Cooking Up a Storm
First things first: Cooking Up a Storm is billed by the publisher (Cheek is an imprint of Virgin Books) as an “erotic romance,” but it was previously published in 1998 by Black Lace (a line of erotica novels for women). There is a sex scene on page four and nearly every page thereafter contains either a sex scene or one or more characters anticipating, planning, or reminiscing about a sex scene. In my opinion, Cooking Up a Storm is erotic in the same way a pornographic film can be in that it generates an almost pure physical response based on hot sex scenes despite a flimsy storyline. While this book certainly has more in the way of storyline than many erotic films, it is not an erotic romance. Others may disagree, but I don’t care what the publisher calls it: Cooking Up a Storm is erotica.
With all that said, if you enjoy reading erotica or racier erotic romance, then you will probably will enjoy Cooking Up a Storm, a well-written and entertaining book for the most part. There is a storyline you can follow – however thin – and the characters are engaging. The sex scenes, the lot of them, are hot, as well as frequently adventurous, kinky, or disgusting, depending on your viewpoint. Readers who prefer traditional love scenes will probably not enjoy this book since there are multiple partner scenes, same-sex partner scenes, and all manner of combinations and practices explored in this book. The writing is frank and tends to the purple, though it is not as vulgar as some erotica or erotic romance I have read in the past.
Abby Coates is part-owner with her sisters of the Coates Inn, a Cape Cod restaurant experiencing financial trouble. Desperate for help, Abby runs an ad in a restaurant trade magazine seeking a chef to revitalize the fortunes of her beloved inn. Storm Dupre, a bored and restless master chef in Los Angeles, decides that the Coates Inn may provide the perfect opportunity to take over a struggling restaurant, something that has always been his dream. Abby agrees to hire him and Storm assumes command over the cooking at the restaurant and begins creating aphrodisiacal meals that bring the customers back clamoring for more.
In the meantime, the romantically, straight-arrow Abby is struggling with boredom and dissatisfaction with her long-time boyfriend Bill. She halts their relationship just before Storm arrives on the scene, creating hope in the breast of her lesbian best friend Marissa, who pines for a romantic relationship with Abby, and Jack, a friend of Abby’s father (yes, her father) who has always loved Abby from afar. Marissa loathes the handsome Storm on sight, suspecting that this man might be the one to release Abby from her inhibitions and unleash her sexuality. Jack eggs Marissa on, hoping that her jealousy will cause Abby to turn to him instead. Thus the stage is set for a variety of romantic, er, physical encounters between the two primary players and a few ancillary ones.
Abby and Storm are an interesting, if initially mismatched couple. Abby is a little shy, a lot reserved, and a rather stereotypical pent-up sex kitten. Abby’s primary rationalization for her sexual antics is that Storm is much more experienced than she is, so, even though she’s pretty sure she’s falling in love with him, she needs to explore her sexuality more in order to feel more on a par with her lover. That made me snort a little bit, but Abby certainly has fun in her quest for sensual experience, learning to assert herself (not just physically) and gaining confidence. Some of her adventures on the wild side are truly that and stretched the limits of the character’s integrity as far I was concerned.
Storm is Abby’s opposite in terms of experience with the opposite sex. Though he had long slept his way across Los Angeles, recently he began struggling with personal misgivings at the emptiness of his encounters. He is not searching for love, but he is interested in potentially forming more of an attachment to one woman, as long as it doesn’t require too much of him. He’s not sure about the idea of monogamy, but he’s intrigued by Abby from their first meeting and becomes more and more obsessed with the possibility of being the man who can awaken her passions.
Their relationship and the unexpectedness of his developing feelings for Abby make womanizer Storm realize the difference between lust and love for the first time in his life. At least, so Holly would have us believe. It didn’t fully work for me. While I liked Storm (despite his French affectations, which got on my nerves- he reminded me of Pepe Le Pew) and have no doubt that he has feelings for Abby, I’m more than a little skeptical that his “you’re the only woman for me” declaration will really hold up after the book ends.
Most of the characters’ emotional growth (yes, there is some) is spelled out very clearly because the characters (there are multiple POVs throughout) have a propensity for thinking things through in detail, even while they’re engaged in physical activities. The reader is privy to nearly every thought, no matter how raunchy, silly, or sweet. This actually helps this book elevate to a level above some erotica because you get to know several of the characters, and can understand their actions. Holly has used this writing technique in the past to good advantage and it works well here too. However, it still doesn’t quite give a intended whitewash of “romance” over the sexual escapades of the characters.
Holly has written a number of both historical romances and erotica novels in the past; I much prefer her contemporary voice. Aside from a few annoyances and raised eyebrows, I enjoyed reading Cooking Up a Storm and I think as long as you know what to expect, you may enjoy it too. Unsuspecting readers beware, though. It’s not nearly as romantic as the erotic romance tag might lead you to believe.