When in Doubt, Add Butter

Beth Harbison
July 2012, Women's Fiction
St. Martin's, $25.99, 352 pages, Amazon ASIN 0312599099

Grade: B+
Sensuality: Subtle

Reading the first person excerpt, I had expectations of When in Doubt, Add Butter being a slightly humorous chick lit novel, but by the second chapter I knew that it was going to be much more. At times funny, then poignant and romantic, the book is a smorgasbord of delights.

Thirty-seven year old Gemma Craig (no relation to Jenny Craig) feels like her dating days are behind her. Her dismal relationship with her high school sweetheart seemed to have set the pattern for disillusioning romances. She wants to be in love, but two months appears to be the lifespan of her involvements. And quitting her secure job two years ago to open her own business as a private chef has left her more concerned with her financial security than with happily every after.

Being a private chef in today’s economy is not easy. She caters on the weekends but her weekly clients provide the bread and butter. And while she can’t say that she likes them all, they do challenge her with their dietary likes and dislikes. Monday client Angela Van Houghten takes being a fussy eater to a whole new dimension with her list of "bad" foods and ingredients such as her “no moo food” eliminating dairy, steaks, sour cream, cheese, whey, casein. Add to that no onions, soy, nuts, honey, cinnamon or garlic. Tuesday client Paul McMann is the opposite with a love for comfort food - loving butter, sour cream, white flour, cheddar cheese and even iceberg lettuce. Wednesday she cooks for flamboyant asexual Lex Prather who requests Shrimp Louis, oysters Rockefeller, Waldorf salad. Thursday it is Russian food for Vlad Oleksei and his three burly sons. Vlad’s wife died, leaving behind a handwritten book of recipes, written in Russian. Luckily Gemma's sister’s boyfriend is able to translate them. Still, something seems dubious about their dry cleaning business. Friday nights she cooks for Marie Lemurra, professional social climber and all around witch.

After Gemma accidentally runs over Marie’s peacock running loose at their Georgetown home, she is fired. The good news is that she no longer has to put up with Marie's overt hostility and she now has Fridays free. The bad news is that she needs this income.

Even so, the free Fridays do make it nice to feel like a person with the potential for a social life, so when her friend Lynn Bowles invites her out to a new club, she readily agrees. Lynn immediately runs into an old boyfriend, leaving Gemma sitting alone at the bar feeling like a middle aged has-been. The businessmen at the pool table – especially the one with the dark blonde hair - look enticing but she is left embarrassed when he catches her looking him over. Out of practice at playing the game, she clumsily tries to keep up her part of the flirtation when he makes his move. Soon though she is having an amazing time and they end up spending the night together. Waking alone the next morning she spills water on the note he left, leaving her clueless about his contact information. And since she brought him home to a friend’s house, he doesn’t know where she lives.

The smile on my face as I closed the last page is a good indication of how much I like a book, as is getting online to check out the author’s backlist. I did both upon completing When in Doubt, Add Butter. One reason is that Gemma is so likeable. She has made mistakes in the past, and she struggles with unfulfilled wants and desires, but she continues to put one foot in front of the other as she deals with what life has handed her. The relationships that Gemma has with her family and clients are emotionally satisfying, especially the new client she gains to replace the Lemurra family.

There is humor, but it more the type to make you grin rather than laugh out loud. The written banter between two of the characters is delightful. And the romantic comedy aspect is engaging. The romance is of the sweet variety, mostly satisfying but leaving me wishing for just a little more. Still, I wouldn’t have asked for a better way to spend the afternoon.

-- Leigh Davis

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