Author: Jayci Lee
What I’m Talking About:
Picture in your mind movie action hero Lee Byung-hun, more popularly known as the character Han Cho Bai in Reds 2, and his real life wife Lee Min Jung as the stars of a sweet Hollywood rom-com. When I started reading this book I wanted some authentic Korean faces to visiualize. I’m sorry to say none came immediately to mind so I did an image search for “famous Korean actors“ and had one of those Oh, yeah! IMDB moments. How did we win dinner table arguements over who was in that movie before IMDB?
I digress… everyone in the romance publishing world knows that most ethnic groups are hugely underrepresented. Unfortunately, too often Asian nationalities seem to get lumped together, maybe it’s Hollywood’s fault (1961’s Flower Drum Song anyone?) I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, and I get upset just being associated with southern California stereotypes. Jayci Lee is uniquely qualified to write about Korean characters as a Korean-American herself. In an interview with 2020debuts.com she said, “When I wrote Temporary Wife Temptation in 2015, I didn’t think I had a chance of traditionally publishing a book with Korean-American main characters. So I originally wrote the book with white main characters with the intent to add Korean-American leads in the next book. But as I revised my book for over two years, I realized that it wasn’t truly the story I wanted to tell. I took a leap of faith and rewrote it with the characters of my heart, a Korean-American hero and heroine.”
Lee absolutely succeeds and brings her unique perspective to her characters in Sweet Mess. Aubrey Choi is Korean-American. Her parents, and especially her father, are very Korean, holding so tight to cultural traditions that Aubrey walked away from an affluent life and any relationship with her parents at eighteen to make her own way in the world. Truthfully, her father was an abusive bully justifying his actions with tradition and Aubrey decided not to take it anymore. All on her own she managed pastry school and opening her own bakery, The Comfort Zone, in the little town of Weldon, Nevada. It is widely popular with the locals, but its still a little town. The Comfort Zone makes most of its money on internet sales. Aubrey works hard, long hours with few breaks, no vacations, and only the help of an often incompetent but earnest high school student running the register.
Enter hunky celebrity food critic Landon Kim. In town only because of a car breakdown, he and Aubrey have a steamy one night stand. Unknown to either character, Landon had eaten at Aubrey’s bakery earlier in the day and received, on accident, the nasty custom concoction of a four year old’s birthday cake with peanut butter and gummy worms instead of the amazing chocolate bundt cake which was the daily special. Needing to fill a spot for publication after returning home, Landon reviews Aubrey’s bakery as an epic failure. Predictably, Aubrey’s bakery free falls into serious financial trouble and may have to close its doors. This is not something even great chemistry can salvage, but Landon is going to give it a shot and that is fun to watch.
Landon is a playboy, always traveling, with a girl in every port. He has never wanted to put the work into a longterm relationship until he meets Aubrey, but then he messes it up so badly, there’s just no way to come back from that. He knows it’s not enough to just say, “Sorry.” Actions are the only thing that will fix this mess, but his conundrum is that he never reviews the same place twice. Instead he calls upon a friend, a famous friend, with a cooking show to feature Aubrey and get her back on the map bigger and better than one poor, albeit notable, review. Aubrey needs the money so she agrees. We knew they had great chemistry in the beginning, but with Landon as the cooking show’s producer, we now get to see them fall in love during a couple weeks of recipe research and taping in California’s wine country.
Aubrey, thankfully, is not a pushover to his charms. She is smart, educated, and pushes Landon hard to measure up. I entirely enjoyed their banter, Lee’s writing style, and the eventual resolution of the book.
Sweet Mess is not part of a series at present, but there is plenty of characters and material in the wonderful little town of Weldon, Nevada. Aubrey’s best friend Tara who owns the local tavern is the most obvious next choice. *fingerscrossed* we get more from Jayci Lee and her small town charmers.
As is expected (and appreciated) in a book about someone who produces food for a living, there is a recipe included in the back of the book. In this case it’s not for a baked good, but for Bulgogi, probably the best-known Korean dish in the United States. It’s paper-thin sliced ribeye in a soy sauce marinade, most often serviced with rice or noodles. I give the author’s recipe *two thumbs up!* Definitely put this one in your to-be-read summer pile. It’s a good read.
My Rating: A- Enjoyed A Lot
About the Book:
Aubrey Choi has been content running her highly successful bakery Comfort Zone and with its first expansion taking up all of her time, dating has been the least of her priorities. Then a one-night-stand with gorgeous Korean hunk Landon Kim makes her want things she didn’t think she had time for. Too bad it turns out he’s a celebrity food critic whose scathing review of Comfort Zone goes viral and nearly destroys Aubrey’s business―and her fond memory of their night together.
Landon tries to clean up the mess he made by offering Aubrey a spot on the new celebrity cooking show he’s producing. She agrees to use this as a way to save her bakery and her reputation―no thanks to him―but vows to guard her heart. Now Aubrey and Landon find themselves sharing a villa in California wine country, which is a guaranteed recipe for disaster. For the next three weeks, baker and critic will tempt each other as they struggle to resist admitting that they have all the necessary ingredients for love.
Release Date: July 14, 2020
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Format(s): paperback (320 pages), e-book, audiobook
Book Source: Publisher
Amazon (affiliate link)