Rating: 3.5 stars
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“I really am an idiot.”
“I prefer the term ‘wounded.’”
Chelsea flinched. “That’s way worse.”
“No, it’s not. It’s acknowledging that sometimes bad things happen and they’re out of our control.”
Chelsea is all about control. With the cancellation and removal of her boss, Chelsea has a chance of getting her own cooking show, turning a lifelong dream into a reality. Inspired by the cooking of her childhood, Chelsea moves back home to Duchesne, Louisiana, buying a giant home she’s always loved and getting its kitchen outfitted to her specifications. However, a flat tire on her first night is only the first pebble on the path. The second is Bryce.
“[…]love doesn’t work that way. It takes work and compromise and usually doesn’t wind up looking the way you thought it would.”
Bryce is more than willing to play knight errant by rescuing the curvy beauty stranded at the side of the road. Her smile, her warmth, her humor … it all appeals to him. And when Chelsea has no reaction to his being a transgender man, and in fact her flirting game rivals his when she realizes he’s interested enough to start the conversations, well, it’s almost as if Bryce has found himself a new love interest.
The two of them have an undeniable chemistry, and it soon moves from suggestive comments to sensual nights (mornings, afternoons, dinners, and everything in between). But as Chelsea’s fame rises, Bryce ends up being dragged along. At first, it’s fine; it’s fun, even. However, as more attention comes his way, Bryce isn’t certain if he’s ready to be the resident transgender man or the poster boy for inclusion. Duchesne is a small town filled with a tight-knit community and Bryce likes it that way. What happens when the woman of your dreams has her own dreams? What happens when the man you love doesn’t want to follow where you’re going?
I’m going to start this review by stating that as a cis gender woman, I am not qualified to comment on transgender representation, so I’m just going to say that, in my cis opinion, I thought Bryce being transgender was well introduced and always a part of his story. It wasn’t one line in the beginning and then ignored; there were mentions of Bryce being on T, of the fact of his transition, and of his top surgery. His being transgender was always present and part of his character. The sex scenes have plenty of communication, with Chelsea making sure to ask Bryce how he wants to handle sex and intimacy, and respecting his needs and wants. There is never any issue about Bryce’s identity; even Chelsea’s mother ends up using proper pronouns when dealing with him.
Bryce, as a character, is a dreamer. Big hearted, romantic, gregarious, and good-natured, he’s never felt the need to leave home and go anywhere else. He has a supportive family, co-workers, friends, and community who have never made him feel unwelcome or othered by his transition. He’s also very frank about his interest in finding love, his many partners, and his eventual desire to settle down and have a family. So when Chelsea meets him on his own ground, flirting back just as hard, is it any wonder Bryce falls — and hard? She’s lovely, she’s bold, she’s got her own career and her own dreams, and Bryce is able to help make them come true … mostly by installing lightbulbs, since Chelsea is afraid of heights. But he’s willing to get on any step stool she puts in front of him.
Chelsea grew up in a difficult home, her mother very religious and very demanding of her daughter. Chelsea was left with issues around her weight, her beauty, and her capability as a person, let alone as a daughter and woman. Therapy has helped, but it’s also helped her put up a bit of a wall. She’s slow to trust and slow to feel safe. Because Bryce makes it easy, Chelsea begins to lean even more heavily on him, certain he’ll always be there but also always questioning if he really wants to be there.
Chelsea needs control, and so does Bryce. And for all that they’re both very supportive of one another — Bryce is the captain of Chelesa’s cheer squad, always happy for her, encouraging her, and proud of her and Chelsea is always, always double checking to make sure Bryce’s ‘yes’ is a real one, not just a ‘yes’ to make her happy — they never sit down to really talk about the future. Bryce is waiting for things to just fall into line, and Chelsea’s too afraid of losing what she has to risk looking at it too closely.
The book is mostly a feel-good, food-infused romance where the stakes are never that high and the angst is merely at a quiet simmer on the back burner. This is smoothly written, but the pace is a bit lopsided; the story lingers on the small town moments and whizzes past the ‘big city’ moments, leaving no doubt where the author intends the focus and happy ending to be. Still, it’s an enjoyable, light read with a happy ending and a lot of food. This would make an excellent beach read.