published: 18th January 2022
Recently divorced and on the verge of bankruptcy, Dahlia Woodson is ready to reinvent herself on the popular reality competition show Chef’s Special. Too bad the first memorable move she makes is falling flat on her face, sending fish tacos flying—not quite the fresh start she was hoping for. Still, she’s focused on winning, until she meets someone she might want a future with more than she needs the prize money.
After announcing their pronouns on national television, London Parker has enough on their mind without worrying about the klutzy competitor stationed in front of them. They’re there to prove the trolls—including a fellow contestant and their dad—wrong, and falling in love was never part of the plan.
As London and Dahlia get closer, reality starts to fall away. Goodbye, guilt about divorce, anxiety about uncertain futures, and stress from transphobia. Hello, hilarious shenanigans on set, wedding crashing, and spontaneous dips into the Pacific. But as the finale draws near, Dahlia and London’s steamy relationship starts to feel the heat both in and outside the kitchen—and they must figure out if they have the right ingredients for a happily ever after.
Galley provided by publisher
CWs: transphobia, misgendering
There are some authors who you read a novella from and you enjoy it and you think, yeah, I’m gonna like their book. And then you read the book and somewhere along the way something has broken down because, actually, you don’t really enjoy it. This, I fear, is what happened with me and Anita Kelly.
This is not to say this was a bad book: the myriad 4 and 5 star reviews attest to that. It is, however, a book that didn’t suit me. That’s really the major reason behind my rating here. Me and this book just did not get along.
I think the primary issue here is that I just didn’t feel half the things it wanted me to feel, or even, half the things it was telling me to. In all honesty, when London and Dahlia first kissed, I was surprised, because I really thought they were still only at the “good friends” stage of their relationship. I wasn’t expecting them to start getting together for a long while yet. Which I think is indicative of the problem: the entire book felt more that I was being told things than shown things. It’s a trite complaint, I’m sure, but it’s probably the best way to put into words what I think of this one. I never felt the tension between London and Dahlia. In fact, can I even tell you what they liked about one another? Not really. London was fascinated by Dahlia’s hair. That’s about all I have.
Which, frankly, made for a bit of a boring romance. I mean, that was why I was there after all, for the romance, and it just fell very flat. And I had this problem with the show in the background as well. There was absolutely no tension there either. I was never concerned that maybe Dahlia or London might not make it through (up to a point). In fact, I was more confused that they did make it through. The show was in the background a lot of the time, but it seemed that when it came into focus, it was just to show London and Dahlia… screwing up, basically. And because you never got a sense of how the rest of the contestants were doing (in fact, you never really got a sense of the rest of the contestants full stop), you were left with the general feeling that it was rigged.
So when Dahlia does leave the show (precipitating the third act break up), it comes out of nowhere. Because this whole time I just wasn’t able to gauge how she was doing in it, so when she was kicked off, firstly it was a very short and abrupt scene, but secondly it felt somewhat out of place in the narrative. Not to mention that London… frankly, I think London handled this part badly, and they should have been the one to apologise more than Dahlia did. In the moment, it felt as though they were preoccupied more with their own feelings than Dahlia’s and then, in anger, they made a dig at Dahlia’s insecurity. Now, I don’t know about you, but I’d find that hard to forgive. This is something Dahlia’s told London in confidence, and London has no problem using that in a fight? Okay, so they’re angry, but then they go on to not apologise. In fact, it’s never brought up again.
All in all, then, I’m left a bit let down by this one. Given that I had liked one of Anita Kelly’s novellas before, I had hoped I would enjoy this. Alas, it was not to be.