Review: Generation Chef

Generation Chef, Karen Stabiner

Published September 13th 2016 by Avery

Hardcover, 288 pages

Source: e-ARC received from publisher

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Inside what life is really like for the new generation of professional cooks—a captivating tale of the make-or-break first year at a young chef’s new restaurant.

For many young people, being a chef is as compelling a dream as being a rock star or professional athlete. Skill and creativity in the kitchen are more profitable than ever before, as cooks scramble to reach the top—but talent isn’t enough. Today’s chef needs the business savvy of a high-risk entrepreneur, determination, and big dose of luck.

The heart of Generation Chef is the story of Jonah Miller, who at age twenty-four attempts to fulfill a lifelong dream by opening the Basque restaurant Huertas in New York City, still the high-stakes center of the restaurant business for an ambitious young chef. Miller, a rising star who has been named to the 30-Under-30 list of both Forbes and Zagat, quits his job as a sous chef, creates a business plan, lines up investors, leases a space, hires a staff, and gets ready to put his reputation and his future on the line.

Journalist and food writer Karen Stabiner takes us inside Huertas’s roller-coaster first year, but also provides insight into the challenging world a young chef faces today—the intense financial pressures, the overcrowded field of aspiring cooks, and the impact of reviews and social media, which can dictate who survives.

I’ve become a Top Chef addict and I love trying the food of Chicago’s celebrity chefs like Rick Bayless and Stephanie Izard so I was really excited to read this story of a new NYC restaurant opening and through their first year.  My husband jokes about opening a diner one day and I think this book proves my nerves could never handle it!  From the attempts to find backers, to find the perfect location and then to both hire and retain the best staff – that’s not even getting into the cooking.  You clearly need nerves of steel to open your own kitchen especially on this kind of scale, in New York – at age 26!

The access Stabiner had to the Huertas staff to put this book out was fantastic.  I can’t imagine how she basically lived at the restaurant for a year and didn’t insert herself into the story.  Just reading along I was so nervous for the critics reviews to come in so I can’t imagine how Stabiner didn’t let her own emotions show.  I thought it was so interesting to follow how Miller first conceived of Huertas and then let the concept flow a bit to meet the wants of both his customers and reviews.  I also enjoyed the glimpses into the paths that other chefs took from Izard to others in California or Minnesota; it was very cool to see how differently things move all over the country.  

I would have liked the personal stories between Miller and his partners and staff to be more in depth, but that’s just me being kind of voyeuristic perhaps.  After all these people were still working together largely when the book was published and that might have been a bit much.  I really felt like I needed to follow this with a reread of Sweetbitter for a really juicy peak behind the kitchen walls.   

Let me just say I am hugely proud of myself for stifling the urge to Google Huertas until I finished this book!  As I read I was so extremely curious to know if they were still in business or what might have happened.  I managed to control myself – yes I don’t peak at Christmas presents either – but it was satisfying search to run as soon as I put my kindle down.  Now I know where I’d like to go when I finally visit New York one day because Miller’s food sounds delicious. If you like food and watching the restaurant industry this is definitely a fun read – and hungry read. Have snacks handy!   

Thank you Avery for this advance copy in exchange for an honest review!

Just Couldn’t Finish: The Devourers

The Devourers, Indra Das

Hardcover, 306 pages

Published July 12th 2016 by Del Rey

Source: e-ARC from NetGalley

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On a cool evening in Kolkata, India, beneath a full moon, as the whirling rhythms of traveling musicians fill the night, college professor Alok encounters a mysterious stranger with a bizarre confession and an extraordinary story. Tantalized by the man’s unfinished tale, Alok will do anything to hear its completion. So Alok agrees, at the stranger’s behest, to transcribe a collection of battered notebooks, weathered parchments, and once-living skins.

From these documents spills the chronicle of a race of people at once more than human yet kin to beasts, ruled by instincts and desires blood-deep and ages-old. The tale features a rough wanderer in seventeenth-century Mughal India who finds himself irrevocably drawn to a defiant woman—and destined to be torn asunder by two clashing worlds. With every passing chapter of beauty and brutality, Alok’s interest in the stranger grows and evolves into something darker and more urgent.

Shifting dreamlike between present and past with intoxicating language, visceral action, compelling characters, and stark emotion, The Devourers offers a reading experience quite unlike any other novel.

The description for the Devourers is certainly correct that this book is dreamlike.  At first I was entranced. Alok meets a stranger standing outside a party and feels like he’s in a dream himself and I was drawn right in.  The story begins as kind of spellbinding and then the details became violent, gritty and honestly just too gross for me.  

I was ready to get into the idea of Indian werewolves – or many multicultural werewolves as it appeared to be going – but the darkness and the rape just overwhelmed me honestly.  The cover is beyond gorgeous and this book is getting rave reviews so maybe this was just a miss for me.  The Devourers promises quite a story and an emotional one at that, just be ready for really visceral reactions as you’re reading.

Thank you so much NetGalley and Del Ray for this advanced copy in exchange for an honest opinion.  

Review: June

June, Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

Published May 31st 2016 by Crown

Hardcover, 400 pages

Source: Blogging for Books

 

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Twenty-five-year-old Cassie Danvers is holed up in her family’s crumbling mansion in rural St. Jude, Ohio, mourning the loss of the woman who raised her—her grandmother, June. But a knock on the door forces her out of isolation. Cassie has been named the sole heir to legendary matinee idol Jack Montgomery’s vast fortune. How did Jack Montgomery know her name? Could he have crossed paths with her grandmother all those years ago? What other shocking secrets could June’s once-stately mansion hold?

Soon Jack’s famous daughters come knocking, determined to wrestle Cassie away from the inheritance they feel is their due. Together, they all come to discover the true reasons for June’s silence about that long-ago summer, when Hollywood came to town, and June and Jack’s lives were forever altered by murder, blackmail, and betrayal.

I absolutely loved Miranda Beverly-Whittemore’s last book, Bittersweet, a dark and kind of gothic summer romance and mystery.  I couldn’t wait to dive into more family secrets in June.  I’m always fascinated by a plot with a mysterious will.  When it’s the will of a movie star with a fortune – even better!  

When we meet Cassie she’s living alone in her grandparents mansion in rural Ohio.  She’s inherited the home after her beloved grandmother’s death and she’s holed up and letting the world pass her by.   I admit I  was a bit frustrated with Cassie at first.  I wanted her to do something – anything! So it was much easier to be drawn back into the past to the story of the young and beautiful June, Jack the movie star, and Lindie the girl across the street. As I became more caught up in the past it helped me to become more interested in Cassie’s modern mystery and I was glad when Cassie started getting caught up in the past as well.  I liked getting June’s story through Lindie rather than June herself.  Lindie was quite the observer and I think gave a much richer perspective than June would have. 

This was a slow burn, but Beverly-Whittemore ended in directions that I didn’t expect at all with both the past and modern stories.  What I really loved was the personality that the old house had.  Not in a creepy haunted house way at all – more a romantic and mystical presence.  This is definitely a good book to sit and finish the summer with!

Thank you Blogging for Books for this advance copy in exchange for an honest review!

Review: Sex Object

Sex Object, Jessica Valenti

Published June 7th 2016 by Dey Street Books

Hardcover, 205 pages

Source: e-ARC from Edelweiss

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Author and Guardian US columnist Jessica Valenti has been leading the national conversation on gender and politics for over a decade. Now, in a darkly funny and bracing memoir, Valenti explores the toll that sexism takes from the every day to the existential.

Sex Object explores the painful, funny, embarrassing, and sometimes illegal moments that shaped Valenti’s adolescence and young adulthood in New York City, revealing a much shakier inner life than the confident persona she has cultivated as one of the most recognizable feminists of her generation.

In the tradition of writers like Joan Didion and Mary Karr, this literary memoir is sure to shock those already familiar with Valenti’s work and enthrall those who are just finding it.

I found Jessica Valenti’s book The Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession with Virginity is Hurting Young Women to be totally fascinating and well done even as it scared me.  I appreciate all the work she did on feministing and I think her essays are always worth reading.  I’ll be honest though, I had a hard time with Sex Object.  I had to put this book down for long breaks before I could get through it.  The topics are hard – sexualization that Valenti’s been experiencing since childhood, touches on familial sexual abuse, and inappropriate teacher behavior.  In adulthood Valenti goes into her relationships and briefly into her path through colleges to feministing, then lightly into her marriage and her traumatic pregnancy.

Valenti asks “Who would I be if I didn’t live in a world that hated women?”  Maybe it’s because I am lucky enough that I haven’t felt hated that I hard a hard time relating to her stories?  Her experiences on the New York subways are not the ones I have had on my train rides.  Her stories were brutal and painful to read at times.  They scared me.  I’m raising my kid to take the train – I don’t want to think about men exposing themselves to her on the Brown Line one day.  The harshness of her language and the topics I think in part made me struggle with Sex Object – there are only so many stories I want to read about anyone’s sexual history and partly the flow of chapters was somewhat jarring.  I would have liked deeper essays rather than short and shocking chapters. 

I can’t imagine the hatred and vitriol that Jessica Valenti is exposed to because of the internet and the work that she does – I looked at her twitter as part of writing this review and Valenti announced a social media break after she received a rape threat directed at her 5 year-old daughter.  All this woman does is advocate for the rights of women and she finds hate directed at her helpless child?  What the fuck is this world?  I have a 5 year-old daughter and I’m in tears and nauseated at the very thought – and I’m angry!

That’s why the book is important – Valenti tells her stories and experiences and they’re important and deserve validation.  This wasn’t an easy book but oh my God what is this world?  Some of the stories felt like too much – too much sex, too much vulgarity, too many drugs – but this is real life and it should make you react physically and even angrily at times.  Only then will we really be determined to follow Valenti and advocate for change.

Thank you Dey Street Books and Edelweiss for this advance copy in exchange for an honest opinion.

Review: All the Missing Girls

All the Missing Girls, Megan Miranda

Kindle Edition, 384 pages

Expected publication: June 28th 2016 by Simon & Schuster

Source: e-ARC from publisher via NetGalley

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Megan Miranda’s novel is a nail-biting, breathtaking story about the disappearances of two young women—a decade apart—told in reverse.

It’s been ten years since Nicolette Farrell left her rural hometown after her best friend, Corinne, disappeared from Cooley Ridge without a trace. Back again to tie up loose ends and care for her ailing father, Nic is soon plunged into a shocking drama that reawakens Corinne’s case and breaks open old wounds long since stitched.

The decade-old investigation focused on Nic, her brother Daniel, boyfriend Tyler, and Corinne’s boyfriend Jackson. Since then, only Nic has left Cooley Ridge. Daniel and his wife, Laura, are expecting a baby; Jackson works at the town bar; and Tyler is dating Annaleise Carter, Nic’s younger neighbor and the group’s alibi the night Corinne disappeared. Then, within days of Nic’s return, Annaleise goes missing.

Told backwards—Day 15 to Day 1—from the time Annaleise goes missing, Nic works to unravel the truth about her younger neighbor’s disappearance, revealing shocking truths about her friends, her family, and what really happened to Corinne that night ten years ago.

When I heard this was a mystery told in reverse I was really unsure how I’d feel about it.  I have to say that this book was basically a mind fuck. We start in the present as Nicolette returns to her rural home town of Cooley Ridge to help convince her ill father to sell her childhood home.  She leaves her fiancé behind and he’s unaware that Nicolette will be facing down both memories of her high school best friend’s disappearance and her physical high school boyfriend who she’s never really said goodbye to.

We then go two weeks into the future when there’s been another disappearance and Nicolette is being told to run – I won’t tell you who from. The book goes through each day and then flashes back again.  This was such a great way to tell a mystery!  I thought that I had everything figured out as Nic flashed back through each day – and I was always wrong! I loved how Miranda was able to drop clues that made so much sense in the end but totally threw me off as I was reading.  

If you need a summer thriller this is it!  Suspenseful and well written – definitely one to read at the beach!

Thank you Simon & Schuster and NetGalley for this advance copy in exchange for an honest opinion!

Review: Charlotte Brontë: A Fiery Heart

Charlotte Brontë: A Fiery Heart, Claire Harman

Published March 1st 2016 by Knopf

Hardcover, 462 pages

Source: Library 

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A groundbreaking biography that places an obsessive, unrequited love at the heart of the writer’s life story, transforming her from the tragic figure we have previously known into a smoldering Jane Eyre.

Famed for her beloved novels, Charlotte Brontë has been known as well for her insular, tragic family life. The genius of this biography is that it delves behind this image to reveal a life in which loss and heartache existed alongside rebellion and fierce ambition. Claire Harman seizes on a crucial moment in the 1840s when Charlotte worked at a girls’ school in Brussels and fell hopelessly in love with the husband of the school’s headmistress. Her torment spawned her first attempts at writing for publication, and the object of her obsession haunts the pages of every one of her novels–he is Rochester in Jane Eyre, Paul Emanuel in Villette. Another unrequited love–for her publisher–paved the way for Charlotte to enter a marriage that ultimately made her happier than she ever imagined. Drawing on correspondence unavailable to previous biographers, Harman establishes Brontë as the heroine of her own story, one as dramatic and triumphant as one of her own novels.

What a short and sad life.  Really what sad and short lives all of the Brontë children had.  So much talent lost to consumption, to a strangely unhealthy family lifestyle and to opium in the case of Charlotte’s brother.  Though this book was about Charlotte it would be impossible to tell her story without the context of her family.  It was fascinating to read about the Brontë siblings writing and sharing as children and how that grew into the three sisters publishing as the Bells.  The letters that Harman accessed for source were moving and gave such thoughtful context to the eventual writing of Jane Eyre.  I suppose as a reader I should be thankful for the unrequited love in Charlotte Brontë’s early life because without that story there would be no Rochester and that would be a loss!    

I might not be raving about this book quite as much as Romantic Outlaws, but it was still fascinating to read about how really revolutionary Charlotte was for her time.  Really though in the end, I was just sad.  I wonder how much happiness Charlotte missed out on with her early death and how many books she might have had left to write.  I am absolutely more inspired now to read Vilette, reread Wuthering Heights to see if I can hate it less and to try Anne Brontë’s Tenant of Wildfell Hall.  Obviously I have to reread Jane Eyre as well.  A Fiery Heart felt long while reading, but despite the depth was really easy to lose myself in the Brontë’s world every morning.

Next nonfiction though will be Flappers: Six Women of a Dangerous Generation by Judith Mackrell based on The Paperback Princess’s raves about it.  What biographies are you loving now? 

 

#WeekofReviews My Lady Jane

My Lady Jane, by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows

Published June 7th 2016 by HarperTeen

Kindle Edition, 512 pages

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The comical, fantastical, romantical, (not) entirely true story of Lady Jane Grey. In My Lady Jane, coauthors Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows have created a one-of-a-kind fantasy in the tradition of The Princess Bride, featuring a reluctant king, an even more reluctant queen, a noble steed, and only a passing resemblance to actual history—because sometimes history needs a little help.

At sixteen, Lady Jane Grey is about to be married off to a stranger and caught up in a conspiracy to rob her cousin, King Edward, of his throne. But those trifling problems aren’t for Jane to worry about. Jane gets to be Queen of England.

I’m so torn about what to say about My Lady Jane.  I loved this concept – I loved how these authors turned history on its head and gave Lady Jane Grey a happier story.  I actually liked Jane mostly – I always love a heroine bookworm!  But at the same time this book made me a bit crazy as I was reading.  I wasn’t expecting magic!  The magic was fun, it just threw me for a loop!  This book was really funny at times and yet so silly I couldn’t take it at others.  The romance between Jane and Gifford was just too cheesy for me, too fast and I wanted to slap Gifford every time I read “Call me G.”  

Bottom line, this book was crazy inventive and a really fun idea.  The snark, the feminism – all great!  I am very curious to see if the Lady Janies put their heads together again and if so, what chapter of history will they revise?  I’d definitely read another book from them, but My Lady Jane I don’t need to read again.  Again, I’m finding myself a black sheep on this book so if you like the concept definitely give My Lady Jane a try.  While it is a long book at 500 pgs it flew to read.  I have to say as a teen I think I’d have loved this – maybe I’m getting too old for YA?  Don’t answer that! 

Have you read My Lady Jane?  Did you swoon over G?  Is there a time we get too old for YA?  I weep at the thought! 

Thank you HarperTeen and Edelweiss for this advance copy in exchange for an honest review!