In Love & Other Disasters by Anita Kelly, Dahlia is nervous but excited to begin competing on the popular reality cooking show, Chef’s Special. She has recently gotten divorced and moved to a small apartment, and her debt from university is looming over her, so the prize money would mean a fresh start. But when she meets London, a fellow competitor with strawberry blond hair and brilliant cooking skills, Dahlia has to reevaluate her future plans. As their relationship grows and becomes something romantic though, both of them have to consider if this can go anywhere off-set, or if they aren’t meant to be.
I was excited to listen to this audiobook, because I enjoy romcoms, cooking, and stories featuring queer characters, and this delivers on all three of those!
I really enjoyed this story. Both Dahlia and London are engaging protagonists with rich personalities, sympathetic struggles, and wonderful chemistry. Both of them are given a good amount of backstory, as well as growth both together and separately. I think the complexities of Dahlia’s guilt over her divorce, and the struggles London faces as the first openly nonbinary contestant on the show are dealt with very well. These aren’t easy topics, but Kelly presents them with care and never lets things get too heavy. After all, this is a romcom, and romcoms deal in happiness and hope.
Still, I like that we didn’t shy away from depicting the way so many people still react to people who are trans, nonbinary, or in any other way gender nonconforming. The characters who are unkind or deliberately misunderstand London’s identity aren’t rewarded, and plenty of characters are supportive and decent. Although, another part of me wishes everything went smoothly and everything was wonderful, because I really like London and want good things for them!
On another note, the side characters are great. I really liked Barbara and the main characters’ siblings. The other contestants on the show aren’t given much time, but the scenes that took place on the set were still engaging. But the best moments with the secondary characters were probably the scenes with Dahlia’s mother and with London’s sister. They were very sweet and honest moments of family that helped show how both these people have grown due to their relationship.
I also liked the way this book explores the exploitative and often deceptive nature of “reality” tv, even the non-scripted kind. Dahlia and London falling for each other on a show makes for some decent tension and conflict, though luckily nothing is too terrible or reacted to with too much melodrama. It’s a fairly grounded romcom with reasonable characters, thank goodness.
In the end, I thought Love & Other Disasters was an excellent book. Layered characters with undeniable chemistry, some delicious sounding food descriptions, and empathetic portrayals of queer characters made this a great summer read for me. It’s not the most astounding book in the world, but it accomplishes its goals and entertains while incorporating some wonderful themes and emotion. Anita Kelly is a writer I’ll probably read again someday!
(P.S. What is it with queer people loving “The Chain” by Fleetwood Mac? Because it’s mentioned in this book a favorite song of Dahlia’s, and is featured in Our Flag Means Death. Also this is your sign to go watch Our Flag Means Death if you haven’t already.)