Book Review: Love à la Mode

love a la modeLove à la Mode
by Stephanie Kate Strohm
Young Adult/Romance/Contemporary Fiction
323 pages
Published November 2018

I’m a baker. I absolutely love baking, it centers me when I’m being scatter-brained and grounds me when I’m in a bad mood. So I instantly identified with Rosie in this novel, who wants to be a pastry chef, currently at a culinary school that focuses more on cooking savory things. I’ve been there. Granted, my culinary school was basically a crash course two-year program at a community college, not “the most prestigious cooking program for teens in the entire world” but I identify with the feeling of being a fish not-quite-out of water. I’d also never seen this put into words before:

“…it was that not knowing that Rosie hated. That was why she loved baking. Baking was all knowing. If you followed the recipe, you got exactly what you intended. An apple pie never surprisingly turned into lemon meringue halfway through the baking process.”

I have some mild anxiety, and I hadn’t realized WHY baking helped, just that it did. But it’s true – baking is about knowing. That quote is in the second chapter, and I knew from then on I was going to love this book. (I was already pretty sure, but that moment drove it home.)

The descriptions of food in this novel – food and cooking, and WHY some people cook – are mouth-watering. I loved seeing the backgrounds of the various culinary students, as they came from all over the world to École Denis Laurent, the prestigious school in Paris. I liked the point made, eventually, that what looks like the “cool kids clique” from outside might not be what it seems. The book even addressed toxic masculinity in the form of Henry’s unwillingness to ask for help from his friends when he was struggling.

At its heart, Love à la Mode is a sweet, fluffy, clean romance with a romantic backdrop of Paris and good food. Sometimes a little bit of happy, lighthearted escapist fiction is what we all need. Especially when it doesn’t neglect representation to do it – there’s only a tiny bit of LGBT+ rep in the book, but the characters come from all kinds of ethnic backgrounds.

From the cover of Love à la Mode:

Take two American teen chefs, add one heaping cup of Paris, toss in a pinch of romance, and stir . . . 

Rosie Radeke firmly believes that happiness can be found at the bottom of a mixing bowl. But she never expected that she, a random nobody from East Liberty, Ohio, would be accepted to celebrity chef Denis Laurent’s school in Paris, the most prestigious cooking program for teens in the entire world. Life in Paris, however, isn’t all cream puffs and crêpes. Faced with a challenging curriculum and a nightmare professor, Rosie begins to doubt her dishes.

Henry Yi grew up in his dad’s restaurant in Chicago, and his lifelong love affair with food landed him a coveted spot in Chef Laurent’s school. He quickly connects with Rosie, but academic pressure from home and his jealousy over Rosie’s growing friendship with gorgeous bad-boy baker Bodie Tal makes Henry lash out and push his dream girl away.

Desperate to prove themselves, Rosie and Henry cook like never before while sparks fly between them. But as they reach their breaking points, they wonder whether they have what it takes to become real chefs.

Perfect for lovers of Chopped Teen Tournament and Kids Baking Championship, as well as anyone who dreams of a romantic trip to France, Love à la Mode follows Rose and Henry as they fall in love with food, with Paris, and ultimately, with each other. 

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Book Review: The Ruins of Lace

ruinsoflaceThe Ruins of Lace
by Iris Anthony
326 pages
Published 2012
Historical Fiction

The Ruins of Lace is told from 7 different points of view, and while at first they appear disconnected, they slowly touch each other, then weave in and out, like lace itself. The story revolves around the creation, sale, and smuggling of banned lace in 17th century France. The points of view are a lacemaker, her sister, a girl who once ruined a pair of lace cuffs, the man who loves her, a lace-smuggling dog, a border guard, and a petty noble fighting for his inheritance.

As much as I’ve read about 17th century France, the clandestine lace trade was one aspect I really didn’t know about, so it was interesting to see how it impacted common folk and nobles alike.

While not as spell-binding as some books I’ve read, The Ruins of Lace was definitely thought-provoking. What drives an otherwise good man to smuggle lace and risk his honor/title/fortune/life? Without the viewpoints of the lacemaker and the smuggler’s dog, you could imagine lace-smuggling to be a victimless crime. Including the viewpoints of those two was brilliant – you can’t say the man who needs the lace isn’t hurting anyone. If there wasn’t such demand for the banned lace, girls wouldn’t sit in convents and go blind making it 24/7.

All in all, a very good book on a little-known aspect of 17th-century France. The differing points of view are a little confusing at first, but once you settle in and know the characters, it’s fairly easy to follow the storyline.

From the back of The Ruins of Lace:

The mad passion for forbidden lace has infiltrated France, pulling soldier and courtier alike into its web. For those who want the best, Flemish lace is the only choice, an exquisite perfection of thread and air. For those who want something they don’t have, Flemish lace can buy almost anything – or anyone. 

For Lisette, lace begins her downfall, and the only way to atone for her sins is to outwit the noble who now demands an impossible length of it. To fail means certain destruction. But for Katharina, lace is her salvation. It is who she is; it is what she does. If she cannot make this stunning tempest of threads, a dreaded fate awaits. 

A taut, mesmerizing story, The Ruins of Lace explores the intricate tangle of fleeting beauty, mad obsession, and ephemeral hope.

Dark Angels by Karleen Koen

darkangelsDark Angels
by Karleen Koen
530 pages
Published 2006
Historical Fiction

I don’t read a lot of historical fiction, but what I do read tends to be based on medieval-to-renaissance England and France. The era of Kings and Queens and courtiers and courtly intrigue. Dark Angels fits solidly into that framework. It’s actually the prequel to a previously published book, Through A Glass Darkly, which I haven’t read yet but definitely will now! Koen weaves a masterfully written tale of a maid of honor to King Charles II of England‘s queen. Alice Verney is incredibly intelligent, cunning, and ambitious. At the same time, she has friends, and she will go out of her way to protect them as long as they don’t betray her. When the Princess of England, her current Lady, falls ill and dies in France, Alice returns to England to a court she hasn’t been part of for two years. Some things have changed, some haven’t, and Alice must muddle her way through politics that have been shaped without her hand in order to find her footing again. Between the raising of a new King’s mistress, a sudden wedding, the murder of a notorious transgender Madam, and the possibility of war, the book is a volatile tale that drew me in and kept me there.

I wrote and scheduled two reviews for this blog, in order to give myself a couple of days to read this longer, more substantial book, and then promptly stayed up until 4 am to finish it in one go! The glittering court of Koen’s imagination held me spellbound from the first page until the last. I loved Alice, then hated her, then loved her again. Koen had me both laughing with Alice and crying with her when tragedy struck. Alice is, at turns, arrogant, vulnerable, jaded, and a girl in love. She is an enchanting protagonist and one I look forward to seeing more of.

If you enjoy historical fiction, if you enjoy reading about the royal courts of England and France, I highly recommend Dark Angels. Koen reminds me of Philippa Gregory, though more vibrant.

From the back of Dark Angels:

Alice Verney is a young woman intent on achieving her dreams. Having left Restoration England in the midst of a messy scandal, she has been living in Louis XIV’s Baroque, mannered France for two years. Now she is returning home to England and anxious to re-establish herself quickly. First, she will regain her former position as a maid of honor to Charles II’s queen. Then she will marry the most celebrated Duke of the Restoration, putting herself in a position to attain power she’s only dreamed of. As a duchess, Alice will be able to make or break her friends and enemies at will.

But all is not as it seems in the rowdy, merry court of Charles II. Since the Restoration, old political alliances have frayed, and there are whispers that the king is moving to divorce his barren queen, who some wouldn’t mind seeing dead.  But Alice, loyal only to a select few, is devoted to the queen, and so sets out to discover who might be making sinister plans, and if her own father is one of them. When a member of the royal family dies unexpectedly, and poison is suspected, the stakes are raised. Alice steps up her efforts to find out who is and isn’t true to the queen, learns of shocking betrayals throughout court, and meets a man that she may be falling in love with – and who will spoil all of her plans. With the suspected arrival of a known poison-maker, the atmosphere in the court electrifies, and suddenly the safety of the king himself seems uncertain. Secret plots are at play, and war is on the horizon – but will it be with the Dutch or the French? And has King Charles himself betrayed his country for greed?