Expecting – Ann Lewis Hamilton

Date read: 28th February 2014
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Release Date: July 1st 2014
Length: 352 pages
Format: E-book
Source: I received this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review

Expecting cover

Goodreads description
Mom, dad(s), and baby make-four?

Laurie and Alan are thrilled to find out that they’ll finally be having a baby, until they discover the unthinkable: the doctor has impregnated Laurie with the wrong man’s sperm. Alan is reeling, torn about the new child that’s not his and suddenly unsure about any of his commitments. His shock is almost as great as that of Jack, a college junior who suddenly finds out he’s a father, and whose identity is discovered as he is juggling finals, his fraternity, a fund shortage, and two girlfriends. Frank, funny, and forthright, “Expecting” is the fascinating story of three people bound together by a fateful mistake, and a thoughtful exploration of what it really means to be a parent.

My review

Every week or so I have a browse through the titles on Netgalley, curse the fact that I’ll be denied quite a few due to living in the UK, and request titles that spark some interest in my tired brain. As soon as I saw that Ann Hamilton had written for Grey’s Anatomy, I clicked on ‘Request’ for Expecting, and read the description afterwards.

I used to devour chick-lit and wasn’t particularly choosy about what I read… anything that was on offer in the supermarket usually found its way into my cart. Then in 2008 I discovered Twilight, soon afterwards I made my way to the world of the book blog and from there on I made my way to the Young Adult shelves of the bookshop a heck of a lot more often than I used to.

Which is a story for another day… The point I’m making (badly) is that it’s been a while since I’ve read a women’s fiction novel by a ‘new to me’ author. So I was excited to try something new and see where I ended up. Similarly to the main characters in this novel, I’m not entirely sure where I’ve ended up.

The premise of the book is that Laurie and Alan are a blissfully happy couple who decide after a couple of years of marriage to try for a baby, but suffer fertility problems which can’t be explained, even after being poked, prodded, and forced to look at pictures of Jessica Alba. They opt to undergo in uterine fertilisation… Except there’s a vengeful ex-employee at the doctor’s office, who’s switched sperm samples. And although Laurie’s pregnant, it’s not Alan’s baby, but a 22-year old fifth year senior at UCLA who has no idea of the insanity which will ensue…

The book is written from multiple viewpoints, switching periodically between Laurie, Alan and Jack, which is a really effective way of showing how the mistake affects all three of them. If the story had been written in the same viewpoint throughout I think sympathy would have been lost, especially for Alan – although it’s completely understandable that he goes into a tailspin upon learning he hasn’t fathered his wife’s child, being able to hear it in his voice brings an immediacy to his panic and his decisions thereafter. Also learning what Jack thought of the whole situation makes him more than a UCLA frat boy but someone collapsing under the pressure of living up to his parents high expectations (whether real or imagined).

I think I’d get on well with all the characters in the book – and I desperately want Laurie’s job, helping her friend Grace find undiscovered experiences in the Valley area of California and writing about it for a publication, even though I’d rather not go hiking (my idea of exercise is walking from the kettle to the sofa and back). I loved Alan’s bad jokes, and could just tell that Jack was going to turn into a spectacular young man no matter what he ended up choosing as a profession, once he settled down with one girl and didn’t go for girls who stalk him and are named after French provinces, that is.

However, a couple of things about the book jarred with me – although I’m very glad that Hamilton chose not to make this a litigious novel (although I enjoy Jodi Picoult’s style of writing about this sort of situation, it was good to focus on the emotional and practical side) the threat of legal action was made swiftly once Laurie and Alan found out about the mistake, but unless I missed something, it wasn’t mentioned again. I find it difficult to believe that they wouldn’t have taken any action at all against Dr Julian – even if it was only with the aim of getting an official apology?

Also, although the plot points were wrapped up pretty well towards the end, I would have liked to read about how Laurie, Alan and Jack made their way through the first few years of parenthood. It would have been nice to see Laurie’s friend Grace’s reaction to the paternity scandal as well, rather than just hearing a conversation in the aftermath. But on the whole, I really enjoyed this book and will look forward to reading others by Ann Hamilton in the future!

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Sous Chef – Michael Gibney

Date read: 11th June 2014

Publisher: Ballantine Books
Release Date: 25th March 2014
Length: 240 pages
Format: E-book
Source: Received from publisher via Netgalley in return for an honest review, thank you!

Goodreads description

The back must slave to feed the belly. . . . In this urgent and unique book, chef Michael Gibney uses twenty-four hours to animate the intricate camaraderie and culinary choreography in an upscale New York restaurant kitchen. Here readers will find all the details, in rapid-fire succession, of what it takes to deliver an exceptional plate of food—the journey to excellence by way of exhaustion.

Told in second-person narrative, Sous Chef is an immersive, adrenaline-fueled run that offers a fly-on-the-wall perspective on the food service industry, allowing readers to briefly inhabit the hidden world behind the kitchen doors, in real time. This exhilarating account provides regular diners and food enthusiasts alike a detailed insider’s perspective, while offering fledgling professional cooks an honest picture of what the future holds, ultimately giving voice to the hard work and dedication around which chefs have built their careers.

In a kitchen where the highest standards are upheld and one misstep can result in disaster, Sous Chef conjures a greater appreciation for the thought, care, and focus that go into creating memorable and delicious fare. With grit, wit, and remarkable prose, Michael Gibney renders a beautiful and raw account of this demanding and sometimes overlooked profession, offering a nuanced perspective on the craft and art of food and service.

My review

I love books that are written by people about their profession, especially the medical profession.  I’ve read an awful lot of books about the lives of doctors, a couple about nurses, a few about paramedics, two about vets…  I’ve never held a desire to do any kind of medical work other than what I do (working in a pharmacy), but something calls me to memoirs written by those in the thick of things.  (And if anyone wants to know about the secret life of pharmacy, read Pills, Thrills and Methadone Spills by Mr Dispenser.  It made me snort with laughter on more than one occasion whilst in a public place).

An author who’s made her name writing books set in professions is Imogen Edwards-Jones, who’s written (with various figures known only as ‘Anonymous’) about seven or eight books about hotel, airport, beach resort employees etc.  I really like her books – the writing isn’t the best in the world but the pace is incredible and I usually finish them in less than a day.  I was really looking forward to her latest, Restaurant Babylon, but when I got it from the library I was unexpectedly disappointed… I don’t know if she’s getting bored with the format she’s created or whether I wasn’t in the right frame of mind when reading it, but it was a 6 out of 10 at best for me, whereas the three I’d read by her previously were solid 8 or 9 out of 10.

When I saw Sous Chef on Netgalley, I hoped it would be what Restaurant Babylon was not, and for the most part it was.

I didn’t realise when I started reading Sous Chef that it was written in the second person… which I would have known had I read the Goodreads description properly.  Oops.  I’ve never really got to grips with second person narrative as I find it places an unnecessary distance between the writer and the subject, but this form of story-telling really, really worked with Sous Chef.  I’m not sure if it was because a lot of the book took place in the tumult of the kitchen, or the anti-social hours of both early morning and late night, but it almost added a dreaminess to the writing, as though Gibney himself was distanced from it and recounting it hypnotically.  It drew me in and took away almost all of my prejudices towards second person narrative.

The book takes place over 24 hours and follows Gibney through a day in the life of the restaurant in which he works, from walking in early on a Friday morning to stumbling in, late, dishevelled and hungover for the start of the Saturday brunch shift the next morning.  He makes clear in the prologue that the events of the day have been compacted from actual events that may have taken place over a longer period of time than depicted, which is a pretty standard practice with this sort of memoir so far as I can see.

The intensity of the work is almost humbling, and the frenetic pace during the evening service means I sped through the pages describing this – whenever anything went wrong, I started to worry as to how the service would get back on track (Raffy leaving service halfway through after throwing up in a bin comes to mind), but the amazing teamwork in any restaurant worth its salt means all make it through pretty much unscathed… and ready to do it all again the next day.

I will admit to skimming over the more technical details of what kitchen knife is used for what and the layout of the kitchen, only stopping to get a broad sense of what was in relation to where.  As people who know me will agree, my only interest in food is how quickly I can prepare it, and by no stretch of the imagination am I a gourmand.

I came away from this book with a real feeling of respect towards everyone who works in the restaurant business and can give so much of themselves day after day while retaining a sense of humour!  Although Gibney has a girlfriend, Vera, he only sees her for about ten minutes (she works as a server in a restaurant not far away from his), she’s asleep by the time he leaves the kitchen, and unless I’ve missed anything he doesn’t mention family or friends outside of the restaurant at all.  It’s a completely alien way of life to me, but one I feel I understand a lot more after reading this book, and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to find out more about the life of chefs and be entertained along the way.