Author: Jayci Lee
Aubrey Choi loves living in her small town nestled in the foothills of California, running her highly successful bakery away from the watch of her strict Korean parents. When a cake mix-up and a harsh review threaten all of her hard work and her livelihood, she never thought the jaded food critic would turn out to be her one-night stand. And she sure as hell never thought she’d see the gorgeous Korean hunk again. But when Landon Kim waltzes into her bakery trying to clean up the mess he had a huge hand in making, Aubrey is torn between throwing and hearing him out.
When she hears his plan to help save her business, Aubrey knows that spending three weeks in California wine country working with Landon is a sure recipe for disaster. Her head is telling her to take the chance to save her bakery while her heart—and her hormones—are at war on whether to give him a second chance. And it just so happens that Landon’s meddling friends want them to spend those three weeks as close as possible…by sharing a villa.
When things start heating up, both in and out of the kitchen, Aubrey will have to make a choice—to stick it out or risk her heart.
A Sweet Mess was a very feel-good romance story with food in it, both baked goods and options that are more savory. There are even recipes for Korean bulgogi and pecan cranberry shortbread cookies at the end that I am anxious to try out. I have made bulgogi many times before, so I am curious how the author’s version will turn out. Shortbread cookies are amazing, too, so I am looking forward to trying them as well! The story is full of a lot of good food and other cooking references. The story all begins with a Frankencake, which was a chocolate bunt cake filled with peanut butter and cream cheese along with gummy worms. I would never order this cake, but the combination intrigued me a lot, as I am curious if the combination would be surprisingly good or just horrific.
Aubrey Choi is the 27-year-old owner and baker at Comfort Zone. It is a tiny bakery that she hopes to expand in Weldon, a quiet California town on the outer edges of the Sierra Nevada that is a popular stopover city to people passing through instead of staying long-term. Although I can picture a small town in general, I would have liked a little more description just to connect me more with the location. I would be curious about what makes this small town stand out to the characters and why it feels like home to them. Aubrey created the Frankencake for a six-year-old, Andy’s, birthday party. Lily, Aubrey’s high school part-timer, mistakenly sold it during a busy period to another patron as the cake looked exactly like the bakery’s special of the week on the outside. Aubrey cannot believe that a mistake was made, but she can only do her best to try to prevent it in the future, as she does not know who bought the cake.
After the disastrous day, Aubrey visits her best friend, Tara Park’s business, Weldon Brewery, for a much-needed drink. Tara and Aubrey are two of six Asian locals as Tara’s family make-up the other four, so Aubrey is surprised when she runs into an Asian man, who she never saw before. This aspect of the story, I felt, could have used a little more as their feelings about being the minority in the town’s population. I enjoyed the introductions into family traditions and its struggles plus family dynamics, but I just wanted to learn more. He introduces himself as Landon and the two of them immediately hit it off and end up spending the night together. As Landon was only in town for the one night due to needing a new tire, the two of them part seemingly never to know about the other again.
Landon Kim is a 34-year-old celebrity food critic and blogger, who has worked for California Coast Monthly for the past decade and travels around the world eight months out of the year. Landon’s background with his dream of opening up his own restaurant and his start with becoming a food critic was very interesting. Without knowing that Aubrey was the baker, Landon decides to write a scathing review about the Frankencake that he purchased. Unfortunately, once he finds out that Aubrey was the owner and her business is in trouble because of the review, he is unwilling to put his reputation at risk and write a retraction or re-review the bakery. He has a slight change of heart when Lily bursts into his office to plea the bakery’s case, but Landon does not budge on the review portion. Instead, he offers Aubrey a spot on a tv show that he will executive produce. The show revolves around cooking and is hosted and co-executive produced by his good friend, Aria Santini in Bosque Verde, California.
Once Aubrey agrees to be on the show, the story transitions to their accommodations in Bosque Verde. There are two two-bedroom villas owned by Landon and Aria’s friend, Lucien, who owns Le Ciel vineyard and a winery in San Miguel. Originally, Landon and Lucien would stay together and Aria would stay with Aubrey. As Aria likes Lucien, she changed the plan so Landon and Aubrey must stay together. Essentially, this created the forced-proximity trope within the story. While I liked Aubrey and Landon getting to know each other, something felt lacking in my will to root for them to get together. The characters do not want to be together due to their reputations with the public and some pieces from their pasts. Each of them has a different fear for why they do not want to enter into the new relationship. Neither of them had a good role model for a healthy relationship, which is very relatable for many people. While I loved this part of the story, I feel that the writing just scratched the surface of what is going through these character’s minds and I wanted more. The two characters had incredible chemistry together and I liked the two of them interacting together as they were cute.
Overall, this was a very sweet story. I learned about a new berry, the olallieberry, that now I have to seek out to try as it sounds amazing! There is a “twist” that comes up a little over halfway into the book that seemed unnecessary as it felt a little forced to add additional drama. For me, there was enough going on with the characters and their many obstacles to try to work things out to be together, so it seemed a little unnecessary. Also, due to its presence, the ending felt a little rushed. The tension and build up for the will-they-won’t-they as the characters are drawn together and pull away is what made the story excellent, but the rushed feeling towards the end took away from that build-up, for me. This was still a very sweet story filled with great characters and, as I have the ARC for the second novel, I will be moving on in the series!