A lot of people think writing a romance novel is easy. A pair of attractive, charismatic characters meet, they have reasons why they can’t fall in love, they fall in love anyway, troubles intrude and then all the loose strings are tied together in a happily ever after. Easy, right? But knowing all the ingredients is no guarantee of producing a perfect dish. The secret is in the sauce, as every chef knows. What’s the secret sauce for writing a perfectly delicious romance novel? I have no idea, but I do know that Love & Other Disasters, Anita Kelly’s culinary whirl of a love story, has got it.
We begin with Dahlia Woodson, a rebel in desperate need of a cause who has grabbed onto cooking with both hands. After years of drifting along without a clear direction, while also being stuck in a souring marriage that eventually ended in a painful divorce, she found solace in creating perfectly flavored soups and delicately crafted pasta. And then the lifeline of cooking led her in a new direction: all the way to Los Angeles as one of 13 contestants on “Chef’s Special,” a cooking competition show.
Also in the lineup is London Parker, the show’s first nonbinary contestant. Where Dahlia is seeking purpose, London is focused and direct. Where Dahlia is spontaneous, London is structured. Where Dahlia is beautifully chaotic, London is intricately precise. And where Dahlia is lonely . . . London is lonely, too. Like salty and sweet, they’re two great tastes that bring out the best in each other. In London, Dahlia has someone she can trust, someone who cherishes her in a way that no one ever has. And in Dahlia, London finds someone who opens up their world. Coming out has not been easy for London—and that’s before going on television for the world to see. Dahlia’s open acceptance and affection help them settle into truly accepting themself in every way.
Love & Other Disasters is a delicious confection of a story: savory, succulent and also a bit salty in spots, thanks to certain difficult personalities that come into play. The characters, from our protagonists to the other contestants to the crew on the show, feel vibrant and real in their virtues and most especially their flaws. But while the plot is rich and surprising, the central romance is sweet, right from the start. London and Dahlia discover love together in a way that is charming and genuinely moving. It’s easy not only to fall in love with them as they fall for each other but also to root for them all the way to their sumptuous happy ending. The only bad thing about this book is that even after you’ve gorged on the whole thing, it’ll leave you wanting more.