I was initially drawn to this book by its premise: two famous chefs, competing against each other and trying to form a personal connection. I fell in love with this book because of the amazing writing and fabulous plot.
First, both main characters were wonderful. Hadley (the Southern belle of the kitchen) and Max (the playboy gourmet) were both very well thought-out. Their personalities were detailed and very realistic. I especially appreciated they way the two thought about (and discussed) the differences between their on-screen personas and who they really were. Max, in particular, underwent some significant changes during the story, and this was handled slowly, beautifully, and in a way that seemed very honest and organic.
Several secondary characters were interesting in their own right, especially Twila, Stuart, and Leo. It would be fascinating to read a backstory book about Twila’s past in particular!
The backdrop/setting of the story added a lot to the book for me. Both Hadley and Max had their own nationally-televised cooking shows, and readers got a nice glimpse of what it was like filming Hadley’s show. The two also competed on a competitive cooking show, which was shown briefly. Readers got an even more in-depth look at the behind-the-scenes process of another show the two appeared on together. I enjoyed learning more about how a reality show is made, and watching how the main characters dealt with some of the issues that arose during the process.
What really made this book stand out for me was the slowly evolving relationship between Max and Hadley. I’m not generally a fan of the “enemies-to-lovers” trope, but it really worked here. This was primarily because Max WANTED to change from the beginning, and Hadley was open enough to let that happen. The author does an amazing job with the dialog, allowing the reader to actually observe the things that bring the two closer. This is one of the few romances I’ve read in which I actually believed that the relationship had a long-term chance after I finished the last page.
Kudos to Bethany Turner for writing one of the most enjoyable books I’ve read in a long time! You have a new fan, and I’ll definitely be seeking out more of your work!
Five out of five yummy morsels of pepper-jack!
“The Arlington Orders” is the perfect mix of a plot-driven thriller and a character-driven literary novel. There’s a lot going on in this book, and all of it is interesting. The modern-day quest to find the lost Confederate treasury is interspersed with the Civil War storyline, which is accompanied by some fictional (but very realistic) primary sources. I enjoyed both aspects….following the clues along with main characters Des and Madison, and reliving history with the older storyline. Once Des and Madison accidentally stumble upon the first clue, they are 100% committed to solving the mystery, and throw themselves into it with abandon and enthusiasm. There is enough excitement, danger, and suspense to keep any mystery or thriller fan happy.
In addition, the characters were exceptionally well written. Often in this type of story, the major characters are little more than caricatures; pretty much anyone could be dropped into the roles, as the plot is the most important thing. In this book, the characters are equally important. It is obvious that the author thought about each of them a great deal, and provides enough back story for each that the reader can really understand why they are unique and what motivates them. As Des and Madison interact during their mission, the reader also gets to observe the character development of both. William 2.0 is also interesting, as his motives aren’t the same as what you’d typically expect for a character in his role. I enjoyed his misgivings about his partner, and appreciated his dedication to his goal and his internal monologue throughout.
I must also mention that the locations were amazing! I live in the general area of many of the book’s events, and am familiar with most of the locations…I’ve even been to quite a few. I appreciated the attention to detail included…the places are described well enough to ring true to a “local”, and to be very clear for a reader less familiar with the area.
All in all, an exceptionally well-written novel. I look forward to following Des and Madison on their next escapade!
Five out of five perfect, thin slices of provolone!
“The Operator” by Gretchen Berg tells the story of Vivian, a switchboard operator in 1950s Ohio. I found Vivian to be an engaging and likeable character. Yes, she is a born eavesdropper and snoop. But she is also a resilient, focused, loving, capable woman, albeit one with a few flaws. I loved learning more about small-town life in the 50s, and about what it was like to work for a switchboard company in the days before private lines and cell phones.
The story itself was a good one. Vivian overhears something while eavesdropping, and has to try to figure out what is really going on. The story is made more engaging by the fact that the reader doesn’t know exactly what Vivian heard for quite some time, and is trying to solve the mystery right along with Vivian.
The book also shines through the depiction of the characters. In addition to Vivian, several minor characters were very intriguing. My favorites were Charlotte, Flora, and (in a love-to-hate way), Betty. In fact, I’d love to read more about the town of Wooster to see how the other characters’ stories play out.
I loved the way a couple of seemingly unconnected events and storylines played into the overall plot. The author has a true talent for making a small town come to life in a very realistic way, and I look forward to reading more from Ms. Berg. Bravo to this first-time author!
Five out of five yummy bites of Gouda!