REVIEW: Simmer Down by Sarah Smith
In this finger-licking good rom-com, two is the perfect number of cooks in the kitchen.
Nikki DiMarco knew life wouldn’t be all sunshine and coconuts when she quit her dream job to help her mom serve up mouthwatering Filipino dishes to hungry beach goers, but she didn’t expect the Maui food truck scene to be so eat-or-be-eaten—or the competition to be so smoking hot.
But Tiva’s Filipina Kusina has faced bigger road bumps than the arrival of Callum James. Nikki doesn’t care how delectable the British food truck owner is—he rudely set up shop next to her coveted beach parking spot. He’s stealing her customers and fanning the flames of a public feud that makes her see sparks.
The solution? Let the upcoming Maui Food Festival decide their fate. Winner keeps the spot. Loser pounds sand. But the longer their rivalry simmers, the more Nikki starts to see a different side of Callum…a sweet, protective side. Is she brave enough to call a truce? Or will trusting Callum with her heart mean jumping from the frying pan into the fire?
Dear Ms. Smith,
I love the cover for this book. The blurb sounded like it would be lots of fun. I thought I would adore it. I wanted to adore it. I didn’t adore it for a number of reasons.
Food trucks seem to be the new cupcake bakeries of the romance book world. Nikki and her mother have been struggling with theirs – “Tiva’s Filipina Kusina.” It’s not because the food isn’t good or they don’t have good reviews, it’s because they started with little capital due to the medical bills from Nikki’s father’s terminal illness. Now they’ve found a spot to park and operate and have a good following every day. Then another truck parks near them which apparently contravenes the unspoken food truck law of not setting up business too near another operator.
Nikki tries to politely tell the handsome Brit guy this but he reacts with frosty anger, blowing her off and refusing to move. His argument that he’s not breaking any law cuts no mustard with Nikki who begins a prank war with him. He retaliates and soon this has gone viral. The resulting publicity drives up business for them both but Nikki and Callem continue to behave like toddlers having tantrums. Then one well known vlogger challenges them: whichever of them comes in ahead of the other in a local food festival will win the “rights” (though Callem is correct in that there’s no law about this) to stay in the coveted spot. The other truck will have to leave and search for another spot to set up.
At first I’m with Nikki in thinking that Callem is an arrogant arsehole. From a chance meeting Nikki has with Callem’s nicer brother, she learns that Callem doesn’t hate her after all. An “only in a romance novel” encounter with Callem breaks the ice and soon they’re negotiating a hot and heavy “fuck buddies” relationship which must stay secret because of the contest. Will their feelings change and if so, what happens then?
I went from enjoying this book to slogging through just to finish it. Nikki is very determined, very protective of her widowed mother, and not afraid to speak her mind. Initially I cheered her on when she told Callem off but as the silly pranks (which all get videotaped via the customers’ all having cell phones and posted online) continued, I wondered “how old are these people?” They’re supposed to be around age 30 but foul mouthed children having snits is a better description of how they actually act. But okay, it’s part of the book set-up.
Then they begin their romantic relationship and it’s obvious that Callem is actually a nice guy, trying to help his brother who has never gotten support from their parents. From this point on, IMO Callem shifts to an almost uber nice guy who deserves to find someone who cares as much about him as he does about them. Unfortunately IMO, Nikki pretty much fails to be that person.
The story is told in first person so there’s a lot of Nikki wailing and complaining and gnashing her teeth about everything that goes wrong in her life. She knows that she and Callem need to avoid being seen together because of the contest but of course, they (actually mainly she) do all sorts of things that will risk this. Okay again as this is the plot and some risk must be there.
But Nikki turns out not to be a very likeable character for me. She’s high maintenance, demanding that things go her way, pushing Callem away because she can’t risk falling in love and the pain that losing love would cause her (because of the pain she suffered when her beloved father died). She also ghosts her friends for over a year – at first okay because she had dropped everything to rush to her father’s side during his illness but in the many months after when she could have called them (the numbers were on her phone) she just sighed, was sad about it, and basically … that was it.
There’s a scene late in the book where Nikki discovers something her mom has been keeping from her and blows up, lecturing mom about “being open.” All this while she’s lying to her mom about her relationship with Callem that might put her winning the contest and the much needed money at risk. Then something happens and she brushes Callem off, loudly and in public. By this point I had lost patience with Nikki. She comes to her senses and mends fences and builds bridges and makes a grand romantic gesture but it was too late for me even if Callem rushes to take her back.
The Filipino food sounded divine, I did like how protective Nikki was of her mother and how determined she was to keep her mom’s dream of a food truck alive, Nikki did save a pregnant cat (yay!) but at the end, I couldn’t buy into the romance. And despite the cutesy cover, this is not a rom-com. C-