French Roast, the second in the Dare Valley Trilogy, picks up effortlessly from where Nora Roberts Land left off, with Jill Hale (the sister of our previous heroine, Meredith Hale) struggling with her on-again, off-again and generally too-hot-to-handle romance with the figurative boy next door who had captured her heart in the second grade (Brian McConnell).
Unlike Nora Roberts Land, French Roast is not quite a standalone book; overall, someone could pick it up and it would be entertaining, but there are references that would be missed, and the characters would be just a tiny bit less gripping without the groundwork that was laid in Nora Roberts Land. But French Roast carries the same heart and I liked how the ending fit perfectly with the characters’ stories and interdependent development.
Going from toddler-mates to friends-as-teenagers-with-raging-hormones, to painful antipathy and abandonment, to adults who are finding their deep connection sparking something primal and unconquerable, is quite difficult for anyone. Throw in the circumstances facing Jill (she’s already insecure and now there’s a silky seductress — replete with a French accent, decadent foodie skills, and a body that turns men into mush from 50 paces — in town to lay claim to her man, and said man has already proven that he can’t be relied upon) and Brian (who is so scarred from the divorce and the you-call-that-a-marriage? relationship between his parents that he keeps being scared from committing before the commitment can give him something to be scared about) and it’s a recipe for disaster.
Ms. Miles draws from her experiences as an apprentice chef in her writing of French Roast and it shows. As a fellow foodie, I loved the feel of authenticity of the food references, and the recipes at the end looked positively divine. (Food and romance always go well together, and with French Roast the food-sensual scenes gave just the right blend of sweet and spicy.)
The characters of Jill (who embraces vibrant colors, a vivacious outlook and who is secure with herself as a businesswoman if nothing else) and Brian (who likes clean lines, elegant plating, subtle melodies of tastes, and who desperately needs to prove his salt as a chef after a run-in with his previous employer) creates a nice yin-yang energy to the work.
I couldn’t wait to carry forward the story of the new romance that was introduced (between Peggy McBride and Mac Maven) though part of me felt that there was so much groundwork laid for the next story that it diluted from the experience of Jill and Brian (who were featured less prominently in Nora Roberts Land). I was also somewhat spoiled by the intrigue present in Nora Roberts Land so that the mysteries around Mac Maven and The French Barbie (as she was often considered by Jill) were less enthralling. However, I enjoyed the change of pacing, and the final resolution kept me guessing to the end in its own way.
The finale, Grand Opening (due in September), promises to have its own form of intrigue and an entirely different kind of romance, so I didn’t feel quite bereft from the lack of suspense I anticipated after Nora Roberts Land.
Ms. Miles has successfully created a sequel with the same flavor as a Nora Roberts series (going with my experiences with the Inn BoonsBoro trilogy), while maintaining texture and spice.