Thursday, October 23, 2008

I Was Told There'd Be Cake AND Incantation...

I intended to write some snappy, original reviews for you all today, but I feel craptaculous at best. This stuffy head/cold/sinus thing is kicking my butt, so the question and answer format is more up my alley today. I don't feel much like writing, so I'm going to choke down some more Alka Seltzer Plus Cold (orange zest flavor...ugg), and go back to bed with a book. Or maybe I'll watch Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Either option sounds good and may lead to watching the backs of my eyelids. Enjoy!

Note: I did not proofread. Carry on at your own risk.

I Was Told There'd Be Cake: Essays, by Sloane Crosley
Copyright 2008
Riverhead Books
Personal Essays
230 pages
Author's Website

What led you to pick up this book? I first heard this interview with Crosley on The Bat Segundo Show and knew I had to snatch this collection up immediately. There seems to have been some controversy about whether or not Crosley is a nice person and whether or not she's fronting in some of the essays, and I didn't get that from the collection at all. Crosley strikes me as a witty, snarky, intelligent, and pretty honest writer. I can't think of too many people who haven't thought many of the same thoughts she has in the book. Or I have at least. Maybe I'm not terribly likable either. *sticks out tongue* ;)

Summarize the plot but don't give away the ending. Essays about coming of age, entering the world of careers and responsibility and places to live with a sense of humor.

What did you like most about the book? Crosley herself has a great writing "voice" and the situations she describes had me laughing out loud. There's one essay in particular, about her time (grudgingly) volunteering at the New York City Museum of Natural History's butterfly exhibit. In this essay, titled "Sign Language for Infidels," she writes:

People are shockingly uncreative. A whole animal and everyone wanted to know the same things. Even the wisecracking dads all cracked wise in the same way (see: "How much butter do the flies have to eat?"). More mainstream questions that were impossible to answer honestly: how long do butterflies live? (one week, maybe two), how do they mate? (sitting, but they'll fuck 'n' fly if they have to), how many kinds are in the exhibit? (um, a bunch), how do they eat? (through a straw attached to their face).

What did you think of the characters? Well, in this case, seeing as there's only really one that matters, Crosley seems willing to divulge the best and worst of her character, make fun of herself, and generally admit to thoughts and actions that many of us might try to hide. That makes her a winner in my book!

Share a favorite scene from the book: In "Christmas in July," Crosley describes her summers at a Christian camp (even though she was Jewish...a "lax Jew" in her words) this way:

Every Saturday night the entire camp marched into a clearing in the woods, where we lit a gigantic bonfire. Four girls were selected each week to dip torches into the crackling fireball. Each torch represented a moral category at which we aimed to excel: Friendship, Cleanliness, Sportsmanship, and Love. What they really were were long sticks we'd find in the woods the evening before. We'd wrap the ends in extra-large overnight maxi pads and roast them in the flames as we said our prayers. The we'd hold them above our heads, imagining how embarrassing it would be to explain that one's death--or worse, one's disfigurement--came from a flaming maxi pad to the face.

Recommended for those who like David Sedaris, Haven Kimmel, and Sarah Vowell.

Incantation, by Alice Hoffman
Copyright 2006
Little Brown and Company
Young Adult Novel - Historical
166 pages
Author's Website

What led you to pick up this book? Heather F. read it a while back and was kind enough to send it to me! She knows what I like.

Summarize the plot but don't give away the ending. From Alice Hoffman's website: Estrella is a Marrano: During the time of the Spanish Inquisition, she is one of a community of Spanish Jews living double lives as Catholics. She is living in a house of secrets, raised by a family who practices underground the ancient and mysterious way of wisdom known as Kabbalah. When Estrella discovers her family’s true identity — and her family’s secrets are made public — she confronts a world she’s never imagined, where new love burns and where friendship ends in flame and ash, where trust is all by vanquished and betrayal has tragic and bitter consequences.

What did you like most about the book? Hoffman's writing always has a lightness--or maybe an airiness is a better way to put it--no matter the subject. In this case, it was far less magical realism than you might find in Practical Magic, Blackbird House, or The Ice Queen. However, Estrella's discovery of her family's involvement with Kabbalah is quite mystical in its own way.

What did you think of the characters? Loved 'em! I fell thoroughly in love with Estrella and her family. Her aloof but wicked smart grandfather, her quirky grandmother, and her sweet neighbor, Andres. On the flip side, I loathed and wanted to choke her enemies!

Share a favorite scene from the book: I'm recycling this one. I quoted this earlier, but it's a great example of the tangible details in Hoffman's writing that really brings it to life for me:

She was kneading dough at the big table. Our table was so old you could see the dents in the wood where my great-great-grandmother had chopped vegetables. My great-great-grandmother had kneaded bread here so often, the table curved down in the center, and now my grandmother was kneading bread in the very same place. She added olives and garlic to the mix, then braided the dough in three parts so that it rose prettily.

Recommended for anyone who likes Alice Hoffman's other word, fans of historical fiction, and anyone else who might have an inkling. This is a highly likable book.

Note: It's the day after I posted this post, and I couldn't ignore the typos any longer. I proofread (ack!), and I apologize if it's showing up twice in your feed readers.


  1. Did your liking for Incantation have anything to do with the main character being only a letter away from your favourite ever?

  2. I really enjoyed I Was Told There'd Be Cake; read it and reviewed it when it forst came out. I also saw Crosley read from her book back in the spring; she's definitely witty, intelligent and a bit snarky (PS--I had nearly the exact same camp experience, except the religious tables were turned).

  3. Incantation sounds like my kind of book! But maybe I should first tackle the seven unread books by Hoffman that are lurking on my shelves!

  4. Stu, I'll never tell!

    Katherine, it was great, wasn't it? And you're so luck to have seen her read!

    Les, it's a good one. I think you'd like it. And I think any of those 7 would be a winner. :)

  5. I have that same cold Andi. Mine goes in stages and it's in the coughing stage which is one step from lung congestion, then it's gone lol. Oh i hate to be sick!! I hope you get better quick!

  6. it's kinda bad...every time i come here, i end up going to amazon afterwards...on the bright side, i always have something fun to read these days! :-)

  7. I haven't read either of these, but they both sound good. I think they'd have to be to read them during a read-a-thon and be able to remember anything about them all. I think I'll try the Incantation.

  8. Have a restful weekend, Andi. And I love the Fall blog look.

  9. Shoot! This is a really good review of "I Was Told There Would Be Cake." I've had this book for months, unfortunately, I left it on my dining room table which is currently four thousand miles away. =( Ah well, maybe the time I'm away will give me time to complete a book so I can start on this when I get back.

    I hope you feel better soon!

  10. Hope you're feeling better soon :-)

  11. Hope you're feeling better soon - colds suck :(

    I can't wait to get my copy of I Was Told There'd Be Cake. It sounds like just my sort of book. I love writers that can laugh at themselves and who could resist the phrase "flaming maxi pad to the face" :)

  12. Thanks, Kristina. I think I've moved into the coughing stage today.

    LOL, Julie. I'm always glad to enable my fellow readers.

    Enjoy Incantation, Lisa. They were both very good. I had my doubts I'd remember anything about them given the amount of reading I did during the read-a-thon.

    Thanks, Nik! It's actually feeling like fall in Texas. I'm shocked and amazed!

    J.S. that would drive me nuts to have my tasty stack of books so far away! I hope you remember to give it a go when you return!

    Thank you, Marie! Pass the cough drops.

    Joanne, the flaming maxi pad to the face made me laugh out loud. If I wasn't won over before then, that did it!

  13. Ooh I want to read incantation. I love Alice Hoffman she's my fav author. Do you think the book would work for my Jewish Literature challenge?

  14. I really enjoyed the two Alice Hoffman books I read and hope to add more to my shelves next year. THanks for the reviews.


Thanks for taking the time to comment! Blogger has been a beast lately, so I hope you do not have any troubles leaving your thoughts.

Images by Freepik