Title: Stirring Up Trouble
Author: ZA Maxfield
Publisher: Maxfield Publishing
Buy link: Amazon.com (Second Edition)
Genre: Contemporary M/M
Length: Novel (158 paperback pages)
Rating: 5+ stars out of 5, DIK
Summary Review: The story and the characters rocked and I laughed in all the right places. If you love flawed characters, a story centered around food, great dialogue, and impeccable pacing, Stirring Up Trouble can’t miss.
Toby Andrews is cooking up more than a little trouble for Evan Blankenship. Because of pranks, indiscretions, and plain bad timing, his ability to work in New York’s temples of haute cuisine is a thing of the past. When Toby’s sister tells him he should look up an acquaintance whose restaurant — Le Potiron –is failing, he doesn’t have much choice.
Pretty soon he’s in bed, literally, with a cook who hates people, trying to save a restaurant that only the neighborhood mothers seem to love, and on the verge of another –possibly painful — lesson or two about what it means to be successful.
Evan hates everyone but Toby. Toby likes to stir things up. See what’s on the menu at Le Potiron, in Stirring Up Trouble.
Toby was fired for cause from his job as a chef at a high-end restaurant, Les Trois Artistes, because he had ruined executive chef Eduardo’s chance to make a good impression with a well known and highly regarded food critic, the god of food Tad Christopher. It didn’t matter that Toby really didn’t mean to screw up this time, but he did bring his 4 year old nephew to work (a no no) because his sister Deb had an important deposition that day and he was the only person available to pick up Adam from preschool. Adorable Adam committed the heinous crime of shooting his action figure into the salad intended for said food critic, which apparently is another no no, and to add further insult to injury, his marbles somehow got away from him, creating chaos as everyone skated on them while trying to remain standing. 🙂
Eduardo didn’t waste any time kicking Tony out, but not before telling him that by the time he was finished blackballing him he would not be fired again because he would never work again in the food industry. Tony soon found out that Eduardo was as good as his word as he couldn’t find a job at a hot dog stand. Deb came to his rescue by suggesting that he contact a former client who owned a restaurant that was on the verge of bankruptcy and was therefore frantic for help, any help, in the kitchen. When Toby showed up he realized how desperate owner and cook Evan Blankenship was as he looked around the place and took in what was a near disaster. It seemed that Evan’s former partner Dominic had absconded with all the meat, upscale furniture and fittings from Le Potiron when he left the partnership, in addition to taking all the money to open his own epicurean delight, all of which pushed Evan into bankruptcy. Now the only clients at Evan’s restaurant were new mothers who came mainly for a place to gossip and warm up their baby bottles.
Evan’s and Toby’s courtship was a delight as Toby used all his charm on the somewhat skeptical recipient, his new boss, who saw right through him but couldn’t resist what he offered. Evan was a wonderful flawed character who didn’t even know the meaning of the French name of his restaurant. All he wanted was to be left in peace to cook breakfasts and lunches for his few remaining clients who didn’t care about what was on the menu. Toby realized that he was falling for “pumpkin man” as he called Evan, whom he considered “charmed and dangerous.” Unfortunately Evan hated people, everyone except Toby, and he just wanted to be left alone by the world, but Toby wouldn’t let him hide and insisted on bringing the world into the restaurant. Gradually he weaned Evan away from his life as a misanthrope and made him over, even having him agree to cut his long braid, but his kilt (or skirt as Adam called it) was non negotiable. Toby almost signed the death warrant on their budding relationship when he went into full Captain Chaos mode by changing something that was very important to Evan without asking permission first, because his credo was: It was better to ask forgiveness than seek permission. The book went into even higher gear after the near disaster of the consequences of his philosophy.
Toby was called Captain Chaos after the character played by Dom DeLuise in the movie Cannonball Run – you have to watch the movie to understand the relevance of the nickname. 🙂 He couldn’t help who he was and he was oblivious regarding how dangerous his various plans were until the consequences could not be avoided. However he was well meaning and really wanted to do the right thing for everyone, (in his estimation), and be the best damn chef that he could be.
The sex between Toby and Evan was just as high voltage and delightful as their courtship, as they recognized they had something together that few lovers ever achieved. There’s some great dialogue in the book and here’s just one example when Toby and Evan were out on their first date:
“You probably didn’t get the memo but as chef/owner it’s your job to keep me on completely uneven ground. I’m supposed to feel that I have one foot on a banana peel and the other in the deep fryer at all times”
“Maybe that’s not how I work. Maybe I carrot-and-stick my employees.”
“Can we skip the carrot? Can we get to the stick already?”
“Has anyone ever told you ……?”
“Yeah, everyone. At least once”
ZAM created in Tad Christopher, writer and food critic, the biggest blow-hard, prick and hypocrite – a wonderful over the top villain whose characterization was priceless. His motto seemed to be “vengeance is mine ….and where’s the mirror.” Another villain was Eduardo, the puffed up executive chef at Les Trois Artistes, another self important bag of wind. There were so many wonderful characters in Stirring Up Trouble I would have to write another book to do them all justice – from Brendan, Evan’s unholy twin who was always causing trouble; to Adam the cutest nephew anyone would ever want to have; to sous-chef Geoffrey, Toby’s friend who tried to keep his ass out of the fires he created; to the mothers who supported Evan’s restaurant. I smiled at ZAM’s tip of the hat to bloggers in the book.
Ms Maxfield has written another gem and a winner. Run, don’t walk, to get a copy of Stirring Up Trouble today.