Sacramento is a big city and it’s hard to make a connection. When a group of strangers meet at an Italian restaurant for a cooking class, it seems that fate may have stepped in to lend them all a hand. They become involved in each other’s lives as everyday magic touches each of them.
Matteo and Diego own Ragazzi and offer a cooking class to bring in some much needed revenue. They came from Italy searching for a dream that they aren’t sure they are going to make come true. There’s Carmelina, a recent widow just getting back out into the world; Marcos, who at almost 40 knows constant hookups with random men aren’t what he needs anymore; and Marissa, a teen whose parents kicked her out for being bisexual. There’s also Ben, an African-American, transgender author trying to complete his novel and searching for a love of his own, and Sam and Brad, an established couple living together. Lives will overlap and intertwine as residents that seem to not have much in common form lasting friendships that become family.
I have read many books with ensemble casts and the style always calls to me. It’s always interesting to meet a large cast of characters and then see how their lives will inevitably intersect. There are many characters here with different ethnic backgrounds as well as different identities that makes this cast diverse.
In the author’s note, Coatsworth states that he was going for the style of creating a story within a chapter, and with that he was successful. Each chapter told a little of the story within itself and advanced the movement for those characters, while setting up the links to the rest of the cast. The author also discusses “magical realism” and how he wanted everyday magic to touch the characters. While this was seen on page, the execution of that was less successful for me.
The main issue here is with so many characters, there has to be a draw to want to continue to read about them. While the characters were fine (simply fine), there was no pull or motivation for me to want to continue to read any of their stories and I found myself putting this book down often. There were some couples that were already together and some couples that were just meeting and starting out and there was a distinct lack of chemistry for any of them. There were no intimate scenes on page, but there was also no spark between any of the characters and the characters all remained fairly flat. The story is told from multiple points of view, which is my favorite, but none of the characters had a voice for me and it all read in a narrative tone which made the characters difficult to engage with.
The synopsis of the book mentions everyone having a secret and while some characters did have secrets, it was not all of them, and those secrets that were revealed also lacked any emotion due to the overall tone. The characters also refer to their ages often in not the most flattering of terms, whether the character was early 30s or older, and it read with a touch of ageism, certainly enough to be noticeable and called out.
The book wraps up the storylines mostly, but all of the stories had an unfinished feeling, as if this was season one of a larger story. I have read many drama style ensemble books and while there aren’t many in this genre, there are certainly more compelling stories out there with large, interwoven casts. The book worked well for Diverse Books Week in our Reading Challenge Month with so many diverse characters coming together as friends and family. As for the storyline, it was a great idea, but never captivated me fully.
This review is part of our Reading Challenge Month for Diverse Books Week! Leave a relevant comment below and you will be entered to win one of our amazing diverse books prize packs. Commenters will also be entered to win our amazing grand prize sponsored by Dreamspinner Press (a Kindle Fire filled with Dreamspun Desires/Beyond books, plus a 3-month subscription!). You can get more information on our Challenge Month here, and more details on Diverse Books Week here, including a list of all the books in this week’s prize.