Review: Taste Test by Kelly Fiore

tt_kfTASTE TEST
Kelly Fiore
Walker Childrens
Publication Date: August 27, 2013

From the back cover:

If you can grill it, smoke it, or fry it, Nora Henderson knows all about it. She’s been basting baby back ribs and pulling pork at her father’s barbeque joint since she was tall enough to reach the counter. When she’s accepted to Taste Test, a reality-television teen cooking competition, Nora can’t wait to leave her humble hometown behind, even if it means saying good-bye to her dad and her best friend, Billy. Once she’s on set, run-ins with her high-society roommate and the maddeningly handsome—not to mention talented—son of a famous chef, Christian Van Lorten, mean Nora must work even harder to prove herself. But as mysterious accidents plague the kitchen arena, protecting her heart from one annoyingly charming fellow contestant in particular becomes the least of her concerns. Someone is conducting real-life eliminations, and if Nora doesn’t figure out who, she could be next to get chopped for good.

With romance and intrigue as delectable as the winning recipes included in the story, this debut novel will be devoured by all.

I was so excited by the premise of TASTE TEST when the book first came to my attention. Having recently become a fan of Food Network’s Chopped, I loved the idea of a reality TV teen cooking competition, especially one that wasn’t just a one day thing, but a longer series, with the potential for loads of drama and backstabbing. Kelly Fiore excels at writing just such a story, making TASTE TEST a completely delightful read from beginning to end.

When small-town chef, Nora Henderson is selected to participate on Taste Test she has no idea what she’s gotten herself into. Upon arriving at the fancy culinary academy, she realizes she’s completely out of her element. Competing against sons and daughters of the rich and famous wasn’t exactly what she had expected, and when she’s forced to room with the worst contestant of the bunch, she wonders if she’s made a mistake.

But Nora isn’t about to throw in the towel that easily. She knows she’s just as good a chef as anyone there, and she’s determined to prove it–despite the fact that Christian Van Lorten continually tries to get under her skin.

WHAT I LOVED: From the beginning, Kelly Fiore sets up an intriguing storyline with wonderful descriptions. The dorm where the contestants are required to stay during the filming becomes a big focal point of the book, and Ms. Fiore does an excellent job of bringing “dorm life” to life. Ms. Fiore also doesn’t skimp on vivid descriptions of food and cooking, making the competitions both authentic and exciting, which I really appreciated. The cast of characters are all unique and well-drawn and once the ‘accidents’ start happening on set the story becomes a fast-paced read that is very difficult to put down. I also loved Nora’s personality, which is at times extremely sarcastic and at others vulnerable. Her voice shone through on every page and managed to keep me invested in her character even when the book started to veer off in directions I was less than enthusiastic about.

WHAT DIDN’T WORK FOR ME: I really wanted this book to be about staying true to yourself, and at the beginning, I thought that’s what I was going to get. But as the story progresses, Nora lets the producers take charge, changing her into something she isn’t, and she never has the big revelation–this is who I am and I won’t let someone change me–that I’d been waiting and hoping for. In fact, Nora doesn’t do much changing or growing at all, and I found that to be the one disappointing element of the story. I really wanted Ms. Fiore to dig deeper into Nora’s emotions, and I felt that for the most part they were skimmed over.

I also have to admit to really disliking the way things went with Nora’s best friend Billy. It basically turned into the love-triangle-that-wasn’t. I’m not a big fan of love triangles to begin with, but if they’re going to be there, they should have some impact on the story. Instead, when Nora realizes that her feelings for Billy are not romantic, Billy takes it all in stride, shrugs it off and they immediately go back to being best friends–as if nothing happened–even though Billy had been in love with Nora for years. The whole thing just felt extremely unbelievable to me and the story suffered from the pat wrap up of something that could have really brought another level of depth to the book.

BOTTOM LINE: Despite my criticism of this book, I really did enjoy it. Kelly Fiore has just the kind of readable style that hooks you from page one and I look forward to seeing future releases from her. If you’re looking for a fun story with humor, light intrigue, and a cute romance between rivals, TASTE TEST is the perfect treat for a weekend read.

 

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Review: The Reluctant Bachelor by Syndi Powell

reluctantTHE RELUCTANT BACHELOR
Syndi Powell
Harlequin Heartwarming
Publication Date: August 2013

From the back cover:

A SECOND CHANCE AT TRUE LOVE

Five years ago, Rick Allyn was publicly humiliated when he had his heart broken on the reality dating show True Love. Convincing him to sign up for another round of punishment isn’t going to be easy. But with the show’s ratings plummeting, producer Elizabeth Maier will have to persuade him to agree…or she’ll be putting in a job application at Rick’s small-town diner.

Elizabeth is confident this season will be different. With his prominent family, boyish charm and good looks, Rick is the complete package. Finding his soul mate shouldn’t be hard. However, as filming continues, she’s beginning to suspect that the perfect woman for Rick is her. That leaves Elizabeth with a tough choice: her job at True Love or a shot at the real thing.

I am extremely excited about Harlequin’s new Heartwarming line! Words cannot express how awesome it is to find an entire range of books dedicated to wholesome stories that don’t skimp on emotional depth, internal conflict, or true romance that goes beyond the physical. While I wasn’t much for the ‘re-freshed’ books (reprints) that were originally being offered, I’m thrilled to delve into the new stories.

Syndi Powell’s debut THE RELUCTANT BACHELOR capitalizes on the popularity of reality TV dating shows while bringing along a fresh twist. Rick Allyn was jilted at the reality show altar and isn’t interested in putting his heart on the line again, but the tenacious producer of True Love is so convincing he agrees to do the show — as long as it’s on his terms. With his beloved hometown suffering badly from a poor economy, he persuades Elizabeth to tape the show in Lake Mildred. But nothing is as easy as he’d hoped it to be and Rick finds it difficult to trust his heart the second time around.

Elizabeth has sworn she’ll never be like her mother: poor, trusting in love that doesn’t exist. Her life is her job and she’s happy that way. But something happens to her in Lake Mildred and she is transformed from a ‘fish out of water’ to one who might just find the perfect home outside the pond. Ms. Powell does a wonderful job of bringing this change of heart to life, and it’s one of the shining moments in THE RELUCTANT BACHELOR.

While I wished there would have been more “screen time” spent watching Elizabeth and Rick fall in love rather than watching Rick pursue the contestants on True Love in his quest to find the perfect woman, I still found THE RELUCTANT BACHELOR to be a worthy, enjoyable read. I loved the way Ms. Powell brought Lake Mildred to life, Rick’s connection to the town, and Elizabeth’s emotional depth. I will definitely be on the lookout for future books by Syndi Powell.

Review: Stealing the Preacher by Karen Witemeyer

stealingthepreacherSTEALING THE PREACHER (ARCHER BROTHERS, BOOK #2)
Karen Witemeyer
Bethany House Publishers
Publication Date: June 1, 2013

From the back cover:

On his way to interview for a position at a church in the Piney Woods of Texas, Crockett Archer can scarcely believe it when he’s forced off the train by a retired outlaw and presented to the man’s daughter as the minister she requested for her birthday. Worried this unfortunate detour will ruin his chances of finally serving a congregation of his own, Crockett is determined to escape. But when he finally gets away, he’s haunted by the memory of the young woman he left behind–a woman whose dreams now hinge on him.

For months, Joanna Robbins prayed for a preacher. A man to breathe life back into the abandoned church at the heart of her community. A man to assist her in fulfilling a promise to her dying mother. A man to help her discover answers to the questions that have been on her heart for so long. But just when it seems God has answered her prayers, it turns out the person is there against his will and has dreams of his own calling him elsewhere. Is there any way she can convince Crockett to stay in her little backwoods community? And does the attraction between them have any chance of blossoming when Joanna’s outlaw father is dead set against his daughter courting a preacher?

Every time I see one of Karen Witemeyer’s gorgeous covers, I think, I REALLY need to try this author’s books! I’m happy to say that I finally got the chance (and will now be devouring all her other books)! STEALING THE PREACHER is a fabulous inspirational romance that kept my attention from beginning to end. Filled with a wonderful message of God’s abundant love and forgiveness, STEALING THE PREACHER entertains while subtly teaching us about hope, patience and trust.

Not only has Karen Witemeyer infused STEALING THE PREACHER with a rare wit and charm, she also presents each of her characters with a unique voice that infuses them with life. This book has it all–intrigue, romance, and a beautifully written example of letting God’s light shine through your actions rather than just through your words.

Note: STEALING THE PREACHER is the second book in a series, however, it is entirely stand-alone.

 

Review: Spies and Prejudice by Talia Vance

SandPSPIES AND PREJUDICE
Talia Vance
Egmont
Publication Date: June 11, 2013

From the back cover:

Berry Fields is not looking for a boyfriend. She’s busy trailing cheaters and liars in her job as a private investigator, collecting evidence of the affairs she’s sure all men commit. And thanks to a pepper spray incident during an eighth grade game of spin the bottle, the guys at her school are not exactly lining up to date her, either.

So when arrogant—and gorgeous—Tanner Halston rolls into town and calls her “nothing amazing,” it’s no loss for Berry. She’ll forget him in no time. She’s more concerned with the questions surfacing about her mother’s death.

But why does Tanner seem to pop up everywhere in her investigation, always getting in her way? Is he trying to stop her from discovering the truth, or protecting her from an unknown threat? And why can’t Berry remember to hate him when he looks into her eyes?

With a playful nod to Jane Austen, Spies and Prejudice will captivate readers as love and espionage collide.

SPIES AND PREJUDICE, Talia Vance’s debut, is charming, sarcastic and a whole lot of fun. I loved the title and the nod to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Even though I’ve never been a big Austen fan–okay, how about not a fan at all (Gasp! Terrible, I know.)–the play on words was clever and was actually the thing that initially drew my attention to the book.

Berry is a likeable character, one who carries deep emotional scars from her mother’s death. She hides it well, burying herself in her work as an assistant to her private investigator dad, but she can’t escape all the unanswered questions surrounding her mother’s so-called accident/suicide. So when her best friend’s father is seen with a document bearing Berry’s mother’s name, she can’t help but dig deeper. But things are seldom what they seen in espionage stories, and Berry is caught in a web of lies that threaten everything she holds dear. And one arrogant, mysterious newcomer threatens the one thing she guards above all else: her heart.

I loved the fact that the closer Berry gets to the truth about her mother, the more she has to examine her own self and what she wants out of her life. This theme/life lesson was probably the highlight of the book for me, especially since Talia Vance presents it in such an engaging way. While the plot doesn’t hang completely together and some of the spy stuff is entirely far-fetched, Talia Vance manages to create a character that I cared about, one I was willing to suspend belief for in order to see if she got her answers and her happy-ever-after.

If you’re looking for a unique book that will keep you turning the pages and provide some much needed laughter, SPIES AND PREJUDICE will fit the bill quite nicely.

Review: Invisible by Marnie Bates

invisibleINVISIBLE (AWKWARD, BOOK #2)
Marnie Bates
K-TeenPublication Date: August 1, 2013

From the back cover:

Jane Smith has survived three years of high school without making a single enemy, all by keeping a low profile. Not even her three best friends, Kenzie, Corey and Isobel, can say the same. But with Corey dating the lead singer from ReadySet and Kenzie in a relationship too, being invisible tends to be lonely. But now she’s written an article for her school newspaper that has accidentally snagged the attention of some celebrities. Turns out, people get really upset when their innermost secrets are splashed all over the front page. And new her well-ordered life is being blasted to hell, with results that are wildly unexpected.

Having never read a Marnie Bates book before, the fun cover and blurb caught my eye and my interest. I expected a cute, humorous story with a few poignant moments, and for the most part, Marnie Bates delivers. Jane is a very relate-able and likeable character. Things begin to spiral out of control very quickly for Jane as she takes a stand and decides that it’s her turn for the limelight. Friendships are tested, feelings are betrayed and romance blossoms between her and her nemesis, Scott, the school newspaper photographer.

All of these things make for a fast-paced fun read, one I enjoyed, but didn’t love. At times, Jane’s personality is grating, she lets her friends treat her like a second class citizen for the entire book, and when she does finally stand up for herself, she backs down far too quickly. In short, she doesn’t grow as a character, and this was probably the most disappointing part of the book for me. Jane and Scott’s like-hate relationship is cute and I really enjoyed some of their banter, but again, their relationship lacked development.

The one thing that saved this book for me was Marnie Bates’ awesome voice. It’s funny, lighthearted, and quirky, and keeps you reading despite the fact that the story is not turning out the way you hoped.