This baker’s dozen of stories has food and love at their center. Not only do we get cute stories of two men finding each other and falling in love, but we get the recipe for the central dish as well. Cleverly put together, I can definitely recommend this anthology. And I have a couple of new recipes I want to try as well.
The Cake by Ann Marie James
Ex-Marine turned mechanic Kirk took custody of his niece when her parents died. He wants nothing more than to give her the birthday cake she so desperately wants for her party. But Kirk is a failure at cooking and, when the cake is a disaster, he has no choice but to turn to single dad Eric for help. Eric comes to Kirk’s rescue in more ways than one, and together they save the party and embark on the beginnings of a relationship.
This quick, short read was a fun way to start the anthology, and to really jump start the theme. Kirk is at his wits end and on the verge of a break down, as his life has shifted very quickly and now he’s just trying to do right by his niece. Eric’s kindness comes at just the right time. The two men connect and move very quickly. I would have liked to see a little bit more of that connection though. But I liked Eric’s reasoning for waiting and overall, it was a nice story.
All is Well by Dale Cameron Lowry
Tanner Jenson is on his mission when he first meets Kyle Pratt. They are both focused on their religion and on spreading the word of the church of Latter Day Saints. When they are reassigned to work together, they find an immense companionship and work so well together. But Tanner is looking at Kyle in ways that he knows are sinful. But when he pulls back, Kyle notices immediately and calls him on it. Tanner tells Kyle the truth, and Kyle immediately returns the sentiment. But can these two young men have the life they envision while still maintaining their faith?
I have to admit that I was a little surprised with this one, and I’m not entirely sure how I feel. Both characters were well drawn. But we spent most of the time with Tanner and his thoughts, only to jump to Kyle at the end, which sort of threw me off. I do like that these guy were solid in their faith, and that they made their life work without compromising that. I did have a slight quibble with so much attention being focused on the Mormon religion and missions, and I felt it detracted a little from the romance. The ending also felt a little rushed to me, but I thought it was a well done story and one that I hadn’t seen before. So it definitely gets extra points for originality.
Another Saturn Monday by R.A. Thorn
Theo works on the Saturn space station for the parking authority every Monday. But one day when he arrives, he’s hungry, and with time not on his side, he chooses the Hirulian stall even though that means cabbage. The food is good, though Theo doesn’t particularly like cabbage. But it’s the stall owner, Ekain, who really gets his attention. Theo feels drawn toward the man, but when he shows up on a Saturday and Ekain is sort of cold toward him, Theo thinks that he was misreading his interest. So he avoids the stall and Ekain on the following Monday. But things are not what Theo thinks, and when it all comes to light, it seems Theo might just have a chance with Ekain after all.
This story was a nice surprise. The world building was minimal, because it was a short, but we were given enough information for it to be all we needed. Theo is sweet and shy, with a little bit of lack of self-confidence. Ekain was kind and adorable, and I liked how he reacted to Theo. The miscommunication totally worked here. It was a fun read and I enjoyed it.
Man of Steel by Rob Rosen
When Scott sees that a new restaurant is opening up in his neighborhood, he basically stalks the store front until he can see inside. Which is when he meets Morty, the owner, and learns that the diner will be serving Jewish food. Intrigued, Scott makes sure he’s there on opening day. He’s lucky enough to get a table, and Morty joins him for dinner. And then invites him back for dessert much later.
This was a quick read, with Rosen’s trademark style. There’s a bit of humor, a bit of sex, and nice characters thrown in. There wasn’t too much going on here, but it was fun to see Scott get introduced to all the foods that he never would even thought of. And Scott and Morty definitely have a spark.
Breakfast at Timothy’s by T.J. Masters
When Connor Wilson is invited out to Professor Timothy Shaw’s house for breakfast, he’s thrilled. He can ask the well-known geologist to be his advisor for his Ph.D. studies at Cambridge. And being invited to eat with Timothy is an honor to begin with. Connor takes an immediate liking to the handsome professor. That quickly turns into a crush as Timothy invites him back again and again. Finally things come to a head, and the men act on the attraction that has been brewing between them. And it’s just the beginning of something more.
When I finished this story, I immediately wanted more. Not because the story was lacking in any way, but because I wanted more of these characters and their life. I adored both men from the start. Timothy is enigmatic and a little bit mysterious. Connor is open and eager. They guys just sparked from the get go, and it was a satisfying story. I’d absolutely read more of them, but I’m also very happy with the story as it was.
A Second Season by Tali Spencer
After having been laid off, Chris heads on a trip through New England, and in the process, looks up an old friend. Drew runs a B&B in a small town, and Chris books a room, though he’s the only guest. Drew once ran a restaurant while his wife ran the B&B, but when their marriage fell apart, Drew took over the B&B and the restaurant closed. But his food is delicious, and Chris has nowhere he needs to be. After the two men act on their attraction, Chris wants to stick around. Maybe with his help, things will turn around for the B&B, Drew might be able to reopen the restaurant, and the two men just might be able to start a life together.
This story was one where the chemistry between the characters was spot on from the beginning, I liked the way Chris and Drew reacted to and acted with each other. It definitely had the slow burn feel in a short amount of time, and it was really well done. I also liked that this one ended with a very plausible HFN ending. Well done all around, and I really liked it.
Kneading You by C.S. Poe
Christopher moved to the small town looking to start a new life, but his degree in literature hasn’t netted him any jobs. When the old librarian passes away, Christopher is offered the position. But the collection is small and a lot of updating is needed. More than that is the threat of losing their funding, and Christopher only has a few weeks to show the state that funding is necessary. He calls local handyman, Miles, to fix some broken shelves in hopes of updating the building and making it more viable. The two men connect when they share a meal and Christopher tastes Miles’s homemade bread. As the relationship tentatively begins to grow, it might also be the answer to library’s prayers.
Oh this was just a really lovely story, and I was drawn in from the get go. Christopher’s enthusiasm was catching, and his affinity for the library was heartwarming. I adored Miles, his shy quite nature, and the way he made the first move was just really sweet. These guys worked together so well, the story was well done, and it really had a believable air. I finished this one with a smile on my face.
If You Give an Incubus a Cookie by Ki Brightly
Hal carries the curse of an incubus, and he has no choice but to steal life force from others during sex if he wants to keep living. He makes his living as an escort because of it. But he’s unhappy, and what was once exciting no longer is. Porter bakes cookies and sells them in his mobile truck. He’s been attracted to Hal for a long while, but has never had the urge to ask the man’s name let alone as him out. But finally the timing is right, and the two men have a date. But what Hal doesn’t know is that Porter isn’t exactly human either. And together, they just might be the perfect gift.
I really liked the twist on some mythos here, and Brightly managed to pack a lot into a short space. It was a well-developed and complete story. I really felt for Hal, understanding his motivation completely and his mindset. And Porter was such a sweetheart. We got the appropriate amount of backstory from them both, and when they came together the sparks just flew. A really great read and one of my favorites.
Moon Cakes by T. Nielson
As the result of a bet, Connor has found success cooking while nearly naked on the Internet show Bitch, Peas. But it has lost its fun, not to mention that there’s some guy in his forums tweaking his recipes and making his life difficult. Viewership has plateaued and Connor is burned out, but he’s not sure what to do about it. He shoves it all aside when a guy pops up on his dating app, and Connor invites him to dinner. Reuben is fun and funny, with a great sense of humor, and is a professional food taster. But it’s only after they get back to Reuben’s place that Connor learns Rueben is the guy who’s been changing his recipes in the forums. Things might stall out before they even begin. Unless Connor can take Reuben’s advice.
So I really liked this one. The author showed us Connor really well, and I was right there with him as he felt all his emotions and understood his thoughts. I always like it when it’s easy to get into a character’s head. Reuben was fun and funny, and I enjoyed meeting him as well. My only quibble with this one is the story seemed to end a little abruptly. It was like we fast forwarded a little, missed something, and then it was done. I liked these guys so much, I would have liked just a little bit more there. But overall, it was a fun, well done story.
Tortilla Pie by Rick R. Reed
Josh is part of a volunteer group that occasionally makes lunch and dinner at the teen center. When he shows up on tortilla pie day, he catches the eye of a beautiful young man. But even though the guy pushes his buttons, and seems barely younger than Josh himself, getting involved with clients in anyway is against the rules. But Anderson wants Josh right back, and since his birthday is the next day and he’ll be turning 21, he’ll no longer be a client at TeenCare. When Anderson approaches Josh, Josh has to admit that he’s drawn to the young man. And knowing that the next day everything will shift between them, Josh just might be willing to take a chance.
I thought this story was really well done, and that Josh and Anderson were great characters. Full of personality, these guys just made an impression right away. There’s also some really big themes brought up here. Anderson is homeless, not to mention black, and is as opposite from Josh as he can get. Even still, I got the sense that these guys would absolutely work like magic together. But this story was just the beginning, and I wanted more. I wanted to see these guys making it work. I felt like they could, but I don’t know how. So as much as I enjoyed this story, it felt incomplete to me.
Taste of the Forest, Dark and Sweet by Charles Payseur
Bastian has lost his lust for cooking, and when disaster strikes in the kitchen at the same time a renowned food critic is in to review the menu, Bastian knows he’s sunk. That night he ends up in the forest and in a house made in a tree, looking at one of his line chefs. Colin has caught his attention in the two weeks he’s been working for Bastian. It quickly becomes clear that it’s not a dream, and the Colin really is the fae he claims to be. There’s a kiss and Bastian wakes up, only to find no one has any memory of Colin, and Bastian doesn’t know why he even sort of kind of remembers. But he makes a sauce, inspired, and when he tastes it, he remembers the man and everything that happened. But there are rules and Colin must leave. But Bastian is pointing out loop holes, and if Colin takes them, then maybe they can start something more.
This was one of the stories I was looking forward to reading the most, and it didn’t disappoint. Lovely world building, great characters with chemistry that sparked, and a fun, interesting plot line to keep me engaged. I enjoyed every second of this one, and would have liked more, simply because I wasn’t ready to leave these guys behind. Really well done.
Operation Wild Thumb by Tray Ellis
Heath lives with his sister and when he discovers a patch of wild grown, out of control zucchini, the two of them harvest the vegetables and come up with a plan to get rid of them. In the middle of the night, they set off up and down the street, leaving a squash or two on everyone’s doorsteps. Both Heath and his sister think it’s a hysterical prank. When Heath is caught by Alex, he thinks the joke is up. But Alex thinks it’s fantastic and invites himself along. When all the zucchini have been delivered, Heath invites Alex back for breakfast, where he makes zucchini and potato latkes, and the attraction between the two men sparks into something more.
This story was super cute and super fun, playful and adorable, and I loved it. Heath is a really sweet guy, with a huge heart, who loves gardening. I found him incredibly endearing. Alex immediately shows us the kind of guy when he not only gets the joke, but invites himself along. I really enjoyed these two and their story.
And Everything Nice by Ada Maria Soto
When the new guy at work catches Angelo’s eye, he knows he wants to get to know Simon better. But he’s socially awkward, so he turns to his other skill: baking. Angelo is a phenomenal baker. But every recipe Angelo makes and brings in, Simon refuses to try. Even the patented ones that no one can resist. Angelo has no idea why and goes through every recipe he can think of to try to entice Simon, but Simon never eats anything. When Angelo finally finds out the real reason why, he goes on a mission to create and perfect the kind of dessert Simon can eat. And maybe win his heart in the process.
And this story, this one that ends the anthology, is my very favorite of the bunch. It was clever and funny, sweet and with a dash of emotion. I adored Angelo from the very start. I was on tenterhooks waiting to find out the reason behind Simon’s refusal to eat Angelo’s baked goods. I liked the glimpse of their connection, though I would have liked to see a little bit more. Fantastic way to end the collection and really well done.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.