Flavor of the Month
Two of the better Harlequin Blazes I read last year were Guilty Pleasures by Cathy Yardley, which employed a food theme, and Every Move You Make by Tori Carrington. So I had high hopes for Flavor of the Month, a new food-themed Blaze by Carrington. This book didn’t live up to them. There are some good ideas here, but they never manage to come together to make a good story.
Reilly Chudowski’s Los Angeles pastry shop is a far cry from Ben Kane’s exclusive restaurant to the stars, Benardo’s Hideaway. She can’t imagine how her shop came to be mentioned in the same breath with his in a popular newspaper column proclaiming them Hollywood’s two hottest eateries. The unexpected publicity turns out to be a stroke of good luck. That same morning, Ben’s dessert chef quits, and searching for a temporary replacement, Ben comes looking for Reilly.
Ben has a reputation for being one of L.A.’s hottest bachelors. One look at him and Reilly can see why. Ben is just as quickly attracted to Reilly. That night after his restaurant closes, he returns to her shop with dinner. This leads to the inevitable steamy encounter, and is just the beginning of their sensual escapades.
The book isn’t bad so much as it is severely underdeveloped in every single way. Carrington delivers a decent amount of sizzle, but that doesn’t mean much when the characters are as thin as Reilly and Ben. The better Blazes generally try to make the characters somewhat relatable or interesting before they jump each other. In this case, I knew almost nothing about Ben for too long, and didn’t really like what I knew about Reilly. When Ben comes to her shop, she immediately recognizes him as “the” Ben Kane, this amazing specimen of a man. What does she do? She tries to hide in the kitchen from him. Never mind that she’s the only person working the counter. Evidently she’s so scared she stays in the kitchen and starts to work, intending to wait until he leaves. Carrington treats us to such moments as Reilly trying to sneak the phone back on the hook by inching her hand through the door to the kitchen. This only made Reilly seem like an idiot.
It turns out Reilly used to be overweight and was referred to as “Chubby Chuddy” in high school, and she’s still not very confident about her appearance. That may be somewhat understandable, but her initial reaction to Ben still seems really extreme. Reilly is likable and there are some moments involving Ben’s restaurant where she shows that she’s smart and kind, but there are also times when her behavior seems juvenile. Ben, on the other hand, isn’t developed one bit. It’s nearly a third of the way into the book before the authors reveal anything about him other than he’s rich and sexy. Then Carrington shows that there’s some distance between him and his father, which he regrets. The subplot is resolved in a couple of scenes and really only scratched the surface of his character instead of deepening it. The only real thing I knew about Ben as a person until the very end of the book was that Reilly turned him on.
It doesn’t help that there’s quite a bit happening in this book, none of which receives adequate attention. There’s a mild suspense plot that isn’t much of a mystery. Nearly everyone should be able to guess where it’s heading from the start. Reilly’s teenage niece has some growing pains that don’t really go anywhere, though her frustrations with having to go to Greek school are a nice, atypical touch. Reilly’s friends and family all want her to stay away from Ben. Her sister and one friend are so aggressively annoying I wished she would stay away from them.
Ah, but then there’s the ending, which is one of the nicest I’ve come across in a while, perhaps all year. The book is almost worth it for that alone, although one glaring, awful typo (“she was balling like a baby”) comes close to ruining the moment.
Flavor of the Month is an acceptable book. It’s an easy read and there’s nothing all that bad about it. It just needed to be fleshed out a lot more to be much more than an average story.