Cook the Books
Cook the Books is part of a series of mystery books (Gourmet Girl Mysteries) by mother-daughter writing team Jessica Conant-Park and Susan Conant.
Chloe is a graduate student in her mid twenties, who lives by herself and has a passion for food. She has an incredibly gorgeous best friend named Adrianna, who is married to a goofy but honest and lovable free-spirited (broke) man named Owen. They have a delightful little bundle of joy named Patrick, who happens to melt Chloe’s heart so much that she overspends and ends up in debt because she just can’t resist buying him all the expensive toys and clothes she sets her eyes on; he’s that adorable. Then there’s Josh, her ex-boyfriend, a chef, who left a year before for a better job in Hawaii and left her behind.
Did you get all this? If you didn’t it’s okay because once you start reading the novel, this will be retold in pretty much every chapter. Do you want to know what else is constantly repeated? The word “Josh.” It comes up in every other sentence. Of course there’s more to the novel: there’s murder, there’s cooking, and there’s a villain (or many?). More importantly, at the end Josh returns to make everything alright (because he’s perfect). But don’t worry, I haven’t spoiled the end; you can guess that one by the end of the fourth chapter.
The story itself is pretty bland but its biggest sin is mainly that it’s not very relatable. Chloe is supposed to be young, bright and independent, and yet she appears to be everything but. Why am I supposed to care about this character? She has no true interests other than her godson, the lives of other cooks and her ex-boyfriend. It probably doesn’t help that the novel is written with a significant amount of dialogue, which, for the most part, is heavily contrived. For example, Chloe’s employer, a serious man in his mid-thirties has just met new mommy Adrianna and all three of them are sitting down for dinner, his treat:
“And Adrianna,“ he said to my friend, “you especially should eat a lot, since you probably have no time to eat while taking care of a tiny baby, huh?”
This was not meant to be funny, or sarcastic (or creepy) but rather to portray what a great guy Chloe’s employer is! The entire novel is written in this type of dialogue, which aside from being annoyingly predictable, becomes overly repetitive.
Cook the Books is filled with bad cliches and references. The murder that sets motion to the core of the storyline leads to Chloe’s view to the “dark” side of cooking, the cutthroat competitive world of chefs. It’s in fact the same world described by so many other chefs, except that in this case, it’s overly dramatic.
The book cover includes a review blurb promising "snappy dialogue, puzzling murder and mouthwatering menus," which I guess is what fueled my disappointment, as I did believe it. In contrast to other mystery novels that portray unlikely heroines, Cook the Books didn’t hit the mark, It has no sparkle and the heroine lacks a sense of self and definition. It was difficult to really care. It could have been light, fun reading, if only it had been half as long. If I was to recommend the book, it I would assume pre-teens might not mind it, but I don’t know how memorable it would be.
There are some recipes added at the end of the book, which only adds to my confusion as to who the target group for this book is supposed to be. The recipes are courtesy of other authors and chefs. Some are easy enough to follow and make (the Baked Tomato Nests), and some (like the Grilled Ohio Lamb Steak) are meant for the serious cooks who strives to entertain. The Baked Tomato Nests are a cute and fast idea, and in fact, the recipe jumped out at me from one of the actual chapters of the novel, so there was a nice connection there. However, overall the recipes were not very innovative, and in a way, that echoes my overall impression of the book.
To put it simply: it didn’t leave a bad taste in my mouth, it needed spice (cayenne, Habanero, or even just plain old pepper)—it was just too bland.