Under the Knife
I love foodie romances, so when I read the blurb for Laurin Kelly’s Under the Knife, I could hardly wait to dive in. An M/M romance with a delicious setting—a fiercely competitive reality show—this was an enjoyable if not perfect read.
Nate Pasternak is a little out of his depth from the moment he arrives in Los Angeles to compete in Season Three of Under The Knife. The producers don’t even wait for the chefs to unpack. The show hits the ground running, and after the contestants scramble to create a distinctive dish in thirty minutes, Nate realizes he’s up against some extremely tough competition. Not to mention the winner is more tempting than anything in the kitchen.
But although Nate is instantly attracted when he sees Zachary Kasun, Zachary—not Zach, he doesn’t do nicknames—is as cold as he is brilliant. He’s also had the culinary education that working-class Nate lacks, so he believes he’ll more than deserve the $250,000 prize.
The start of the book is fun and fast-paced. The sheer number of contestants means several names to remember, but they’re all either distinctly characterized or eliminated—falling under the knife—fairly quickly, so it’s never confusing. And although the story is told from a single PoV – Nate’s – the others nearly all have their moments of glory or shame. I enjoyed the friendships that developed, and the cutthroat behavior that sabotaged a team effort. And, most of all, the food. I got hungry halfway through and, like a hobbit, had to eat a second breakfast.
That said, the competition is so luscious and gripping it overshadows the romance. Nate is a sweetheart—not just a loyal friend, but a good leader who looks out for his team. Anyone would fall in love with him. Nate comes across as a real person, but Zachary feels like a character in a romance novel. He’s dark and handsome, with the requisite arrogant demeanor and troubled past. At the end it’s clear that Zachary has learned something about life and love from Nate, but it would have been intriguing for Zachary to bring something to the table too.
Finally, while I enjoyed the foreplay—which is all Nate and Zachary can indulge in at first, given the lack of privacy—the sex scenes didn’t work so well, and the rimming left me skimming. Unfortunately all the sex occurs during a lull in the tension before the finale of the show. So, rather than stolen kisses and written notes between the Quick Slice and the Ten Per Cent Challenge, there’s an interminable interlude with nothing much going on except sex.
Under the Knife earns an A+ for the reality show, the crazy creative challenges and how Nate rises to the occasion, no pun intended. The romance brings it down to a B, but it is still a fun read. I’d try another foodie romance from Laurin Kelly, and will be prepared with snacks beforehand.