Desert Isle Keeper
I don’t think it’s any secret to AAR regulars that I’ve been moaning and groaning ever since Connie Brockway, the author of my favorite historical romance, announced her defection from the genre. While I will still allow myself a boo-hoo every now and then, Hot Dish is a dazzling and fun contemporary debut perfectly showcasing what I’ve always loved about the author: her decidedly unique voice.
Though the book’s spine describes it as fiction, I have no problem setting it firmly within the broader boundaries of contemporary romance. Yes, there is a bigger story told here about heroine Jenn Lind’s coming to terms with her past (including, but not limited to, a 100 pound butter sculpture of her head), but the relationship between Jenn and sexy sculptor Steve Jax takes center stage for a good portion of this very good book and should more than satisfy her romance fans.
A word of warning: it’s almost impossible to describe the book’s plot without it coming across as “wacky”. It isn’t. This is a smart and funny page-turner featuring a cast of small town characters who never seem anything less than real – sometimes painfully so to anyone who’s ever done time in a small town. The doped-up losers, the pompous and slightly shady town big wig, the smug wanna-be beauty queen who’s never really forgiven the woman who stole her crown 20 years ago (that would be Jenn) – hey, I know these people.
Jenn Lind, TV lifestyle guru, has “issues” with her small Minnesota hometown. Problem is, she’s built a successful television career as the Martha Stewart of the midwest, an image that doesn’t exactly go hand in hand with the fact that she hates the town and the town hates her. But, with her career about to take off into the big time with a new job on a “family friendly” (quotes intended, since her new boss is one of those types who fires gay people) cable TV network, Jenn is coerced into acting as co-grand marshall of the town’s sesquicentennial (and, yes, I thought of Waiting for Guffman every time I read that word). Her co-grand marshall-ee would be one Steve Jax, a mega-famous sculptor who just so happened to carve that butter head of Jenn more than 20 years ago.
Steve has his own reasons for wanting to return to Minnesota. Though it’s a bit too complicated to explain here, Steve hid in the butter head a key to a vault in which a seminal sculpture he did years earlier is secreted. Since he thought the key was long lost to the glories of a Minnesota pancake breakfast, the news that Jenn’s parents still have the sculpture on ice is enough to have the fancy New York artist high-tailin’ it to the northern woods of Minnesota – and to a rendezvous with Jenn who is determined to make everything in the town she loathes appear peachy-keen and above board to her TV bosses.
The plot is one of those Brockway concoctions in which a vast array of characters – along with the state of Minnesota which is definitely deserving of “character” status in this novel – collide in what might be a “wacky” plot in the hands of a lesser writer. Add in a decidedly satisfying romance between two mature adults (Jenn is 40, Steve is nearing 50), a cast of endearing and not-so-endearing secondary characters, and season it all with Ms. Brockway’s rapier wit and you have a winner on virtually every level.
As for quibbles, my biggest would be that I never really felt as if I got to know Jenn all that well, but, to be fair, Jenn, who has perfected a glossy facade she never lets slip, doesn’t know herself all that well either for a good chunk of the book, so the reader makes the voyage of discovery right along with her. Steve, on the other hand, is a more accessible character – and maybe just a shade more likable, too. Together, however, they generate terrific chemistry and quite effectively heat up that cold Minnesota winter.
If you’re a fan of Ms. Brockway’s wit, deft hand with characterization, and fabulous prose, I think you’ll enjoy this new direction just as much as I did – which, to be totally honest, was even more than I expected. Hey, I was understandably cautious. Turns out, I didn’t have anything to worry about.
So, here’s my last (well, one of my last, anyway) boo-hoos over Connie Brockway leaving behind historical romance. This time, however, let me couch my boo-hoo with an enthusiastic woo-hoo. Hot Dish, is, to put it simply, a fabulous contemporary debut.