Amber is a chef in the throes of a sticky divorce who has quite enough on her plate (and the plates of her customers) without the terror of working for a wunderkind-slash-horrendous-dictator celebrity chef. So, because this is chick lit and the inevitable is, well, inevitable, that's just where she finds herself, landing a new job in the kitchen of Oscar Retford.
The book is well researched, or at least appears that way to the lay reader, and I learnt a lot about kitchen life from it. Unfortunately the descriptions of the food were less appetizing and seemed horribly wrong for the flitty genre of chick lit, complete with graphic pictures of porcine snouts and poor little bunnies ready to be skinned. It wasn't just my vegetarian sensibilities that objected I'm sure.
The book morphs into the familiar tale of a woman torn between two men, and pinging from work commitments to friendship commitments and back again. In this case the trouser-shaped offerings are utterly predictable - hot-tempered Oscar and her soon to be ex husband Dom - but what was less obvious was why the former would even be interested in her. She talks about her figure in a self-depreciating manner, and her behavior in the kitchen never gets much better than wishy washy, from her approach to dealing with staff conflicts to her insistence on, but inability to deliver, innovative vegetarian options on the menu. It seemed like a paltry attempt to endear herself to the non-meat-eating readers but it didn't work.
Characters are a funny thing, and even when the book is clearly set up so you know who you are supposed to be rooting for, the writing can sometimes rub you up the wrong way and make someone else more appealing. My mother, borrowing this after me, took a shine to the plain and pedantic Marcia while I grew fond of Oscar, proving once again that some girls just love a bad boy. I also wanted to know more about evil ex-wife Lydia, but she wasn't fleshed out at all, almost as if Amber knew we might like her a bit too much if we knew anything about her. There were also clear parallels between the characters and well known names, from the Sunday Times reviewer being a thinly veiled version of AA Gill (whose column I adore) to Oscar having Heston Blumental's obsession with blood combined with Gordon Ramsey's temper.
I kept reading and didn't struggle to keep up with the writing, so for that reason would recommend it as an easy read with only a few oddities (she harps on about hailing from Stockport, a city I know well, but makes no distinct references to it even when she visits, so a fictional hometown would have worked just as well; the title has absolutely no bearing whatsoever to the story, and the blurb on the back reads as if it could refer to another story). But, as for whether I would want to read it again, I'd have to say probably not, unless I could physically climb into the pages and give Amber a good hard slap.
In the end, I read it all without giving up, and it's only really when pondering for review purposes that I started to form a proper opinion of it, as it was quite forgettable and didn't leave a lasting impression on me. If I'm being kind, I'd say I liked it but I didn't love it. If I'm being mean, I'd say wait until it hits the charity shop shelves, because that's where it's headed.
This review first appeared on www.TheBookbag.co.uk If you must, you can currently get copies for £4.33 new/delivered from Amazon, or on Kindle for £3.99
Take one newly single woman: At thirty-one, Amber is being bombarded with wedding invitations just as she's collecting her divorce papers - and her bossy best friend has gone one step further and made her chief bridesmaid. It's high time Amber regained control of her life. Add a passionate and fiery celebrity cook: Amber's joy at landing herself a coveted role in Oscar Retford's kitchen soon fades as she discovers Oscar is as famous for his furious temper and addiction to firing people as he is for the legendary meals he creates. Turn up the heat: But as passions start to run high, and her past catches up with her, it looks like Amber's cooked up a recipe for disaster ...
I have to admit this is a book that wasn't on my radar for a while, I had read Eleanor Moran's debut novel Stick or Twist and enjoyed it, but didn't get around to reading her second book which Leah did do and enjoyed it. When I saw the book cover, I thought it was lovely with the blue and black shadows, yet I actually loved the proof copy even more, and I'm not sure why the publishers didn't go for that. It was bright pink as opposed to the blue, and it just looked far more eye-catching and attractive to me. Ah well, I'm sure a lot of decision went into the blue, so that's what we are left with! I've only previously read one book set in a kitchen, Miriam Morrison's Recipe for Disaster, so I was looking forward to seeing if this one would be a good read too.
I have to say it took me a good while to get into the book. I didn't find the character of Amber very likeable at first, it's not that she was horrible or anything like that, I just couldn't relate to her and I just didn't like her so much. Amber is a talented chef who is working in a bit of a dead end job but desperate to get a job working for a big time chef. She's just getting divorced from her husband after she found out he was cheating on her, so she's a bit of an emotional wreck as well. When she does get a job working for Oscar Retford, she's thrilled but realises what hard work it is going to be. Soon, the inevitable happens and Amber finds herself falling for Oscar, despite not wanting to get involved with her boss. I felt it was a bit of a cliché but was willing to give it a go.
The character of Oscar was horrible, I completely disliked him from the start and couldn't understand for the life of me why understand why Amber fell for him. Moran writes him a bit like Gordon Ramsay in real life - arrogant, rude, horrible to staff but ultimately very good at what he does. However, I was kind of egging Amber on to get back in contact with her ex, I felt like things were unfinished and thought she was rushing into things with Oscar because of lust. Moran has really done her research with the cooking side of things, there is a good amount of technical detail about cooking, life in a bustling and busy kitchen and other things food related too. There were a few scenes that actually grossed me out, pigs heads being one of them, I actually was nearly sick, it was that disgusting and a bit unnecessary as well I felt. Most things are more tolerable, but I just felt that particular bit was out of place and over the top for my liking.
I've read a few things about this book, saying it's a hilarious and a gag a minute but I have to be honest and say I didn't really laugh out loud at all. I didn't think it was funny at all, if you want laugh out loud comedy I'd go for someone like Jane Costello or Jemma Forte, this certainly doesn't deliver on the laughs at all. The story was a bit of a cliché for me, things went as I predicted but I did like ending if I am honest, it seemed right to end the way it did. I didn't really like many of the characters, they weren't likeable people and I didn't like how Amber and Oscar's relationship carried on, she couldn't see him for what he really was. It was a good enough read but I can't say I was especially taken by it. The writing style was good and moved the book along at a good pace, but there was just something about it that didn't click for me personally.
ISBN: 978-0751545494. Published by Sphere on 21st July 2011. Pages: 416. RRP: £6.99.
Thank you to the publishers for sending me a copy to review for http://chicklitreviews.com
Thank you for reading.