It's my turn on the TLC Book Tour to tell you all about HOT MESS by Emily Belden! Keep reading for the synopsis and my full review...
SYNOPSIS: Twenty-something Allie Simon never imagined she’d fall for a recovering drug addict—but that was before she met Benji Zane, Chicago’s hottest up-and-coming chef, who’s known as much for his hard partying ways as for his unparalleled culinary skills. Six months into their relationship, the food and chemistry are out of this world, but the reality of living with a cooking wunderkind hasn’t exactly been all hearts and flowers.
Still, Allie’s convinced that her love is the key to fixing this talented man’s broken soul—so when Benji is offered his dream job as chef de cuisine for a new restaurant opening on Randolph Street, Chicago’s foodie hot spot, Allie agrees to invest her life savings in his future. But less than a month after she goes all in, Allie learns a heartbreaking lesson: addicts lie. Benji cracks under the pressure, relapses and disappears, bagging out not only on the restaurant, but on her, too.
Left with nothing but a massive withdrawal slip and a restaurant that absolutely must open in a matter of weeks, Allie finds herself thrust into a world of luxury and greed, cutthroat business and sensory delight. Lost in the mess of it all, she can either crumble completely or fight like hell for the life she wants and the love she deserves.
GENRE: Women's Fiction, Chick-Lit
RATING: ★★★☆☆/ 3 Stars
REVIEW: I had a bit of a rough start with HOT MESS, not because it was bad, but because I felt like my expectations were skewed. Like most people, I read the synopsis for a book and go from there, and maybe this is my own failing, but I tend to expect the majority of the synopsis to be outlined in the book by page 50 or so and for the rest to be a mystery of new situations and plot resolutions. So it was with a bit of a squint and continued turning pages that I found that the entire synopsis took up roughly 230 pages. It felt like I was in one place, treading water, waiting for the story to move.
Now, that isn't the book's fault! I honestly think that it just needed a different synopsis, something that would have been vaguer and using punchy catch-words to draw you in and tell you about the book... A foodie's dream, guaranteed to make you drool with palate envy. A smart woman navigates relationship with recovering drug-addict chef in a millennial world, but even smart women falter in the face of love. New friendships and boss bitches are born... just a few of the ways to describe this book, and if I had started with that I think I would have had an easier time diving into HOT MESS.
Additionally, I truly felt like this was two different types of books in one. Based off that synopsis above, I was expecting a chick-lit about a jilted woman who has to pick herself up and through mishaps and mayhem, learns the ins and outs of the restaurant biz as she pluckily reclaims her life... and that's the second half of this book. The first half read more like a serious women's fiction about drug addicts and relationships in a millennial world. How a bright and rising 25 year old finds herself in a serious relationship she never imagined with a up-and-down coke addict. It's heavy and interesting. The author wrote that relationship so well, but I just didn't expect the depth to which she took that exploration. Once again, maybe that was my own failing, but once I readjusted my mindset to "deep and serious", I enjoyed it.
The second half of HOT MESS was where I really started to get into the story. When our heroine is left high-and-dry, she bands together with a badass boss of a woman named Angela and they get shit done, 'cause ladies never say die! This is the story that I was hoping for but I won't say more for spoilers sake. But the glimpse into building a restaurant in the current age of social media was fascinating and obviously well-researched. The author included so many details that it all felt so real. That is one of the best points about this book, from the relationships to the settings to the food, IT ALL FELT VERY REAL! The author definitely has a gift.
A note on cursing and mildly crass language...this book has it. Some readers are put off by it and others aren't, but I always like to note it, just in case. I'm one of those that doesn't mind it. In this case I think it was just another way in which the story and dialogue rang true. Perhaps that says more to my own daily sailor's mouth but there you have it.
In the end, there was a lot to like about HOT MESS, but it was the dual nature of the book that kept it from getting above 3 stars, at least for me. I know that others will enjoy it much more than I did. If you're looking for a serious women's fiction filled with foodie dreams, a drug-addicted chef, and a touch of chick-lit lightness, then I think this one is for you!
*I received a free copy of HOT MESS from the publisher to participate in the TLC Book Tour, and provide an honest review.*
Emily Belden is an author for powerhouse publisher, Harlequin/HarperCollins. She is represented by famed literary agency, Browne & Miller, along with 44 Blue Productions in Burbank. The SoCal studio is adapting her memoir into a comedic series.