This is a spoiler free review of “A Taste of Sage” by Yaffa S. Santos.
Synopsis in a Sentence
An adult romantic comedy overflowing with culinary passion, glazed in latinx nostalgia, and sprinkled with magical realism.
medical trauma, oil burns, bar fight, sexually explicit and consensual scenes, sexism (addressed by a character and portrayed as commentary), cold/untruthful parents, loss of a parent, divorce, mild stalking/romantic obsession(addressed), unaddressed/mild eating disorder due to trauma, detailed descriptions of food, and more.
Lumi Santana is a chef with the gift of synesthesia–she can perceive a person’s emotions just by tasting their cooking. Despite being raised by a single mother who taught her that dreams and true love were silly fairy tales, she decides to take a chance and puts her heart and savings into opening a fusion restaurant in Inwood, Manhattan. The restaurant offers a mix of the Dominican cuisine she grew up with and other world cuisines that have been a source of culinary inspiration to her.
When Lumi’s eclectic venture fails, she is forced to take a position as a sous chef at a staid, traditional French restaurant in midtown owned by Julien Dax, a celebrated chef known for his acid tongue as well as his brilliant smile. Lumi and Julien don’t get along in the kitchen–to say Lumi is irritated by Julien’s smug attitude is an understatement, and she secretly vows never to taste his cooking. Little does she know that her resolve doesn’t stand a chance against Julien’s culinary prowess.
As Julien produces one delectable dish after another, each one tempting Lumi with its overwhelming aromas and gorgeous presentations, she can no longer resist and samples one of his creations. She isn’t prepared for the feelings that follow as she’s overcome with intense emotions. She begins to crave his cooking throughout the day, which throws a curveball in her plan to save up enough money and move on as soon as possible. Plus, there’s also the matter of Esme, Julien’s receptionist who seems to always be near and watching. As the attraction between Lumi and Julien simmers, Lumi experiences a tragedy that not only complicates her professional plans, but her love life as well…
Clever, witty, and romantic, A Taste of Sage is sure to delight and entertain readers until the very last page.
-Synopsis from Goodreads
My Rating: 3.5/5 or 5.86/10
If you’re looking for a story featuring an own voices Dominican woman with undeniable strength and independence, and the brooding, asshole from Quebec who doesn’t stray from tradition, but changes his ways for love, then you should definitely give this book a try.
The main characters’ contrasting personalities create a fun dynamic and believable chemistry for their romance. Lumi grows a lot throughout this story, changing her mind on all sorts of beliefs regarding relationships, business, and loving one’s own appearance. On the other hand, Julien grows in a culinary sense and randomly begins to treat other characters better, but his behavior in the beginning is never addressed and when things don’t go his way later in the book, he is still an asshole to some of the other characters. So, his character growth isn’t earned nor validated, making his character a lot less developed and interesting than Lumi’s.
This story is told in dual POV, which is nice for getting both sides of the story. Both of the audiobook narrators did a good job giving unique voice to the characters, although the feminine narrator had some cringe-y moments of dialogue that made some of the feminine characters sound over dramatic and slightly sexual in nonsexual situations. Otherwise, the accent the narrator gave Lumi is great, and both narrators did an excellent job giving life to the characters.
In regards to side characters, they unfortunately were all given similar personalities and voices, so it was hard to discern them from one another. Although, that may have just been an issue with the audiobook experience.
This story is full of heartwarming and dramatic family/friendship dynamics that give this book it’s nostalgic charm. This book may be especially emotional for those of latin and/or single parent childhoods. Additionally, there is a lot of conversation about parental expectations and success, which adds important conversation to the family themes.
I love Lumi as a character, when she’s not around Julien. Her character is strong, familiar, and authentic, until she’s on page with Julien. It’s not a travesty that she makes uncharacteristic decisions around him, but it does take a bit from the story for me personally.
Although, the friends blended together a bit, I still love the found family aspects of this book, especially at the end.
This story takes place majoritively in New York with a brief interlude in Florida. Without having much knowledge of those locations, the atmosphere is minimally described. With a familiarity of those areas, this story could be very atmospheric and even nostalgic for some readers.
For those who want lengthy, immersive descriptions of setting and atmosphere, this story will not satisfy, but that is not to say there isn’t any. This book is on par with the recent standard for atmosphere in romcom novels.
I don’t personally know New York super well, but I’ve been there and remember some of the culture and landscape. I don’t think it takes from the story to not have a familiarity with the location, but I do think it could certainly be a more immersive experience if you are.
I personally prefer a more atmospheric read, so this one was a bit of a let down in that regard. Not the worst I’ve encountered, but not quite to my standards of atmosphere.
While this book is no Bronte, it is still well written. There are not many glaring moments that draw the reader out of the story, which is not always the case for contemporary. The writing is far from perfect, but there are some unique quirks to this novel that for some could be a huge bonus.
This novel has recipes written in the tone of the main character at the end of every chapter that add a lot of charm and fun to the reading experience. If you like books featuring food and actual recipes, this book is a must try.
There is a time and a place for simple, straightforward writing. I think romantic comedy is often one of them. As someone who prefers lengthy, flower-y fantasy, I do generally seek out contemporaries with fluffier writing (for the genre), but it’s not always necessary for me to enjoy a book.
In the case of this book, the unique use of recipes was enough for me to ignore the thinner writing in order to enjoy the read. Unlike “Read Between the Lines”, which had nothing going for it aside from a dog and bookish themes, “A Taste of Sage” was able to keep me interested with other unique elements despite the plain writing.
Keeping in mind that this is a romantic comedy, there is still a deep lack of plot. The pacing is inconsistent, and there are many points throughout the book where the author could have spent more time or even ended the story. The final act conflict that happens between the love interests feels unnecessary and unrealistic, and Lumi’s willingness to just do whatever Julien wanted without any validation to the reader doesn’t create an interesting or believable plot.
The hate to love is not very developed. The characters go from hating each other to unearned insta-love within a single paragraph, which doesn’t create a very satisfying romance for some people.
The largest drawback for this book is the plot. I was constantly wondering when something would finally happen, and the final conflict was such a disappointment. The insta-love is what ultimately pulled me out of my reading experience. I still enjoyed the book and obviously finished it, but it is not going to be an all time favorite or highly recommended book for me.
The culinary focus, magical realism, and likable main character will likely be what keeps readers interested in this story, because the plot/romance is predictable and lacking depth. For those who need a light, quick romance with delicious food scenes and latinx nostolgia, this book could be interesting enough for those readers.
The latinx themes, family messages, magical realism, and culinary passion are ultimately what kept me reading this book. The romance is cute, but it didn’t have me foaming at the mouth with undying love for the characters. But, it isn’t bland enough that I had to stop reading, so that’s a win in my book.
This book is severely lacking in logic. The main characters go from hating to loving each other with almost no development between them. Lumi contradicts herself about her feelings towards Julien, (and not in a writing craft kind of way, but more like doing the opposite of what she thinks in a single paragraph) and she even just goes along with whatever Julien wants from her in the beginning despite her obvious hate for him. There are not enough hints to the reader at her hidden or buried feelings.
As for Julien, he’s obviously the jerk of the story, who treats his employees and basically everyone like trash, who is supposed to have a change of heart for love. That change of heart happened the instant he realized his feelings for Lumi, and the way he treats people is never addressed by Lumi once their relationship begins. Additionally, when the last act conflict happens, Julien goes back to being a jerk! There is no character development or confrontation between Lumi and Julien about the way he treats people. Lumi doesn’t even question him being rude.
The final act conflict was unnecessary and silly. Of course the characters have trouble communicating, ghost each other, and have to be apart and depressed for no reason. They both overreact and assume the other’s meaning. It’s just not logical for two adults to have such a bare bone conversation with missing pieces and respond so immaturely. Yes, they both have their pasts to overcome, but if this crazy love they suddenly have is real, wouldn’t they want to communicate that the other person is wrong about their assumptions to make it work? The whole conflict wouldn’t have happened if one sentence was said and Julien didn’t blow up for no reason.
Lastly, it’s kind of hard to believe that Lumi would not have questioned her own beliefs about men and relationships that were handed down from her mother. She had to have watched TV and movies enough to know that things aren’t guaranteed to be horrible. Lumi is a grown woman, so it would be logical that she could come to her own conclusions or at least question them for this future she wants.
I wish this book had some more time in the planning and editing phases. The logical issues are a major reason this book is just mediocre to me, and I wouldn’t go recommend it to anyone and everyone.
There were countless moments that I was drawn out of the story feeling like what was happening didn’t seem realistic. And the issue isn’t the magical realism, because that was my favorite device in this story.
Overall, if you are interested in the concept of this story and know what you’re getting into, this could be a very fun and easy read. The audiobook is nice when you just need something to listen to while doing other things.
Although the story is far from perfect, many people will enjoy it for its representation, culinary passion, and spicy romance.
I personally enjoyed this read, despite its flaws. I would consider this mediocre in quality, but still fun. It scratched my itch for a spicy romance with some unique elements.
The lower quality character development and world building tends to be my issue with romance and contemporary. I still enjoy the genre, I just wish authors and editors spent more time and energy on quality. So many romance books have amazing concepts and potential but fall short, because they read like they were quickly written/edited.
Some examples of believable romances that I absolutely adored (though not perfect) would be Winter’s Orbit, The Simple Wild, and the Park Ranger Series.
Thank you for checking out this review! If you enjoyed this piece, please consider checking out my other recent review for the Adult Dark Fantasy Novel Romance novel: A Fate of Wrath & Flame!
-Knight of Cups ❤
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