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A Taste of Heaven by Penny Watson

A-Taste-of-Heaven-by-Penny-Watson-250Ever since Sophia Brown's husband died, she has been faking her way through her days.  She feels lost.  She doesn't taste the flavor in the perfect meals she makes, her mind wanders while she weeds, and she is in a rut, doing the same things over and over because it is familiar and comforting. Although she thought she was doing a pretty good job at keeping it together,  her daughters have noticed and have decided to intervene.  They want to insert a little excitement and positive challenge into her life so they sign her up for cooking competition reality show,"A Taste of Heaven", filming in their home state of Vermont. Ambushed by her daughters' s concerns and intervention Sophia is determined to face up to challenge. Sophia doesn't know what to expect when she shows up on the set but soon her competitive spirit overcome her fears and worries.

Grumpy, stubborn and desperate, Elliott Adamson, a Scottish professional chef with lots of skills and talents and many restaurant failures has agreed to participate in "A Taste of Heaven" in hope the cash prize and exposure will save his latest and maybe last restaurant. He is livid when he discovers that the competition will team amateurs like Sophia with experts like him, but he can't walk away as much as he wants to.

The competition is full of twists and surprises, and Sophia and Elliott end up teaming up despite having taken an initial dislike of each-other. They must negotiate how to work together as Sophia is not about to let Elliott run right over her.  Sophia does most of the heavy lifting in the partnership, working to smooth Elliott's rough edges, stressing presentation and strategic choices that will appeal to the judges and generally behaving with maturity that balances out Elliott's sullenness. Elliott slowly warms up to Sophia, realizing that she has great instincts and the strength to challenge him.  While he fights her every step of the way, she makes his Scottish dishes shine, while showcasing her own knowledge of Vermont's fantastic produce and products, eventually breaking down his resistance.

I really liked that Sophia and Elliott are a mature couple (Sophia is 47 and Elliott almost 50). They both have long relationship histories and that informs how they react to each other and what they want.  The sexual tension, the confusing feelings and the uncertainty about their futures are great complications.

There were a couple of subplots in the story that I felt were left unresolved. Maybe they were only supposed to add background color and interest to some of the secondary characters but I felt we were building up to something (especially the one about the possibly predatory judge) and it didn't go anywhere which was a bit frustrating.  I would however welcome reading more about other secondary characters in their own books.   The ending was a bit over-the-top for me, while it tied up everything in a lovely bow, it felt slightly more sweet and fantastical than the story had been up to that point.

A Taste of Heaven was a very enjoyable romance that will appeal to fans of cooking competitions, mature couples and growly Scottish men who can cook.


#TBRCHALLENGE Review: Say Yes to the Marquess (Castles Ever After book 2) by Tessa Dare

Syttm_audioClio Whitmore is sick of waiting. Her intended decamped for the continent and a career with the foreign office as soon as the ink was dry on their engagement agreements. For the last eight years, Clio has has to endure the strictures placed on her by her family and the whispers of the ton. With her fiancee Piers finally headed home, Clio turns to his disgraced brother and temporary estate manager Rafe for a way out of her engagement.

Rafe is looking for redemption. Cast out of his father's house as teenager, he has made his living as bare-knuckle boxer, living on the fringes of polite society. When he is entrusted with the management of  Marquisate upon his father's death and his brother's absence, he is terrified of wrecking it and is determined to hand everything over to his brother is the condition he received it.  Despite his life-long attraction to Clio he refuses to sign the dissolution papers and instead begins a campaign to convince Clio to marry Piers by offering her the wedding of her dreams.

"Say Yes to to the Marquess" was romantic, funny and clever. All Dare's characters speak with a modern voice but I didn't find that at all jarring, but instead immersive and refreshing.  "Say Yes to Marquess" has a small cast and I liked all of them, even the antagonists. For all its lightheartedness Dare still tackles issues of emotional depth well. Both Rafe's and Clio's family have hurt each other terribly with good intentions.   It is the empathy Rafe feels for Clio that breaks through his determination to see her married to Piers. Rafe's own "Secret Pain" is believable motivation for his actions and source for his feelings of insecurity and inadequacy.

Although I have read all of Tessa Dare's Spindle Cove series,  this was still an impulse buy for me, because I was on a Tessa Dare break.   However I bought it when it was on sale in April, even though I had skipped the first in this new series.  My recent preference for darker weightier historicals was overcome through a combination of the premise and the enthusiastic recommendation of a few twitter friends whose recs I trust. I immediately bought "Romancing the Duke" after finishing "Say Yes to the Marquess" and read the first half in one sitting.



Truly (The New York Series) by Ruthie Knox

Cover48015-mediumLast fall I had the opportunity to read this novel when it was serialized on the WattPad. I really enjoyed re-reading  a few weeks ago over Labor day weekend.

May is having a horrible weekend, her long-time boyfriend and NFL quarterback Dan’s tipsy and cringe-worthy public proposal incited her to stab him with a shrimp fork, and the video has gone viral. Everyone in her life is hoping she will come to her senses and forgive Dan, but the event has become a bright line for her. She won’t go back to Dan and their unsatisfying relationship just because everyone else thinks he is the best thing that will ever happen to her, not even when her attempt to slip away quietly is spoiled by purse-snatching paparazzo. Alone and friendless in New York City, with nothing but a metro card and a couple of bucks, and with her family out of cellphone range in the UP,  May ends up in Green Packer’s Bar sitting across from the angriest former chef in the city.

Anger, anxiety and stress have cost Ben his marriage and career.   Passionate about food, Ben's life became about reviews and Michelin stars, till his wife divorced him, giving him a large check in exchange for their restaurant and cookbook. Ben is trying to rebuild himself from scratch, but it is not going well.  When Ben looks across the bar to May, he sees an innocent milk maid type, and does his very best to ignore her but against all odds Ben ends up insisting in helping May.  His gift of beer turn into an offer of dinner, an offer of help finding a computer, then an offer of a place to stay till she can find a way home, till he finds himself not wanting her to ever go. The longer Ben is around her, the more he wants her there.  

Ben and May’s romance is journey through anger. May must let herself feel anger, and to respond to it by asking for more for herself from herself & others. Ben needs to forgive others and himself before he can start over to accept himself and his mistakes.

I loved Ben and May’s Labor Day Weekend in New York City, the food, the sites and the tension. Ben is a reluctant white knight, and fumbles badly several times which is actually just want May needs.

4 out 5 stars.


A review copy of Truly was provided by Random House Publishing Group - Loveswept via NetGalley.