Sweet Heat combines family drama and heated romance beautifully. A story of love between two plus-sized black characters filled with humor and drama, it’s wonderfully appealing.
Marvin Carter is a wiz with a whisk and a spatula. An exemplary baker, he spends his days toiling as a line cook and would do anything to save enough money to open his own restaurant. When he hears about Food Truck Bucks, a completion reality show that gives thousands to the winner, he jumps at the chance to win enough money to make his dream come true. He teams up with Abbey, his former instructor at culinary school and co-worker, to hopefully grab the prize.
Marvin’s main competition is spirited, curvy Naomi Carson, who knows how to make people drool with her soul food and whose highly ambitious hopes for the future cannot be put aside. One day, she’s determined to own a restaurant of her own – and determined to finally move away from her Nana, whom she loves but wants to be able to fully support instead of vice-versa. Her cousin and best friend, Kristy – who’s got romantic problems of her own – becomes her second.
Marvin and Naomi met before the competition in the bread aisle at the supermarket where Naomi works, when he literally bumped into her behind. Sparks flew right away – the bantery sort and the romantic. Now that they’re in competition, the heat’s getting to both of them – though Abbey remains distrustful of Naomi’s motivations. In spite of outside stresses and Abbey’s clear jealousy, they begin to date in secret. But will the competition pull them apart?
Sweet Heat’s central romance is so nice and delightfully zippy. Marvin and Naomi know how to flirt and banter with one another, and there’s a lot of liveliness to the attraction that develops between them. For the two of them, love isn’t just about sexual chemistry (which they have oodles of), but fitting together, and fitting into each other’s communities. Their block is important to them, and friendships and family roles play a great big part in this steamy romance.
I liked Marvin and Naomi, in all of their complicated glory, and their dreams, attractions and worries are easy to sympathize with. There’s not a whole heck of a lot of angst going on in their relationship after the midpoint of the novel because ultimately it’s their own values and lives that need sorting, and that provides more than enough tension.
A lot of the secondary characters are great. Marvin’s bawdy mom Liz is hilarious (her husband Willie makes a great foil for her), I loved Naomi’s Nana, who is loving, supportive and regal, and Kristy’s hot mess romance life adds an interesting subplot. I liked the character of Ted Reynolds, an ex-child star turned restaurateur who hosts the show. Day’s knowledge of the culinary world works quite nicely, and the food truck reality show Naomi and Marvin are competing to be on sounds and feels realistic.
The weakest part of Sweet Heat is probably the subplot about Abbey’s jealousy. For a while it felt like a simple plotline about a friend worrying about a friend, but then a semi-stalkerish, one-sided love component comes out (which the plot calls out, and resolves kindly and amicably), which didn’t work well for me.
But that’s not enough for me to mark Sweet Heat down very far. Overall, it’s a delicious, fun little ride that will please the palate of many romance readers.