Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Book Review: The Girls' Guide to Love and Supper Clubs

By Melissa Amster

Whenever you combine the words "Jewish" and "Washington DC" in a novel, you know I'll be intrigued. After all, I will definitely be able to relate, given that I'm Jewish and live near the nation's capital! So Dana Bate definitely had me at those two words, but then her story completely grabbed me and didn't let go, even a couple months later. (Gotta love having advanced review copies!)

Hannah Sugarman (her last name just conjures up sweetness) hates her boring job and her relationship has just fantastically failed. What's a girl to do when she has nothing to lose? Why, starting an underground supper club in her new landlord's townhouse, of course! It would be easier to do this if her landlord weren't running for a local office. And if her parents actually took her desire to pursue a cooking career as more than just a silly hobby. Still, she has her best friend and a potential new guy in her life, so that should make things easier, right? When push comes to shove, Hannah will have to make some important decisions and figure out if her desires even matter  anymore.

What can I say...I loved The Girls' Guide to Love and Supper Clubs from start to finish. It blows my mind that this is a debut novel. It's so polished with a strong protagonist and story line, as well as great attention to detail. I love the premise. There are so many books about cooking out here, but Dana adds a twist to the element. I'm not familiar with underground supper clubs, but this novel definitely piqued my interest. When Dana first told me about this novel, I was intrigued. (I thought it was going to be about people exchanging food in a dark basement. Shows how much I know.) I loved the ambience of the meals. The combination of food and decor made them sound so fascinating. The stories behind the foods being served were so interesting, as well. There's also the element of female entrepreneurship that won me over. The DC aspect was fun, in that I could easily picture the DuPont Circle area where a lot of the action took place, but I also was taken on an armchair adventure and am interested in checking out some of the lesser known places. Dana shows her comfortableness with DC in the way she portrays it.

Hannah seems so real. I love that she admits to her flaws and imperfections....that even she screws up sometimes. She's very gutsy and outspoken. I can't even cast this book as a movie because I'd have to go back in time (Bill and Ted style) to "kidnap" a 20-something Bette Midler to play her. However, a new actress (at least to me) has come on the scene to steal this role from Bette of the 1970s. Lyndon Smith, who I recently saw on 90210, would be really cute as Hannah! I also love Hannah's best friend, Rachel, who reminds me more of myself. When Hannah and Rachel work together, there are some funny Lucy and Ethel moments. And her landlord, Blake, is so awkward and funny with his pirate-speak. Even the other supporting characters really hold their own. I couldn't figure out Millie all that much. She'd be really nice to Hannah sometimes and then utterly reprehensible at other times. I could see why Hannah couldn't stand her!

This novel was so flawless that the only issue I had was with the title. I know that sounds strange, but it wasn't sitting right with me. While Dana explains the reasons behind her title in a recent interview, I still feel like it doesn't make sense to the story. Yes, it's about supper clubs. And yes, it's a girly novel, so the title should be fun and flirty. However, it's a mouthful and there's not really a "guide" element in the story itself. When I think of guides, I look for instructions on how to do something. Also, with Hannah's relationship track record, I'm not so sure that she should be guiding girls when it comes to love. I wouldn't have minded using the UK title in the US, but even that seems bland. I would have chosen a title that implied "underground activities." After all, Hannah had to sneak around a lot and be deceitful to people she cared about. It would still have to be something that drew in readers for this genre though. I can't fault Dana for the title since it seemed like the choice was taken from her in the end. And while I loved that there was a Jewish element to the story, I personally wouldn't have minded if the food items Hannah prepared had a Kosher element to them. (Not saying the food itself had to be certified, but the meat and dairy combinations and all the shellfish and pork were hard for someone who does keep Kosher to identify with. I would have felt better about what Hannah cooked if she wasn't Jewish.) I did appreciate the brisket recipe in the back though!

Overall, The Girls' Guide to Love and Supper Clubs ranks high on my 2013 favorites list and definitely sets the bar for other debut novels. Fans of Jennifer Weiner and Stacey Ballis will definitely enjoy this novel. Of course, anyone who likes chick lit or even just a clever story with a lot of heart will also find a lot to love about it! I see a bright future for Dana Bate and already can't wait to read what she comes out with next!

Thanks to BookSparks PR for the book in exchange for an honest review. They're giving away a copy (US only) at Dana's interview!

(Top right, US cover/title; bottom left, UK cover/title.)

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