Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Lost Art of Mixing by Erica Bauermeister

I can't tell you how excited I was to hear that there would be a sequel to The School of Essential Ingredients.  Bauermeister's debut was a favorite of mine a few years ago when it came out.  I gobbled most of it up one morning during a snowstorm when I couldn't even be bothered to pause long enough to move to a comfier seat than my wooden chair at the kitchen table.  I also very much enjoyed Bauermeister's sophomore effort, Joy for Beginners, which made the train ride home from BEA a total pleasure.  That was great, but it was very refreshing to revisit Lillian's food-filled world in The Lost Art of Mixing.

The Lost Art of Mixing returns us to Lillian's kitchen, but things aren't going so terribly well.  In the opening pages, Lillian discovers some news that will turn her life upside down.  Lillian's accountant Al and his wife Louise are discovering maybe theirs is not quite a match made in heaven.  Lillian's former student, current sous chef, Chloe thinks she might've found someone to love in the guise of the restaurant's new dishwasher, tall, silent Finnegan, but there's more to him than meets the eye.  Not to mention, Chloe's aging roommate Isabelle is slowly losing her memories to Alzheimer's disease. 

As Isabelle wisely observes of her friends, "They were like ingredients that had become chemically incapable of mixing with each other, or perhaps had simply forgotten how, when she knew it wasn't the case and didn't need to be."  Isabelle's memory might be slipping, but fortunately, she still has a few tricks up her sleeve that could heal the rifts between the people she loves. 

Unfortunately The Lost Art of Mixing didn't pack quite the same emotional punch for me as did The School of Essential Ingredients.  I loved how, in School, Bauermeister drew Lillian as a wise lady whose instincts for which foods would re-awaken the spirits of her cooking school students.  Not only was it an interesting concept, but it proved to be a great way to unite the several different stories Bauermeister was telling.  In Mixing Bauermeister spends more time on Lillian as a character in her own right, but also explores the lives of various other characters, which is interesting, but the story is not quite so naturally cohesive as when Lillian's cooking school was anchoring it.

That said, Bauermeister's magic is still there.  Like Lillian, Bauermeister has a keen instinct when it comes to people and the experiences that shape their lives, and in her writing, she does a fantastic job of drawing out the pasts that have damaged her characters and the things that each of them need to move forward.  She also has a keen eye for the seemingly small things that can renew the human spirit - how physical labor can serve as a cleanser for the soul, how a listening ear and a cup of tea can be all it takes to set a person on a new path, and how a simple object can hold a wealth of memories.  Readers will fall in love with this set of characters just as easily as the ones that graced the pages of School, and the glow of Bauermeister's beautifully intuitive prose is sure to win her more fans.

(This is the part with the gratuitous, illicit ARC quoting.)

It made Chloe wonder, how much could you hold in your arms if they weren't full of the constantly falling pieces of yourself?

Silence didn't appear to bother Finnegan, the way it did some people, who seemed to think that airtime should be claimed like property.  Jake had been that way, always reaching for the conversation as if it was the last slice of pizza in the box and the next meal was uncertain.

Isabelle was used to surprises these days, to playing hide-and-seek with the world.  She didn't even need to count before words and ideas, faces and memories would scatter off into corners where she couldn't find them.  Sometimes they came back; other times they were simply gone.  Isabelle liked to think that perhaps some of them had found each other, had struck up friendships, and gone out for coffee, or were hidden behind the couch making love.  It was better than thinking they were never coming back.

Thanks to the publisher for providing me with a copy in exchange for my honest review.


  1. I love it when a book is so good life can spin by without notice. Too bad this one wasn't the winner the first one was, but it still sounds rather sweet!

  2. I can't wait to read my copy. Loved the author's previous books.

  3. I'm really looking forward to reading this one soon. Bauermeister brought back just the characters I wanted to revisit from "Essential Ingredients" although I'm sad to hear that it doesn't have the same cohesion.

  4. I've been hearing such great things about this one. Somehow I missed her first book, but I'll be looking for it at the library!

  5. I've never heard of this book, so that's not why I'm commenting ... I just wanted to let you know that I'm talking about you (all good things, of course) on my blog today :) If you want to see what I'm saying, here's the link: http://www.blogginboutbooks.com/2013/02/my-dirty-little-reading-secretbrace.html