First-time novelist McCouch adds an intriguing element to an otherwise typical contemporary romance plot: she takes readers inside the New York restaurant scene, where men rule the kitchen and a female sous-chef is seen as a glorified hostess. A graduate of Le Cordon Bleu, 28-year-old Layla Mitchner dreams of becoming a chef, but has to settle for working garde-manger—in layman's terms, tossing salads. When her chauvinistic boss, Noel, refuses to let her move up the restaurant ladder, Layla quits her job and takes a hard look at her life outside of the kitchen—she can barely pay her bills, has major problems with her quasi-famous actress mother and hasn't been on a date in months. She allows herself to be fixed up with Dick Davenport, an upstanding guy whom she quickly dismisses because he wears loafers with tassels. She then falls for sexually adventurous Frank (his black work boots pass muster). At first Layla believes she's in heaven, but an excess of quality time with Frank during a weekend away finds her reconsidering: "What I say I want is true love, just like every other human being on the planet. I want men on their knees holding little blue Tiffany's boxes. So why am I here in this two-bit motel getting handcuffed by Frank?" A number of chance run-ins with Dick remind her of his virtues, while a bit of résumé-doctoring promises that her career might revive as well. The ending is a bit abrupt, but this light and witty fare will leave chick-lit fans sated. (July 1)
Forecast:McCouch's irreverent take on restaurant work will please fans of Anthony Bourdain, and a sassy jacket will hook beach-going readers.