Review: Taste Test by Kelly Fiore

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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