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Title Deep Dish
Author Mary Kay Andrews
Genre Contemporary Romance, Chick-Lit, Southern American
Publication Date February 26, 2008
Setting Atlanta, Georgia, USA
Synopsis: Everything in Regina Foxton’s life is not peachy but she can make do. Sure the kitchen from which she tapes her television cooking program is held together by scotch tape and she wished she had better wardrobe to host in and she wished her new car would run without failures, but at least she finally has her own cooking show and a car and a house and a sweet boyfriend who also happens to be her producer. But then she finds out that she is out of a job because her sponsor has canceled the show because her boyfriend did the sponsor’s child bride. Now she faces a prospect of moving back to her hometown in with her parents and has to tag along her baby sister who is already a handful with her cutting college classes to play on Xbox and party-hardy. Regina Foxton is what one would call has paddled “out of her depth”. But then The Cooking Channel is scouting her show and she really has a shot at landing the major leagues, except there is another cooking show that has rolled into town to vie for the position. Tate Moody is ruggedly gorgeous and his cooking style (kill and cook your dinner) is the polar opposite of Regina’s (Southern meals with a healthy twist) and so are their attitudes toward life. Tate is as popular in the south as Regina and often their viewers’ demographics overlap but the two become enemies on sight. She thinks he’s a brute and he thinks she’s a princess. Sparks fly and the producers at The Cooking Channel ride on the heat wave to host a reality cook-off challenge for the position for their new network chef. What no one, including Regina and Tate, is prepared for though is that some of those sparks are caused by mutual attractions.
Experience: Deep Dish is something that I would refer to as a pretty good read. It’s not what I’d call award-winning literature but far as romance novel goes, it hits the spot and you can polish off and devour (pardon the food-pun) the whole thing in one sitting. Having said that, there are a couple of noteworthy positive things about the way Mary Kay Andrews went about writing the novel, starting with the setting and world-building.
There are some great contemporary romances out there with chefs as the main characters but rarely do they remain as true to the premise of the character’s career as Deep Dish did. In most cases, novels about chefs draw on the sexiness of heating it up in the kitchen with a passive-aggressive chemistry between the hero-heroine and leave it at that. Andrews did not take the shortcut. Instead, she thoroughly researched cooking show productions and sifted through her minefield of knowledge in Southern cooking (she has her own cookbook published) before sitting down to write the novel, allowing the reader to enjoy a very hands-on experience of the stresses of producing a TV program. We even get to pick up on a few recipes of wholesome Southern meals along the way. I loved the quirky addition at the end of the novel where a few choice Southern recipes were shared, apparently created by Regina and Tate themselves.
The world-building was also rather vivid and something I enjoyed a lot. It may be due to my personal preference for geography and maps but halfway through, the story takes you to this island in Georgia called Eutaw Island. Now I looked for it and there is a geological formation in Georgia of this name and a city as well though no island fit for human habitation. But Andrews beautifully illustrated this exotic location with beautiful wild and marine life and delicious local palate. I totally believed it might be a real place until Google told me she made it all up. As a writer, I can always appreciate such in-depth dive into the author’s imagination.
With regards to character development, obviously, it being a chick-lit, Regina’s character received more attention than Tate’s. I thought their passions and insecurities nicely complemented each other. She has a one-track mind about getting her canceled show onto The Cooking Channel; her adversary-and-romantic-interest is a gorgeous man-of-the-wilds who likes to catch what he cooks and does not have the same sophisticated taste as she. You can’t do much wrong with that; in fact, it’s great recipe for romance (sorry, I can’t seem to help myself here).
The rest of the characters equally complement the two MCs and plot. Her ex-boyfriend is a self-serving jerk with enough good looks to get away with it in most circles is using her to get the show running again; her sister is a college student with badass fashion sense who studies less and parties more; her close friend and makeup artist is a bald gay black man; the production people from The Cooking Channel have all the single ruthless attitude as her boyfriend but are at different stages of life; except the assistant producer who is a shoe-in for the secondary romantic plot opposite the sister is a man with a conscious that balances his boss’s lack of one. It was actually all very smoothly written in and I could appreciate the relatability. Although I would have to say none of the major or minor characters stepped too far out of their stereotype – except maybe the hero but this was not fully explored or explained.
Which brings me to the part of the novel that I could not completely see eye-to-eye on. I found it interesting that he was a single red-blooded heterosexual man with natural sex appeal had he would turn down a voluntary booty call from a hot female celebrity and I wanted an explanation. Especially when he showed the same prudence when another hot minor league celebrity (read heroine) offered the same. If Tate was turning down women up and down the southern states despite his hot celebrity status, there must have been a reason. Being one of the MCs, he deserved a little more backstory. And the thing is there was plenty of opportunities to build up the reader’s understanding of the character since Andrew used an omniscient POV in the novel. There are quite a number of times when Tate’s POV was tapped into and that could have been more productively utilized.
But the use of POV, in general, was another thing that I had difficulty aligning with an author of Andrew’s caliber. There were a number of scenes where the POV kept jumping from major to minor to major characters and I did not understand why that was necessary. If an alternate POV was absolutely necessary for a scene, it could have been broken down and presented in separate sections or reflected by the character in question on hindsight. The use of frequent POV-switching in these scenes, though were not haphazard enough to cause distractions or confuse the reader, created a sort of comic book effect – you know, where you have the dialogues in the speech bubbles followed by the fuzzy thought bubbles and then the off-panel comments about the actions? Like the narrator took the most advantage of his/her freedom to source the characters’ thoughts. I guess it was a technique Andrews used to speed up the plot and thankfully it did not injure the reading experience too much for me other than make me conscious of the flaw as a writer.
Recommendation: It was an enjoyable read. There were a few plot elements that reminded me of Welcome to Temptation (an absolute favorite re-read of mine) by Jennifer Crusie, such as the relationship between the sisters and the visit to a new location and video production crew, etc. so obviously I felt right at home with it. And it warms the heart as a straight cut contemporary romance novel. For another, it had great food culture and I have mentioned in a previous blog Books and Cravings They Inspire how much I love it when writers explore characters’ dietary dynamics. Personally, I’m looking forward to reading Andrew’s Homemade Sin.
author, book, Book Review, Character Development, contemporary romance, Creative Writing, daily post, Daily Prompt, food culture, Mary Kay Andrews, point of view, Romance Novel, Romance Writing, Writing
Title The Ex-Wife’s Survival Guide
Author Debby Holt
Genre Women’s Fiction, Chick-Lit
Publisher Pocket Books
Publication Date February 1, 2006
Synopsis: With her twin sons’ yearlong pre-college trip to India coming up, Sarah Stagg is finally ready to put up her feet and spend a little quality time with her actor-husband Andrew, star of their local theater. But Andrew has other ideas. He has been having an affair with his new co-star and soon moves out. Now, with the kids gone and the house empty, Sarah is experiencing an existential crisis. She spends her days waiting for her husband to realize his mistake and come home or wondering how she will spend the rest of her life alone if he doesn’t. Her best friend Miriam suggests she spends her time more productively by doing everything to prove she’s enjoying the independence – especially if Andrew is to find her desirable again – and pushes Sarah to join their town’s upcoming play, placing her at the scene of her husband’s crime. Suddenly Sarah finds herself cast as the female lead and the male lead Martin Chamberlain – an already divorcé with a cheating former spouse – becomes her closest confidante and comrade, and real-life savior too. Sarah’s life turns into a whirlwind of misadventures, between starring in the theater, adopting a psycho-dog bent on killing everything in the neighborhood, helping her neighbors spy on their husbands, and being whisked away to Majorca by her best friend where she enjoys a little fling with her college crush with a potential to relocate. The only problem is Sarah’s still too busy wavering between trying to reclaim her husband and finding solutions at an off-shore island to realize true love may be found in the most unexpected of person living closer to home than she realized.
Experience: It’s been a while but I really enjoyed reading this novel. Ever since I took up full-time writing, it has been really difficult for me appreciate works for the sheer pleasure of the entertainment but The Ex-Wife’s Survival Guide brought me home. It reminded me why I love reading and writing stories so much – for the sheer joy of living many lives. I could totally put myself in Sarah Stagg’s shoes and it was a pretty nice pair to boogie in.
It wasn’t so much that the characters were deeply explored. In fact, everything that took place was only observed from Sarah’s POV, and she is the type of character for whom the other shoe drops only in the distant future. But this aspect of her personality was so consistently pursued that I have to raise my hat to Holt for her patient custody of not revealing the plot to Sarah too soon. Rather, Sarah’s oblivious observations of her surrounding while keen perception into the characters of those with whom she is detached but taking close one’s for granted, all the while wincing and tiptoeing for things to only get worse, was hilariously adorable.
Moreover, Holt isn’t afraid to introduce a host of funny characters. As writers, we are always told to keep the character count limited to those absolutely necessary. Well, since Sarah is a neighborhood sort of gal, her many wacky neighbors are necessary. It is perhaps one of the reasons why no one’s but Sarah’s character is explored in depth. When you have the main character accidentally molesting priests, her maniac dog chewing up the town gossip’s guinea pig, your closest local pal trying to project her need to cheat onto her husband, and your best friend planning romantic getaways without her husband, it is difficult to dedicate much of the text to anyone but the main character. But on the whole, it worked out fine because they each helped to build up or reinforce Sarah’s own flaws and fitness.
However, there was one character I wish who deserved a little more than Sarah’s self-absorption. Martin was such a swell guy, I couldn’t but feel sorry for him. He was dependable and sweet and all things that would make most girls take him for granted, which is exactly what Sarah does throughout the book. But there were a few moments when his dependability and sweetness came out very masculine and I wish there was more of that. As far as the potential hero goes, I wish he stepped out of the shadows a little more and asserted himself. He was fully capable of it. For the sake of the plot, however, he was much sacrificed.
For the most part, the book shows that Sarah is a character to whom things happen rather than one who makes things happen. It wasn’t only being cheated on, but also all the mishaps that followed that were just a great way of preserving that Sarah Stagg had no control over her life. There was such a Bridget Jones appeal to her that made the reading fluent. Of course, as the story progresses, we see her attempting to take a bit more charge and stand up to – or at least try to stand up to – what is right, but she is essentially a pushover. Thankfully, not forever, which was hinted upon somewhere in the middle to keep the reader’s hope alive.
Recommendation: An excellent chick-lit that deserves to be read if you enjoy rom-com and women reclaiming girl power.
Title The Trouble with Dukes
Series Windham Brides #01; Windham #09
Author Grace Burrowes
Genre Historical Romance
Publisher Piatkus (Little, Brown Book Group)
Publication Date December 20, 2016
Synopsis: To say Miss Megan Windham is in a pickle would be putting it lightly. All her powerful relations of English nobilities would not be able to save her reputation if words about her youthful indiscretion with a certain Major Sir Fletcher Pilkington were to get out. Worst yet, it would ruin the prospects of her sisters. Unfortunately, the sly Sir Fletcher is bullying her into matrimony and any day her fate could be sealed. Enter Colonel Hamish MacHugh, newly instated Duke of Murdoch and Tingley and commonly referred to as Duke of Murder. He steps in to save her spectacles (she has horrible eyesight) from Sir Fletcher’s boots and ends up enlisting himself to save her reputation when Megan instantly sees through the infamous reports on his character and warms up to his protective nature. In return, she has offers to help him learn to be a duke, at least as much as it would take to properly set his sisters in society because he is reluctant about his new title. During the course of all this exchange, the two come to become confidantes and more.
Experience: There’s just something about Hamish MacHugh that sets butterflies in your stomach aflutter. And isn’t that a primary goal of romance novels, to feel that quickening of breath, the heat pooling in your nether regions, a hope that heroes who would help you slay demons do exist? The hero of this novel accomplished that from Chapter 01. It wasn’t simply his sturdy built or brusque manners, the fact that he is too content with his simple life in Scotland to yield to a title of English nobility thrust upon him, or even how his candid but coarse manners keep creeping out when he reluctantly attempts at being proper for a London ballroom that had me sighing. In his list of imperfections, the one that most had me intrigued was how a man so protective of others would come to earn a reputation as a murderer. And so the pages kept turning.
Then there is the heroine. I adore a heroine in glasses (perhaps because I have to rely on a pair) and, of course, enjoys reading. I liked Megan from the beginning because she seems to be the wily sort who manages to navigate around Sir Fletcher’s scheming for so long until Hamish steps in to assist her. Even after Hamish’s assistance doesn’t resolve the issue entirely, she continues to work her way around the problem, never entirely giving up. She appears to be a damsel in distress but she’s made of tougher stuff. Even lovelier is how she knows what she wants and chases down Hamish, literally has her way with him in the family music room, for it because she is not afraid to risk her heart. This makes a nice change of pace.
I particularly enjoyed the insight into Sir Fletcher’s character. When Burrowes narrates from Fletcher’s POV, we can see that his a thorough villain, able to put on his sheep’s skin effortlessly and charm the society of the ton completely, but his mind works to only serve himself and he takes pleasure in revenge, which he resorts to at the simplest transgressions. Yet, we also get a glimpse into his background to understand, if not empathize, what circumstances may have nurtured such deplorable characteristics. In fact, I felt Sir Fletcher’s character was more accurately and consistently portrayed than any others’ in the novel. It made the plot plausible and the conflict believable.
The book is the first of the Windham Brides series and ninth in the Windham series. And even though many of the characters, mostly heroes, make numerous appearances throughout the novel, this book may be easily read as a stand-alone. In fact, though Megan’s cousins (said heroes from previous novels) came and played their parts to help her and Hamish along, they were not all as call-to-action characters as Burrowes tried to portray them as. I sort of found the bromance between the cousins slightly forced in certain scenes. Rather the camaraderie between Hamish and his younger brother Colin seemed less trifling, even though Colin had fewer active scenes to play than the cousins. But this might be because Burrowes had already explored each of the cousins individually in their own stories and Colin is to be a hero in her upcoming installation of Windham Brides. But I didn’t see the point of re-introducing so many of the cousins in this book if they were not to be given due roles. It was the only part of the novel that I felt out of sync with.
Recommendation: Oh, absolutely! If you like historical romances, this novel is bound to entertain. Admirable heroine, hubba-hubba hero, a villain to make you properly nervous, you’ll be turning the pages. I, meanwhile, have already marked my calendar for the release of Colin’s story (he is expected to hook up with Megan’s younger sister, Anwen).
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