Rating: 3.5 stars
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Ethan Martin is the bad boy culinary student — brash, talented, and uncaring what anyone else thinks. Jamie Lassiter is the child of wealthy, overbearing parents who are trying to run his life and want him to leave school and take his place in his father’s company. Both men are in their third year of culinary school and are vying for the same scholarship for next year. And both men are secretly attracted to one another, but are unwilling to make a move.
When pastry class proves a challenge for Ethan, Jamie offers to help him on his skills. Jamie and Ethan’s sister, Claire, are class partners and this is a great way for Jamie to get to know Ethan a bit better. Plus, Ethan is clearly struggling in the class and if he doesn’t improve, he will have no chance at the scholarship. As much as Jamie wants to win, he’d rather do it on an even playing field.
Despite Jamie’s sincere attempts to help and get to know Ethan, Ethan doesn’t want anything to do with him. He is surly and rude and clearly resents Jamie for his wealth, assuming that Jamie gets everything handed to him. Ethan has no idea that Jamie is actually miserable as his parents attempt to force him to conform to their standards, which means no culinary school and definitely no being gay.
Things are rough between the guys for quite a while as they slowly become friends and dance around their attraction, all while Ethan continues to put up walls between them with his obnoxious behavior. Eventually the two finally get past it and things get physical between them, and soon emotional as well. But things are definitely still stressful for the guys. First off, Jamie’s parents continue to push for him to leave school and join the company, as well as to conform to their standards, and soon their threats escalate to a real crisis for Jamie. On top of that, both men are competing for the same scholarship, something they both need to help secure their futures. Not to mention the poor communication that leads to fights and misunderstandings that threaten their relationship. Both men need to stop begin scared to try for what they want, even if it means risking their hearts and more.
I really enjoy some good food porn so I was drawn to this story about two culinary students. I think the book delivered, but not quite as much as I had hoped. We do get some nice scenes of the guys in class as they are learning new pastry skills and a hint of the behind-the-scenes action as they learn to make the desserts. We also get a nice scene with them eating dinner that Ethan cooked and with some yummy descriptions of what he is making. So we do get a little bit of a thrill for the foodies, though not as much I would have expected (or desired) from a book about two culinary students (well three if you count Claire, who plays a big role in the book). I think this was kind of a missed opportunity, especially since school is the major focus of the story in many ways. Still, I enjoyed the parts about their classes, learning the techniques, and the scholarship process.
I also enjoyed the relationship between Ethan and Claire. The two are siblings and best friends and really look out for one another. They have been on their own together for a while now and struggle to make ends meet. But they are endlessly supportive of one another and we really see Ethan’s softer side when dealing with his sister. He clearly loves her and is her staunch defender. The two are also just fun together, pushing one another and teasing and with lots of great banter and I enjoyed their relationship a lot.
Which brings me to the larger issue, which is Ethan and Jamie and the fact that I had a hard time getting behind them as a couple. The root of this is that for most of the book, Ethan is a total ass. I mean, he is rude, obnoxious, ornery, easily angered, childish, and more. He is resentful when Jamie offers help, he is quick to assume the worst, he has temper tantrums. It is just bad. And sweet Jamie somehow sees past all of this to the man Ethan is inside. I get that Ethan has had it rough and this behavior is some sort of defense mechanism for not wanting to get hurt. But that doesn’t excuse treating everyone like crap. I just didn’t particularly like him, so I never really felt much connection between him and Jamie.
Things aren’t helped by the fact that it takes half the book before these guys get together and suddenly they are thinking of a future. Then there is an immediate misunderstanding that keeps them apart for a while, only to get back together and again be ready for something major between them. I would have like to see something other than dislike to sex/affection in the blink of an eye. I never really understood why Ethan has the change of heart to get together with Jamie in the first place, and I got tired of the two of them refusing to talk or be honest or work through issues. So I did like Jamie, and sometimes I enjoyed them as a couple, but I had trouble really getting behind them.
Another issue I’ll mention is the changing POV. I have no problem with this style normally, but these chapters were short giving us really rapid POV switches. The transitions between chapters frequently continued the same scene, meaning suddenly we were getting the same action from a different POV. All this meant that I had more trouble than normal orienting myself to whose POV I was in and adjusting to the shifts.
And finally, the ending. I actually did like the way the story resolves and I saw it as a nice HEA between these two guys. Then we get to the Epilogue, and suddenly after declarations of love, these guys seem to be on shaky ground out of nowhere and their future is uncertain. I felt kind of thrown here, like the story was complete and then we get a shakeup just to lead into the upcoming next book. I will also admit to reading the blurb for the second story, In the Fire, and boy does it make me not happy. I am assuming the boys will get there in the end, but it did feel like shakeup for the sake of a sequel and I found it disappointing after finally seeing these guys get to a nice relationship. The side plot with Jamie and his family also kind of disappears after being such a major issue. We never really learn what happens with it all and I felt like this could have been fleshed out some more.
So I was mixed on this one. There were definitely things I enjoyed, particularly the school aspects and the relationship between Claire and Ethan. But Ethan’s personality was a lot to get past and made it hard to really feel invested in these guys as a couple. If you are a fan of foodie books, however, as well as emotional bad boys, this may work for you, especially if you plan on sticking around for book two.