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Full disclosure: I received a free copy of From Scratch in exchange for an honest review.

Big personalities, high drama – the extraordinary behind the scenes story…

This is how Allen Salkin describes his book. It couldn’t be further from the truth. This is not a book about the “big personalities” of Food Network, at least not the ones you know and love. This is not a book about the stars. This is not a book for a casual fan, or even a devoted fan who watches for the food. This book is probably not what you’re expecting.

So what is From Scratch?

It’s a laundry list of name drops. The author discusses, at length, who he spoke to when he was writing the book. He also lists who he briefly interviewed and who refused to speak with him. He will go into painstaking detail about who he talked to and when. This carries on throughout the book and crops up again in the very lengthy acknowledgements section at the end.

It’s a biography of Emeril Lagasse. As far as the chefs go, Emeril is the main focus. We follow him from the day he was hired to the day he was fired. Not much is left to the imagination. Anecdotes about Emeril are injected into nearly every page, even when they don’t fit. Yes, every Food Network fan knows who Emeril is, but that doesn’t mean that his name needs to appear on every page of the book.

It’s a “what not to do” for starting a business. Salkin goes into depth about how stupid the management was when Food Network started. At one point, staff members were found sleeping on the job and stealing petty cash. The management obviously didn’t like that, so they installed cameras to obtain proof and take action. The staff didn’t like it, so they got rid of the cameras. Clearly, no problems were solved.

It’s an unorganized mess. Nothing is tied together. There are no transitions. When he’s actually talking about the chefs, he jumps from Bobby Flay to Tyler Florence to Alton Brown to Ming Tsai and back again with absolutely no connections.

There’s a lot wrong with this book. Salkin’s insistence on using first names only (except, apparently, when it comes to Nigella Lawson) drove me crazy. It was especially confusing when he was writing about Paula Deen’s sons, Bobby and Jamie, around the same time he had been writing about Bobby Flay and Jamie Oliver. He will describe what an executive was wearing in minute detail, from the way her hair was styled to the color of her nail polish to her choice of footwear, but he’ll just gloss over that time when Rachael Ray accidentally set Emeril’s set on fire. And the ending – Salkin writes a perfect conclusion to the book, then writes a good ten to fifteen pages about the most recent Paula Deen debacle, as if it happened so close to publication that he couldn’t even be bothered to work it in to the story. Then there’s a half-hearted, completely unsatisfying conclusion involving Ina Garten visiting Bob Tuschman in the hospital and Joe Langhan eating pizza. I literally rolled my eyes upon reading the last page – that’s how bad it was.

Nearly everything in this book is irrelevant. It could have been half the length without losing anything important. It’s extremely dry reading, to the point where it was a struggle to knock out ten or fifteen pages a night. The only reason I’m giving it two stars is that I learned one good fact – Food Network was started by a regular guy who gets absolutely no credit and absolutely no profits.

Final rating: ★★☆☆☆

[also posted here]

Goodreads | Amazon

Full disclosure: I received a free copy of The Moment Before from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Brady, the younger Wilson sister by a whole eleven months, is known for her artsy ways. Sabine, her older sister, is perfect. She’s a cheerleader. She’s part of a power couple. Everyone loves her. And then she dies in a freak cheering accident. Everyone blames Connor, Sabine’s stunt partner, for failing to catch her. He did fail a drug test that day, after all. But Brady doesn’t quite buy it. She wants to get to the bottom of this whole death thing so she can move on with her life.

Let’s just get one thing straight. From the very first mention of Sabine, I didn’t trust her. Nobody is that perfect. It’s hard to sympathize with a family, no, an entire community, losing its star when you don’t believe that star was who she pretended to be. I’m not sure whether I was supposed to like or dislike Sabine. I’m not actually sure how I was supposed to feel about most of the characters.

So, the good. Suzy Vitello handles the grief of the family very well. Dad starts drinking too much and pushes his family away. Mom gets all secretive. Is she having an affair? Brady, formerly a good student (or that’s what I got out of it, at least), begins neglecting her studies. Everything falls apart.

The indifferent. I both liked and disliked Brady’s relationship with Connor. Why did it have to happen so quickly? One minute Brady hated him with a fiery passion, and the next she was falling all over him. They made a cute (though weird) couple, but was the relationship really necessary? Did it add anything to the story? Aside from injecting some romance when the plot slowed down, not really.

And the bad. For a book of a mere 200-ish pages, there is an awful lot going on. Every character has at least two or three side plots in addition to the main dead Sabine thing. I couldn’t bring myself to care about whether Martha, the girls’ best friend, won her pageant thing. The whole art award nonsense was never really resolved. Sabine’s secret drama/trauma doesn’t really go anywhere. The teachers ask the right questions but never follow up. And then there were the weird references to St. Agatha and moths. While The Moment Before started out with a good premise, I feel like the author tried to tackle too many ideas.

In the end, I really can’t give it more than two stars. Maybe, had the plot been more focused and the characters been more relatable, I could give it three or four. The premise was good, as I said. There was just so much going on that no single plot, including the main one, got the attention it deserved.

Final rating: ★★☆

[also posted here]