Heat Factor: There’s a fire in this kitchen
Character Chemistry: He’s a manipulative douchenozzle
Plot: It went some unexpected places
Overall: I was so excited about the premise, but the execution was disappointing
The basic idea behind this book is that when Lumi eats food, she experiences the emotions of the person who cooked it. When she goes to work for a chef with some anger issues, she initially dislikes him, but then she tastes his cooking and it’s magical.
What a cool idea for a book, right? We’ve got some enemies to lovers stuff going on, some fated mates stuff going on (because of course only his cooking has that magical something extra), and some magical realism for good measure.
Sadly, A Taste of Sage fell flat for me.
On an objective, craft level, the food writing was a little off. Santos includes lots of detail about the process of preparing food – what ingredients our protagonists gather together, what tools they use, how they chop and sauté and braise everything. Santos even includes recipes for some of the dishes made, which is fun! I made Coq au Vin with Mamajuana, and it was delicious; then again, chicken cooked in wine is hard to mess up. I will say that I side-eye anyone who makes ratatouille by cutting up vegetables and baking them all together in one casserole dish, because that has NEVER worked for me. (I’m looking at you, Remy the Rat.)
However, Santos includes very little detail about the sensory experience of eating the food, which, given the premise, is a little weird. I want to know specifics about how things taste! How does it feel in her mouth? How do the flavors harmonize – or not? How does her emotional synesthesia interact with the flavors of the food? We get a little of this, but frankly, the fact that this book is not dripping in these kinds of details is a missed opportunity.
My other issue with this book is more about personal preferences. I thought Julien, our hero, was a complete jerk (even after he was supposedly redeemed), and it really killed the romance for me.
Example 1. When Julien and Lumi first meet, he negs her. At first I was like, ok, we’re setting the stage for an enemies to lovers romance. But then we get his perspective on the interaction and he’s all like, I think this complete stranger is cute so I’m going to “tease” (!!!) her by telling her her food is terrible. Just…no.
Example 2. Lumi has an accident and is covered in 3rd degree burns. Julien goes to tend to her, and convinces her to take a walk. (This is the first time she has left her apartment in weeks. Understandably. She has had bandages all over her face.) They walk to his place. She wants to go home, but he’s like, how about you take a shower? And then he walks into the bathroom before she even gets wet and when he sees her naked he’s like, can we please have sex? I’ll be careful. She has blisters on her face and is on a liquid diet because she can’t move her mouth, but she still says yes. That is a dick move, Julien. And even though we are told that she’s into it, I felt deeply uncomfortable by the way this scene played out.
AND THEN! Here’s what happens after the sexytimes start. Reminder: her face and torso are covered in burns.
A thought crossed his mind and he smiled to himself with a glint in his eye. He pushed away from her and stood up behind her.
“Sorry,” he lied. “I got a little carried away.”
She turned to face him, eyeing him seductively. “Come back,” she whispered.
This is not sexy. It is manipulative. Just revisiting this quotation makes me feel all ragey inside.
I also had some issues with the pacing and build up of the relationship, which did nothing to mitigate my complete and utter loathing for Julien, but which I’m not going to cover in detail because I think I have ranted enough.
I voluntarily read and reviewed a complimentary copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own. We disclose this in accordance with 16 CFR §255.
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Looking for something similar (but maybe with a likeable hero)?