If you can grill it, smoke it, or fry it, Nora Henderson knows all about it. She’s been basting baby back ribs and pulling pork at her father’s barbeque joint since she was tall enough to reach the counter. When she’s accepted to Taste Test, a reality-television teen cooking competition, Nora can’t wait to leave her humble hometown behind, even if it means saying good-bye to her dad and her best friend, Billy. Once she’s on set, run-ins with her high-society roommate and the maddeningly handsome—not to mention talented—son of a famous chef, Christian Van Lorten, mean Nora must work even harder to prove herself. But as mysterious accidents plague the kitchen arena, protecting her heart from one annoyingly charming fellow contestant in particular becomes the least of her concerns. Someone is conducting real-life eliminations, and if Nora doesn’t figure out who, she could be next to get chopped for good.
With romance and intrigue as delectable as the winning recipes included in the story, this debut novel will be devoured by all.
Three and a half stars
Thanks to Walker Childrens and NetGalley for this eARC! This title will be released August 27th.
When I picked up this book, I did it for the quirk factor. I automatically figured that this book would be cutesy and fairly predictable, but I also thought I could really enjoy it, considering my food service background. As it turns out, I was completely right on all counts.
Like I said, the book has a fairly easy plot. A small town girl leaves her widowed father and her best (male) friend (who might be more than a friend) behind to compete in a crazy cooking competition for high school students. The first prizes is $50,000 and acceptance to a Paris cooking school. On the first day, Nora butts heads with the handsome but spoiled son of a cooking legend, and it becomes clear that they are the main story line of the season. I appreciate that Fiore chose to add more than this, however, since the story could have run on the love-hate relationship alone (you know you’ve seen it done). Instead, there is also a subplot of a saboteur who is blowing up sinks and stealing cleavers, trying to derail the show. The focus wasn’t entirely on the love story, and I liked that.
As far as main characters go, I really enjoyed Nora. She wasn’t the happy-go-lucky, “we’re all in this together” stereotype she could have been. Instead, she got dragged into the rough and tumble world of reality TV and gave back everything she got. She wasn’t afraid to speak her mind, and more often than not she jumped to conclusions and was overly dramatic where she shouldn’t have been. Normally this would have annoyed me, but given the reality show setting it made it feel more real. She was getting ripped apart by the circus her life had become, and it showed.
Christian, like many of the secondary characters, however, was more cliched. Neither he nor any of the other characters really popped for me in anyway. I did enjoy the levels of nasty snark that he and Nora’s relationship dug into, though–even though it made the eventual reveal of “oh we like each other!” even more … meh. There was more nasty snark than love. It certainly wasn’t the worst relationship I’ve ever seen written, though, and I let it float by rather than bother me.
The love triangle really got me, though, because it wasn’t really a thing. Like, it was a thing for 30 seconds and then something completely unrealistic happened and then it wasn’t a thing. I say this not as a spoiler, but rather because it confused me more than anything else when it’s clear from page one that it’s The Nora and Christian Show. It’s like it was just tossed in there for a chapter’s footnote.
The final reveal of the saboteur wasn’t completely a shock, but it was a good twist that I enjoyed. Actually, none of the final chapters shocked me at all, but it was still written well and nothing bothered me that much. If I was any kind of a chef, I might have been super duper excited about all the recipes for the “challenge winning” dishes in the back of the book. Maybe I’ll make my mother cook them…
Anyways, in the end, this book is a definite like for me, but not a total love. It was a cute way to pass a couple of hours, and it was different enough to remain amusing and interesting even when I basically had it all figured out. If this book appeals to you at all, I do recommend reading it if you get a chance!