REVIEW: Hot Dish by Connie Brockway
Dear Ms. Brockway,
I had no idea you were moving to contemporaries. Uneasy feeling number one: I usually don’t like it when traditionally historical authors move in that direction. Why? I dunno. I guess I just get used to them writing about the past, their historical “voice” and style. I suppose Jane would say I’m used to their historical brand. However, if an author already writes different genres when I discover her/him, then I’m alright with it. Yes, I can be contrary. Uneasy feeling number two: Jane emailed me that she didn’t really like the book much. But I’d agreed to do a dueling review so I got my game face on and started to read. What a relief when I started chuckling then laughing and then ended up enjoying “Hot Dish.”
Jenn Lind hates Minnesota and especially the town of Fawn Creek. After her parents lost almost all their money by some bad business decisions and took a disastrous poker playing trip to Las Vegas to try and win it all back, the family is forced to sell everything they own and head to the only property they have left which is a ramshackle hunting lodge in Fawn Creek, MN.
Jenn’s only thought is to somehow get back to her friends in NC and earn enough scholarship money to go to UNC-CH. With that goal in mind, she doesn’t make much effort to meet new people or make friends. She sees her chance in the Minnesota Dairy Farmers Federation “Buttercup Queen” pageant. If she wins that, she can get out of MN. Well, she doesn’t end up winning due to some do-gooder ratting her out for not living on a dairy farm which gives her one more reason to hate Fawn Creek. But all the contestants have to sit and have their heads sculpted out of a 100 pound block of frozen butter and the artist hired to do this is Steve Jaax.
Steve is sort of on the lam. He’s in the middle of a messy divorce to a fashion model who’s taking him for everything he’s got. His one consolation is the statue he hired a thief to steal. Steve knows it’s his best piece so far and if he can keep it out of his soon to be ex-wife’s hands, he can score a victory against her. But where can he hide the key to the mausoleum in which the statue is hidden? Steve is in the middle of carving Jenn’s head in butter when three things happen: the bounty hunter his wife hired finds him, artistic inspiration hits him and he knows where he wants to go with his sculpting and he finds a place to hide the key.
Twenty-one years later Steve and Jenn meet again. Steve’s gone on to be a great sculptor and ironically Jenn has become the Martha Stewart of MN. They’ve both been asked to come to Fawn Creek’s sesquicentennial parade and ride beside the sculpted butter head which Jenn’s parents kept frozen all these years. Jenn has to go because the national network show she’s just been hired to host is run by a iron fisted “born again” businessman who likes the down homey feel of the event, Steve wants to go because the key he thought lost years ago was hidden in the butter head and the town wants them both because it’s sinking into obscurity and such an event will bring needed media coverage. But Steve’s not the only one who wants to find the butter head. A con artist he drunkenly confided in when he thought the key was lost knows a fortune is at stake and three losers from Fawn Creek figure that if they steal the butter head, the town will ransom it back for a couple thousand dollars.
So fate meets up with all these people in the middle of a MN winter as they all chase after the butter head, the key in it and dreams of lots and lots of money. Imagine a Coen brothers movie but without all the deaths. It’s FARGO without the wood chipper.
When the book starts off, you include lots of events from different POVs and I wondered why you had all these characters. Lots of characters, lots of information and none of it really seemed to go together. Then over the course of the story, it all comes together and gets neatly tied up. Even as I was laughing I was enjoying how you managed so many different plot threads.
I know Jane didn’t like the heroine as much as I did. To me, she was the outsider used to show us non-Midwesterners what life is like there. Which seems like a short summer then lots of snow, ice, sleet, more snow and living in quilted coats. And ice fishing. And eating Nordic food. Steve is the outsider who sees the best aspects of Fawn Creek which then shows Jenn how nice a town it really is. Because it’s not the town which changes, it’s Jenn. Slowly but surely she realizes that it’s not such a bad place and that the views she first clung to as a displaced teenager are ones she made in anger and frustration. No, she’s never going to truly love the place with all her heart and soul and I’m happy you had the courage to let her be more realistic about this. I wouldn’t have believed a quick change of tune for her or seeing her want to live there permanently.
I’m a Southerner and Jane’s a Midwesterner and maybe that’s why I liked it more than Jane did. I can look at it as an outsider. I imagine I’d have more trouble liking a book filled with men named “Bubba,” who are married to their first cousins, all drive pickup trucks with gun racks and which features a Miss Hog Queen pageant that requires the contestants to have their likenesses sculpted from pork barbeque. I loved the book and would give it a B+ but must warn romance readers that it is more black comedy than romance since the romantic relationship is more subtle and not the focus of the story. With a book like this one, I will happily follow you into your new genre.
Oh, I think I’m going to have to read this one. It sounds funny. I’m from the Midwest, but damn, most of those stereotypes? Are so based in reality. Fargo? Yes, I’ve met people who talk just like that. Sounds like a really fun book. So we’ll see.
Thank you for the lovely letter. I am so pleased your uneasy feelings proved groundless, delighted that you liked the book, and really downright giddy over your response to Jenn Lind. Because one of the reasons I wanted so much to write a contemporary was that I wanted to create heroines who weren’t larger than life and sympathetic and self-sacrificing, but who were flawed and sometimes ignoble but, in spite of that, still struggling to be better than they are. Because, well, I am.
And with that little confession, I’ll putter off.
Connie Brockway is very versatle to me and I plan to read this when it comes out. Good to know that you liked it, Jayne. Thanks for the review!
Oh a book set in Minnesota! Not many of those out there. I’m going to have to give it a try.
I agree with Keishon, we already know Brockway’s very versatile. Considering she could write both the wonderfully light comedy that was The Bridal Season and the equally wonderful dark and angsty All Through the Night, I’m going to trust she won’t have any trouble doing the switch from historical to contemp.
I have been waiting for this! I always thought Brockway would be a decent contemporary writer. I always found myself liking bits of some of her historicals and from your review I think the bits I liked are what has carried over.
I haven’t read this book yet, but the idea of the butter heads and the dairy pageant are definitely based on reality.
I’m planning on buying the book primarily because of the Minnesota setting. I haven’t read anything else by Brockway (and I doubt any of her historicals were set in Minnesota… ^_-) so I have nothing to judge this one against, unless it’s similar works by other authors. There are a few.
Meril if you do decide to try HOT DISH, you’ll see in the author’s note that Brockway did indeed base her pageant on Princess Kay of the Milky Way.