Book 1 in the Rising Star Chef series
Max Lunden has been traveling the world for several years, learning to cook a wide variety of cultural foods from local masters, when he gets a call from home. His mother pleads with him to come home for a few short weeks to help them win a chef competition. His dad wants to win so that their small family restaurant is put back on the map - but he needs Max to win. While Max is reluctant, he’ll do anything for his mother, and so he makes arrangements to come home for a month before leaving for Italy. However when he gets home he finds that his younger brother’s best friend, Juliet Cavanaugh, is now all grown up and works in the restaurant kitchen – and the pretty girl is now a gorgeous, hot-headed woman that Max sets out to seduce. Jules, however, is not so easily turned by Max’s handsome face – she’s definitely gotten over her school-girl crush, and is solely focused on wining the competition. But what happens when the passion building between Max and Jules... boils over?
I debated for a few moments on whether to give this book an A-plus or an A. It wasn’t an overpowering romance – it wasn’t a bring-you-to-your-knees book. Instead, its emotional power was ingrained in its ability to subtly bring out a reader’s emotions. Several times throughout the book I could feel my heart panging in sympathy or tears pricking my eyes. I wasn’t sobbing. I wasn’t overwhelmed with emotion. Instead, the amount of emotion Edwards wrung out of me was just right. Her characters masterfully commanded my full attention, emotionally and mentally, in a story that is unique and unforgettable and as much about the romance as each protagonist's journey to self-discovery and improvement.
I loved Max, the hero. He was funny, witty – and confused. I liked watching him struggle with his feelings, watching as his desire to stay home gradually overcame him before he even recognized any willingness at all to stay home. He was a natural character, a well-developed character, and a very likeable character. He was protective without being a barbarian, charming without being an ass, thoughtful without being clingy, and emotional without being too sappy. A good balance was definitely achieved with Max. I also loved Juliet, with all her crankiness and passion for people, family, and cooking. She was smart, too, and willing to stand independently. I could definitely understand her motivations. What I loved most, however, was the two of them, together. They brought out the best in each other and helped one another realize their dreams and full potential, which is the mark of a successful relationship.
The book moved at a great pace, with expressive and well-written prose and dialogue. Edwards manages to say a lot, with a little. I haven’t read that many chef contemporaries, so I felt the story was focused on a unique occupation, which added to my interest in the story. The book was also very well-researched; Edwards clearly knew what she was writing about when discussing cooking terms, ingredients, etc. That increased my enjoyment of her novel exponentially – there’s nothing more interesting than a really well-researched novel, in part because it shows how much the author cares.
In short, this book was a subtle stunner. I could feel the emotion, the heat, the love. I could feel the Max’s desire to wander warring with his love for Juliet and his family. I could feel his younger brother’s bitterness at being left behind. This book certainly didn’t let Max off the hook lightly for his ‘abandonment’ of his family – and dealing with that dynamic and all those emotions left my heart aching with sympathy for all involved. What a sad, sweet reunion and what wonderful love. The book won’t overwhelm you – but you’ll treasure it just the same for its ability to be real, and I believe the author’s mastery of writing, plots, character development, and manipulation of the reader’s empathy all make this book worthy of an A+.
Jules. I seem to remember a Juliet hanging out with you, the two of you following me around, looking to get into trouble. Same girl? I bet it is. A chick on the team. Score. Come on, dish it up. Is she hot now? I bet she’s hot.” (Max)
Danny shook his head, amusement relaxing the tense line of his mouth. “Is that all you ever think about?”
“No! Sometimes I think about food. And beer. Scuba diving. Horse races. The color cyan. I’m a complex and multilayered flower, Danny.”
“Sadly, I’m pretty sure he doesn’t bat for my team. But hey, if you and Max really aren’t bucking for Cutest Couple on the Manhattan Restaurant Scene, maybe you can make a jump for Kane.” (Winslow)
A loud crack shocked Jules stiff, and she looked over to see Max sheepishly dropping the chopstick he’d been playing with, snapped into two pieces.
“Or not,” Winslow said, eyes wide.
“Sexy”ness rating: Hot, hot, hot!
Overall Rating: A+
Bottom Line: The characters are sexy and passionate, the emotion is tender, sweet, and sexy, and the plot is ‘saucy’ and unique. Bon Appétit!
Published: August 2, 2011