A book trade industry newsletter recently linked to a report on “billionaire romance”—80 pages analyzing the popularity of books in which an ordinary person falls in love with someone who is mega-rich (Fifty Shades of Grey being perhaps the best-known example). I have yet to read any billionaire romances, but I feel like I do read enough current fiction to qualify as something of a trend-spotter. Recently, I reviewed Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake by Alexis Hall, which featured a couple falling in love as they competed together on a show not unlike “The Great British Bake-Off.” And here we have a second novel set in the world of televised baking competitions. Forget about billionaires—I want to read about people baking fancy cakes.
Lucy Parker’s Battle Royal is not quite as “Bake-Off”-focused as Hall’s book. Sylvia Fairchild is a former contestant on “Operation Cake” who gained infamy when her unicorn cake, which was to feature a treasure chest bursting open, wound up malfunctioning, resulting in judge Dominic De Vere’s forehead being hit with a flying hoof. That mechanical mishap was enough to send Sylvia home, but she’s since become a successful professional baker, opening a London shop called Sugar Fair… right across the street from De Vere’s patisserie. Sylvia’s all about glitter and sparkles, while Dominic’s cakes are elegant and refined.
Four years after her ignominious exit from “Operation Cake,” she is brought back on the show to serve as a judge. As if that didn’t create enough tension with Dominic, the two of them wind up competing off-camera to receive the coveted commission to bake the cake for an upcoming royal wedding.
Naturally, Sylvia eventually winds up melting Dominic’s icy exterior. But there are still complications aplenty, involving their respective bakeries, their employees, the royals, and much more. The cover illustration may make Battle Royal appear to be a rainbow-sprinkle-covered rom-com, but both Sylvia and Dominic have a lot of trauma in their respective pasts. Even the fictional royal couple is dealing with some very heavy issues. Additionally, they have a rather nutty list of demands about what they want in a wedding cake, leading to far too much time being spent on Sylvia and Dominic trying to decipher a mystery flavor, figuring out how to pay homage to the princess’ relationship with her beloved late uncle in pastry form, etc.
So ultimately, I preferred Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake to Battle Royal. But if any other authors are planning to tackle the world of competitive baking, I’ll be eager to read the results.
Last summer, I reviewed a novel called One To Watch which was set in the world of a “The Bachelorette”-type dating show; a plus-sized fashion influencer was persuaded to go on the fictional “Main Squeeze,” hoping it would help her career. Now comes Julie Murphy’s If The Shoe Fits, which is set in the world of a “The Bachelor”-type dating show; a plus-sized fashion designer is persuaded to go on the fictional “Before Midnight,” hoping it will help her career.
The main reason I was interested in reading If The Shoe Fits is because it is the first in a new series of novels called “Meant To Be,” which are “intended to feature updated and contemporary takes on classic Disney princesses, and also the first Disney intellectual property to be developed as an adult publishing project.” Shoe is, obviously, based on “Cinderella”; next year, they will be releasing Jasmine Guillory’s take on “Beauty and the Beast.”
After getting her degree from the Parsons School of Design in New York, our heroine (inevitably named Cindy) decides to spend the summer with her stepmom’s family in L.A. in order to help take care of her young triplet half-siblings. Cindy’s mom died when she was seven, and her father was killed in an accident a few years later; I assumed that stepmom Erica and her two glamorous older daughters would treat Cindy horribly, but refreshingly, Murphy avoids this Disney trope and makes them supportive and kind. Erica is a successful producer of reality TV shows, including “Before Midnight,” which just happens to be in need of a couple of extra contestants for its upcoming season.
Cindy figures the national TV exposure could kickstart her career ambitions, so despite some misgivings about being the first plus-size contestant on the show, she volunteers to join the other women who will be competing for the “suitor.” It turns out the “suitor” is Henry, who just happens to be the cute guy Cindy met and flirted with on the plane trip from New York to L.A.
Cindy and Erica decide to keep their stepchild/stepparent relationship a secret, but I don’t buy for a second that it wouldn’t have been uncovered by a Reality Steve-type blogger five seconds after the show’s debut. Also, unlike “The Bachelor/ette,” which finish filming several weeks before hitting the airwaves to allow the producers to shape storylines, episodes of “Before Midnight” are being broadcast on TV while it’s still being shot. This is obviously so we can learn that Cindy is turning into a fan favorite, but it feels unrealistic that Cindy and Henry would be able to escape the TV cameras and run around New York together without being swarmed by dozens of DeuxMoi tipsters.
As was the case with Battle Royal, the earlier book was also the better book; If The Shoe Fits is not nearly as complex, rich and enjoyable as One To Watch.