Recently divorced and on the verge of bankruptcy, Dahlia Woodson is ready to reinvent herself on the popular reality competition show Chef’s Special. Too bad the first memorable move she makes is falling flat on her face, sending fish tacos flying—not quite the fresh start she was hoping for. Still, she’s focused on winning, until she meets someone she might want a future with more than she needs the prize money.
After announcing their pronouns on national television, London Parker has enough on their mind without worrying about the klutzy competitor stationed in front of them. They’re there to prove the trolls—including a fellow contestant and their dad—wrong, and falling in love was never part of the plan.
As London and Dahlia get closer, reality starts to fall away. Goodbye, guilt about divorce, anxiety about uncertain futures, and stress from transphobia. Hello, hilarious shenanigans on set, wedding crashing, and spontaneous dips into the Pacific. But as the finale draws near, Dahlia and London’s steamy relationship starts to feel the heat both in and outside the kitchen—and they must figure out if they have the right ingredients for a happily ever after.
I adored Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake, Alexis Hall’s baking show romance last summer, so I was very excited about another cooking show romance, and TL;DR—this book was everything I could have hoped for and more.
Dahlia and London’s Odd Couple vibe is so charming, and at the risk of sounding too cliché, their differences are the reason they work so well together. There’s also a forced proximity element at play—they aren’t sharing a room with only one bed, but as contestants on a reality show, their mobility is somewhat limited. Of course, they are allowed out in the “real world” (no pun intended), which leads to some of the best scenes in the book.
With so many reality shows out there, there are plenty of elements to pick and choose and Frankenstein together a unique show, but Kelly really knocks it out of the park with Chef’s Special. The worldbuilding is fresh and fun, from the cooking challenges to the personalities of the judges and other contestants.
Speaking of which, there is an antagonist, but she is not given very much on-page time at all. This was a good decision because more interactions with this person would have been needlessly exhausting and taken away from the feel-good atmosphere of the book.
There is some moderate angst that had me wanting to break the fourth wall, but it was a necessary step in order to achieve the growth and introspection needed to achieve the HEA.
I would absolutely recommend Love & Other Disasters. It’s so refreshing to have a non-binary love interest in a romance novel, and having them come out on a cooking reality show validates their gender identity, not just for themselves but for the entire country. There is so much more I could write in this review, like London’s relationship with their father, or how all the cooking made me hungry, or Dahlia’s need for change on the heels of a divorce, but I’m going to end by repeating that this book was everything I could hope for and more.
I received a digital ARC of this book from Forever/NetGalley.