cover image The Spice Master at Bistro Exotique

The Spice Master at Bistro Exotique

Samantha Vérant. Berkley, $17 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-0-593-54600-0

Vérant (Sophie Valroux’s Paris Stars) returns to France and food with this enjoyable if predictable outing. Narrator Kate Jenkins is days away from opening Bistro Exotique, her dream restaurant in Paris, where she hopes to demonstrate her theory that “food is passion in its purest form.” Shortly before the opening, she meets her mysterious neighbor and landlord, Garrance, a “spice lady, scent master, and herbalist,” as well as a man she dubs Anti-Keanu because his looks remind her of Keanu Reeves, even if he’s rude. When the first lunch service is a disaster, Kate has mere weeks to turn things around before she’ll lose her lease. Garrance, meanwhile, vetoes some decorating decisions and insists Kate open her kitchen to Anti-Keanu, whose name is Charles and who turns out to be a famous chef as well as Garrance’s son. An enemies-to-lovers plot ensues, in which Kate negotiates her dueling passions for cooking and Charles. While the humor falls flat, as do some of the subplots (Charles’s evil supermodel ex-girlfriend), Kate makes for an endearingly plucky heroine, and colorful side characters abound, like Kate’s sex therapist mother, Cri-Cri. This won’t get a Michelin rating, but it will do in a pinch. Agent: Jessica Mileo, InkWell Management. (Dec.)