Kalyanii reviews Starting from Scratch by Georgia Beers

 

starting from scratch

An author skilled at her craft has a way of holding a mirror to the psyche of her reader – which is often not the most comfortable of experiences, as enlightening as it may be – and, Georgia Beers is no exception. In fact, while writing in the seemingly innocuous genre of lesbian romance, Ms. Beers adeptly yet inconspicuously infiltrates our inner mechanisms, unearthing the rustiest bits and pushing buttons we forgot we even had.

Graphic designer by day and avid baker by night, Avery King doesn’t miss a single wayward glance, much less the passing of an appreciable hourglass figure. If truth be told, she even admits to a tendency to drool, which she deems not worth the effort controlling – especially in the presence of Elena Walker, the manager of her local bank branch, who it turns out may have the additional tie or two to her daily life. Yet, Avery hasn’t dated much since the demise of her relationship with Lauren, who continues to call every couple of weeks to catch up on the latest, generous enough, at one point, to share the news that she has decided to have a baby so many months after Avery put the kibosh on the idea back when they were still together.

It’s not that Avery doesn’t like children. Her best friend Maddie and even her own grandmother, who raised her from the age of four, contend she is quite good with them. She’s simply uncomfortable making conversation with the little crumb snatchers and has never envisioned motherhood in the grand scheme of things, given the residue from her own early childhood. It’s a moot point, really, when one spends her off-time alone, attempting to elicit the affection of her pampered shelter-adopted terrier, Stephen King, while baking muffins and other sweet treats to bring into the office the following morning, is it not?

With knee surgery and several weeks of rehab looming, Maddie discovers that she’s neglected to consider her obligation to coach within the upcoming season’s youth tee-ball league. Given that, back in the day, Avery professed owing Maddie and her wife, J.T., big time after they helped to extricate her from her toxic pre-Lauren ex, Maddie decides that it’s time to cash in on the favor. After ample protesting, Avery resignedly agrees to lead practices until Maddie is able to return, presumably in time for the team’s first game.

Days later, while Maddie is rehabbing and quickly tiring of the requisite rest and relaxation, she relieves her boredom by taking it upon herself to create an online dating profile for her friend, which miffs Avery to no end, in spite of the fact that Maddie’s initiative has generated a handful of viable prospects. Most notably, Pinot72, a single mom who works in finance, captures Avery’s attention; and, in the midst of one of several rounds of chat, she startles to a knock on her door.

Yes, Starting from Scratch is an endearing love story. There are titillation and intrigue, sexual tension and moments smack on the cusp of heartbreak; yet, it is the exploration of what it means to navigate a relationship with a woman devoted to her young son when childrearing was never part of the plan that gives the meat, the savoriness, to the otherwise toothsome sweetness of a burgeoning romance.

As for the mirror held, Avery’s over-the-top lustfulness would have easily resonated with me ten years ago, when I was in my early thirties, fresh out of a heaven-and-hell-bent relationship, or even last summer, when I (in not my finest moment) assumptively slid into bed, after several incredibly delicious glasses of cabernet, beside Julia, my best friend from way back when; but, in the present, Avery’s acute awareness of the female form struck me as undermining to her other assets – her intelligence, creativity and generosity of spirit. And, as the mother of a now twenty-something, highly-evolved, metrosexual male, I could identify all too well with the varied perspectives on the parenting issue. After all, I once had a small child to consider, have lost a fair number of loves, had at one point determined that both I and my son would have fared better had I sworn off dating altogether during his formative years and, now, if honest with myself, doubt I’d be up for taking on the challenges of motherhood once again.

But, then, I remember what it was to love such a precious being, to take in the scent at the nape of his neck….

Fortunately, the novel was nearing its conclusion as the baby cravings began.

I’ve got to hand it to Ms. Beers. Within Starting from Scratch, she’s created a remarkable narrative that extends far beyond the parameters of lesbian romance and straight into the glorious muck of compelling literary fiction. I’m quite certain I’m not the only one who has been given pause by her wordsmithing, for I can only imagine the number of relationships that have been touched by the gleaming shards of wisdom interwoven within this thoughtful tale as well as the multitude of women who have benefitted from the gentle prodding to contemplate that which was once beyond the realm of consideration, much less possibility.

Ms. Beers, “just” romance writer? I think not.

Anna M reviews For the Love of Cake by Erin Dutton

fortheloveofcake

Erin Dutton’s latest book, For the Love of Cake, is set in a reality show competition that pits pastry chefs against one another for the ultimate prize: sweet victory. I confess, I would have read it for the title alone: my love for cake is just that powerful. I read an advance copy of the novel, which was published in February, through Netgalley.

For the Love of Cake features Shannon Hayes, a talented second-career pastry chef who is trying to earn a big break playing the reality show game. She’s also had a longstanding crush on one of the competition’s judges, Maya Vaughn. Maya was the winner of the show’s inaugural season, and has been brought back this year to revive interest in the show. She’s also a well-known bisexual playgirl who has recently gotten tabloid attention for her presumed abortion.

Shannon, an adoptive mother and expectant grandmother, isn’t quite sure what to make of Maya in person, other than confirming that she is, in fact, incredibly attractive. As Maya and Shannon get to know each other, it’s clear the attraction is mutual, although there are very clear rules about judges fraternizing with contestants that prevent them from doing much more than moonstruck looking and exchanging flirtatious comments for the bulk of the novel. Will they ever have a chance at a real relationship? Will Shannon win the competition? What about the abortion hullabaloo and the prying paparazzi? And what about the cake?

The difficulties I had getting in to this book had more to do with the subplot, which follows up on characters from Dutton’s earlier food-based romance, A Place to Rest. Not having read the previous book, I found myself irritated each time I was pulled away from Shannon and Maya’s developing romance to check in with Sawyer and Jori and see how they were dealing with their relationship stresses. I would have preferred a separate book with their after happily ever after report, and more focus on the progression of Shannon and Maya’s relationship and perhaps some of their own aftermath. The structure of the reality show competition also made it so that the physical intimacy between the leads was long delayed (not necessarily a bad thing!)–however, having no emotional investment in Sawyer and Jori, I didn’t care whether or not they were having a good time.

I think I’ve read at least one other book by Dutton (it may have been Fully Involved?), but my reaction to it is lost to the mists of time. I enjoyed the reality show aspects and romantic tension of For the Love of Cake, but not the secondary characters, so would advise readers to pick up A Place to Rest before slicing in to For the Love of Cake, for the sake of continuity if nothing else.

Anna M can most often be found on Twitter: @helgagrace.