Cooking is Montana’s passion. Ever since he began working at Sofia’s manor as a chef, he’s longed to whip up culinary delights for a slew of guests. The Covid-19 pandemic and Sofia’s passing put a damper on that plan. At least until the new owner, Zach, shows up. With plans to turn the splendid manor into a community hub, Montana is breathless with excitement about cooking for the masses. And more cooking means more trips to the local grocery. Buying groceries is more than just a simple errand to Montana, however. He grew up partly in a group home; he knows firsthand what it’s like to be food insecure and just how prevalent the obstacle to food can be–even in the affluent part of upstate New York he now calls home. So Montana makes weekly donations to the local food pantry and often supplements the shelf-stable supplies with fresh baked breads and other goodies.
When a serious winter storm threatens the town, Montana is worried about Rio, one of the food bank regulars. No one has seen Rio collect any food for weeks and the storm threatens to cut him off entirely. The more Montana hears about Rio’s mean circumstances, the more worried he gets. So Montana decides he needs to check on Rio just as the big storm hits. Thankfully, the man is safe…but the relentless storm traps them together. With little else to do but cook and chat, Montana gets to know more about Rio. The man clearly has a history, but Montana’s heart goes out for him. When Zach shows up to dig them out, it doesn’t take too much convincing for him to offer Rio a place to stay at the manor. Montana is elated, as he feels enormously drawn to Rio. But there’s something about how warily Zach treats Rio. And there’s something odder still about how much Rio needs to eat. Let alone his insistence that he’s no good — not for Montana, and not for anyone else.
Recipe for a Curse is the second installment in Lissa Kasey’s Romancing a Curse series. In the world of the books, it seems to take place during the first winter after the events in book one. Recipe for a Curse only makes very fleeting mentions to Xiang (now called Sean; it’s not really explained in the books, but it’s probably intentional change), but Zach has a pretty substantial supporting role. He acts as something of a father figure, frequently watching out for Montana’s safety. One big difference in Recipe for a Curse is that it does not build on the Chinese history/mythology concepts from book one. Instead, there is an unrelated curse that affects Rio. The lore borrows from a lot of what I think of as contemporary sources–Rio’s massive appetite and always “running hot” were two big giveaways for me.
Kasey maximized the dynamic between a man with a voracious appetite and a chef who loves it when people love his food. How Montana and Rio relate to food makes the pairing feel like a play on fated mates. Of course, it also raises the question of whether Rio just likes Montana for his ability to make delicious dishes. I appreciated that this gets worked into the subtext between Montana/Rio pretty regularly. This same “does he just want me for my skillet” doubt is also extra prevalent given how Montana and Rio first meet. We know from book one that Montana is single and ready to mingle. But Rio seems far more closed off regarding interpersonal relationships, never mind same-sex ones. Overall, I did get the impression that there was more drawing them together than a love of cooking/love of eating. I just didn’t feel that was explored in much detail on page. Most of the energy is spent on Rio’s self consciousness about eating so much and how Montana tries to reassure him that making food is not an issue.
While I would not classify this as a comedy, the way Rio’s curse was handled did have a bit of humor in it. I thought Kasey drew on contemporary cryptid lore well enough that it was pretty easy for me to guess why Rio lived alone, ate so much, and was never cold. For some reason, Zach immediately seemed to pick up on the nature of Rio’s curse and Sean also intrinsically knew. Zach and Sean reacted with thoughts of keeping Montana safe and being more than a little critical of how physically close he and Rio were. It just seemed strange that these two seemed truly concerned for Montana’s safety, but not enough to tell him what exactly their concerns about Rio and his curse actually were. By the time it comes out in so many words, Montana thinks it’s a joke or a bit of hyperbole. It takes a long time for Montana to realize what actually happens to Rio.
Like the first book, I thought there was a big focus on repeating themes. Here, it was the dialogue where Rio tries to convince Montana that he’s (Rio’s) dangerous and no good for Montana. Or the cyclic discussion about Rio needing to eat and Montana liking to cook. Because Recipe for a Curse is novella length, I think the repetition worked a lot better in this format. Unlike the first book, there seemed to be zero focus on breaking the curse and only a cursory mention about how Rio got cursed in the first place, let alone why he was cursed. As a standalone (and I think this book could work okay as a standalone), that doesn’t bother me much. But as part of a series, I wish this book’s paranormal elements tied into those in the first book a little more given that we’re not changing worlds or even introducing much in the way of new characters, just shifting the focus from Zach to Montana.
Overall, I thought this was an okay read. I felt our MCs were a little limited in range–like Montana is A Chef and Rio is Cursed, those are their main descriptors. The biggest draw for me was watching Montana being very oblivious to the fact that Rio is actually cursed, even after the writing is on the wall. If you like stories featuring paranormal creature threads or a love story where the two love interests have to work at being together, if you like the “snowed in” tropes or enjoyed the writing in book one, then I think you’ll enjoy this story.