If there is one thing I can not resist in the world – it’s a romance with food & food peoples. You know how some people are about cowboys? How they start fanning themselves and getting heart palpitations at the mere mention of a jingling spur???
Well, Foodie Romances (is that a thing? I’m not sure – but BlueCastle is making it so), are like my own personal catnip. I can’t resist them. Chefs, cooks, B&B’s with food, kitchens, restaurants, food vans, catering, fast food* – it’s like a book buffet. (I know, I so went there) And like all good buffets, the results have been mixed. I have been burned many a time; but the gems found in between? Where the alchemy of that combination of romance, stove tops, sharp knives and succulent confit duck?? Too good to resist.
The Coincidence of Coconut Cake, by Amy E. Reichert, was such a book. And I had SUCH high hopes for it. It had a gorgeous cover, a tried and true antagonistic romance and lots and lots of food.
But you know how Hollywood has a tendency to find really good movies and remake them as substandard, inferior hokey versions of their former selves, and churn them out for the masses to consume like overly-greasy donuts at a fair?
Well. This book is Hollywood, and I am still looking the first version of this story – the one that’s better written, more tightly plotted and doesn’t have such an overabundance of Dues Ex Machina, that I thought I was going to fall asleep in a field of poppies and wake up in a witch’s lair.
I thought I was getting Mostly Marta – a German (and very nice) film about a chef (and you should TOTALLY get on that y’all), but what I got was No Reservations – the truly terrible and awful remake of it; which was mostly concerned with Catherine Zeta Jones looking fabulous darling, in chef whites and close ups of Aaron Eckhart’s lantern jaw peeking out of the mists of steaming pots of spaghetti that nobody eats.(Carbs darling…)
This is No Reservations, sans the lantern jaw. (sad face.)
I am disappoint.
I will explain.
I apologise for spoilers.
Touted as You’ve Got Mail meets How To Eat A Cupcake, The Coincidence of Coconut Cake (TCOCC) is enshrined around Lou, a chef who has opened a French Restaurant in downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It’s been a hard slog, but she, along with her two paper-doll cut out friends who are also chef-ish, are finally making a go of it and starting to see the results.
Everything is peaches, (although in this case, perhaps served with a vanilla and star anise scented Chantilly cream?); until fate intervenes in the form of the most boring fiancé alive, being caught slightly in flagrante delicto with an intern.
Sads abound, but Lou, determined to shake it off, decides to bury her grief in cooking, (because that always works…) on the very evening, Al, an apparently gruff, (although no evidence actually ever points to it), British transplant (also no evidence pointing to that either), moonlighting as a food critic, working under a pseudonym for the local newspaper, turns up to secretly review the restaurant.
Hellooo BIG MISUNDERSTANDING, fancy meeting you here.
So Lou cooks terribly because of heartbreak, and Al writes a review that basically shuts down the restaurant, and then they accidentally meet in a local pub, unaware of the other’s role in each of their lives. As they chat, Al playfully challenges Lou to show him the best of Milwaukee, but only if they never discuss work. Of course love and all that crap happens, etc. THUS THE PLOT.
To all intents and purposes – this should have been good – I should have gobbled it up and asked for seconds – but I have, instead, developed an irrational and deep seated hatred of coconut cake – and I certainly don’t want to meet any of the other secondary characters in their inevitable and uninteresting sequels.
So what went wrong?
Well I have dot points, and I’m not afraid to use them…
– For a start, the original Meet Cute between the two characters was completely ridiculous. And this is probably what kickstarted my disfavour. It wasn’t enough to have one of them omnipotently destroy the other’s livelihood whilst they both fall in love, but they had to meet accidentally before all that for no apparent reason, other then to get the ubiquitous coconut cake in there somehow. Al SMELLS IT at some traffic lights. I mean seriously – the cake has cooled, has been iced and placed in a box. Yet standing at the traffic lights surrounded by who knows how many other people with their coffees, burritos, burgers, pretzels, aftershave, cologne, car exhaust, shop smells, canine-urine splattered trees/shrubs and rubbish bins; and Al smells the intriguing scent of coconut?
– Al – as a name? Almost as unsexy as Barney; only slightly better then Ringling.
– Every character seemed placed there for the singular reason of HELPING LOU ACHEIVE HER DREAM – their sole purpose being to collect unicorn tears in the cup of inevitability and lay them down in obeisance at the alter of LOU’S Dream-From-Childhood.
– Her two best friends: chefs to help her run the restaurant
– A famous friend chef: gives her job and then lends her money to open her restaurant
– Old Couple who loved her like a daughter and then conveniently die within the same day of each other: left her a house, which she promptly sold – (callous bitch) for money, to open her new restaurant.
– Al: there to lather praise upon her burnished head about her amazing talent as a cook – although he NEVER guessed that’s what she did, until it was almost TOO LATE.
It was just so frustrating.
Additionally, the remaining characters felt like they were only there as place markers, until they could get their own books:
– straight and handsome male interested in fashion design, who hides himself in ugly clothes so no one guesses his dark secret? CHECK.
– Two chef friends who have known each other forever, are totally in love but are oblivious to it? CHECK
– Young and upcoming editor of newspaper, with long bouncy hair and super-smart smarts (possibly to fall desperately in love with straight-and-handsome-fashion-writer)? CHECK.
Well clearly they are all so uewenique and speshcal, they should tell their own stories too!
– There were these odd character aberrations as well, that I can only put down to ‘when needs must’ and ‘because PLOT reasons’. Like the idea that Lou would let most-boring-fiance-alive dictate the type of restaurant she should open, when its all her own money she scrimped and saved for, and when she was so clear and determined about everything else, was wishy washy to say the least. When Al describes the decor as tacky and stereo typical, it’s jarring, especially since everything else Lou does is supposed to be classy and creative, and her original/second idea for a restaurant was for something completely different and tres chic.
And then the food.
The food is usually my favourite bit. Often a not-that-good book can win me back with good food, but this felt like the author had Googled ‘food trends 2015’ and just incorporated the search results.
If I never see another mention of goat’s cheese, foie gras, truffle shavings or pulled pork? It will still be too soon.
It was just page after page of descriptions of food- in a way that made me completely…not hungry. And I don’t think that has happened for a long time. There felt like there was just…no heart.
And though this is probably just personal preference, and I may be the only person in 8billion who feels like this; but I HATE recipes at the end of fiction books – its goofy, unnecessary and yet a another place to meet the inescapable coconut kuchen.
Still there are some good points:
Excellent usage of placement, locality and events – I don’t know if they all really existed (I do reside in the other hemisphere after all) but it certainly interested me enough in Wisconsin and Milwaukee to put it on my ‘places to visit when I have both holidays and money at the same time’ list.
It’s not a bad book – just maybe not my choice of caffeinated beverage. Perhaps you will enjoy. Perhaps my expectations were too high, but I give it a 2.99/5.
This books is like a quinoa and kale salad served with kimchi – it’s TRENDY and FASHIONABLE and uses all the right ingredients, simply because that’s what the zeitgeist is dictating, not because it should. It lacks soul.
So that’s me – officially depressed about a Foodie Romance – which hasn’t happened in a long time. I am going to have to find me a nice cold-blooded murder mystery to get the saccharine taste and mawkish flavour from out of my system. I will take any and all suggestions.
Until next time dumplin’s,
ValancyBlu: currently cleaning out pantry from all vestiges of coconut…
*I do have some standards; low as they are…I will not go near cupcake shops or wedding cake makers; quirky cafe owners are borderline nopes…I have learnt from my mistakes, but otherwise, it is a free-for-all.