Too Hot To Touch, by Louisa Edwards

>> Sunday, June 09, 2013

TITLE: Too Hot To Touch
AUTHOR: Louisa Edwards

PAGES: 368
PUBLISHER: St. Martin's

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: 1st in the Rising Star Chef series

When it comes to competitive cooking, Max Lunden is no stranger to winning…though he’s never been great at working with a team. A master chef—and major hunk—he’s traveled the world, picking up new cooking techniques as well as beautiful women. But when the prodigal chef returns home to his family’s Greenwich Village restaurant, he discovers one too many cooks in the kitchen—and she’s every bit as passionate as he is…

Juliet Cavanaugh used to have a crush on Max when she was just a teenager, hanging out at Lunden & Sons Tavern, hoping to catch a glimpse of the owner’s oldest, and hottest, son. Now a chef herself—competing in the biggest culinary contest in the country—Juliet will be cooking side by side with the one man she’s always admired…and desired. But despite their simmering attraction, Juliet is determined to keep her cool—no matter how hot it gets…
I had very mixed feelings about the first Louisa Edwards book I tried, Can't Stand The Heat. I gave it a C, since I despised the unethical, stupid heroine, but I liked pretty much everything else. Hoping to find more of what I loved and that the previous heroine was an exception, I decided to try another one. Too Hot To Touch starts a series based on a cooking competition, which is only loosely related to the trilogy which started with Can't Stand The Heat.

When Juliet Cavanaugh was a teenager, her mother kicked her out of the house. She was rescued by her best friend Danny's family. The Lundens took her in, and she now works at their family restaurant. Unfortunately, the restaurant hasn't been doing well, and Juliet is desperate to help save it. They've come up with a plan to save it, by participating in and winning a big cooking competition (which sounded to me as foolproof an idea as buying a lottery ticket and hoping that'll do it), and key to winning is Max Lunden's participation. Juliet had a massive crush on Max as a teen and isn't ecstatic at the idea of having to work with him, but for the Lundens, she'll do it.

Max left home years earlier, after too many fights with a father who refused to consider any of his ideas for the restaurant. He's spent all that time travelling around the world, immersing himself in different culinary cultures and doing apprenticeship after apprenticeship with chefs who are the best in the world at what they do. As the book starts, Max has just nabbed the most amazing apprenticeship ever, so his mum's request to go back home to help comes at an inopportune time. Max decides to heed her call, but makes it clear he needs to leave for Italy right after he gets the Lunden's team through the first stage of the contest.

*sigh* It's a fun plot, and I loved the idea of the cooking competition (if not so much the execution). There's even good family drama, in Max's fraught relationship with his father. It was the romance which brought this down.

Mainly, I just couldn't feel the connection between Juliet and Max. Right from the beginning, there was much too much emphasis on the sex. The moment Max comes back he goes after Juliet, hard and in what I thought was a pretty smarmy way. And she's powerless to resist, even though she tells herself she should, that he'll just be leaving in a month, all because she once had a crush on him. I can buy that sometimes, if the author really does show me the desperate wanting and attraction. The problem was that I didn't feel the chemistry at all here, so not only did I feel Juliet was a weak idiot, I was uninvolved by all their goings-on and tempted to skim. I just didn't buy that they were so hot for each other, so in effect, it was basically two strangers groping each other and risking their team's fate in the competition for absolutely no good reason. I wanted more of the other stuff, the competition, the family drama, and all I was getting was dull scenes of what felt like completely inappropriate sexual content.

As I mentioned earlier, much as I liked the idea of the contest, I was a bit iffy on the execution. It felt a bit too driven by the need to develop the secondary romance (between two of the judges, which I'm expecting will continue throughout the trilogy), and I didn't buy it for a second. Am I really supposed to believe the judges would not have met at all before the qualifying round, and would basically go from handshakes to judging within minutes? Seeing how perfectionist Claire (half of that 2ndary romance) was, and her position as head judge, I refuse to believe that she would have been so relaxed about letting the other judges (especially Kane, the other half) come up with their own questions without her vetting them first.

So, not really a success, and I think I'm done with Edwards, no matter how wonderful her books sound.



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