Dishing it Out, by Molly O'Keefe

>> Monday, June 18, 2007

TITLE: Dishing it Out
AUTHOR: Molly O'Keefe

COPYRIGHT: 2005
PAGES: 218
PUBLISHER: Harlequin Flipside

SETTING: Contemporary San Francisco
TYPE: Series Romance
SERIES: Follows Pencil Him In, which is about the heroine's sister.

REASON FOR READING: Bought it because of the review at AAR.

Slaving over a hot stove had taught Marie Simmons a thing or two—like not letting another cook steal her thunder! If it took her last chocolate chip (okay, second to last—a girl can't give away all the chocolate!) she had to find some way to foil Van MacAllister—a gourmet's flavor du jour—her new co-host on a cooking show. With some careful planning the only sizzle the audience would see would be from the steak, not the hunk.

Of course, she feels a soup of guilt at first because he really is a talented chef. And by the time they get to the appetizers it finally dawns on her that the, um, "to-die-for dish" on their show just might be the man himself!
THE PLOT: Chef Marie Simmons' cooking segment at a local morning show has finally become a hit, which she hopes will mean good things for her struggling restaurant. Understandably proud of what she's managed to build, she's not amused when the show's producer tells her they want to bring in a cohost. And it's even worse: the man they want to bring in is her bĂȘte noir, the chef who outbid her for the location she wanted for her restaurant, who keeps her awake every night with jazz bands playing at his place and who called her bistro a "cute little coffee shop" in a newspaper interview.

But Van MacAllister isn't nearly as awful as Marie expected, and she finds herself working quite well with him. The sizzling chemistry between them makes their show wildly successful, and Marie will have to make some hard decisions about trust.

MY THOUGHTS: Given Marie's reaction to Van calling her restaurant cute, I'm almost afraid to say the same thing about this book. But it is, it's very charming and yes, very cute. Believe me, I'm not damning it with faint praise. Good cute is not easy to do and I really like it when it's done well, as it is here. It's got fun characters and a sense of humour that really appealed to me.

I was a bit worried when I started the book because the first pages seemed to indicate a romance based on a very adversarial relationship, full of one-upmanship and each trying to sabotage the other. Fortunately, both Marie and Van (and especially Marie) got over that quite quickly. Maybe a little too quickly, come to think of it, because we didn't really get much in between Marie being determined to make Van regret horning in on her program and her trying to help him navigate the first make-up session, or between Van dismissing Marie as not being a "real" chef and his professing to admire her tremendously. Short book, with no space to do that, I guess.

No matter, it was a development in the right direction, and I enjoyed their relationship much more once they started working well together. The issues they ended up having to overcome to be together were much more interesting than fight, fight, fight. Marie has a huge problem with trusting people, stemming from her past (which I imagine I would have appreciated even more if I'd read Pencil Him In), and she has to get over that if she wants her relationship with Van to survive.

I liked Marie, and I liked Van even more. He really is just endearing. I especially liked that this isn't an all-powerful, all-confident alpha guy, but a man who has some doubts and is still struggling with the first months of his restaurant. He's not this immensely successful businessman (yet!) and he needs this TV show quite a bit, which does give Marie some power over him.

About that humour... Flipside notwithstanding, this is not really a hilarious book. And honestly, that was fine with me. Its humour is of the low key variety, with not a pratfall or ridiculous situation to be seen. What it did have was plenty of quirky observations and events and internal monologues that had me smiling. Just as an example, one of my favourite parts of the book was when Van gets an attack of stage fright in the middle of their first live appearance. He doesn't actually do much (he certainly doesn't come out of the scene humiliated or looking ridiculous), but what's going through his mind as he sits there, frozen, is excellently done. His paranoid thoughts about the little red lights staring at him, his worries about how big his nose has suddenly become and that it's now casting a shadow over everything... it probably doesn't sound like much as I write it here, but in the book it's funny, funny, funny.

MY GRADE: A B-.

NOTES: This book made me hungry. I want to go have lunch at Marie and Van's restaurants.

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