Thursday, July 2, 2015

Hungry for You (Argeneau #14) by Lynsay Sands

Alexandra Willan is an up and coming chef who simply doesn't have time for romance.  Alex is busy trying to open up a second location for restaurant, worried about being afford the mistakes that keep cropping up while building and dreaming about earning a Michelin Star.  When Sam calls to tell Alex about a man she simply needs to meet, Sam most certainly doesn't have time for her sisters match making now that her head chef has just quit.  When Sam mentions that Cale is a chef, Alex decides that he might just be who she needs to meet.  Cale is a 2,000 year old immortal who has lost interest in most things and therefore has agreed to meet Alex to humour his aunt Marguerite.  When he quickly realises that he cannot read Alex, suddenly he realises that agreeing to pretend to be a chef might not have been such a good idea, particularly given that its been centuries since he's eaten.  

If you're reading this review I am going to assume that you've read this series.  At this point, the Argeneau series has gotten repetitive at best.  What first attracted me to this series was Sands injection of humour into the stories.  Unfortunately, that strain of humour that keeps these books interesting simply wasn't in this novel.  Hungry for You is formulaic and absolutely forgettable.  Cale is absolutely indistinguishable from any other love interest in this genre.  Let the man titteh begin. Another problem with Cale is that I didn't really feel his age.  Sure, he didn't watch television, occasionally messed up modern slang and couldn't use a microwave but none of that gave me a sense that I was reading about a 2,000 year old immortal.  

In terms of Alex, I really like that she's a modern, independent successful woman.  She comments briefly about the sexism in the culinary industry and I really wish that Sands had gotten into this more deeply.  Instead, Sands made Alex's strength come largely from the people that she has lost: grandfather and parents.  Far too often just killing off and isolating the female protagonist is how authors had depth and I think this tactic did Alex a disservice.  Yes, her sister Sam was in the background but Sam's main role really became about pairing off Alex more than working to support her.  

It really irked me that members of the Argeneau family quite liberally controlled Alex - particularly Bricker.  Sure, their intentions were good but it served the purpose of removing Alex's agency.  What irks me is that Alex, like many of the female love interests, seems to have no real lasting issue with this. Sure it led to her making a tin foil hat which was mildly amusing but certainly didn't make up for her lack of real concern about the loss of her autonomy.

Like many books in the Argeneau series, Sands tries to include some mystery or something that lovers have to deal with before they can declare HEA.  In this case, someone is trying to stop the opening of Alex's new restaurant.  Cue Cale to the rescue.  Before he arrived, Alex was barely treading water and very much in danger of having the opening ruined.  Once Cale arrives, he fixes the problems with her distributors and workmen.  This is supposed to show that they are a good match because Cale is detail and task oriented while Alex is creative.  First off, this line of plot is absolutely gender essentialist and then, there's the issue that it's male love interest swooping in to deal with big issues the little woman cannot handle.  Why have Alex deal with sexism in the culinary industry, only then to twist her career and relationship in a very gender binary fashion? It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

One of the things that deeply irked me about the book is that Hungry for You is set in Toronto.  I know Toronto very well because that's where I grew up.  Toronto is easily the most multicultural city in Canada and yet Sands decided to make it all White and throws in one disposable gay couple in passing.  I found myself absolutely steaming at the lack of real inclusion.  It's absolutely not representative of the city that I call my home.  

Then there's the disableism.  The antagonist in Hungry for You is Jacques, a former boyfriend of Alex. Jacques opens up a French restaurant six months after Alex does, he messes with her workers and property manager. When that doesn't work, Jacques tries to have Alex kidnapped and finally, personally attempt to run Alex off the road.  It's clear that this is a man who is absolutely obsessed with Alex and physically violent as well. Naturally, he's not sane.  Nope.  Once again, the antagonist  is criminally violent and is mentally ill.  Sands even refers to Jacques as "cuckoo". This benevolent pair decide that the best thing to do is wipe Jacques memory and dump him in an institution.   Naturally, Jacques is lucky because the alternative is death.  I'm not at all pleased with the idea that a criminally insane Jacques is the antagonist, nor that the solution is to wipe his memory and dump him in a hospital.  The whole thing just stinks of disableism.  

For the record I don't go into these books looking for the next great novel.  I don't think that it will be a life changing experience.  I pick up an Argeneau book hoping to kill a few hours and potentially have a few laughs.  That's my sole goal and it's a low goal at that.  When I set the standard so low and it cannot be met, that signals to me that at this point, Sands has run out of ideas.  It feels like Hungry for You, was simply pieced together, with no great thought and it shows.