Wanting to prove to herself that she can manage on her own, Roxie Callahan moved all the way across the country, away from her somewhat flakey, alternative diner-managing mother and her constant string of usually unhappy infatuations. Roxie has put herself through culinary school and is working hard to establish herself as a private chef to wealthy Hollywood wives. But when a moment of distraction means she screws up with a very important client, it seems as if most of her client base are happy to drop her like the proverbial hot potato. So when her mother calls her and begs her to run the family diner for the summer, while her mother and aunt go off around the world, competing in "The Amazing Race", Roxie doesn't really have a lot of alternatives and returns to the little town in upstate New York where she always felt like a bit of an outcast.
Roxie is determined that she's only staying around for the summer, but finds that there are many positive changes to the place she grew up. The quarterback she had a massive crush on is still handsome as ever, but has moved back to town with his equally attractive husband. The two happily take Roxie under their wing and do whatever they can to throw her in the path of local farmer Leo Maxwell, whose farming co-operative is supplying the town and surrounding areas with fresh fruits, berries, vegetables and produce. It's clear that Roxie's interest in the smoking hot Leo is very much reciprocated, and a scorching summer fling would absolutely make her days running the diner into less of a chore. Leo is clearly quite happily settled in town, though. What happens when the summer is over, and Roxie is going to return to LA?
I've only read one previous romance by Alice Clayton, the first book in her Cocktail series, Wallbanger. It was amusing enough, if a bit long overall and there was a drawn-out love scene involving way too many foodstuffs and dirtying of kitchen surfaces to my taste. This book is the first in her new contemporary romance series, entitled Hudson Valley, inspired by the sustainable food movement, organic farming, slow foods and the recent trend in local farming and wanting to know where your food comes from. The hero is a Manhattan playboy turned hipster farmer and the heroine is the local girl who returns to her hometown to discover that the things she's been running from for years might not be so bad after all.
Raised by a hippy dippy single mother who took over the local diner, and witness to her mother's many dramatic love affairs, Roxie has always had to be the practical, pragmatic one, who made sure the bills were paid and their little family could actually make ends meet, even when her mother was in one of her heartbroken periods. Always fascinated by gourmet cooking, she never really fit in among her peers and only found happiness when she went to culinary school far away, on the other side of the country. Making a living by herself in Los Angeles is incredibly hard, however, and when most of her revenue stream dries up because of one unfortunate cooking mishap, she's left with no options but to return home to run the family diner for a summer.
The local land surrounding the town has been owned by the wealthy Maxwell family for generations, but Roxie is surprised to discover that there is now a large and prosperous farming cooperative being run there, by none other than one of the sons of the Maxwell family. Maxwell Farms, apparently based on the Stone Barns Educational Centre in upstate New York is much more to Leo's taste than taking up the family legacy of big business banking. It's clear that every single woman in town has her eyes set on Leo, but according to Chad Bowman, Roxie's former quarterback classmate and new bestie in Bailey Falls, he's not shown any interest in anyone for years. Until Roxie shows up, that is.
Always careful to never get emotionally entangled in her hook-ups, having seen her mother crash and burn romantically too many times, Roxie makes it very clear to Leo that she's only there for a few months and that theirs will be a purely physical relationship. He seems more than happy to agree, and soon the two of them share more than one steamy evening together. As the summer progresses, Roxie discovers that keeping things completely casual with Leo may be harder than she thought, especially after she discovers some of the things the rest of the town apparently knew about his past, that she, the summer fling, has been unaware of.
After finishing The Count of Monte Cristo, I really wasn't up for reading anything long, complicated or demanding, meaning I pretty much settled for romances in December. This is the second one I read, and it was a lot more satisfying on all levels than Managed. By no means perfect, I liked the setting of Bailey Falls, two protagonists who are both very good at what they do and passionate about it, while bantering amusingly and sharing some believable chemistry on the page. Frequently in these stories, the element thrown in about two thirds of the way through, meant to cause complications for our lovers before everything is resolved to the reader's satisfaction can feel contrived and be quite annoying. I thought the elements of Leo's past that were introduced were well-done, and the complications came more from Roxie's insistence on emotional distance than from his having kept secrets.
The supporting cast, Chad Bowman and his husband, Roxie's mother, some of the colourful townsfolk, as well as Roxie's BFFs in New York, who are clearly being set up as the heroines of the next two books of the series, were also fun to read about. I don't mind sequel-bait if it's done well enough, and since the next hero is large, taciturn brooding dairy farmer neighbour (apparently Clayton's mental image of him is Jason Momoa - I can work with that!), I will probably be checking out the sequel early in the new year.
Judging a book by its cover: Ah, abs. ridiculously sculpted and toned muscles. and some walnuts, just so you understand that the title isn't just a rude pun, but sure, you're supposed to think that too. Since both Leo's ridiculously toned body and his food produce play important parts in the book, I suppose the cover is strangely fitting.