When Marcus Vine’s best friend, Raine, died in an automobile accident, he lost her and, by extension, her family. Raine’s husband, Tom, asked for space while he grieved and struggled to raise two daughters on his own. Marcus backed away and more than a year passed before he stumbled across Tom and the girls again. Tom is barely holding things together and the depth of his pain is obvious to Marcus. Marcus resumes his role as godfather and helpmate, offering Tom the same friendship he once gave to Raine.
Tom Bradford sees Marcus as a lifesaver. The man has stepped back into Tom’s life and helped him climb from the morass of grief and pain that threatened to consume him. But having Marcus back stirs feelings in Tom he never thought to deal with. Raine was his soul mate and lusting after Marcus feels wrong. Still, the heart wants what it wants and as both men begin to explore the idea of something more, they will have to make peace with the past and embrace what the future might offer.
I’m not really sure where to start with this one. On the surface, The Missing Ingredient is an exploration of love after loss and learning to move forward. And it delivers that message well enough. The writing style is fine, though it lacks much true voice. But honestly, The Missing Ingredient just wasn’t very good. The first problem is the plot. At times it reads more like a melodrama than a believable piece of fiction. There is a mystery that never matters, a predictable medical emergency (several actually), and a romance that never feels romantic in the least. Tom and Marcus feel awkward together. There’s no passion, no sense that they actually belong to one another, and their interactions feel forced.
It doesn’t help that Tom is a right and proper d**k. Rather than feeling bad about his situation, right away I found myself disliking him intensely. He’s uses his grief as an excuse for poor behavior and as a way to manipulate others, even if it’s unconsciously done. He uses Marcus at every turn and even after they start having sex, it seems like Tom is keeping Marcus as his bit on the side while he looks at other options. It isn’t charming and it isn’t the kind of thing that builds a romance. Whatever empathy I was supposed to be feeling for Tom evaporated almost from the start because he used his grief as a crutch to excuse his behaviors and to some extent, his responsibilities. I doubt the author intended Tom to come off this way, but he does and it makes a very unlikable character. I appreciate that grief is an individual experience and everyone has to process that at their own pace and in their own way. But it’s never okay to wield grief as a weapon and that feels like what Tom does on more than one occasion.
Maybe the bigger issue with The Missing Ingredient is how rote and stiff it feels. I think this goes hand in hand with how unrealistic the plot feels. All of that combines to result in a book that reads as lacking in depth, lacking in emotion, and at times, it’s just flat out boring.
I wanted to enjoy The Missing Ingredient because the basic plot themes appealed to me, but the execution fell short. Tom and Marcus failed to spark and my dislike of Tom didn’t do the couple any favors. And when the wider story failed to be either believable or engaging, I found myself pretty disappointed in The Missing Ingredient. It’s not a terrible book, at least from a technical aspect, but it’s potential was botched in a lot of ways.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.