Book Review — When in Doubt, Add Butter by Beth Harbison

When in Doubt, Add Butter






When in Doubt, Add Butter by Beth Harbison
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

(Note: I re-discovered Goodreads this week and learned that if you write a review on their site, you can easily add it to your blog as well. I figured, Why not? Here is a review I wrote about a year and a half ago.)


I started this book because I thought it was going to be a quirky, humorous story about the life of a personal chef, the experiences specific to that job, and the colorful cast of characters she works for.

When I finally began to realize that it was not quite that, I continued reading (often skimming, especially toward the end), less because I was enjoying it and more because, especially as a writer myself, I was having fun finding the book’s flaws and sort of “playing editor.”


1. First of all, am I the only person who really has a hard time liking a character (either male and female) who is over the age of 35 and has a one-night stand with someone they picked up at a bar? Just, ugh. That immediately makes me see the character as foolish, shallow, and kinda skanky. And I do NOT find it romantic or sweet.

2. Um … does neither the author or her editor understand what a rhyme is? I’m sorry, but “Gemma” does not rhyme with “Jenny,” and this so-called “rhyme” is mentioned multiple times in the book.

Now, “Penny” would have rhymed with “Jenny.” In fact, if she wanted to create the not very funny joke of having the main character’s name rhyming with “Jenny,” I have no idea why she didn’t just switch the name to one that actually did rhyme with it.

3. Writing Humor can be a tricky thing. (I know because I do it too.)

I think humor always has to be a little bit grounded, at least a little bit based in reality and something you could sort of picture happening, to be effective. It has to in some way resonate with something you’ve experienced or could picture happening, even if it’s it’s exaggerated. The scenes where Gemma goes on job interviews is an epic fail in that area.
The guy at the interview is wearing half a clown suit, for no explained reason. (At least come up with some creative reason why he would dress so strangly.) He says during the interview that he “wants geraniums,” whatever that even means. He doesn’t realize this is a job interview (??), and he hates people who don’t like dogs (or something.)

That doesn’t even make sense. It left me more confused that entertained. Is he mentally ill? What is he talking about? And have you ever had a job interview that was even remotely like that experience in any way?
Similarly, in another interview — is there anyone on the planet who would hire a personal chef thinking they were hiring her to also have regular sex with them? And without ever saying or clarifying that in any way that to the person before the interview? Even if such people existed, would they start suddenly undressing during the actual job interview?

That’s not funny; that’s just stupid — and to me, it feels lazy.


4. Some of the wording was really clunky, stuff like, “she smiled appreciatively.” Just. No.


5. The controlling wife character, in particular, was so over-the-top that it was almost impossible to picture her as a real person. You could probably say this about most of the characters, but it particularly grated me with her.

6. I got a little tired of hearing everybody fawn over how the main character was the best cook in the world, like she was some sort of amazing superhero or something. Please.

So with all these complaints, why just two stars instead of one? I did like the breezy, conversational tone (although it often got clunky). It was an easy, quick read, good for reading on a beach chair while the kids played at the pool. And it was mildly humorous in a few spots.

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