passion rating: hot
Dear Ms. Edwards,
I’ve read all three books in your Rising Star Chef series and, of all of the couples in the series, my favorite hands down is Claire Durand and Kane Slater. This, really, is a bummer because, in all three books, they are secondary characters though their love story, finally resolved in this book, Hot Under Pressure, is a fabulous one. For me, the romance between chefs Henry Beck and Skye Gladwell, the main protagonists in Hot Under Pressure, is less compelling. The two are each interesting individuals but, as a couple, they lacked consistent, transfixing chemistry.
I guess one could read this novel without reading the two that precede it but I don’t recommend it. One of the best things about the series is its host of characters. The couples from the first two books have roles here as do the cooking crews from Beck’s and Skye’s restaurants. All these chefs are competing in the Rising Star Chef contest—a culinary tournament designed to determine the best cooking team in the country. Three teams have made it to the finals, held in San Francisco: the East Coast team, Beck and the gang from the Manhattan’s steak house Lunden’s Tavern; the West Coast team, Skye and her crew from Queenie Pie Cafe, a homey hipster place in Berkeley; and the Midwest team whose lead chef is such a jerk he and his team are ousted a third of the way through the book. The contest has three judges as well, two of whom, forty-two year old Frenchwoman Claire Duran, editor of the world’s most prestigious cooking magazine, and twenty-something Kane Slater, “smoking hot foodie rock star,” have a complicated romantic relationship they began in the first bookin the series, Too Hot to Touch. There are all kinds of relational and culinary dynamics at play in this book that won’t make much sense to one unfamiliar with the series.
I liked this book despite not being wild about the preeminent relationship. For starters, I liked Beck and Skye. Beck has been the mystery man in the Lunden’s crew from day one. He’s a huge guy, taciturn, great with food, remote from people. In Hot Under Pressure, we learn Beck’s back-story and it’s pretty damn sad. He landed in the foster care system at age eight, bounced from house to house and, by eighteen, was utterly on his own. He met and married Skye, and then, due to a heartbreaking situation—to share it would be a spoiler of the highest order–, left her and joined the Navy. While in the Navy, he learned he loved to cook, and when he got out, he ended up at Lunden’s where, much to his astonishment, he found something very much like a family. The owners of Lunden’s, Gus and Nina Lunden, their sons, Danny and Max, Max’s girlfriend Julie (Lunden’s head chef) , and, my personal favorite, Winslow Jones, prep chef and uber-witty “Wise, Learned Sage,” have all tried to make Beck feel as though he belongs. Even after a year in their company, Beck still struggles to accept the care they constantly send his way.
Coming up through the foster care system, Beck had seen a lot of families interact with kids who didn’t truly belong to them, and until he’d met Jules and the Lunden clan, he would’ve sworn that kind of unconditional acceptance wasn’t possible. It definitely hadn’t been for him.
Unlike so many heroes in romance, Beck’s a working class guy with pretty low expectations for life. He wants to win the Rising Star Chef Competition because the resulting fame will help keep Lunden’s Tavern in business not because he wants fame or fortune for himself. Until he shows up on the first day of the competition finals and encounters, for the first time in ten years, Skye Gladwell, Beck hasn’t let himself dream about much of anything other than getting by. But when he sees Skye, and begins to remember how happy he was in the few years they had together, he starts to open himself up to life’s emotional possibilities.
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