Jill Shalvis is a versatile author who’s written many different types of romances. Personally I’ve found the quality of her books varies as much as the stories themselves, so I didn’t know quite what to expect when I picked up Room Service, the final book in Harlequin Blaze’s Do Not Disturb series. It turned out to be a fairly good read that brings the series to a respectable close.
As is too often the case for Blazes, the setup is kind of shaky, although not because of the sexual element this time. Emma Harris is a former small-town farm girl who moved to Los Angeles and found a job at a television production company. Thus far, her career has been notable mainly for the number of failures she’s wracked up in a few short years. The three shows she developed were disastrous flops, and her job prospects aren’t looking so good. But, rather improbably, her boss gives her one last chance. He wants to launch a new cooking show, and he’s willing to put her in charge of it, provided that she gets hot chef Jacob Hill to be the host.
This opening scene, while easy enough to read, just rang false to me. Em seemed impossibly green and unsophisticated for such a cutthroat business, and I definitely found it easier to buy her as a small town girl than a TV executive. The author’s handling of the entertainment industry elements didn’t feel authentic. Something about her style and tone made it seem kind of fake and cheesy, and I didn’t buy the character of Em’s boss Nathan in particular.
Fortunately the story improves from there. Jacob is the chef at Amuse Bouche, the restaurant at New York’s sex-themed Hush Hotel, so Em travels there to talk him into doing the show. She soon finds the hotel lives up to its reputation when a complete stranger kisses her in the elevator. Then she hears someone call him “Chef” and realizes who he is. Sexy and charismatic, he’d obviously be perfect for the show. But Jacob has always set his own path and done his own thing, and he has no interest in signing up for a TV show. He kissed her to avoid a potential setup a friend was trying to foist on him, but his attraction for Em is real.
Jacob begins to pursue her, and Em returns his feelings. This is where I began to fear a dreadful big misunderstanding would crop up, like she wouldn’t tell him who she was and why she was there, he’d find out after they were already together, and then he’d think she slept with him just to get him to sign on for the show. Cue the tears. Thankfully, this did not happen, which boosted my opinion of the book big time. The truth comes out relatively early, allowing their relationship to develop without a big lame deception hovering above them. A big thumbs up to the author for that.
Likable characters go a long way to saving any romance, and that was the key to this story. I genuinely liked both these people. Jacob is the more compelling character, with an interesting backstory and a strong personality, but Em is sympathetic as well. Even better, I liked them as a couple, as well as the way their relationship unfolded. Readers looking for a lot of sex early on may grow impatient, as the sexual tension simmers on low burn for a while. But I enjoyed the way they got to know each other and how they related to one another. They have great chemistry, and this is a sweet love story, with a number of good moments and nicely played scenes. This isn’t the hottest Blaze I’ve ever read, but once the sex kicks in, it is effective. Shalvis’s snappy prose and dialogue made for a entertaining read that went down easy. Several chapters begin with notes to the hotel staff from management reflecting the action of the story, a device used in earlier books that is particularly well done here. I chuckled more than once.
There are two romantic subplots, both of which are underdeveloped. The first, between Em’s assistant and her location manager, is annoying, as the two engage in the kind of childish bickering that’s more tedious than amusing. I didn’t like either of these two and frequently wanted them to go away, or at the very least shut up. At best, I can say they seemed perfect for each other. The better one belongs to the lesbian sommelier at Amuse Bouche who pines for a bisexual waitress who may or may not return her feelings. Both the characters and their relationship were more interesting, and I wish there had been far more of this subplot.
There are a few other rough spots along the way, though perhaps nothing serious enough to warrant mentioning. Room Service isn’t perfect by any means, but the central relationship between two warm, likable characters, along with a nice secondary one, made it an enjoyable read. As a love story, it’s sweet, sometimes funny, and a little spicy, making for one of the better Blazes I’ve read in the last few months.