Do I like to cook? No. Do I like to read a good romance with foodie characters? Apparently so! Here’s a roundup of my faves so far. These folks could cook for me anytime. (Disclosure: Amazon links are affiliate links.)
Any book on this list I loved at the time I read it, whether I had a chance to write a review or not. Obviously a re-read years later might reveal a problematic aspect I didn’t pick up on back then. Please let me know via my contact form if you find something yikes in a book I recommend.
“Mason attempts to bake gluten-free cookies for their crush and college classmate, Natalie. When the baking goes very wrong, can Mason still win Natalie’s heart? This low stakes story includes holiday baking, two people pining, rain-soaked admissions from hopeless romantics, some wholesome smut and a 100% nonbinary trans cast.”
So, so glad this cute-as-heck short story exists! Totally adorable, friendly, and often quite funny. If you want to read about someone with a TERRIBLE crush – and I mean that in the best possible way – Mason is the main character you need. Perfect for fall and getting in the mood for the holidays. Or really whenever. :)
“When Richard Bass retired, his daughters worried he would retreat into his house and become a hermit. So they take drastic measures: they sign him up for a cooking class at the local rec center. But Richard finds more than spatulas and saucepans in the Swanley Recreation Center when he meets Allen Li, theatre director and cooking class instructor extraordinaire.”
An adorable M/M contemporary short story about a widower in his 60s finding love when he takes a cooking class at his local rec center. I thought it was a great example of the “bi revelation” trope, and I loved the diversity in the cast of secondary characters.
I finished it late one evening, and the warm fuzzy feeling was still there when I got up the next morning. If you need a little pick-me-up, this is a great one.
A thoughtful, comforting M/F romance novella about landscape designer Maggie Augustin falling for food truck owner and gardener Rene St. Martin. Both are African-Americans originally from New Orleans, and they initially bond over beignets, a food which I support wholeheartedly.
Maggie is still processing the emotional fallout from a bad ex-boyfriend, but more interestingly to me, she’s a recovering jerk. She’d fallen in with a toxic group of “friends” who used Christianity to look down on people, leading to (among other things) Maggie treating her brother’s girlfriend like garbage. By the time we meet Maggie, she’s realized how terrible her behavior and attitudes were and trying to make amends. However, she’s kind of a mess emotionally, unsure whether to trust her own judgment after making so many mistakes. Rene is one of those rock-solid nurturing guys, smart and hardworking, and he’s totally crushed out on Maggie.
What I loved about this pair was how Rene made space for Maggie to have her feelings, but didn’t let her completely self-sabotage. Maggie’s transformation from judgmental mean girl was also fascinating to me, reading about it retrospectively, and I found her a sympathetic character because she didn’t let herself off the hook for the hurt she caused. Very enjoyable read. Though the, um, maneuver at the end seems unsafe. Unless Rene has an adamantium skeleton and his apartment has high ceilings, I guess.
This friends-to-lovers M/M romance between two chefs is so complex and messy and real, I almost didn’t know what to think of it the first time I read it. On second read I loved it. Giancarlo Rotolo is painfully in love with his best friend and restaurant business partner, British expat chef Garrett Ransom. Carlo’s almost ready to confess when Garrett brings his latest boy toy to their restaurant and installs him as chef so Garrett can move to another city.
What follows is kind of a disaster, to be honest. Garrett is IMHO is either on the autism spectrum or has a mental health issue, and seems to be undiagnosed. Neither dude has a framework for understanding some of his reactions. He also has zero relationship skills, especially with regard to actually talking about anything. But of course, he and Carlo start sleeping together. They’re the most important people in each other’s lives, but Carlo is convinced it’s all doomed because Garrett doesn’t do relationships. (Granted, this pushes him to some personal and professional growth that he probably did need, so okay.) I was intensely struck by the talking-to Carlo finally gets from someone in his life that helps him see Garrett’s motivations more clearly. It felt like so much clicked into place once Carlo could really SEE Garrett instead of a distorted picture through a lens of what love and relationships are supposed to look like. Very compassionate and distinctive, with an HEA that really fit the characters.
Content warning: Garrett has issues with food. He does end up seeing a therapist for this and other reasons.
“Miss Chloe Fong has plans for her life, lists for her days, and absolutely no time for nonsense. Three years ago, she told her childhood sweetheart that he could talk to her once he planned to be serious. He disappeared that very night.
Except now he’s back. Jeremy Wentworth, the Duke of Lansing, has returned to the tiny village he once visited with the hope of wooing Chloe. In his defense, it took him years of attempting to be serious to realize that the endeavor was incompatible with his personality.
All he has to do is convince Chloe to make room for a mischievous trickster in her life, then disclose that in all the years they’ve known each other, he’s failed to mention his real name, his title… and the minor fact that he owns her entire village.”
What the blurb for this book doesn’t tell you is that Chloe Fong’s one goal in life is for her family’s cooking sauce company to succeed. So many lovely scenes of her and father preparing food together here, and some hilarious uses of said food to communicate important truths to Jeremy.
A fun, sexy, but still emotionally real opposites attract romance between former bad boy bartender Jamie Donovan, who’s struggling to get out from under his reputation and expand his family’s restaurant, and restaurant management professor and consultant Olivia Bishop, who desperately needs to shake off her internalization of her cheating ex’s judgment that she’s no fun.
I adored how these two characters, both of whom desperately needed someone to take them seriously in very different ways, were able to connect and validate each other. There were plenty of realistic obstacles, because Dahl is great at taking characters who trip themselves (and each other) up due to their baggage, then giving them external factors that also interfere in their relationship. Love wins the day, though, because duh romance novel, and the unlikely pair turns out to be a perfect fit. My favorite thing about this is Jamie’s emotional complexity and the journey he begins here to trust others and forgive himself. Ten out of five stars for the lack of a magic wand that fixes all his issues.
Content warning: There is a character who was (off-page) raped by coercion, does not want to label it as such, and the character they tell about it very respectfully does not push the issue. It’s clear to all characters, though, including the victim, what happened. I was pleased that the author treated the topic with such care.
Note: Keiran is bi.
“After a public meltdown over her breakup from her cheating musician boyfriend, Cherisse swore off guys in the music industry, and dating in general for a while, preferring to focus on growing her pastry chef business.
When Cherisse’s younger sister reveals she’s getting married in a few months, Cherisse hopes that will distract her mother enough to quit harassing her about finding a guy, settling down and having kids. But her mother’s matchmaking keeps intensifying.
Cherisse tries to humour her mother, hoping if she feigns interest in the eligible bachelors she keeps tossing her way, she’ll be off the hook, but things don’t quite go as planned. Turns out for the first time in ages, she and Keiran King, the most annoying man ever, are on the island at the same time. Avoiding him is impossible, especially when Keiran’s close friend is the one marrying her sister, and he’s the best man to her maid of honour.
Keiran doesn’t know what to make of Cherisse now. They’ve always butted heads. To him she’s always been a stuck-up brat who seeks attention, even while he secretly harbored a crush on her. Now with Cherisse’s sister marrying one of his good friends he can’t escape her as the wedding activities keep throwing them together.
When things turn heated after a rainy night of bedroom fun, they both have to figure out if they can survive the countdown to wedding day, without this turning into a recipe for disaster.”
I adore novellas even when the characters take a while to figure out if there are really sparks between them, so I really enjoyed this butch-femme story. Jules just wants to grow herbs on her lil farm and make nice meals for Kath! She just has to believe she can have that life!
“Twenty years ago, Jules Saxby-Blake was famous, starring in a popular reality TV show with her beautiful girlfriend, Vienna. She dreamed of a life in the country with her beloved, but Vienna had different ideas and soon broke her heart, took her money, and disappeared to America. Since then, Jules has hidden away on her farm, lonely and damaged.
When her accountant is revealed to have cooked the books and stolen what was left of her savings she turns to a local firm to help her work out if her business can stay afloat. Kath Wilson, recently arrived from London to escape her own sorrows, discovers things are even worse than they’d feared, but offers to help.
As the big reunion show looms, Jules is drawn to Kath, who is as gorgeous as she is kind. But can she struggle free from the pain that has kept her trapped all these years, and begin to trust another woman again?
With Spring comes new hope and new chances, if Jules can begin to believe in them – and in herself.”
And that’s the list!