Rating: 4.75 stars
Buy Link: Amazon | All Romance
Happy anniversary! Ollie D’Angelo’s boyfriend, Walker, gets up the morning of their one year anniversary and tells Ollie things are over between them and that he has fallen in love with someone else. Surprise! Ollie then gets laid off from his advertising job the following Monday. Instead of anger or sadness, Ollie feels free, able to start fresh, and use his former job and ex-boyfriend as cautionary tales. Ollie decides to take full advantage of his newfound freedom and with the help of coffee shop hookup, Michael, figures out what he would like to do going forward, which is start his own catering business, Dinner at home. Ollie definitely does not want to get stuck in the same old rut.
Hot-headed Hank Mellinger, former drug addict and prostitute, is on the road to recovery. Hank regrets his past and has hopes for the future. With Hank’s sister in prison, his mother wants him to take care of his niece Addison, but being homeless makes caring for a child impossible. Surprise! Hank’s mom and niece have arrived in Seattle unannounced and Hank’s mother has terminal cancer. The only one left to take care of Addison is Hank. Desperate for money to feed himself and Addison, Hank comes across a car with its door wide open. While Hank is rummaging in the car for anything he can sell, he is caught by the car’s owner, Ollie, who, instead of calling the cops, invites Hank up to his apartment to feed him and hear Hank’s story. Ollie is floored by the story and offers to bring Hank back to his apartment, along with some food for Addison.
Upon seeing Hank and Addison’s conditions and finding out more about Hank and his training in the kitchen at the homeless shelter, Haven, Ollie impulsively decides to hire Hank full time to assist with his fledgling catering business. Ollie rents a house for himself, Hank, and Addison and with the addition of another former Haven resident, Rose, who helps with Dinner at home and provides daycare for Addison, the four build a sort of a family.
When Michael, Ollie’s hookup from months past, hires Dinner at home, the sparks fly. While Ollie and Michael flirt with each other, Hank’s jealousy goes into overdrive and Hank needs to figure out what to do about his attraction to Ollie, who thinks Hank is straight. Ollie, on the other hand, can only guess what Hank’s problem is. Is Hank gay and Ollie has missed the signals? A kiss between Ollie and Michael leaves Ollie feeling guilty, but why? After a night of introspection on Hank’s part and of worry on Ollie’s, Hank comes clean about his sexuality and feeling for Ollie and opens up about his troubled past. Once the truth is out in the open, Hank and Ollie are swept away in the passion which has been building up for months, and Ollie and Hank give into their desires. The sudden arrival of Hank’s sister, Stacy, could put a wrench the machine that is their newly formed, close-knit family. Stacy, recently released from prison, has found God, and wants to take Addison, the heart of Hank and Ollie’s family back to Pennsylvania.
Dinner at Home was an interesting read for a few reasons. It was an easy, enjoyable story that had quite a bit of depth and complexity. Reed focussed on creating a realistic snapshot of a man’s life and those who end up caught up in his gravitational pull. The main characters, Ollie and Hank, are complex and well formed with strengths and weaknesses, pasts and goal for the future. The secondary characters were also well thought out and have layers, depth, and emotion without having them overpower the main characters and cause confusion, such as the simple tears shed by Walker as he breaks up with Ollie, and Rose, who has obviously suffered abuse in her past, and now has such difficulty interacting with others.
I found it a little contrived that Ollie would invite a thief into his home for a meal, but based on what we already learned about him, Ollie’s good, stable childhood and the fact that Ollie is not really bitter and jaded considering the events of the past few months, does help us to get past this odd behaviour. Hank is out but closeted with Ollie, Addison, and Rose. Hank is a fun guy, yes, he is homeless, yes, he was addicted to crystal meth and at one point, prostituted himself for his next fix, but that does not take away from his engaging and warm personality. Hank has experienced a lot and has come out the other end stronger, and the fact that when push came to shove, Hank took care of his mother until her death, and then did his very best to take care of Addison. The realism of his and Addison’s situation was a big plus for me. Reed could have made their struggles more extreme examples of near homelessness for the sake of the story and opted, instead for a nice middle ground. Ollie and Hank, as well as the various secondary players, showed good growth in the course of the story. Ollie learns to let go of the past, quickly in some respects, like his former job, and slowly in others, his ex, Walker.
I really liked how Reed incorporated many major and minor life changes and conflicts throughout the story. This struck a chord with me, as in real life, we are continuously faced with challenges that must be overcome. Ollie comes to realize in the course of the story that no matter how bad the circumstances, there will always be someone better and worse off than him and this realization helps him to cope with the challenges thrown at him.
I also liked how Hank proves to be the level-headed one when it came to having sex with Ollie, which showed me additional depth to his character as well as lessons learned from his past. I also liked how Reed focussed more on the foreplay than the actual sex which, showed a stronger connection between Ollie and Hank.
The epilogue was quite lengthy as well, but since it focused on the metaphor of the stuffed artichoke (you have to read it to get it), the reconciliation of family, and the future, it was necessary, and effectively tied up all of the loose ends. I am never disappointed with Reed’s writing style, and the editing was consistent other than the fact that Ollie’s Prius became a Subaru. Now it is totally conceivable that Ollie got a new car between losing his job and starting Dinner at home, but since nothing was mentioned, it caught my eye as inconsistent.
Dinner at Home may not have the HEA we were expecting, or hoping for, but in terms of realism, this one takes the cake (or should I say the “Satisfying Banana Ginger Caramel Pudding”). Fortunately, in the end, a satisfying HEA is what we got, along with some excellent recipes.