I think I have possibly mentioned in the past that I’m not usually favoured by Lady Luck in the winning department. As such, I have a rather jaundiced view of people, places and things that do.
Yes, it is a fault. No, I don’t care to change it.
Lauded and awarded books, silver medallions and celebrity author recommendations really don’t interest me that much, which is why I heaved a huge sigh when I saw Wendy the Super Librarian’s July-I-am-90%-sure-she-included-it-just-to-mess-with-my-unadventurous-reading-choices- TBR Challenge: Award Nominee or Winner.
Yes, I had a cranky-pants face. No, I wasn’t afraid to hide it.
Apparently though, my life-style choice of evasion and avoidance meant absolutely NOTHING to the books gods, because it turns out I have umpteen (that is the actual number) of award winning/nominated books in my TBR. I had collected them without even realising it.
So, this month I read three. With varying degrees of success.
Spoilers, spoilers everywhere…
Touted as a sumptuous celebration of ‘ food, family, and love as a woman searches for the elusive ingredient we’re all hoping to find….’ I was a little surprised to find it a thoughtful novel; deeper than I expected. Possibly the cover threw me. Doesn’t it look like something Jennifer Anniston/Diane Lane would be starring in?
Over all though, I would have to say I was disappoint.
And this is coming from someone for whom Foodie-Romances are like catnip.
Elena Alvarez – the chef. Fired from her previous job, she is picked by the owner of that same restaurant, to head another, which he is opening in Aspen. A survivor of a horrific car accident in her youth, Elena is scarred both physically and emotionally. She buries her feelings in cooking and talks to the ghost of her sister (?) about the things happening in her life.
The Restaurant Owner turns out to be Julian Liswood, movie director extraordinaire, and hobby restaurant owner. He has a teenage daughter and apparently a lot of spare time.
OK. I am (or was?) a MASSIVE lover of foodie romances. That connection between sustenance for the soul and the body is a hard one to dismiss. Also: beautifully described food = food porn = forn.
And this book has it in spades.
- You want chefs going into brown-studies about the way onion slices look when they are held up to the light?
- You want food to be both the elixir, fixer and healer of all that ails you?
- You want people to have soulmate connections via recipes?
Then you have come to the right place.
Beautifully described food, nuanced characters and a nice mix of culture thrown in for good measure. So what was wrong with it?
It was all just TOOOOO MUUUUCH.
Elena was incandescent; Julian was so rich he had four restaurants and 6 houses and a daughter who was so beautiful she could stop traffic. Add to that three ex-wives, most of whom he was on the best of terms with. He was ridiculously rich, and nerdy good-looking and decided from the moment of seeing her, that Elena was soulmate no 9.
Then there were fires in the restaurants, the deportation of most of the staff and still Elena, pulling together a group of desperadoes like President Pullman on Independence Day, manages to come up trumps.
Add the talking ghosts and the push-pull thing Elena does with Julian (patient beyond all reason btw) and I end up exhausted and over-full from overblown descriptions of food.
Also: there are recipes for the meals used in the books at the beginning of each chapter. I may be alone in this but I HATE recipes in fiction books. Irritates the heck out of me and here they go for PAGES. Drives me nuts.
I am checking in my I ♥ Foodie-Romance T-Shirt. Cos this one caused some severe allergies. And last time I checked, food was – well food. It can’t cure cancer, fix broken relationships and make angels descend in a golden carriage to commiserate with lonely mortals. But if you read this book? You’d probably think you were only 4.5 steps from this being a reality…
This was my most disappointing. Possibly because the blurb set up one of my favourite premises in the whole world – and then kicked me in the lady parts – whilst simultaneously boring me stupid.
I wanted to cry and snap rage at the same time.
The premise of a ‘unique and unforgettable’ epistolary love story between a world weary adventurer and woman’s rights advocate sounds intriguing no? Add a late uncle who gives the heroine the hero’s estate for five years to make a profit out of it; a motley assortment of interesting side characters and relatives and my interest? First peaked is now fairly caught.
And look at the first two letters – which were on the blurb and completely SOLD me?
Dear Mr. Thorne,
I give you fair warning. I intend to do whatever I must to abide by your late uncle’s will and win Mill House. Though I know he never expected me to succeed, and for whatever reasons is using me to shame you, I accept his challenge. For the next five years, I will profitably manage this estate. I will deliver to you an allowance and I will prove that women are just as capable as men. And at the end, I shall accept Mill House as my reward.
Sincerely, Lillian Bede
My Dear Miss Bede,
Forgive me if I fail to shudder. Pray, do whatever you bloody well want, can, or must. I shall look forward to making your acquaintance in my lawyer’s office five years hence, when I take possession of Mill House.
Epistolary is an exaggeration. It’s like Grandpa Willie says: A cat can have kittens in the oven, but that don’t make ’em biscuits…
NOTE TO PUBLISHERS: A book is NOT epistolary if it contains FOUR letters and you only get quotes of them throughout the story.
Avery is supposed to fall in love with Lillian through her letters but the most crucial one that changes EVERYTHING is kept from the reader until right near the end – when I no longer care and they’ve already done the beast with two backs. The tension? She is gone.
The rest of the story reads like a ridonkulous house party from an Agatha Christie, in which no one dies EVER (unless it’s of boredom). It switches POV between Lillian and Avery (yep – that’s their ACTUAL names) and all they seem to be doing is admiring each other’s hair and shoulders. Ad nauseam.
To say that I was disappointed, was an UNDERSTATEMENT.
Did you know that in the 1800s children were property of the father? Just like a wife was the property of her husband.
Lillian’s mother was someone’s mistress. Her first marriage was so terrible that she refused ever to get married again, because she was terrified that the man she had a loving and equal relationship with, would take her children and never let her see them again.
This is a valid issue.
Burying this GEM of information in the midst of low décolletage’s, bulging thigh muscles, and using it as a leveraging excuse for the protagonists to engage in sexual hootenannies? Just makes me frown.
On the plus side – my TBR skyscraper is one less…so bonus?
To describe in a sentence? Apply cold compress to burnt area. Ouch.
I don’t know if Harper has ever been divorced, but she sure had some vitriol to expend on the subject.
Lacey finds out her accountant-husband is a double-crossing cheating bastard and decides to get her own back by announcing it to their client list via the company newsletter…
‘If Singletree’s only florist didn’t deliver her posies half-drunk, I might still be married to that floor-licking, scum-sucking, receptionist-nailing hack-accountant, Mike Terwilliger.’
But it all goes awry and suddenly Lacey is full retreat after becoming the talk of the town and an ‘instant urban legend’
Lacey runs to the only house (yes they had multiples) still in her name: a lakeside cabin, which has the added bonus of a grumpy-yet-attractive-crime-novelist-neighbour.
I know; the odds ASTOUND me. My neighbour is a weird overweight guy with questionable dress sense who thinks the sum of relaxation is scratching himself in a hot pink hammock.
But Lacey? Lacey ends up with that rare Black Rhino of literature: the hot heterosexual author….
The writing is well done and the plot is interesting enough to keep you reading.
‘Mama would have been horrified by the notion of my drinking alone, but mostly because I was so close to a body of water. She would have told me if it could kill Natalie Wood, it could kill me, too
In my mother’s mind, cautionary tales are timeless, however tenuously connected’
Most of Monroe’s (Black Rhino) and Lacey’s interactions are clever – I snickered like a twelve yr old through a lot of them…
‘I made you a Bundt cake,’ I said, handing him the plate. ‘But now I think I owe you another one for smacking you in the face.’
‘I would feel better if you kept your distance,’ he admitted. ‘God knows what you could accomplish with a cabinet door. Mrs. Witter said she would have left the keys in the house, but that she was afraid to. She told a very long story about you managing to lock yourself out of every room in the cabin in one afternoon.’
‘I was eight!’I cried.
He sighed. ‘I’d really like to sidestep all the weird tension stuff and just be two people who happen to live near each other. You seem like a nice person and it takes up too much energy to try to ignore you. You’re un-ignorable.’
‘Fine. I agree I will not break into your house and bake for you without permission,’ I swore, holding up my hand. ‘If you will promise not to make suicidal gesture your first guess if you see me do something weird. Maybe suicidal gesture could be your second or third guess.’
He reached out and shook my hand. ‘Agreed.’
‘Just so we’re clear, we have established that we’re not interested in each other, right?’ he called after me. I could hear the barely contained laughter tightening his voice.
‘Oh, fuck off!’ I yelled, not bothering to look back at him.
There are a few skit-like vignettes at the beginning that ARE funny, but are sort of shunted in and worked around. Like Harper wrote them separately, or first, and thought they were too good to leave out, so forced them in anyway. They are noticeably awkward – but funny enough that I didn’t mind.
Commitment issues, rampaging divorcees and awesome sex with the rebound ensue – but I still liked it despite the cliche.
‘I don’t hate my ex,’ I protested. ‘I just want him alone, broke, bald, impotent, toothless, fat, and wailing and twitching in a twisted tiny ball of spastic misery.…Fine. Make fun of me. In case you’re wondering, this is why people don’t like you.’
And then just when you are about to give up, a nice burst of independence makes it all worth while:
‘No,’ I repeated. ‘You two can’t keep passing me back and forth like I’m some emotionally handicapped tennis ball. I love you guys, but I’ve managed to dress myself, and feed myself, and live on my own for the last several months without withering away and dying. I know I came down here looking for help, but sometimes that means ‘Just listen to me while I vent,’ not ‘Please take over my whole life.’
Definitely worth a read if it crosses your path; Harper not only made the obvious rebound neighbour interesting enough that I was totally cheering for him and Lacey – But Lacey’s brother? Total awesome sauce.
Valancy: looking for a new I ♥ … t-shirt.
Header Image: Emma Zorn, Läsande, Anders Zorn, 1887