Review – Blood, Bones & Butter

This book has been on my radar for a while but I never quite got around to it for no other reason than I just didn’t. This happens to me sometimes. So, when it arrived in the mail it was fate, I guess.

Gabrielle Hamilton is a chef but not one that’s been classically trained; in fact, you can probably argue that she hasn’t really been trained at all. Her mother, a woman of French decent, instilled in her a love of all food and the ability to cook it. Up until the age of 12, she had an ideal life growing up in a rural area of Pennsylvania punctuated by summer blowout parties and family memories. When her parents decide to divorce, she ends up taking care of herself and finding it not so easy a project. She’s smart but barely finishes high school. She is able to work but can’t seem to hold down a job without getting in trouble. And even though she manages to get into college, she can’t manage to stay there. She takes on catering jobs in all the places she lands, and along the way, realizes this is what she knows, what she can do, and what she wants to do. She wants to feed people and share her food experiences with them.

I was skeptical at first — really the first chapter of this book is setup so sweet that you’re pretty sure she was walking around with rainbows streaming out of her ass. That might sound harsh, but I put this one down a few times only a few pages in wondering exactly what was going on. No one’s life is like that and then it all came to a crashing halt, and not that I felt better, but it felt like a better book. Hamilton is a trained writer, MFA in fiction from the University of Michigan, so she knows the tricks and she used them in that first chapter. My favorite parts were the rougher ones though. When she moves to New York for college she takes a job as a waitress and then gets on the night shift where she finds she can make a ton of money. When she ends up in trouble, legal this time, her brother pulls in a few favors to get her out and you see where all of this might go.

The best parts of this book have to do with her time in Italy. Hamilton marries an Italian professor in need of wife to stay in the country, and for whatever reason, she marries him (there is talk of several girlfriends in this book but her sexuality is not explicitly talked about and I don’t feel the need to address it here either other than note this for the sake of non-confusion) and accompanies him back home to Italy every year. She doesn’t speak the language, doesn’t know his family at all, but manages to find a place in the kitchen and share her love of food with people she doesn’t know but very much wants to. I didn’t necessarily relate to the family issues though; for me it was the food. We went to Italy on our honeymoon and there are still dishes that I remember so fondly, and yes, I’m sure my recollection is cloudy with wine and love but I wanted to go to those places all over again.

Hamilton is a good writer and she’s able to capture something that we all have memories of, in one way or another, and elevate them to something you want to know more about. Yes, I looked up her restaurant in New York to see what was on the menu because I wondered what a writer talking about food was actually cooking.

I don’t read memoirs, generally, but when I do I tend to prefer ones dealing with food because I think I can relate. I’ve never had aspirations of being a chef, and frankly after watching too many food shows, know I would never be able to even think about it. But this book did make think about food differently and the way it’s intertwined with our lives. This book is not always about cooking and food. In some ways, that comes later to this author, but it’s an interesting look in on a life definitely lived.

Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef

By Gabrielle Hamilton

Random House
ISBN: 9780812980882

3.5 stars

 

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Review – Emily and Einstein

Emily and Einstein

By Linda Frances Lee

St. Martin’s Press

ISBN: 9780312382186

4 stars

Emily Barlow is an editor at a small, New York publisher and she loves her job. She’s dedicated to her authors, her publishing house, and her husband. Her husband, Sandy Portman, is, however, not so dedicated to their life together. After two years of marriage, Sandy wants a divorce. On the night he plans to drop his ultimatum, he dies in a car accident caused by a small dog outside of the animal hospital where Emily volunteers. Refusing to believe he could be dead — nothing happens to Sandy Portman he doesn’t want to happen — he strikes a deal with the old man who comes to take him away into the nothingness. He can go back but he must help Emily. Sandy, wanting nothing more than to go back and believing he will eventually return to his own body, takes the deal and finds himself in the body of a scraggly, ugly dog named Einstein.

Insulating herself in a bubble of grief and disbelief, Emily makes it through the funeral in a fog waiting for Sandy to walk through the door and for the nightmare that has become her life to end. She stops by the animal hospital to check on the dog Einstein she spent her last bit of savings to rescue, and in a fit of grief, she takes the dog home and attempts to make a life without Sandy. Unfortunately, nothing is simple for Emily. Her job security crumbles in front of her eyes, her former mother-in-law wants to evict her from the apartment she shared with Sandy, and her sister, who has a tentative grip on reality, shows up on her doorstep needing a place to stay and money. For a few weeks, the only thing that tethers Emily to life is the dog Einstein and even he seems not to care too much for her at first. Months pass before Emily can find her footing again, and in the process of understanding who she is and what a sham her marriage was, she begins to understand a mother and a sister she always thought too distant and different, finds out she can still love, and family is not always so worrisome.

While Emily is a likable, if grief stricken character, Sandy is not. He’s loathsome as a person — cheating on his wife, running away from any bit of difficulty in life, and throwing money at everything — and when he becomes Einstein (don’t worry this happens very early in the book, no spoilers) you revel in the fact he’s now an ugly dog. He’s still arrogant, believes himself the one scorned, and even though he was not a great husband to Emily, the divorce he wanted was really her fault in the end. Sandy reneged on promises he made to her, like deeding Emily the apartment so his mother couldn’t evict her, and was the type of person you feel sorry for and disgusted by at the same time. He was so wrapped up in who he was he never even took a moment to look at the woman he married. As Einstein, he comes to appreciate Emily; more than he ever did as a man.

I will admit up front this book is out of my normal genre range but I will also admit to enjoying it quite a lot. One thing you need to keep in mind is that this is a book about second chances and pretty much everyone gets that second chance here but if you’re willing to look past a small bit of predictability, Emily and Einstein is a fun read. There are several stories that intermingle and while I would have liked to have learned more about certain characters and their pasts, you don’t really get that but you get enough to know who the people are and appreciate the role they play in Emily’s life. She grows in the course of grieving for her husband and while it doesn’t seem much at first, the new life she creates for herself surprises even her. It’s a feel good story and there’s nothing wrong with that. Also, I’m a sucker for any story that has a lovable, if ugly, dog in it. Einstein plays the part well. If you’re looking for a fun Saturday afternoon read, Emily and Einstein is that book.

In addition to this blog, I also do reviews for The Book Reporter website. The above review was done for the Book Reporter which can be found here. The book was provided to me by the publisher.

Review – The Hard Way

The Hard Way

By Lee Child

Bantam Dell

ISBN:978-0-440-24103-4

4 stars

I’ve read a number of Lee Child’s books and there is one overriding thing I need to remind myself to do each time I start one — forget reality.  Please don’t take this to mean that I don’t like the books, because I do, it’s just that his characters, Jack Reacher in particular, always end up in the craziest situations that a person, a sane person, would have walked away from or never become involved in to begin with.  But, that is what also makes them interesting, so now I just go with the forget all reality tactic and I find enjoy the books much better.

Jack Reacher is back in New York City and spending time in a café drinking coffee, a favorite pastime of his.  One evening, he sees a man get into a car and drive away.  The next day, he’s approached about the small but rather forgettable event and ends up drawn into a kidnapping case that also involves a handful of rouge mercenaries on call for the U.S. government.  Unsure of how to walk away from the group he’s found himself oddly tied to because he can’t be certain that the kidnapped mother and daughter will be safe, he gets drawn deeper into the case and goes out of his way to help rescue two people he’s never met.

Oh, Reacher, how do you manage to rescue so many people in so short a time?  Also, how is it you manage to always be in the right place when trouble happens?  I want to be annoyed with these books because there is a huge disconnect between what happens and general reality (You know, reality for normal people.) but I can’t be.  Once I let go and fall into these books, I can’t help it, I’m stuck until I find out that Reacher has managed to save someone, stop something from blowing up, or just save the world in general.  I’m not a thriller reader either but these books put me into some sort of catatonic reading mode and I have to finish and find out that everything has worked out fine in the end.  I say that because everything always works out fine in the end.  At least that’s been the case for the books I’ve read in the Reacher series.

A co-worker of mine lends these books to me and I’ll admit there have been a few bombs along the way but for the most part, I enjoy them.  They’re one off books which can be read in one sitting and you don’t have to have read them in any sort of order to understand the plot.  By the way, the plot is pretty much always the same — something bad happens, Reacher shows up, saves the day.  These are books you pull out on a rainy or slow day and you just read.  You’ll be entertained by the end and glad that a co-worker loaned you that book.  You’ll also be tempted to write something nice about their sharing abilities so they loan you more.