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18 January 2012

Recently, I mentioned that Cassandra Campbell was fast becoming one of my favorite narrators for audio books. There is an atmosphere her voice creates, light and humorous (as in Very, Valentine) or mournful and haunting (as in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks). It's always perfect for the story. So when Sandy commented that I should pick up The School of Essential Ingredients, I did. When it comes to audio, Sandy's an exceptional guide.

I'm never going to get tired of books about cooking food and living life. I love it. The connection of recipes, knowing which spice should go with which dish, and how that translates back to relationships, loss, and love, will fit the bill for me every time, and this story did not disappoint.

The story is told by the eight students taking a cooking class on Monday evenings, their personal stories and memories meaningfully unfolding for the listener. There is humor, tragedy, sadness, loss, and newly found love. Usually, when there are more than three or four characters sharing their stories, it can become overwhelming or confusing, or one character may be completely uninteresting, but not so with this story. All of the characters contributed a significant part of their lives, and not one was overdone, or wasted, or skipped over. It all fit.

At the heart of it is Lillian, the instructor and owner of the restaurant where the classes are held. She, too, has a quietly compelling story, one that has shaped her with whom she has become. She was an exceptional character, the rock of knowledge for each of the students, quickly learning what they needed to be taught. She is what kept them moving forward, both in their cooking skills and in life.

And this line stuck with me, about Tom and his wife, Charlie. It's this character's story which made me cry, and if you've read this book, then you know what I mean.
She was nowhere and everywhere, and he couldn't stop looking.
Erica Bauermeister's novel was released in 2009, and the story has such a sophisticated style that it's surprising it was a debut novel. It's a story that will make you cry and laugh, but most importantly, it will remind you that living is about the here and now, and that while mistakes happen, the choice to never let a moment pass you by is clear. Love, and be loved, and do so with integrity and kindness.

While the school deals with the essential ingredients of cooking, it is by far the fundamental elements of living that are the most important lesson to be learned. I cannot wait to read (or listen to) Joy for Beginners which was released in June 2011.

Audio Sample: Click here to listen to the five minute sample of this book, narrated by the incomparable Cassandra Campbell. She knocks it out of the park yet again, but you know what? It's really no surprise. She's just a phenomenal narrator. You can't go wrong with her.

Publisher: Penguin Audio
Release Date: 01/22/2009
Audio Time: 7 hours
Narrator: Cassandra Campbell

About the Author
Erica Bauermeister is the author of the recently released Joy for Beginners. Her debut novel, The School of Essential Ingredients was released in 2009 and has been published in more than 21 countries. She has also co-authored 500 Great Books by Women: A Reader's Guide with Holly Smith and Jesse Larsen, and Let's Hear It For the Girls: 375 Great Books for Readers 2-14 with Holly Smith. She has a Ph.D. from the University of Washington and currently lives in Seattle.

Visit the author:
This is my first selection for the 2012 Audio Book Challenge hosted by Teresa.

FTC Disclosure: I purchased this book from audible.com.

36 comments:

  1. I listened to this one on audio and though C. Campbell was terrific. She is one of my favorite readers as well.

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    1. Her voice is just fantastic. It perfectly captures whatever story she is reading, and I am mesmerized. I normally listen to her audios fairly quickly as well.

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  2. I truly enjoyed this book and felt as nourished by it as if I'd eaten a meal made with love. Thank you for reminding me of it!

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    1. I love your description! It definitely was very satisfying, and I can't wait to listen to Joy for Beginngers next.

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  3. For some reason I never feel in the mood to read about cooking (but it's one of those that I still manage to always enjoy). I see to always like books where there is a group of people together for some reason and we get to learn about all the people. This one sounds good. It makes me think of Evening Class by Maeve Binchy or The Fiction Class by Susan Breen.

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    1. I'll have to check out Evening Class and The Fiction Class. I'm with you, I love stories where groups get together and learn about life, etc.

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  4. I loved JOY FOR BEGINNERS so much last year. I've meant to read this one since. Soon, soon...

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    1. I need to listen to Joy for Beginners soon, heard so much about it. We just have to find that time.

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  5. Cassandra Campbell is one of my favorite readers, too! I loved listening to this one and hope to get to Joy for Beginners soon.

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    1. Joy for Beginners has to be a good one, if it has even a smidge of how fantastic this one was. Cassandra Campbell is never a disappointment.

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  6. I just put a hold on this book at my library for the audio - thanks for the recommendation!

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    1. Oh, I can't wait to see what you think of it! I'll be looking for your review, I hope you enjoy it :)

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  7. This is one of those books I started reading but did not complete. Looks like I need to revisit!

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    1. Oh, I wonder why you didn't finish it? Maybe try the audio on your next try, Cassandra Campbell is wonderful.

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  8. I loved this book too! I kept the recipes from it too that she published in her interviews, like for Carl and Helen's cake - lots of good recipes!

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    1. That's the one thing about having the print version versus the audio; with the print version, you can look at the recipes, try them out, etc. I'll have to take a look at the book and try a recipe or two!

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  9. O this sounds good. I need to try this narrator. I have a hard time with female narrators.

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    1. It's funny, I normally have the hardest time listening to male voices! Female voices are more interesting to me, for some reason. Now, I did listen to The Graveyard Book, narrated by the author Neil Gaiman, and that one has changed my mind on male voices! I also just listened to Frank Muller for a short Stephen King story and I loved that, so I am getting more and more used to the male voice reading to me.

      Definitely try Cassandra Campbell. You may want to try The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks or The School of Essential Ingredients; Very Valentine is also wonderful with her at the helm.

      I'd also suggest the audio for Still Missing by Chevy Stevens. That's a tough subject to listen to on audio, but it's very well done.

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    1. Do you mean the Joy for Beginners link? If so, I just updated it, so hopefully you can get right to the audible.com page and then you can click on the little play button right below the cover of it. Let me know! I wonder if you need an audible.com membership?

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  11. Great review--I'll definitely have to add this one to my 'to read' shelf. I know what you mean about a good audio book narrator. They can make all the difference in your experience of a book.

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    1. A good narrator can make me like a book that I may not have enjoyed if I read it, or if another narrator read it. Cassandra Campbell has always been a hit for me, never a miss. I hope you enjoy it!

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  12. I am SO glad you enjoyed this! I experienced every emotion and reaction...from my mouth-watering to total flat-out bawling. Joy For Beginners is phenomenal too. I couldn't wait for the audio though, so I read it in print.

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    1. No, thankYOU for recommending it! But, you know I always go to you for audio :) I've got Joy for Beginners at audible.com so I hope to listen to it soon!

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  13. I read this book and just adored it. It's nice to know the audio was well done.

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    1. It was. When it's Cassandra Campbell and a great story, it's a magical experience, no question about it.

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  14. Thank you so much for a beautiful review! I agree with you that Cassandra was the perfect reader (fun back-story -- my publisher actually sent me clips from three different actresses and I got to choose. Cassandra, as you said, knocked it out of the park). She's the reader for Joy For Beginners as well.
    Btw -- if you are looking for recipes, they aren't in the print version, but they are on my website... http://www.ericabauermeister.com/recipes
    Hope you enjoy Joy For Beginners!
    all the best, Erica Bauermeister

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    1. My pleasure! Thank you for visiting, what a treat. And I just took a look at the recipes, and oh, my goodness. I think the Spring Risotto and Tom's Pasta Sauce are totally on my list to make in the next couple of weeks. Yum!

      How fun that you were able to pick the narrator, and I'm so glad you picked Cassandra Campbell! I think I need to start a fan club. :)

      I've got Joy for Beginners on the docket, so I hope to listen to it in the next month. I'm very excited, and thanks much for swinging on by to this humble blog :)

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  15. I don't get tired of these kinds of books either, and they usually have the benefit of inspiring me to get a bit more creative with my own cooking (so a win-win situation). Thanks for the recommendation, it's gone on my wishlist.

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    1. So true, the inspiration to cook more is a win-win! Check out Erica's link above in the comments right above this and look at the recipes... drool-worthy!

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  16. I loved this book too, and am so glad that you liked it as well. It was such a touching story, and almost felt like a little series of vignettes held together by a common thread. It was a greeat reading experience for me. I also thin you would enjoy Joy for Beginners. It was wonderful in a different kind of way, but just as touching.

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    1. Vignette! That's the word I was searching for last night; it was on the tip of my tongue! I'm excited to start on Joy for Beginners, it will definitely be a pleasurable comfort read. Can't wait!

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  17. I've wanted to read this book but after your review i think i will grab the audio version. i haven't had a great narrator for audiobooks the last 2 i listened to...thanks for the suggestion

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  18. I have the book version of this on my shelf and like you, I will never tire of books about cooking! This sounds fab.

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  19. I loved this book! I gave it a perfect 5/5 rating when I read it almost 3 years ago. I would love to listen to the audio for a reread. You are giving me some great recommendations for audio books! Go here if you'd like to read my review. And, I think you'll love Joy for Beginners just as much as this one. It's written in a similar style.

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  20. Doesn't this sound like it would make a great movie too?

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