Friday, July 22, 2016

When in Doubt, Add Butter by Beth Harbison

Reviewed by Ambrea

Gemma Craig has had enough of dating; instead, she has decided to focus on her job, which she’s surprisingly good at—and that suits her just fine.  She’s thirty-seven, she has a successful business working as a private chef, and she has a steady stream of clients who keep her life busy.  She loves the challenges, but, more than anything, she loves the predictability.  “Recipes are certain.  Use good ingredients, follow the directions, and you are assured success,” as she points out in the book, whereas life is much, much messier.

And then her life is turned upside down—first by a peacock, and then by an unexpected fling with handsome gentleman.  As Gemma struggles to pull the pieces of her world back together again, she finds herself coming face-to-face with her past and wondering how she could have walked right off the edge of straight-and-narrow.  But with a little luck, a pinch of hope, and, of course, a little bit of butter, Gemma will discover the true value of happiness and just how important love can be.

I listened to When in Doubt, Add Butter earlier this year, picking it specifically for the evenings when I walked my dog.  I originally chose it because I liked the title—and, if I’m being honest with myself, I probably picked it for the image of cupcakes on the cover as much as the title—but I was pleasantly surprised by Beth Harbison’s novel and Orlagh Cassidy’s narration.  Filled with lots of crazy, quirky characters and heart-warming stories, When in Doubt, Add Butter is a truly fabulous novel.

Gemma is an excellent narrator.  Witty and realistic, plagued by all the familiar hopes and fears of the average woman who worries about her professional career and her financial state, she can easily connect to readers on an emotional level—and, more importantly, she’s funny.  She’s candid, and she has a way of recounting her story so that it has an emotional impact and makes you laugh.  Coupled with Orlagh Cassidy’s skills, Gemma comes to life in a way that is, simply put, spectacular.

And speaking of Orlagh Cassidy, I absolutely loved the variety and range of characters she could play.  I was suitably impressed by the emotion she could convey and the changes of tone that signified specific characters, distinguishing particular personalities apart, that allows her to really reach listeners.  When in Doubt, Add Butter seems to take on a life of its own, and I couldn’t wait to return again and again to the story.

Honestly, I can’t think of any reason this book isn’t appealing.  It features a fun, heartwarming story, oddball characters, food (I mean, who doesn’t like food?), an excellent narrator and a dash of humor.  Granted, I found the plot to be a little predictable for my usual tastes.  For instance, I totally called the identity of Gemma’s mysterious “Mr. Tuesday,” and I saw the romantic entanglement from a mile away.  However, overall, I found the story to be incredibly poignant and unexpectedly riveting.  I was drawn in to Gemma’s story from the very first chapter—and, if I wasn’t, I’d have certainly been hooked by the ignominious incident with a peacock in the second.

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