I love historical romances, but for some reason I tend to gravitate toward the ones set in ton society in England--there's something about the dresses and manners and battles of wits that just appeals to me (and many others) that I find other settings just don't match as well. But here's the thing: there's no reason other genres shouldn't match that feeling as well. Witty banter and charged interactions are far from limited to the ballrooms of London, although the balls themselves might might. But for some reason, the chemistry that comes across in ton books just seems to be missing from books in other historical settings--such as the American West. The Chef's Mail-Order Bride is an example of that. One reviewer called it a short story or a novella, but at 234 pages, it's a bit long for that--plenty of time to build up a real relationship and chemistry between the characters. Unfortunately, that was greatly missing until the last few pages of the book, and it really lowered my enjoyment of the story.
So, the story is about a young woman named Sadie, who has worked in her family's Chicago bakery her entire life and has run it ever since the death of her parents. Unfortunately, her parents--unbeknownst to her--left the bakery in a great deal of financial trouble, and the bank that holds the mortgage has decided to foreclose. Unsure of what she's going to do next, Sadie is relieved to get a letter from her sister--except it proposes that Sadie move to the area of Tombstone, Arizona, and get married to an aspiring chef. Thinking it will be an adventure, and at least she'll get to be near what family she has left again, Sadie agrees, and sets off to Arizona. In short order, she marries Tripp Morgan, the friend of Sadie's brother-in-law who wants to open a restaurant in town, but needs to be married in order to secure the loan to do so. Their marriage is supposed to be a business arrangement, with Sadie's help in both getting the loan by marrying Tripp and then helping him out in the restaurant.
And that's exactly what it is. There's some blushing and a flash of--gasp!--ankles at one point, but there isn't really any chemistry between these two characters. In fact, Tripp seems downright dismissive of Sadie in most ways, even though he's absolutely sunk without her in more ways than one. In the last few pages, of course, the two abruptly fall in love after Sadie is proven right, but I found the build-up to their relationship to be lacking. I get that not all romances have to be steamy, and I wasn't expecting this one to be, but there can be some romantic tension without the characters making out every few pages. Brushing hands, romantic gazes, wistful sighs...all these things can be built up to a lot more romantic atmosphere than Caldwell utilized in this book. I didn't find the writing bad, and the supporting characters were enjoyable, but without that really romantic element at the core, I think the book fell a bit flat overall. This appears to be the first in a series, and I'd be interested in reading the others, but only if I can pick them up on sale or for free, because this one didn't leave me chomping at the bit to get the next one.
2.5 stars out of 5.