Rating: 2 stars
Buy Links: Amazon | All Romance
Gingerbread Palace by E.M. Lynley is the story of a suspicious arson that leaves a bakery without its ability to produce the season’s treats that the community looks forward to each year. Alex, the baker owner, is a community icon, donating not only his gingerbread goodies, but also his time and service to local charities that help foster kids and abused children. When his shop catches fire, it is Kevin, a closeted and angry firefighter who comes to the rescue. As the story progresses, each of these men feels the strong pull of attraction, but their contempt for each other will not allow them to move beyond their mutual dislike and into each other’s arms.
I am not exactly sure at what point Gingerbread Palace began to fall into predictability, but I can tell you that once that occurred it was easy to guess exactly what would happen next in the story. At the same time, any sense of realism went out the window and we fell down that m/m rabbit hole where happy endings are a given and tied up in neat little packages. There were a few main elements that moved this novella into the old and tired trope column for me rather quickly. First, was the enemies to lover idea that never really gained the momentum or intensity it needed because Alex never seemed to be a fully invested player.
I could somewhat understand the bitterness and anger that surrounded and consumed Kevin. Battling for his place both in the firehouse and in his own family, his sense of low self-worth and rabid fear of being discovered as gay kept him on a very short leash. Kevin never felt as though he fully measured up to the standards set by his family, all of whom had careers in either firefighting or law enforcement as far back as his grandfather. With no exceptions, Kevin’s relatives rose in the ranks to achieve top honors and places in command posts and the pressure to achieve that drove Kevin doggedly.
He has a healthy dose of loathing for Alex and is not afraid to show it. I felt this character was the most believable to a point and fully invested in the enemy’s storyline until quite close to the end of the novel. Then his near immediate turn around not only gutted the strength he previously gave off but made him just a bit sappy, which quickly led to him doing unbelievable things like running back into a fire to grab a stuffed animal.
Alex, on the other hand, never really rang true for me based on the abusive past he was to have lived through during his foster years. He bore numerous scars and the hint of sexual abuse was obvious and yet he seemed to bear no real trauma or aftereffects and the only allusion to his ever having gone through a horrific childhood was a nod to his low self-esteem. Even that idea was only glossed over occasionally. Rather he was too strong to play the victim and honestly just a bit too sweet and adorable. The idea that he would spend days in a firehouse kitchen assisted by off duty firemen waiting around for the next call to make gingerbread men and a gingerbread house for auction was just too much of a reach for me. In my other life, as a teacher, I have visited fire stations and believe me they do not normally boast restaurant grade appliances and enough room to have a bake off in the course of a normal workday. I understand the author wanted to make Alex this “too good to be true” character who gave back to kids like he once was that were in the foster system or had been the victims of abuse, but honestly it was hard to swallow that this guy would not just write a check for his charity after having his place of business erupt in flames.
Plus, Alex was bunking at the station and that really gave me a what? kind of moment. I realize this is a small town and in order to put Kevin and Alex in each other’s way to build sexual tension they needed to be in close proximity but I cannot begin to believe that accommodations would have been made for a pastry chef to bunk at the station indefinitely. Surely he had friends?
Finally the story line itself eroded into such easy predictability that I found it hard to stay involved and focused on the little action taking place. I am all about angsty love/hate relationships and they have their place in this genre, for sure. However, the quick turn around that saw Kevin go from a paranoid angry man to one who could care less that others found out he was gay just felt way too easy and false. The too-quick resolution to the minor mystery thread of who torched Alex’s shop was never given enough page space and was underdeveloped. Also, the idea that Alex could magically forgive Kevin of the fact that he led the arson investigator to suspect Alex was behind the setting of the fire just because Kevin bid on his gingerbread cake made me shake my head in frustration.
All in all, Gingerbread Palace by E.M. Lynley was a story that never was fully developed or original in its handling of a tried and true trope.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.