A Dash of Christmas
#MeToo comes to the fluffy universe of Samantha Chase’s Montgomery Brothers series with A Dash of Christmas. So do busybody matchmaking grandmas, but that’s par for the course with a Chase novel.
Emery Grace Monoghan is in a bit of a pickle. Her congressman fiancé, has been accused of rape and sexual assault by multiple women, leading to her breaking their engagement and being left in the center of a media firestorm. While Emery wanted out of a relationship her parents had pressured her into accepting even before she knew he was a rapist, being stuck alone holding the bag is no fun. Clearly she needs some sort of refuge.
Enter Eliza Montgomery and her best friend and sister-in-law Monica, matchmakers and mothers to huge clans of children, who knew Emery as a girl when she went to school with Eliza’s son, Carter. Emery has floated in and out of the Montgomerys sphere of influence, and when they see her suffering on TV they want to help her. They know that Emery’s a project manager, and through the grapevine figure out that she’s in need of a new job. Eliza remembers that when Carter and Emery briefly met at a family funeral, Carter spoke to Emery about the cookbook he’s been wanting to write and Emery expressed interest in managing the project. Naturally, all the pair needs to do is put two and two together, and soon Emery will be living with Carter in New York. Eliza starts by offering Emery a place at her house to hide out in.
Carter Montgomery, Eliza’s son, is an overworked wiz in the kitchen who became a four star chef instance of following the family path and landing in business and finance. He’s still smarting from his father’s lifelong disapproval of his work, a conflict left unresolved by the old man’s death. In spite of it all, Chase has become a restaurateur with three successful establishments and is in the middle of trying to open a fourth in nearby Montauk, New York, but he can’t think up a proper concept for it. On top of this, he’s putting his name and face on the charity cookbook his mother has all but ghostwritten for him. He’s also lonely, not that he has the time to pursue feminine company when he’s this busy. Staying with his mom while he tries to figure out what the restaurant will shape up to be seems to be an ideal way to get his creative juices flowing.
Unfortunately for Eliza and Monica’s plans, Emery and Carter have never really got along, dating back to their academic rivalry in fifth grade. Emery thinks of Carter as obnoxious and is jealous of his popularity with others; Carter considers Emery a nuisance. But Carter’s conception for the cookbook is too high-end, and Emery’s low-brow ideas are just what Eliza wants for her book. Can Carter and Emery stop sparring for long enough to have a real conversation? And will Emery be forced to stand by her ex-fiancé at the behest of her parents as his court case heats up?
Many of the problems I had with A Dash of Magic involve how poorly its typical Chase-light plot sits alongside the fact of the heroine’s ex having been a rapist. Whenever rape shows up in a romance novel like this, it’s usually done with a sense of purpose, but in this case, it’s used as a background comedy plot point, and aside from some sighs of dismay from Eliza and Monica, it’s all about how everything effects Emery. ‘Oh no,’ the narrative cries, ‘Emery’s doing nothing but eating pizza and stomping around her apartment because her fiancé raped other women! She might not be able to stand up for herself against her parents!’ It expects us to lightly throw this detail away as background fluff. If it had been simple cheating, I wouldn’t be bringing this up, but this element doesn’t even pop up on the back cover copy of the novel, so having it sprung on me was a bit of a shock.
Emery and Carter are your typical Chase adversarial couple, and many of their disagreements center around food. She eats Pop Tarts and he’s a snob about it; she loathes fruit and he’s a snob about it. He balks at her attempts at improving his recipes, but she’s right and he needs to reclaim his down-home, middle-class culinary everyperson roots to make the restaurant work. She’s mentally twelve and he’s mentally sixteen. If you like the author’s work, you’re going to get more of the same here. One of Carter’s many relatives says that their nonstop arguing as teens was ‘twenty years of foreplay’ now consummated. Um.
But for all of Emery’s classic air-headedness and for all of Carter’s classic caveman-ness, they’re both pretty amusing people. I liked Carter’s struggle against his childhood trauma and how he and his mother finally deal with it, and I liked the way Emery refuses to back down when Carter gets bullish. All of the detail work about restaurant life works pretty well too.
Chase’s grandmother figures are still pushy busybodies blatantly shoving their children together, regardless of what they actually want out of life, but I’m not downmarking Eliza too harshly in this novel because – unlike other heroes in other Chase novels – Carter stands up to his mom and tells her to sit and pipe down and she admits that if she’d been tougher with his father he’d have fonder memories of his dead dad.
My final and most minor quibble was that A Dash of Christmas was only slightly Christmasy, with the main thrust of the holiday action happening in an extended epilogue. Readers looking for something more festive – and for rape material that isn’t handled like a particularly smelly fart at midnight mass – might want to look elsewhere for their fluffy holiday good times this season.