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Salt + Stilettos by Janet Walden-West

Blurb: Sweet Home Alabama meets Top Chef when Miami’s most determined image consultant clashes with Samoa’s most uncooperative chef in a race to rebrand him as South Beach’s newest star. Brett Fontaine learned early that appearance matters and not to count on anyone but yourself. Trading her red-dirt roots for the title of Miami’s go-to image consultant, she refuses to let anything jeopardize her new life. Not an influential client-turned-stalker who’s up for parole. Not post-kidnapping panic attacks. Certainly not the stubborn, attention-phobic chef she’s challenged to transform into a celeb in ninety days. Will Te’o can almost taste the dream he sacrificed American Samoa, culture, and cherished family ties for—opening a four star restaurant in the most cut-throat culinary location in North America. Unfortunately, that requires navigating it’s equally cut-throat social scene. When his first public performance ends in a social media spectacle, his only option is turning to the stiletto-wearing nemesis who’s invaded his kitchen. Neither expected to share anything but barbs, yet somewhere between accidentally bonding over comfort food and office-wrecking sex, they’re named South Beach’s hottest pairing. Until Brett’s stalker engineers a reputation-shattering reveal. She may be going down, but she’s not taking Will’s dreams with her. Now Will’s pulling out all his new skills and cooking up a last-ditch event. He’ll prove to Brett that relying on the right person makes for the perfect recipe—or be left heartbroken in the spotlight

Review: A friend of the author reached out to my blog and requested that I read her friend's book. I have a pretty long backlog of books TBR but I figured hey, this woman is super excited about her friend's book, I can't say no to that. So, I said yes, quick scanned the interest piquing blurb, promptly forgot what it was about, and waited for the ARC to come through. When it finally came through I'll admit that I wasn't entirely feeling the idea of a chef, but I figured I'd give it a few chapters to really intrigue me and man I'm glad I did. This book was fabulously written with unique, out-of-the-box characters, and just a really captivating plot. I'm not sure how Walden-West managed to create a hero who was both hot, adorkable, self-conscious with low self-esteem, and still made him one of the sexiest men I've ever had the pleasure of reading. I mean, I didn't even realize I was getting a little tired of the same old, same old in terms of alpha heroes with amazing bodies and egos the size of a damn airplane. I mean, jeez. Will was such a dynamic character with his body image issues compounded with him being a chef and then also suffering from a bit of a nasty breakup with a bit of a nasty lady. And I loved his American Samoan background. I found myself constantly googling phrases and bits and pieces about the culture in order to better understand him as a hero. His concern for Brett and her personal history made him the most thoughtful, kind, and considerate hero I've had the pleasure of reading in a long, long time. I mean, other heroes are hot but unattainable. Will was the kind of man you genuinely think you could meet in real life. Just an all around good guy. I thought I'd find Brett annoying, but she ended up being such a complicated heroine that even when she was pushing our hero away I found myself completely understanding her motives for doing so. I normally don't enjoy business-related romances, but this one really got to me. I enjoyed watching Brett build up Will's self-esteem with her genuine adoration and the dialogue between the two was just so beautiful and touching. I was swooning constantly. I think that the plot itself had just the right amount of drama (both internal and external to the relationship) to make it exciting without making it over the top anxiety-provoking. In the end, the story truly was the relationship between Will and Brett, but I'll say that secondary characters brought some tension-breaking humor to the book. Also, normally a location doesn't bring that much to a book, but South Beach was like its own character in the book and I enjoyed learning more about the specific culture of the area. There's a lot to praise in this book and very little to criticize. If wholesome, gentle giants and strong, professional heroines are your thing, then I can think of nothing better than sitting down with Salt + Stilettos and reading your fill.

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