The Sweetest Seduction, by Christa McHugh

>> Tuesday, August 19, 2014

TITLE: The Sweetest Seduction
AUTHOR: Christa McHugh

PAGES: 200
PUBLISHER: Self-published

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: 1st in the Kelly Brothers series

Never, ever, mix business with pleasure...

Lia Mantovani has created one of the hottest restaurants on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, but all that could disappear if she loses her lease with Kelly Properties. Having had her dreams ripped away from her before, she’ll do everything in her power to keep her restaurant. Her fate hangs on the whims of the frustratingly handsome Adam Kelly.

Adam has spent years trying to convince world famous chef Amadeus Schlittler to open a restaurant in Chicago, but he wants the prime location held by Lia. Business has always come first… until sparks fly when Adam meets her. When things get hot outside the kitchen, though, they’re both in danger of getting burned.

I mainly read this one because another of McHugh's books came to my attention. The Heart's Game sounded interesting, with its robotics engineer heroine and "gamer-geek" hero. However, when I looked it up on amazon I noticed that book 1 in the series was free, so I thought I'd read that one first and see how I liked McHugh's voice.

Lia Mantovani is a chef whose innovative take on classic Italian cooking has made her restaurant a success in a very short time. She's managed to sublet a venue in a really exclusive and gourmet part of town, and since the original contract is coming to an end, she's looking forward to renewing the lease. With the restaurant doing so well, there shouldn't be an issue.

And there wouldn't be if Adam Kelly, the guy who runs the company that owns the property, didn't have other plans for the venue. Adam's been courting an international celebrity chef, and the latter demands a great venue in the very area Lia's restaurant is in before he'll deign to consider Adam's offer. Unfortunately for Lia, her restaurant is the only one amongst Adam's tenants in the area that has a lease ending soon.

The meeting where Adam breaks the news to Lia isn't made any less awkward by the fact that, until that very moment, neither had realised that the other was the person they'd met the night before. Adam's mother had won a meal cooked by Lia in the winner's own home in a charity auction, and Adam and his brothers were there too. Instant chemistry, followed by a make-out session in Adam's yacht that didn't end up in a one-night-stand only because a policeman decided to check everything was ok (brandishing a very bright searchlight).

This didn't start well. It was all instant infatuation and really heavy and constant mental lusting, which just felt forced. Their actions (at Adam's mother's, with all the other brothers smirking at what was clearly about to happen) felt inappropriate and uncomfortable, rather than hot. And then Lia's reaction the next day when Adam turned up at her restaurant felt just as inappropriate, when she was much too explicit about her sex life to her employees.

Things improved a bit afterwards, though. There were a few things that could have turned into Big Misunderstandings, but Adam and Lia actually talked about them and cleared things up, which I found refreshing (no, the lady who came for dinner with Adam wasn't a date, but a friend who happens to be a food critic, and no, Lia didn't try to poison Adam on purpose; she didn't know he was allergic to prawns. She just thought he disliked them and thought she'd prove how good she was by using them to cook a wonderful dish he'd love).

But for all that, I never really connected with the characters and the romance. It didn't help that the plot about the restaurant was really badly done (the scene where the asshole Austrian chef pitches a fit in Lia's restaurant was a particularly preposterous moment, and so was the "Board meeting" afterwards). I was getting bored and annoyed in equal measures. It's a short book and I was already two thirds in, so I probably would have finished it if I hadn't got to a particular scene that made me instantly delete the book from my kindle.

It's not something huge or offensive. It will probably sound picky to some of you, but it's something that I felt embodied the type of exagerated silliness that I was finding here (and also kind of illustrated the direction in which so many contemporaries are going and which I detest). So, Adam and Lia are looking at a photograph of all the Kelly brothers, and Adam tells her about them. First of all, there are 7, which seems like a really calculated sequel-bait thing that felt completely manipulative (strangely, I never got annoyed like this with Julia Quinn for having 8 Bridgertons). And then Adam tells Lia what they do: a pro hockey player, a pilot in the Air Force, a surgeon, the lead singer in a hot, multi-platinum rock band, a professional American football player, and then the one who's Hollywood's hottest leading man and heartthrob. Oh, and finally Adam, Mr. Big Deal businessman, running the multi-million family business. Oh, FFS, give me a break. It's the calculated WTFery and the obvious romance novelist focus-group nature of the list that made me so annoyed and turned me off completely. Nope, not for me.

Shame, because some of the elements of the story had potential (and I approved of McHugh's pairing of steak with chimichurri with an Argentinian Malbec). Not enough for me to want to bother finishing this, though.



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