My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Length: 256 pages
Release date: 5 June 2018
Seventeen-year-old Carter Lane has wanted to be a chef since she was old enough to ignore her mom’s warnings to stay away from the hot stove. And now she has the chance of a lifetime: a prestigious scholarship competition in Savannah, where students compete all summer in Chopped style challenges for a full-ride to one of the best culinary schools in the country. The only impossible challenge ingredient in her basket: Reid Yamada.
After Reid, her cute but unbearably cocky opponent, goes out of his way to screw her over on day one, Carter vows revenge, and soon they’re involved in a full-fledged culinary war. Just as the tension between them reaches its boiling point, Carter and Reid are forced to work together if they want to win, and Carter begins to wonder if Reid’s constant presence in her brain is about more than rivalry. And if maybe her desire to smack his mouth doesn’t necessarily cancel out her desire to kiss it.
For me, romance is probably the biggest minefield out of all genres. At rough estimate, I DNF four out of five romance novels that I try to read, and that’s after scrutinising the synopsis to weed out all books with the many tropes that I don’t enjoy. I can count on my two hands the number of romance novels in total that I’ve liked, and on one hand the number of YA novels in any genre where I’ve felt the chemistry between the leads.
That’s frankly a big “it’s not you, it’s me” thing. Every reader simply has such different preferences that it’s nearly impossible to write a romance novel catering to even a majority of people. In contemporary romance, I basically look for two things: One, that the relationship has chemistry; and two, that I can root for the hero/heroine.
I’m saying all of this not because I love going off on tangents, even though I do have the tendency to do so often, but to point out that what I like and dislike about The Art of French Kissing may be the exact opposite of what anyone else likes or dislikes about it.
There’s chemistry between Carter and Reid. It’s an adorable frenemies who should just bang thing, and it’s been done in hundreds of novels before, but if it’s your thing it’s done well. There’s also platonic chemistry (is that a thing? I don’t know, I’m rolling with it) between Carter, Riya, Will and their friends, who are, God forbid, pretty entertaining. The banter is fun if forgettable, the kind of witty pop culture-charged talk that lots of YA contemporaries on the light side incorporate. The humour mostly isn’t of the slapstick variety, which is always a plus in my book.
I’m not sure how plausible it is to throw 24 teenagers in a high-pressure Masterchef copycat and have them figuratively bludgeon each other to death for the prize of a full ride scholarship, but hey, cool concept. That said, the execution could have been a bit more detailed. After a while, all the cooking challenges were sort of glossed over, often addressed in just one sentence telling us the result.
I get that too many scenes of similar processes could get repetitive after a while, but for a book centred around a cooking competition, I wanted to read more about, well, cooking. It’s a common quality of romance novels that non relationship-related things get sidelined, but I would genuinely have been interested in seeing what made Carter such a great chef. Especially because the challenges that we do get to see in full are creatively devious and dramatic, just the kind of thing you’d expect from the juiciest of reality TV.
Remember the second thing that I said I look for in a contemporary romance? That I want to be able to root for the leads? …Yeah. There’s a line between assertiveness and entitlement, and we often draw that line too harshly when we judge fictional heroines, but there’s nowhere I can justify drawing that line so that Carter Lane doesn’t at least sometimes cross to the wrong side of it. Yikes. At risk of sounding unfair, she makes certain choices/thinks in certain ways that are careless at best and entitled at worst.
Yes, Reid fires the first shot in their rivalry, but she responds with revenge that’s way out of proportion and, more importantly, harms Reid’s entire randomly assigned team. Anyone would want revenge after Reid’s initial unprovoked, asshole move, but most people would do it by, I don’t know, bringing it up to the organisers as flat-out cheating? (Or maybe even talking it out like adults, although if that happened, most of these slap-slap-kiss stories would run out of fuel pretty quickly.)
The worst part of this, if you ask me, is that Carter’s general attitude doesn’t change when their rivalry ends. Near the end, she still sort of expects it to all be about her, and never really realises that this is an issue or makes amends for it. It’s supposed to be “all’s well that ends well,” but Carter’s lack of sympathy prevented me from fully enjoying this book. Oh well; if nothing else, it’s preferable to yet another spineless incompetent character.
*Thanks to Sky Pony Press and Edelweiss for providing a review copy of this book! All opinions represented remain my own.*