Gee; perfect for the book-club circuit and beyond.

Pub Date: April 19, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-345-52534-5

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2011

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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Cheerfully engaging.

WHAT ALICE FORGOT

From Australian Moriarty (The Last Anniversary, 2006, etc.), domestic escapism about a woman whose temporary amnesia makes her re-examine what really matters to her.

Alice wakes from what she thinks is a dream, assuming she is a recently married 29-year-old expecting her first child. Actually she is 39, the mother of three and in the middle of an acrimonious custody battle with her soon-to-be ex-husband Nick. She’s fallen off her exercise bike, and the resulting bump on her head has not only erased her memory of the last 10 years but has also taken her psychologically back to a younger, more easygoing self at odds with the woman she gathers she has become. While Alice-at-29 is loving and playful if lacking ambition or self-confidence, Alice-at-39 is a highly efficient if too tightly wound supermom. She is also thin and rich since Nick now heads the company where she remembers him struggling in an entry-level position. Alice-at-29 cannot conceive that she and Nick would no longer be rapturously in love or that she and her adored older sister Elisabeth could be estranged, and she is shocked that her shy mother has married Nick’s bumptious father and taken up salsa dancing. She neither remembers nor recognizes her three children, each given a distinct if slightly too cute personality. Nor does she know what to make of the perfectly nice boyfriend Alice-at-39 has acquired. As memory gradually returns, Alice-at-29 initially misinterprets the scattered images and flashes of emotion, especially those concerning Gina, a woman who evidently caused the rift with Nick. Alice-at-29 assumes Gina was Nick’s mistress, only to discover that Gina was her best friend. Gina died in a freak car accident and in her honor, Alice-at-39 has organized mothers from the kids’ school to bake the largest lemon meringue pie on record. But Alice-at-29 senses that Gina may not have been a completely positive influence. Moriarty handles the two Alice consciousnesses with finesse and also delves into infertility issues through Elizabeth’s diary.

Cheerfully engaging.

Pub Date: June 2, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-399-15718-9

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Amy Einhorn/Putnam

Review Posted Online: April 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2011

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