Dear Ms. Beers,
You were recommended to me by a friend on Goodreads, but I almost passed on this book because of the cover. It looks like it's about baking and grandmothers-’and it is. There's more to this story than the cutesy homemade image conveys, however. Starting from Scratch is a deftly written contemporary romance with strong, modern characters.
I requested this title from my local library and it's been several weeks since I returned it, so I'll do my best to get the details right. I dragged my feet on writing a review, partly because I found very little fault with your work. Glowing praise is hard to write.
The story is told in first person from Avery's point of view. She's in-advertising? and has a crush on a gorgeous lady banker named Elena. I liked Avery immediately. She's real and honest and unaffected. The way she ogles Elena from afar is very cute. Avery doubts Elena plays for her team and has no particular designs on her. It's almost as if the pleasure of seeing Elena on a regular basis is better than approaching her and ruining the fantasy.
A good friend of Avery's has knee surgery and asks her to take over as coach for a kids' baseball team. Avery feels obligated to say yes even though she doesn't like children. Or maybe she just doesn't want to like them. Avery was abandoned as a child (I think) so she has Issues. She starts coaching and grudgingly decides it's not so bad. One of the kids, Max, is Elena's son. Over the next few weeks, Avery learns that Max has two moms, and that the women are separated. Score!
There are many coincidences in this story that I should have found hard to believe. Instead I smiled and nodded all the way through, delighted by each turn of events. Max and Elena have just moved in to Avery's neighborhood, and Max wanders over to help Avery bake a lot. Avery's friends encourage her to join an online dating site, where she makes a connection with a charismatic woman. Surprise, her cyber-suitor turns out to be Elena.
Baking is Avery's favorite hobby. She learned the skill from her grandmother, who plays a pivotal role in the story and in Avery's life. This relationship is nicely done and the portrayal of baked goods made me so very, very hungry. Mmm-cookies.
Avery and Elena begin dating and encounter few obstacles. The biggest is Max's other mother (Susan?) who hangs around but shows no genuine interest in him. This character didn't make sense to me and I wasn't sure what purpose she served. According to Max, Elena and Susan fight all the time. While they argue, he walks over to Avery's for chocolate chip cookies. I don't know why Elena, who is a doting mother, allows her ex to upset and neglect Max.
I also had a problem with the chemistry between Elena and Avery. Maybe it was just me. Somewhere, something was lacking. Although I enjoyed the romance, I skimmed the sex scenes. The first person POV might have been an issue for me. I can't decide if I felt distanced from the couple or too close for comfort. I've never shied away from lesbian love scenes so I can only shrug and move on.
One last coincidence occurs, just in time to wreak havoc on Avery and Elena's relationship. Avery has never wanted children and used that as an excuse to split with her ex-girlfriend. Now that she adores Max and Elena, her outlook has changed. When the women are on a romantic dinner date, Avery's ex shows up, mentioning Avery's strong aversion to children. This leads to a painful breakup and a black moment, followed by tears and apologies and an emotionally charged happily ever after. Yay!
This story stood out from all of the other lesbian romances I've read this year. It's polished and well-edited, which isn't the norm for this subgenre (from my limited experience). I also appreciated the focus on family and children. You have a gift for creating characters that readers care about.
I really enjoyed Avery's transformation. She wants nothing to do with kids at first but is able to grow and adapt when life throws her a curveball. I can relate. B+