I've never met a book by Erica Bauermeister that I haven't loved. Well, at least I've loved her previous two books "The School of Essential Ingredients" (on audio) and "Joy For Beginners" (in print). Erica has a certain way about her words. She is a woman's writer for sure...she knows the topography of a woman's soul. And she always seems to weave in the essence of FOOD, getting everything right when it comes to the smell and taste and texture of all things culinary.
I was pretty excited to hear that she was writing a sequel to Essential Ingredients, a book about a group of ragtag individuals who come together for a cooking class at a very special restaurant owned by a very special chef. There just wasn't enough closure at the end of that book. In a very short time, I grew to love these people and wanted to know what happened "after". Well, Erica gives us the after in "The Lost Art of Mixing".
Synopsis: We have been reunited with some of our old friends from the neighborhood. Lillian, our uber-chef and the hub of all things good, has established a relationship with widower Tom. One would think their story was a happily ever after, but Tom is still struggling with the loss of his wife, and Lillian has a few secrets of her own. Chloe has become Lillian's sous chef and friend/roommate of aging Isabelle, but can't seem to make a go of a relationship...even with the doting and charming dishwasher Finnegan. Al, Lillian's accountant, is having issues with his wife and a mid-life crisis of sorts, that doesn't involve a girlfriend or a sports car.
While Lillian was ground zero for many life changes in "Essential Ingredients", the gentle shifts all tend to occur around Isabelle in this segment. While she is slowly losing her memories, she has gained a sense of other's emotions and needs, and strategically and shrewdly manipulates the situation as she sees fit. Isabelle has mastered the art of mixing from the best teacher in town...Lillian.
Although the stories that dodge and bob and weave and blend in this novel are darker than its predecessor, they are no less touching and graceful. Erica once again has captured the spirit of life and love and loss.
My thoughts: In re-reading my review of "Essential Ingredients", I am not sure this sequel left me in a similar heightened state of euphoria, but I truly enjoyed every minute of it.
There was definitely still food involved, but not quite as much, therefore less of that magic. But I totally understood that this was the way it needed to be. This book was not all about the cooking classes that Lillian holds on Monday nights. It was about the relationships and situations that spawned from these classes, and how each had a few more battles to wage before it was all said and done.
A few new characters were introduced in this book that I did not like much. Al's wife was one of them. I was ready for her to vamoose right off the page, thanks. Same with Isabelle's oldest daughter, who wanted to control every aspect of her mother's life. But...maybe we were meant to dislike these people, and provide some texture and perspective to those that we DO love. There are obnoxious souls in all of our lives, right?
It sounds like I am making excuses, and I probably am. Because I love what Erica does. I'm not sure that anything can quite live up to my adoration for her first book, but there is one thing for sure. I will continue to read everything she writes.
A few words about the audio production: Cassandra Campbell. What more do I need to say? She is the velvety-smooth, caramel voice that bewitches every story she delivers. You could hand me an audio about dung beetles but if Cassandra were narrating, I'd listen. Campbell and Bauermeister is a winning combination.
Audio book length: 8 hours and 8 minutes (288 pages)
4 out of 5 stars