6 scrumptious foodie romances

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The prodigiously gifted Alexis Hall spins pathos, sex and humor into frothy yet sensitive paeans to love. His ambitious new novel, Paris Daillencourt Is About to Crumble, demonstrates the magnitude of his talents. 

The second Winner Bakes All romance after 2021’s Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake, Paris is a bittersweet play on the opposites-attract trope. The titular character, a baker with devastating anxiety and self-doubt in spite of his beauty, talent and privilege, falls for Tariq Hassan, a charismatic young Muslim with ambition and confidence to spare. Paris and Tariq meet as competitors on “Bake Expectations,” a famous television cooking competition show. (If you’re thinking “The Great British Baking Show,” you’re on the right track.) 

Paris’ roommate, Morag, ropes him into joining the show, hoping that becoming a contestant would break Paris out of an unhealthy pattern of isolation and doubt. Though some good does come of the experience, it turns out you can’t shock the mental illness out of someone. The reality of what Paris is going through—the result of nature (brain chemistry) complicated by nurture (or lack thereof, i.e., years of parental abandonment)—is too messy and complex. 

Hall portrays Paris’ omnipresent anxiety disorder and how it affects his relationships with intensity and an impressive attention to cognitive and emotional detail. This may make some readers uncomfortable, as peeking inside Paris’ thoughts can be pretty harrowing. But many people who have experienced this type of mental health challenge, as well as some who haven’t, will find his story deeply relatable.

Paris may crumble under the pressure of appearing on “Bake Expectations,” but he also finds a real romantic connection with a man who’s delightfully different from himself. Tariq revels in his queerness, style and religion, and he inhabits the spotlight with a confidence that sometimes borders on cockiness. Paris and Tariq’s differences add an interesting texture to their interactions, and it is meaningful to see someone go through what Paris does and be loved throughout. Hall refreshingly balances sensitivity and matter-of-factness about Paris’ challenges and how they impact his relationship with Tariq, while also exploring where Tariq needs to grow. 

Hall’s sprightly irony and clever humor significantly lighten the angst. At one moment, Tariq gets impatient with Paris, as people are wont to do with him as he works his way up to an apology. “Look . . . we’ve been here before,” Tariq says. “I know how long your apologies take. I’ve got a religious obligation. I’ll come find you later.”

A dish that’s both sweet and savory, Paris Daillencourt Is About to Crumble is poignant and witty in equal proportion.

A dish that’s both sweet and savory, Paris Daillencourt Is About to Crumble is poignant and witty in equal proportion.
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A fake relationship is on the menu in Natalie Caña’s debut, A Proposal They Can’t Refuse, which follows a passionate chef and a whiskey distiller as they plot to save their business while outsmarting their grandfathers. It’s an enemies-to-lovers romance with a heaping spoonful of meddling families.

Talented chef Kamilah Vega feels held back at her family’s Puerto Rican restaurant, El Coquí. Their customer base has been dwindling, and Kamilah thinks that modernizing the restaurant and getting it on the upcoming Fall Foodie Tour is just the thing to breathe new life into the business. Her grandfather, the restaurant’s owner, gives Kamilah the green light on one condition: He wants her to marry his best friend’s grandson, Liam Kane. 

Liam’s grandfather’s dying wish is to see his grandson married, and he’s not above concocting a bit of blackmail to nudge Liam along. Liam works for his family’s Irish whiskey distillery, which shares a building with El Coqun. And if Liam doesn’t get married to Kamilah, his grandfather will sell the building that houses their businesses. Once childhood friends, Liam and Kamilah’s relationship severely soured as they became adults. But now they are united with a common goal: fake their way through a romance until they can figure out a Plan B.

Liam and Kamilah are wonderful, prickly fun together, especially when they’re bickering (which is most of the time). They gamely play along with their grandfathers’ outlandish demands, and it becomes increasingly obvious that there’s some lingering fondness under their antagonism. As the two rediscover their old friendship, Caña fills the world around them with nosy relatives, opinionated friends and plenty of workplace hijinks. No detail is spared when it comes to describing Kamilah’s bright, flavorful creations in the kitchen or the heady and luxurious ways whiskey is distilled and consumed. Foodie romances are having a moment, and A Proposal They Can’t Refuse is a particularly delicious addition to the trend. Be prepared to get hungrier and hungrier with each page. 

A Proposal They Can’t Refuse is a mouthwatering delight with a lively and winsome cast, snappy banter, cooking as foreplay and two romantic leads worth rooting for every step of the way. The only thing readers will be left longing for is a corresponding cookbook or cocktail guide.

A Proposal They Can't Refuse is a mouthwatering delight with cooking as foreplay and two romantic leads worth rooting for every step of the way.
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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.

Anita Kelly shares the secret sauce of their storytelling.

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.

The only bad thing about Love & Other Disasters is that even after you’ve gorged on the whole thing, it’ll leave you wanting more.
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In Uzma Jalaluddin’s sophomore novel, Hana Khan Carries On, a Muslim woman tries to keep her family’s halal business afloat while finding comfort in creating her own anonymous podcast.

Hana Khan has plenty to worry about: her mother’s casual halal restaurant is in dire financial straits, and the Khan household has been turned upside down by the arrival of her aunt and cousin. Her only outlet is Ana’s Brown Girl Rambles, a podcast that Hana launched anonymously and views as a diary of sorts. As it slowly gains a following, Hana starts an adorable online back and forth with a dedicated listener. What she doesn’t know is that very same listener is Aydin Shah, who runs the competing halal eatery that is jeopardizing the Khan family business.

Jalaluddin’s debut novel, Ayesha at Last, was a Pride & Prejudice-inspired journey to romance and self-fulfillment. With Hana Khan, Jalaluddin turns to rom-com classic You’ve Got Mail for inspiration. The bones of the Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks film are there, trading bookstores for halal food, but Jalaluddin launches this story into the 21st century. The most obvious update is Hana’s interest in podcasting and auditory forms of storytelling, but there’s also the setting of Toronto’s Golden Crescent neighborhood, which is home to a thriving Muslim community. Jalaluddin demonstrates how this close-knit world provides both support system and motivation for Hana and her family throughout the novel. But she also acknowledges the depressing truth that it makes them targets, especially when Hana experiences an anti-Muslim hate crime that goes viral.

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: How Uzma Jalaluddin uses romance tropes to expand the boundaries of the genre.

It’s a tall order to find someone worthy of such a brilliant and earnest heroine, but Aydin is an excellent love interest. He’s genuine and charming, a perfect foil for his father’s more hostile business tactics, but the novel is more focused on Hana’s journey than his own. There is a satisfying happily ever after at the end, but Jalaluddin explores more than just romantic love in Hana Khan. It’s a story of self-love, familial love, togetherness and compassion between neighbors, and all the different ways we express love with who we allow into our lives.

This modern romantic comedy is full of warmth, and complemented wonderfully by Hana’s courageous self-determination and the scene-stealing secondary members of the Khan family. If Hana Khan Carries On is a sign of things to come, whatever Jalaluddin writes next will be inventive, extraordinary and well worth a read.

In Uzma Jalaluddin’s sophomore novel, Hana Khan Carries On, a Muslim woman tries to keep her family’s halal business afloat while finding comfort in creating her own anonymous podcast.

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Farah Heron’s Accidentally Engaged is mouthwatering romantic comedy that layers on tropes like a buttery, flaky dough.

Reena Manji is a dedicated baker who’s ready to kick her passion for bread and baking into high gear. When she hears of a couple’s cooking contest with the grand prize being a scholarship to a culinary institute, Reena desperately wants to enter. There’s just one glaring problem: She doesn’t have a partner, or even a boyfriend. But the solution might lie in the shape of hunky Nadim Remtulla. Her British neighbor works for her father, and Reena’s parents already tried to set the pair up. But now Reena needs his help and he’s all too happy to help make her dream a reality.

This book is for anyone who’s discovered the joy of bread-making, especially bakers who hover over their sourdough starters, waiting for them to grow and bloom and get ready to be turned into warm, delicious loaves. Food—cooking it, sharing it, eating it—is an extension of love and care in Accidentally Engaged. Much of this wonderful slow-burn romance plays out in the kitchen, and readers will be deliciously tortured by how long it takes Reena and Nadim to realize how well they complement each other. Heron also deepens both characters by exploring their different experiences and backgrounds. While both Reena and Nadia are Muslim and of Indian descent, Reena’s experiences as a Canadian Indian and Nadim’s as a British Indian are different. Heron weaves those divergences into their developing relationship in both subtle moments and more overt discussions, perfectly depicting how a couple organically learns more about one another.

As Reena takes charge of making her dreams happen and Nadim plays the role of supportive and enthusiastic cheerleader amidst complicated family dynamics, Heron hits every romantic beat with a confidence of an author who knows exactly what she’s doing. There are meddling family members, close-quarters cooking, a fake relationship and the dreamy boy next door with his beefy muscles and swoony accent. This book is undoubtedly what Heron would pull out during the Showstopper Challenge on a literary version of “The Great British Bake Off.”

Farah Heron’s Accidentally Engaged is mouth-watering romantic comedy that layers on tropes like a buttery, flaky dough.

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New York Times bestselling author Maisey Yates adds another entry to her wildly popular Copper Ridge series with Down Home Cowboy.

Cain Donnelly has returned to Copper Ridge with his teenage daughter, Violet. A few years back, his wife walked out on both of them, upending their lives. Since then, Violet has changed dramatically. Cain truly fears if they don’t get a change of scenery pronto, he will lose his daughter as well. Living with his estranged brothers isn’t what he planned for his life, but he’s willing to put up with anything if it will help him get back his sweet little girl.

Alison Davis has worked like crazy to rebuild her life into something she can be proud of. The entire town knows her as a victim of domestic abuse, but she is more than that now. She owns the town bakery and helps other women who find themselves in difficult situations. Then one night she looks across the local bar and sees a cowboy—and it’s instant, make-your-hair-smoke lust. But the following morning, she discovers he’s her newest employee’s father.

Cain can’t believe the woman with the great ass he’d admired just the night before is Violet’s boss. There goes his fantasy of maybe having sex again sometime this decade. Still, when he sees the ease with which Alison relates to his difficult daughter, he puts his libido aside and asks for her help. He knows he’s not a good communicator at the best of times. But maybe Alison can teach him some tools to regain the easy relationship he once had with Violet. Alison agrees to help and a short while later, she offers an addendum to their agreement: no-strings sex.

Yates crafts a sexy, multilayered story about the power of family and how the walls between two damaged people must fall down if they are to have any hope of moving forward. Pull out the fans and the Kleenex, my friends, because you’ll need both.

New York Times bestselling author Maisey Yates adds another entry to her wildly popular Copper Ridge series with Down Home Cowboy.

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