Rating: 3.75 stars
Buy Link:
Amazon | iBooks | Amazon UK
Length: Novel

 

It’s not that Luca doesn’t love his family, he just has no confidence in them. As the eldest of seven children, Luca has always been the responsible one, the one in charge. Luca was grandmother’s favorite, the one she shared her secret recipes with, the one she taught to cook, the one she left in charge of the family. All his life, Luca has taken this to heart. He manages the family’s restaurants, the deli, the sale of their famous Nonna’s sauce… So what if his younger brother and cousin no longer talk to him, if two of his sisters vanished to go run a coffee shop in San Francisco. They’ll come around, because Luca knows best.

When Luca’s mother comes to him with another family problem, this time with his aunt Giana and cousin Enzo’s Italian eatery in the picturesque Indigo Bay, of course Luca will be the one to fix it. Because that’s what he does for every problem they thrust at him. He always has and he always will, just as he put off a date to cover his brother’s drunken night, or his father’s forgetfulness, or any of the other dozen problems that regularly crop up.

Indigo Bay isn’t what Luca expected, nor is the man who nearly hits him with his car. Or crashes into him with boxes of muffins. But something about Oliver, the bakery owner and pastry chef who runs the Sweet as Pie bakery across the street from his aunt’s failing bistro, calls to Luca. Maybe it’s the wicked glint in his eyes or the smirky smile. Or maybe it’s the fact that Oliver is a genius in the kitchen. Luca isn’t normally one for sweets, but for Oliver, he’ll make an exception.

After all, he’s only here for a few weeks — a month at most. What’s the harm in a little vacation romance?

This is a standalone book set somewhat adjacent to the author’s Food Truck Warrior’s series, two of which feature Luca’s brother and cousin falling in love over food. This story, though, isn’t part of a series and can be read without having read any of the author’s other books. Speaking of which, I have read a previous book of this author’s and had mixed feelings on the plotting, characterization, and writing. However, I am pleased to say that, with this book, I had a much better experience, especially with Luca.

Luca was a sensitive child, loving and eager to please, who was crushed by the fear of disappointing his grandmother, so much so that he became the perfect grandson, the perfect brother, the perfect person — capable, dependable, exacting; he’s the one the family turns to when things are even slightly difficult, he’s the one responsible for the family’s good fortune, and he’s the one his siblings blame and turn away from when his exacting standards and visions for their future don’t match their dreams. I find it interesting that Luca’s parents are never seen as authority figures, or people he wants to please as much as burdens he endures, like a second set of siblings to care for.

When his aunt needs help, the family is quick to shove Luca in that direction — to get him away from them, both for their benefit and his own. It’s the closest thing to a vacation they’ll ever get him to have, bothering someone else and letting everyone else have a chance to breathe. While it’s cruel and underhanded, it’s also … working. Luca, with only one person to focus on, is more adaptable to her needs. And when there’s a handsome man trying to kill him in the street, well, what’s a vacation without a little holiday romance?

Oliver’s mother is a famous romance author who runs a rather famous bed and breakfast in Indigo Bay and, as her son, Oliver — who grew up in this town — is almost a local celebrity. Add in his skill in baking, his charming pastry shop, and a natural charm … Oliver has almost everything he wants. Except for someone to hold at night. Perhaps because of his mother and her stories, and the local legendary romance of two star-crossed lovers finding their way to one another, Oliver has high standards for what he wants. He doesn’t want to settle; he wants fireworks. And in Luca, he gets them.

The plot is strong, following well-worn paths of big city outsider and the small town native who is beloved by all, and does so with sincerity. This is a solid, sweet story, and it’s well-written. However, I didn’t feel the chemistry between the main couple. There was never any tension between them, it just seemed like an instant feeling of “oh, so you’re the one I’m here to fall in love with.” That’s not to say it’s bad or badly done, but for me, personally, I wanted just a little more of a spark between them. Because the author puts so much work into the characterization of Luca, and he reads very much like the child (or in this case, grandchild) of an immigrant parent wanting the best for their family, bearing the weight of his family, their future, and their reputation, Oliver feels slightly under baked in comparison. People are constantly mentioning how good and kind Oliver is; it’s stated in the book often enough that he’s good, but there’s very little evidence of it on page. Because of the emphasis on telling rather than showing, especially with Oliver, the romance for me fell a little flat.

Also, some moments that seemed meant to be emotional epiphanies — Luca realizing he had to change, he had to be the one to apologize — didn’t work for me. His brother’s interrupting him while he was trying to apologize, deriding and insulting him felt cruel rather than funny (while this may have felt differently if I was familiar with the other series, I can only judge this book and this scene on what I’m reading), and the insistence that Luca still wasn’t good enough, that he had to be the one to change to make his family happy isn’t a message I’m terribly fond of. This is, however, well balanced by Oliver accepting him for what and who he is, which is a workaholic who hides his heart and his need to please behind a cold exterior because he’s afraid of failure.

Luca is the best part of this book, for me. He feels like a real person, much as the story itself felt grounded and balanced. I’m looking forward to seeing more of this author in the future.