Review: Rules of the Chef (Southern Charm #1) by Nicole Dennis

When hotelier Samuel Ashford arrives to change things, Southern Charm chef Dakota Mitchell fights against it and nothing will be the same.

Learning about the sale of his beloved home – The Southern Charm, chef and co-owner Dakota Mitchell is having a hard time with the potential changes. He wants nothing else to alter.

Chosen by his family's company Ashford Hotels to re-create the Charm into the latest chain of boutique hotels, Samuel Ashford enters the Deep South. Inside the overgrown, run down appearance, he learns the Charm is run by people who care and love the building, the delicious food, and their guests.

Can these two put aside differences and arguments to save the Charm? Even if it means they find a little love along the way.

I really loved the premise of this story. I was expecting enemies to lovers, southern charm, quirky secondary characters and a small town I wanted to visit on vacation. The story started out well, Dakota is slightly cantankerous, but given the news his business partner is selling his half of the business to a big hotel chain I could sympathize with him. When Samuel shows up the metaphorical fur flies and of course there is attraction. The tension was delicious and when Dakota stopped an argument with a heated angry kiss I was like “woohoo, here we go!”

What followed was a push and pull of emotional whiplash. Honestly, Dakota became a little exhausting. I get that he is passionate about his restaurant and I can forgive artists for a little crazy behavior and I do see a chef as an artist. But to me he read as just plain unstable and I kind of felt bad for Samuel. Dakota had a reaction at one point that was just over the top and it took me out of the moment. There was begging on knees involved. Samuel just kept commenting about what a good kisser Dakota was though, so lucky for Dakota or Samuel may have lost his patience and hightailed it back to New York.

There were a few practical things that threw me off. I can usually be pretty forgiving with one or two licenses with reality when it comes to moving a story along, but these just didn’t make sense to me, especially given the fact that the whole crux of the story is the business of the hotel. Samuel Ashford is part of the Ashford family who owns the powerful Ashford hotel chain. So, I was a little surprised that Samuel spent so much time on his own sorting paperwork. Seriously, that was most of what he did, sorting and filing. At least that is how it was described. It sounds nitpicky, but it seemed like a waste of resources when someone, anyone could have helped him. I know he was waiting on Chandler to come down from Corporate (more on Chandler in a minute), but come on somebody could help the guy and move the process along.

Then, when Dakota was telling Samuel about one of his employees who had a sick mother and Samuel makes a comment about employees getting health insurance (good, obviously) and then “I’ll see what we can do to waive the time (to wait to join the health care plan) for Dorian and his mom and figure out a way around her pre-existing condition.” Hmmm. I don’t think that is how insurance works. I even did a little research (yeah, I geeked out a little, plus I’ve done HR work) and apparently it is VERY difficult and VERY rare to add a parent to health insurance much less one with a very serious pre-existing medical condition, you don’t just “find a way around it”. So, yeah, sorry, I geeked out a lot. But when stuff is thrown out so casually and it’s so not accurate, the whole “business” aspect of the story loses credibility. I need the basics to be a little believable and at least ballpark accurate.

 There was repeated reference to a character that I kept waiting to meet. Chandler sounded intriguing and when he still hadn’t been introduced by the 70% mark I was getting a little concerned he may never show. Apparently he is a whiz with numbers and Samuel’s best friend, but he has some anxiety issues that make travel difficult. He could really be a great character, unfortunately he was never introduced in this story so that was a bit of a letdown. There were some great secondary characters though, Mal, one of Dakota’s assistants, Cecile, the hostess and Elise, the front desk manager. I liked all of them a lot and conversations with them were much more organic than conversations between Samuel and Dakota.

The conversations between Samuel and Dakota were honest in that they told exactly what they felt, but that was part of the problem, I was told, not shown how they felt for each other. As their relationship progressed it became even more so. Quotes like:

“I want to hold you like I did our first morning together. It was the first time being true to ourselves and our desires.”

That doesn’t sound like a natural part of a conversation and if I’ve been shown that, I don’t need to be told, the second sentence makes the declaration sound awkward and soap opera-ish. A little editing would have helped the conversations.

During the last quarter of the book a lot of new characters were introduced and serious drama happened. I wasn’t sure how it was all going to get wrapped up in the small portion of the story left. We met a contractor, sheriff, doctor, and we are led to believe we will meet a landscaper and accountant. And guess what, they are all gay and all hot. Although I’m assuming the gay and hot on the landscaper and assuming the hot on the accountant, because we know he is gay from Samuel’s description. The contractor, sheriff and Dakota are all quite tall apparently and it was pointed out repeatedly in comparison to Samuel’s more diminutive stature. They were referred to as “the taller males” and at one point Samuel “flushed under the wonderful masculine attention”. During the whole story Samuel was the one with the voice of reason and strength and in a sentence or two and with the introduction of a couple of characters it seemed he was emasculated before my very eyes. I get he was flattered, but he’s a grown man and not a blushing virgin bride. That kind of bummed me out.

The story ends with a HFN, sort of as Samuel has only committed to extending his stay, the mystery of the shoddy bookkeeping was not solved, the other late breaking drama was not solved and a lot of doors to sequels were opened, but this one gave no closure. I’m totally fine with sequels and series, I love them, but this just ended so I felt a little gipped at the end. I’m curious to see who the sequel will be about and will look into it when it’s released because I still love the premise of this series. I’m hoping the next story will get a little bit more traction because I know that sometimes it takes a book or two for a series to find its groove. I hope the Southern Charm series finds its own groove in the next book.

A copy of this story was provided in exchange for an honest review

No comments:

Post a Comment