James is a chef in the busy restaurant he owns with his wife. He’s on the cusp of a huge career thanks to a magazine write up. One day, James’ wife comes in to the kitchen to tell him she’s met someone else and wants a divorce. She put up the capital for the place, so within minutes, he’s out of the restaurant he loves and his home.
Ben works as a line cook at a chain restaurant. He’s miserable and has been for a long time. His best friend and lover left him to marry a woman. His heart was broken, but he’s never stopped pining for…well…James. He consoles himself with nights in bars and cheap hookups, but they are unsatisfying and unfulfilling. One night, in the middle of one of those cheap hookups, Ben gets a phone call that will change his life forever.
I picked up Home Skillet because the blurb intrigued me. I enjoy stories about chefs, cooks, bakers, etc. Second chance love stores are great too. I had some pretty high expectations going in and I’m sorry to say, I was kind of disappointed. The writing style was good and the descriptions of locations were excellent. I could actually see the restaurants where the men worked in my mind. However, I just didn’t connect with James and Ben. In fact, I didn’t even like them very much through a good bit of the book.
Let me start with James. As I mentioned, he and Ben had been best friends and lovers, until one night, during the post sex cuddle, James breaks it to Ben that this would be the last time they could do this. He was going to marry Jenna, another friend of theirs. It’s here I’ll tell you James is definitely gay, and there is no cheating in this book. Anyway, I found him to be selfish, putting his desire to be the executive chef of his own restaurant over the love he and Ben shared. On top of that, after he loses everything, the first person James calls is Ben, and he expected him to just drop everything to let him come over. He wallowed in self pity until he got a job and even invited himself along when Ben wanted to get out and let off steam.
Ben was a little better. He had a miserable job where he’s treated badly. I mean badly. He seems resigned to it, though, not really making any sort of move to get out. He doesn’t really enjoy his endless hookups, but he has them anyway, and because he’s pined for James for so long, he seems depressed and angry all the time. However, he’s quick to offer James a place to stay, even though James stomped on his heart. I felt sorry for him, but he rather grated on me.
Putting James and Ben aside for a moment, I’ll say the story was decent. It was well written, and as I said, nicely detailed. I was willing to look past my disconnect with the men in order to see what was in store for them. Of course, they would be together–that’s what happens in romance novels–but the path that they take to get their HEA was interesting. There was a twist or two I didn’t see coming, and that was good. I like being kept on my toes. James and Ben had chemistry, so the sexytimes were hot, and when they finally give in and realize they belong together after all, it was a blissful relief.
The background characters in the story were only somewhat important. There was a hint of a subplot with James’ family. They weren’t fond of Ben, and his mother, especially, wanted him to try to get back with Jenna. I thought that if that family dynamic was explored a little further, it could have added some depth to the book. Byron was the manager of the restaurant where Ben worked. He was, to be blunt, an asshole. He was on a serious power trip and treated the employees as indentured servants. Having worked in food service myself, there was an uncomfortable nibble in my brain. I was fortunate to have had a good experience, but I couldn’t imagine working under such awful conditions. Next is Vera, she’d been James’ mentor through college and he viewed her as a great, motherly friend who was there for him to offer advice and reality checks. Finally, there was Jenna. I had some trouble with her due to her willingness to marry a man who could never be a true husband simply to further her career goals. She redeemed herself in the long run, and that left me feeling satisfied.
The story itself was supposed to be taking place in the 90s. I did a little math and figure the ending came in either 2000 or 2001 (That’s not concrete. Don’t hold me to it.). It didn’t exactly have a 90s feel and I’m having a difficult time trying to remember if there were any real references to the decade made throughout the book. I thought it was an interesting choice, though, and I wish I’d had more of a feeling that I was actually in the past. Does that make me sound old?
Speaking of the ending…it wrapped up neatly. I liked how Ben and James wound up. It was a bit different than what I expected, and that was great. All in all, while I didn’t connect with James and Ben very well, I will recommend this book, especially to fans of second chance love stories. This is the first book in a new series, and I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next.