Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake
Following the recipe is the key to a successful bake. Rosaline Palmer has always lived by those rules—well, except for when she dropped out of college to raise her daughter, Amelie. Now, with a paycheck as useful as greaseproof paper and a house crumbling faster than biscuits in tea, she’s teetering on the edge of financial disaster. But where there’s a whisk there’s a way . . . and Rosaline has just landed a spot on the nation’s most beloved baking show.
Winning the prize money would give her daughter the life she deserves—and Rosaline is determined to stick to the instructions. However, more than collapsing trifles stand between Rosaline and sweet, sweet victory. Suave, well-educated, and parent-approved Alain Pope knows all the right moves to sweep her off her feet, but it’s shy electrician Harry Dobson who makes Rosaline question her long-held beliefs—about herself, her family, and her desires.
Rosaline fears falling for Harry is a guaranteed recipe for disaster. Yet as the competition—and the ovens—heat up, Rosaline starts to realize the most delicious bakes come from the heart.
AAR staffers Caz and Em – both big Alexis Hall fans – read this first instalment in Hall’s new Winner Bakes All series – and got together to chat and share their thoughts.
Caz: The first thing I’m going to say about this book – which I enjoyed very much – is that while it’s as clever, wonderfully observed and laugh-out-loud funny as Alexis Hall’s other books, and there is an HEA at the end, the focus is more on Rosaline and her journey towards acceptance and coming into her own than it is on the romance.
Em: I think that’s probably a good observation to include early in this review. Rosaline, the titular character, is a bisexual single mum who isn’t sure her life is headed in the right direction. Her parents are famously brilliant (doctors), wealthy and well connected, and Rosaline was following in their footsteps when she got pregnant at nineteen and decided to keep the baby. Rosaline loves baking, her daughter Amelie, (and she’s on good terms with Amelie’s father), but she feels a bit lost. Should she go back to university? Is she a good mum? Should she stake her future on a baking show? Ha! Well, fortunately for us, she decides she should. And in doing so, introduces us to the cast of characters that help her answer all those questions.
Did you love (or like) the premise of the story, and what did you think about Rosaline when you met her?
Caz: I’m not what I’d call a fan of the Great British Bake Off, but I do watch it, and I enjoyed the setting of the story and the way it’s structured. The different challenges were very similar to those in the actual show, and I definitely heard echoes of Mel Giedroyc in some of the phrases uttered by fictional host Grace Forsythe! I liked Rosaline from the get-go, actually; she’s a good mum, and – like all of us who are parents – worried she’s not good enough, and she obviously thinks the world of Amelie. She’s funny and smart, but as you’ve said, is worried about where her life is headed and she doesn’t like that she’s so dependent on her parents for financial support – hence the decision to try to win £10,000 on a reality show.
Em: Same. I liked her and could relate to her. Having a baby at nineteen is tough stuff, and even without a precocious daughter to take care of (and disapproving parents), growing up and figuring out who you are and how to be an adult is DIFFICULT. I question my choices on a daily basis!
Caz: Agreed. Did the baking show thing and the whacky cast of characters work for you?
Em: Yes! I love GBBO! I watch almost zero TV but it is the one show I look forward to every week when it’s on. I loved the large cast of characters in this story, and the hosts of the show, and I laughed out loud every time the producer harangued her naughty cast. She’s hilariously evil.
Caz: I laughed so hard at Jennifer’s incredibly inventive invectives(!) – and at so many of the descriptions. One that’s really stuck with me – and which might only resonate with people of a certain age – is that of warm, endearing judge, Wilfred Honey, as “a man so grandfatherly it was like his whole body was made of Werther’s Originals” – it just cracked me up.
Em: While I loved the marvelous secondary cast of characters and contestants on Bake Expectations (Anvita is also fantastic) I especially want to talk about Harry, who is AMAZING.
Caz: He really is – but it’s time for another PSA because I realise this will be a deal-breaker for some – Rosaline spends over half the book in a (misguided) relationship with someone else, which is probably not something romance readers normally expect to find ON THE PAGE in a book which is being positioned as genre romance.
Em: Unfortunately, yes. Because Harry is HOT, sweet, good and kind – but isn’t what Rosaline thinks she’s looking for in a romantic partner. He’s an electrician, his grammar is terrible, and at the start, she’s a bit of a snob where he’s concerned. She dismisses her attraction to him as an aberration, but he proves her wrong every single time they interact. Alain – whom she meets right at the beginning – is the kind of man Rosaline believes she should be with, and despite her growing affection for Harry, she purposely avoids acknowledging it or admitting she might be wrong. It’s a nice little – and not so subtle – jab at Rosaline’s biases.
Caz: Amen to all that. Harry is utterly lovely and the only thing wrong with him is that we don’t see enough of him!
Em: YES! Too much Alain and not enough Harry.
Caz: I know you – like me – aren’t the biggest fan of kids in romance novels, but Amelie… was kind of awesome. And Rosaline’s ex-girlfriend and now bestie Lauren was a hoot. Which brings me to talking about the fact that while this is essentially an m/f romance, Rosaline is bisexual. Even though her relationships in this story are with men, I thought her sexuality was handled really well, and the author did a great job of showing how it informed her relationships with both men and women, while at the same time showing just how badly misunderstood it is in some quarters and how oversexualised it can be.
Em: Amelie is essential to this story and I liked her, too. I loved the bits where Rosaline positioned as a tiger mother defending her choice to keep her, and challenging anyone who dared to treat her as a burden or impediment to Rosaline’s ability to live a happy, contented life.
Caz: I adored the tiger mother thing, too. We’re continually told how women can have it all, or that we should WANT it all, and I was completely on board with the idea that what we should want is what we want. Rosaline wanted to raise her daughter, and do what made her happy and I admired her for standing up for that in the face of the expectations those around her.
Em: I struggled just a bit with Lauren’s characterization; initially I thought AH positioned her as another Jennifer, but as the story progressed she proved to be a generous, loyal and loving friend. She’s ‘there,’ in every way Rosaline’s parents weren’t – although I think it’s a bit strange that she’s Rosaline’s former lover.
Caz: It sounds as though we both enjoyed the book. Any further thoughts?
Em: One of my larger takeaways from this novel is… well, it isn’t exactly preachy or teachy, but nearly every interaction Rosaline has with another character is treated as a teachable moment by the author, and it’s sometimes distracting.
Caz: I noticed that – but it’s at least mostly done “in context”; there are no lengthy diatribes and it’s subtle, but it’s there nonetheless and it was a bit distracting sometimes.
Em: Yes, I agree with you. It’s subtle, and some of AH’s observations pinged biases I didn’t even know I had. But some romance readers will not like the ‘other’ man in this story, and while I understand why he is part of it, I think the author muddies the water by making him such an obvious jerk.
Caz: The way AH works up to showing him to be such a dickhead is well done; to start with, Alain comes across as a decent guy – he’s charming and funny and it’s easy to see why Rosaline is attracted to him. We start realising all is not as it seems a little before Rosaline does, but she’s trying so hard to convince herself that he’s the sort of guy she should be with – which again, is all part and parcel of the journey she takes during the course of the book.
Em: I loved the premise of this story, its terrific cast of primary and secondary characters, and the slow burn love affair between Rosaline and Harry. I struggled just a bit with Rosaline’s tendency to make snap judgments about others, especially since she resents it when others make judgments about her. The novel is almost effortlessly both heavy and light – and I giggled quite a bit as I was reading it.
Caz: Same here. I loved the structure, the setting, the humour (OMG, I laughed so much sometimes I got funny looks from whoever else was in the room with me!), the characters and the ‘real’ romance. I get what you mean about Rosaline and her tendency to judge… but actually, it just made her seem more like a person than a character in a book. We’ve probably all been there.
So… crunch time. Final grade? I’m conflicted because while I liked pretty much everything about the book, as I said at the outset, the focus is more on Rosaline’s journey than it is on the romance, which isn’t really what the book blurb led me to expect. Ultimately, the relationship with Alain takes up too much page time and the real romance doesn’t get enough, so I’m going with a B+. It’s a fantastic read and contains all the author’s Hallmarks (see what I did there?) – it’s witty, sexy, insightful, and so many other things – but if you’re a reader who likes your heroes and/or heroines to be exclusive once they’ve set eyes on each other, this book might not work all that well for you.
Em: Hallmarks! I hated Alain and that parallel plot. He and it detract from what works and is wonderful in this story (literally, everything else and especially the romance with Harry), and makes it a B+ for me. And to clarify, I don’t care if Rosaline kisses (or fucks) a few frogs on the way to happily ever after… but in this story, that relationship went on much, much too long. Harry deserved more page time.
Caz: Agreed. To sum up then, Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake is a lot of fun. It’ll make you laugh and make you think (and probably make you hungry!), and it earns a strong recommendation.