Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

Chef

REVIEW:  Afternoon Delight by Anne Calhoun

REVIEW: Afternoon Delight by Anne Calhoun

Dear Ms. Calhoun,

I’ve read and enjoyed a few of your novellas in the past, so when an ARC of your new 164 page offering, Afternoon Delight, was made available to DA’s reviewers, I requested it. Afternoon Delight is set in New York City and features a hero whom readers of your novella Breath on Embers have met before.

AfternoonDelight-final-250x374Tim is a paramedic with the FDNY. Racing from one rescue attempt to another, he finds it easier to live life at a fast pace because it keeps him from feeling too much. Since he sees so much aging and death at his job, he is afraid to slow down and really feel. Casual hook ups fit his life and serious relationships do not.

So it’s a good thing that Sarah, a food truck chef Tim meets in the park one day, isn’t looking for a serious relationship. Sarah used to be just like Tim, footloose and fancy-free, until she cared for her dying aunt. That experience taught her to slow down and savor the moment. Before she died, Sarah’s aunt made her promise to go back and find the carefree girl she used to be.

Tim is a New York native while Sarah has only recently relocated from San Francisco. The first time they meet, Sarah and her business partner are trying new sauces, and Tim is willing to be her tasting guinea pig. The second time they meet, Tim asks her over and at his tiny apartment, they have hot, competitive and enthusiastic sex.

Tim loses a bet that he can keep from grabbing Sarah, and Sarah issues him a new challenge—if he can keep from getting off for a whole week, he can do whatever he likes to her when they meet again. The dinner Sarah cooks for Tim on that occasion is sublime, and as for the challenge, well, I won’t spoil it.

Sarah and Tim see each other while never officially dating. Tim shows Sarah New York’s sights, sounds and tastes and helps her learn to appreciate the city despite its frenetic page. Sarah begins to realize she is developing feelings for Tim, and Tim gets a glimmer of a clue that sex with Sarah is so hot because it’s more than sex.

But can Tim keep from slowing down and feeling if he and Sarah progress to a relationship? Can he overcome his fears enough to do so? And how will Sarah handle it if he tries to prevent the connection between them from growing beyond a simple afternoon delight?

Afternoon Delight is fun and well-written. There were many things I enjoyed about it, from the New York City milieu to the sex-positive approach to the story. Sarah was never slut-shamed or judged for liking sex—not by Tim, not by her friend and business partner Trish, and I never, ever felt the author was judging her. Thank you for that.

I also really, really liked that like Tim, Sarah could be playfully bossy in the bedroom. It is so nice to come across a heroine who isn’t a “natural submissive” but rather one who can enjoy both top and bottom. I wish there were more heroines like that.

Sarah was as a good sport, someone who knew how to have fun, but she could also be gentle and compassionate when a compassionate and gentle touch was needed. She was there for Tim when that moment came.

Another aspect of Sarah I enjoyed was her love of cooking and the way it was incorporated into the novella. Sarah’s awareness of good flavors and desire to savor each bite facilitated and enhanced Tim’s journey from speeding through life to slowing down enough to smell the coffee – or the split pea soup.

I thought the chemistry between Tim and Sarah was very nice but Tim was a harder character for me to connect with. I liked his attitude toward the guys he worked with and toward Casey, a new guy whom Tim was helping train on the job. Tim was a good guy down to his bones, so I couldn’t help liking him even with his approach to getting through life, from shoving food down fast to keeping his relationships simple. But his determination to speed through everything so as to feel nothing took me a long time to empathize with.

Tim saw a lot of death and suffering at his work but I think what tripped me up was that he hadn’t raced through life the same way in earlier years at the same job. For that reason, I expected there to be a revelation about an event that had caused him to choose to change his pace. There wasn’t any one thing that had caused that, it turned out. And when I think about his job and his past, his choice makes perfect sense, but I wanted that to be something I felt in my heart and not just understood in my head.

Even so, there was so much to like in this novella, from the fun challenges Tim and Sarah set for each other, to Tim’s relationships with his fellow paramedics and an elderly couple he got to know on the job, to Sarah’s relationship with food, and of course, Tim and Sarah’s journey to coupledom. I especially liked the last few scenes and the romantic gesture near the end. B-/B.

Sincerely,

Janine

AmazonBNKoboAREBook DepositoryGoogle

REVIEW:  Stir Me Up by Sabrina Elkins

REVIEW: Stir Me Up by Sabrina Elkins

Dear Ms. Elkins:

Your editor emailed me and asked me to take a look at this book. I think it sat in my inbox for at least a week and she contacted me again. She loves this book and wanted it to get read. Now I love this book and want it to get read.  In fact, in the last podcast I recorded with Sarah from Smart Bitches, I threatened to not talk during the next podcast if she didn’t at least read Stir Me Up.  Sarah called me a book bully.

Stir Me Up by Sabrina ElkinsCami Broussard grew up in her father’s kitchen and wants to be a chef someday but her father keeps pushing her toward college.  The chef’s life is not an easy one and he tries to explain to her all the negatives. She will have to work every holiday.  She won’t be home for dinner.  She will miss more family events that she will make. The restaurant will own her.

While Cami pretends to be interested in colleges, she and her current boyfriend (and employee at her father’s restaurant) dream of their restaurant owning future together. Cami’s last year of high school is interrupted by the arrival of her step cousin, Julian. Wounded while deployed, Julian comes to Cami’s home to recuperate.  He’s angry, sullen, and bad tempered and takes it out on everyone including Cami.  Worse, Cami’s abruptly ousted from her first floor bedroom to an attic alcove that doesn’t even have a door or a closet.  And what can she say? No, the war veteran should sleep in the floor in the living room? Things with her boyfriend take a turn when he continues to pressure her for sex which Cami isn’t quite ready for.

I couldn’t decide if this was a hamfisted way to clear a path for Julian but given that the breakup between Cami and Luke doesn’t quite happen in an expected way, I weighed in on the no side. Besides, I like it when the heroes of YA books are okay with waiting because that’s a message I’ll want my daughter to read. Just putting my bias out there.

The relationship between Cami and Julian is entirely believable as they go from antagonists to reluctant confidantes to something more.  Cooking plays a huge role in this book and I loved how evocative the writing was as it pertained to Cami’s love for food.  In the book, the creation of food becomes a metaphor and initially the only way that Cami reveals her feelings for Julian, perhaps at first even unconsciously.

Cami is a great heroine. She’s not hung up on her looks or getting the guy in this story; she’s trying to figure out her place in the world. Her thoughts aren’t filled with where the next party is or whether she is fitting in with the right crowd at high school. She’s busy trying to cope with her feelings for the wounded guy in her bedroom and deciphering what it means when he tells her to decide for herself what she wants out of life.

“No big deal,” he says. “For this one… ” He scrolls back up. “Just start with something like Ever since I was little, my father has owned his own French restaurant.”

He moves away from the computer and looks at me. “Ever since I was little…. ” I say.

“You’ll need to put it in your own words.”

“Okay. How about: I spent most of my childhood playing behind the stoves of my father’s French restaurant.

This mildly impresses him. “Did you?”

“Yes. Basically.”

“Did you like it?”

“I loved it. All the action and noise.”

“The noise?”

“Sure. The noises are great—the pots and pans and utensils and searing sizzling food, the chefs hollering and shouting at each other and the wait staff running around and the doors and the plates. It’s a concert.”

“You… maybe you should just be a chef.”

“Dad’s convinced I should get a degree first. So I don’t limit my options. Also because…” Julian’s kind of staring at me. “Because he never was able to go to college himself and he thinks it’s too hard a life.”

Oh God. Stupid pale complexion showing everything all the time. I cover my cheeks with my hands. They’re burning.

“Okay, well… let me know if you want me to read the new versions,” he says. And he wheels away.

Julian’s presentation as a Marine with a medical separation due to his amputated leg was sensitively handled.  Cami admits that on the one hand it bothers her because it represents a painful loss to Julian but on the other hand, the loss of his leg doesn’t define him in Cami’s eyes or anyone else’s eyes in the book.

One of the things that I think young adult books do so well is show how the characters actually fall in love. Cami’s movement from resentment toward curiosity and into desire is believable and sweet. There are love scenes but they are tactful and appropriate for the tone of the book.  Overall, there’s just a sense of loveliness and sweetness about the romance and Cami’s journey that I hope others pick this book up and read it. B+

Best regards,

Jane

PS I know I’ve talked up this book a lot but I feel like at $1.99 it’s a low risk proposition.

AmazonBNSonyKoboAREBook DepositoryGoogle