Hey, U! We’ve hit the 21st letter in the alphabet! Is everyone still hanging in there? It’s been a uniquely fun, unusually time-consuming blogging month…but I am so glad I signed up for the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. Now, onto the letter of the day, brought to you by this tall, dark and delicious guy:
(And the cupcakes look pretty good, too.)
Gimme a U! Gimme an S! Gimme an E! Gimme an N! Usen, Usen, Usen! Today I’m shaking my pompoms and grinding my pepper mill in celebration of Amanda Usen‘s debut culinary romance, Scrumptious! Amanda is the brains behind the dreamy hero who inspired the cover, as well as the signature tall, dark and delicious chocolate cheesecake her heroine creates in the book.
Grab a fork and let’s dig in, shall we?
While I am not your typical romance reader, I do appreciate a good love story and I adore books with a culinary slant. Paired together like a fine wine with cheese and written as solidly as a 3-star Michelin review, Scrumptious is the perfect combination of heart and heat.
When I think about the words “food” and “cooking”, certain descriptors come to mind: home, comfort, warmth, luxurious, transporting, decadent. Now who wouldn’t want to apply each of these when thinking about their attraction, both mentally and physically, to their ideal mate? Great chefs will tell you that cooking is chemistry, but it’s also an art. And the same could be said for love…do you sense a pattern in my thinking?
Usen plays up the pattern delightfully, pairing up a “love ’em and leave ’em pastry chef” with a “cocky superstar” chef-for-hire. Marly and Joe vie for bragging rights in the kitchen of Chameleon, a restaurant owned by their mutual dear friend, Olivia. A kitchen, I might add, that has been turned upside down and run into the ground by Olivia’s philandering husband, Keith. Joe was only passing through town on his way to fulfill his mother’s two deathbed requests: to dry his father out, and to find a “nice” girl to settle down with once he took his dream job out West. He stays on temporarily as a favor to Olivia, which sets Marly’s temper (and her desire) higher than a torch caramelizing a crème brûlée. Not only has Joe taken over her rightful place back on the hot line, but he puts her in her place by turning her advances down cold.
Marly is just Joe’s type – feisty, fun and ready to roll. She’s not shy with her passion for food, or her passion, period. But she’s appears to be exactly what his mother had begged him to give up. He abstains…but only for so long. It was fun to watch Marly and Joe succumb to each other’s culinary delights, as well as to their prowess in other skills outside the kitchen.
But strange things are afoot at Chameleon. The subplot involving sabotage within the ranks at the restaurant had me totally immersed. I don’t want to give away the farm, but there is high stakes poker, mob men and an Italian grandma with a secret of her own before Usen wraps up this clever tale. And let’s not forget the pig roast!
I think what I savored most of all was the behind-the-scenes kitchen action and the ease with which Marly and Joe handle it. There is a sexiness and a confidence in the way they man (and woman) their stations, along with a genuine love for the food, and for the restaurant they fight to keep afloat.
Usen readily admits she enjoys chocolate cheesecake for breakfast, and she had a hot chef steal her own heart: the day her husband walked into class on their first day of school at the Culinary Institute of America. By day, Amanda teaches pastry arts classes and by night, she’s writing romance and cooking up lots of laughs with her husband and kids.
As pleased as I am to dish about her debut novel with you here, I am utterly thrilled to tell you THERE’S MORE! Luscious, the second sizzling book in Amanda Usen’s series, is due out in July!
Ultra-yummy bonus: Amanda shares her recipe for the Mocha Rum Cheesecake that knocked Joe’s socks off in the book!