What we see on TV isn’t always real, and no one knows that better than Justin Mallory, who won the first season of the World’s Best Baking Show, a reality baking competition, at the age of 19. Ever since, he’s used his fame to catapult him to the top with endorsement deals from whiskey, to cars, to baking and cooking products. He has fans worldwide and his name on aprons, whisks, and everything in between. He’s a millionaire several times over and now, for the money, he’s back in the studio one last time for a charity bake-off centered around the upcoming holiday season.
Brody Thomas, who won season four of the show, is using this return to the baking show as a chance to get his self-confidence back. After a bitter, angry, and messy divorce he needs something to help him get his feet back beneath him. Being on the show will bolster Bakes by Brody, his modest bakery, and he could use the money. His ex embezzled money from Brody and father, cheated on Brody, belittled him, and wore him down to nothing but nerves and bitterness. It’s also the chance to be on the stage with Justin, who had had a major crush on during college and who, now that Brody gets a chance to be in the same room with him, looks even better in person than he does on TV.
With the help of a snowman named Jeremy, their fellow cheftestants, and a few holiday sweaters, Justin and Brody might just have their first kiss. And if they’re lucky … a second one to follow.
For Justin, money is happiness. It’s safety and security. It’s an obsession of his to have five million dollars in his bank account. For some reason, he has it in his head that when he’s reached that magical number things will … be different. Be better. No one will be able to hurt him again. He’ll have stability and safety and can finally start living his life. Until then, it’s all about the image, the brand, and the social media account where he smiles, poses shirtless, and says all the right things to get the most likes and follows. Lately, though, he’s been wondering why none of it seems to matter, anymore.
We never really get a look at Justin beyond his present; there’s never a chance to see behind the curtains to explain why he’s so closed off — and never any real indication about his happiness or unhappiness. Justin is (I believe) demisexual. He needs time to build up a real relationship with people before he can feel emotional attachment to them, romantic or otherwise. And while his social media followers can give the illusion of support and friendship, it’s not real. Brody, though, is. And as the weeks and episodes go by, Justin realizes he wants what Brody is offering. Friendship, companionship, and love.
Brody was blindsided by his fiance who proposed to him after he won season four of the WBBS. But Marc was as in love with Brody’s fame and fortune as everything else— if not more so. Now, he’s nervous about starting something with Justin who might just be using him for little more than some more online points from his fans. But when Justin puts down the phone and starts opening himself to Brody, Brody can’t help but see the brilliant man Justin actually is. They make each other laugh, they speak the same language, with both of them loving baking rather than just seeing it as a hobby or a job. They click in a way Brody and his ex didn’t.
This is a frothy and light holiday story but there were two issues I had with this book that, unfortunately, made it hard to get past. During the first big discussion Brody and Justin are having, something that’s both argument and confession where Brody is explaining why he wants to take things slow and where Justin is trying to explain his own feelings, Brody’s twin brother calls to yell at Brody. He then demands to talk to Justin, gives a cheesy, cheery, shotgun speech — “I’ll break your dick if you hurt him, now go get him tiger, grr!” — that breaks the mood and adds nothing to the scene. Brody and Justin were already connecting; Adam’s involvement added nothing and took away everything.
There’s another scene, near the end, where Brody has to deal with his ex in the final confrontation to prove he’s fully over him. It’s heavy-handed, so very one-sided and unbalanced that it feels … comical. The sort of scene where I felt like a glass of wine should be thrown into someone’s face for the drama of it. It wasn’t needed, it added nothing, and to me it felt out of place.
Other than those two scenes, though, the book mostly worked. The writing was good, and while the story meandered a bit with the plot and the pacing was a bit brisk, it was overall a nice little holiday romance. It will, however, leave you hungry for something sweet, so if you’re going to pick this one up, pick up a snack while you’re at it.