Love is in the air, or at least between the covers: The CJN’s book columnist looks at two new romance novels

From the cover of ‘Sadie on a Plate’.

Sadie on a Plate by Amanda Elliot

Sadie Rosen is an up-and-coming professional chef in Seattle with a passion for sharing Ashkenazi Jewish cooking as a serious cuisine with the world. Her career is derailed, however, when her boyfriend—who also happens to be her boss—simultaneously breaks up with and fires her. Left to pick up the pieces of her life, opportunity comes knocking in the form of a spot on the popular cooking show Chef Supreme.

On the plane ride to New York, Sadie forms an instant romantic connection with a handsome stranger, and fellow chef, named Luke. She informs him that she will be incommunicado for the next six weeks, yet Sadie finds herself on set with him the following day.

Sadie on a Plate is the first work of adult fiction by author Amanda Elliot, and it is an incredibly fun read. Sadie is a likeable protagonist who will have you cheering for her as she makes her way through the competition. The book is populated by a cast of supporting characters of all different backgrounds, as cooking competitions tend to have, who bring with them both comedy and drama.

Just as lovers of cooking competitions know to not watch on an empty stomach, this book is filled with vivid descriptions of food that will leave your mouth watering and your stomach rumbling. Elliot’s novel is a love letter to Ashkenazi cooking, and food in general, as a means of connecting with one’s identity. Sadie, for instance, imagines much of her inner monologue as conversations with the inspiration for her cookery, her Grandma Ruth.

At one point, the Chef Supreme contestants are asked to “make themselves” on a plate, exploring who they are through food. Aside from the romance at its centre, the book is equally about a young woman’s journey of self-discovery and search for her own, confident voice.

A Brush with Love by Mazey Eddings

When the highly motivated, overworked Harper Horowitz literally crashes into fellow dental student Dan Craige (no, not the actor Daniel Craig) on campus, sparks fly.

Though their connection is undeniable, Harper is waiting to learn where she will be placed for residency and adamantly “friend-zones” Dan, knowing that their time together will be limited. Dan, who is happy to spend any time with Harper, accepts her conditions. Of course, things do not go according to plan.

The novel shifts between the perspectives of the two lovebirds. Their relationship develops and deepens over the course of the story, as both confront their own past traumas.

Harper, orphaned at a young age following a traumatic accident, suffers from crippling anxiety. Dan, meanwhile, failing to live up to the legacy of his dentist father, struggles with familial pressures to pursue a career in dentistry despite his lack of passion for the profession. (Arguably the real twist in this story is that it’s the gentile character being pressured into a medical profession, not the Jewish one). The two are forced to work through their pasts and on themselves and not unexpectedly, love in the end prevails.

At times the novel falls into cliché, such as with Dan’s unrelenting desire to protect Harper, giving way to some hot-headed behaviour. In one chapter, Harper’s loathsome, chauvinist academic rival hurls insults at her at a party. In a curious parallel to the recent Will Smith debacle, Dan punches him and yells at him to “keep Harper’s name out of your filthy f*****g mouth.” I guess misguided acts of chivalry truly aren’t dead, both on and off the page. 

Still, lovers of romance will be pleased to find all the usual features of the genre in this debut novel from Mazey Eddings: a gaggle of gossiping gal pals, the loyal male best friend, tragic pasts, strained relationships, kindly female mentors, grand romantic gestures, a friends-to-lovers slow-burn romance, and, of course, sex.

Aside from the highly realistic dental descriptions peppered throughout (the author herself is a dentist), what differentiates this novel from other like-romance novels is Eddings’ raw and honest depiction of Harper’s struggles with anxiety and its impact on her life and relationships. 

Hannah Srour is a member of the Association for Jewish Libraries’ (AJL) Jewish Fiction Award Committee and sits on the executive board of AJL-Canada. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @srour_hannah.