Strip away the clothes (yes, please!) and the attitude, and culinary school students Ethan and Jamie aren’t as different as they appear. Used to fending for himself and his sister, tough-boy Ethan wears his piercings, tattoos and spikey hair like armour, which isn’t unusual for a twenty-two year old. Jamie cycles through his uniform of pressed button-downs and khakis, thoughtful gifts and acceptable gestures because that’s how he was raised. Deep down, however, these boys—okay, they think they’re men, but to me they’re boys and so gosh-darned cute—basically want the same thing: to succeed in a field they are passionate about. They want to be chefs.
After covertly ogling one another for nearly three years, they’re finally partnered in baking class. Jamie has a handle on the more structured cooking. Ethan most definitely doesn’t. The two bounce and collide, the sexual tension and angst mounting as cakes flop and poof. Then they get over themselves long enough to kiss and the world that is already teetering flips upside down.
But, they’re twenty-two, so this means DRAMA. Oh, my God, this can’t be love because that’s just not manly or prickly or self-sufficient. I say this with fondness. One of the reasons I adore New Adult fiction is that I remember being twenty-something. I remember being painfully stupid. (I remember being smart, too. Sometimes.) I also remember the absolute highs and tragic depths of emotion. How love felt like an all or nothing proposition. Honestly, it’s a wonder any of us make it to twenty-five.
Not to give anything away, but this is a novel of romance (and hot sex…). It’s a love story and what keeps you reading through tantrum after tantrum is the fact you know these guys are going to work it out. What you don’t know is how. What chances these guys will take. What they will sacrifice, what they will learn and how they will grow. Ethan may not have had the best childhood, but Jamie has been too sheltered. These guys have lessons they can teach to each other and that alone would make a compelling story. What sets In the Raw apart, however, is that the book has a definite frame work. There is a plot outside the romance that is equally important. Our heroes are vying for a scholarship, one that will include six months of advanced study and an all-expenses-paid semester at the sister school in Paris. For any culinary student, this award would represent the ultimate achievement. By the end of the book, I was as invested in the outcome of this competition as Jamie, Ethan and Ethan’s sister Claire.
I’m sitting here trying to come up with a baking analogy to sum up my feelings about the book, and I’m failing. Really, anything I say will sound like a bad pun. So, I’ll state it plainly: In the Raw is a great read. I loved the book. The story and the characters caught me quickly and held me completely until the end. The cooking school environment was well done. It felt authentic without being tedious. The reader is not subjected to endless explanations of technique and ingredients, but if you are interested in cooking—which I am!—there is enough
food for thought to whet the appetite. Shit, that’s worse. It’s tasty! That’s it. It’s a tasty book. Some folks found the ending a little underdone (see, now I just can’t help myself), but I liked it. Love isn’t always easy and real life includes obstacles that can’t be overcome in two-hundred pages. Oh, and these guys are only twenty-two. They have so much more life ahead of them and I can’t wait to read about it.