Vic reviews Love & Other Disasters by Anita Kelly

the cover of Love and Other Disasters

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Did I initially buy this book simply because it is a romance between a queer woman and a nonbinary person, and the cover looks like me (a queer woman) and my partner (a nonbinary person)? Perhaps. But I have recently found myself in a phase where I just want to read queer romances, so as it turns out, buying this book was a great choice, and now, having actually read it, I stand by it even more.

Love & Other Disasters by Anita Kelly is a cooking competition-based romance. As they compete on the fictional reality show Chef’s Special, Dahlia Woodson and London Parker grow closer, finding an immense amount of chemistry and heat between them. Amid the competition and their deepening feelings for each other, they also grapple with Dahlia’s guilt and insecurities relating to her recent divorce, the transphobic trolls who want to see the openly nonbinary London fail, and of course the fact that either one of them could be sent home at any time.

The romance between Dahlia and London was a lot of fun and very sexy (though unfortunately my asexual ass cannot comment in any detail on the actual quality of the steamy scenes). It was a lot of fun to see them growing closer both during the actual events of the competition and outside of it. Their shenanigans and their banter made me laugh, and it never felt out of place when the silly moments turned into more serious conversations. I did find myself frustrated by the conflict near the end, but overall I felt it was dealt with well enough, and as I read the epilogue, I did not care about my previous frustration at all.

The one problem I did have is with the secondary characters, all of whom felt underutilized to me. In particular, I would have liked to get to know the other competitors a little better. There wasn’t much weight when someone would get sent home, even when we are told they were friends with either Dahlia or London, because the reader barely saw them at all. In one case, a supposed friend was sent home without having ever spoken on the page before that. It is London and Dahlia’s story before all else, of course, but sometimes it felt like they were the only real characters in the book.

On a more positive note, however, I did really enjoy the effort the book took to make this book remain safe for the presumably largely LGBTQ+ readers. While London does encounter transphobia from their father, a fellow competitor, and the audience, almost none of it is actually shown on the page. When London checks social media after the show has started airing, for example, we are told that there are hateful messages among them, but the only messages we read are the ones from people saying how happy and hopeful it made them feel to see London being themself on national TV, or how they or a family member hadn’t understood what nonbinary meant before seeing London and now they do. Those little moments of hope and connection were what really made the book for me, even a little bit beyond London and Dahlia’s relationship.

While I did have some minor quibbles with this book, I am so glad to have read it, and more than that, I am so glad that it exists in the world for other people to read it. Anita Kelly’s Love & Other Disasters is funny and sweet and steamy, filled with all of the joy and hope that LGBTQ+ readers deserve.