Note: I received a free ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Witty yet gruff British transplant Al is keeping himself employed and entertained by writing scathing reviews of local restaurants in the Milwaukee newspaper under a pseudonym. When an anonymous tip sends him to Luella’s, little does he know he’s arrived on the worst day of the chef’s life. The review practically writes itself: underdone fish, scorched sauce, distracted service—he unleashes his worst.
The day that Al’s mean-spirited review of Luella’s runs, the two cross paths in a pub: Lou drowning her sorrows, and Al celebrating his latest publication. As they chat, Al playfully challenges Lou to show him the best of Milwaukee and she’s game—but only if they never discuss work, which Al readily agrees to. As they explore the city’s local delicacies and their mutual attraction, Lou’s restaurant faces closure, while Al’s column gains popularity. It’s only a matter of time before the two fall in love…but when the truth comes out, can Lou overlook the past to chase her future? (Summary via Amazon.com)
First of all, can we talk about how beautiful this cover is? (You’ll have to search for it on Amazon; I’m changing up all my old pictures. But do it!) The design is just perfect. So lovely. The book, on the other hand, had a few flaws.
As described in the summary, Lou and Al’s relationship starts off with a huge misunderstanding. Al, a reporter, visits Lou’s restaurant the day she dumps her cheating fiance. Of course, the food and service are terrible, and Al writes a sarcastic, scorching review that immediately makes an impact on the restaurant’s business. However, when Al and Lou meet face to face in a pub, neither one knows that their paths have crossed before. Lou offers to show the British transplant the good side of Wisconsin cuisine and culture, and they start to fall in love (of course)–but Al finds out who Lou is and has to make a decision: keep his silence about his work life, or tell the truth and risk losing the woman he loves?
You can see immediately the large number of cliches that are present in this story. While this doesn’t have to ruin a book, it does make it an uphill battle to hold a reader’s interest. One thing above all else, though, nearly ruined my reading experience: the comparison of this book with the classic 90s romcom, You’ve Got Mail.
Growing up, and even now if I’m honest, You’ve Got Mail was one of my favorite romantic movies ever. Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan play to perfection the couple that seems doomed from the start due to irreconcilable differences. But here’s the difference between that story and The Coincidence of Coconut Cake: In You’ve Got Mail, all the time that Kathleen Kelly and Joe Fox spend together is filled with barbed insults and guarded conversations–because they know each other. They both know what the other person has done to destroy their livelihood, so they go into their blossoming relationship with eyes wide open. Sure, Joe finds out before Kathleen that they’ve been communicating online unknowingly, but the pair doesn’t go on dates in happy oblivion, unaware that the other is causing all their problems. When Kathleen says at the end of the movie, “I wanted it to be you,” it’s touching because we know she has seen the worst of this man, and yet she still found the best in him and fell in love with him.
In The Coincidence of Coconut Cake, the story is flipped, and I found it to be a much less satisfying way of telling the tale. There’s much more an air of deception, as Lou and Al start their relationship in the dark about the other’s role in destroying (or boosting) their livelihood, and when Al does find out, he chooses to hide the fact through a series of really quite terrible decisions. Maybe if I hadn’t gone into the book expecting something similar to my favorite cheesy movie, I wouldn’t have been so disappointed.
The story itself is fun and mostly lighthearted, although the more emotional moments tend to fall a little flat. If you like romances that are a little cheesy, light on sexual moments, and full of cliches, you’ll definitely like this one. And I must admit that the food theme is something that almost always draws me in (I have a weak spot for cozy mysteries themed around food, especially). I’m not sorry I read this book, but I doubt I’ll be rereading it anytime soon.
Rating: Good but Forgettable