Series: None, I think?
Release Date: August 27th, 2013
Publisher: Walker Children's
Rating: 1.5 stars
Word Rating: *cringe*
Reviewed by: Blythe
If you can grill it, smoke it, or fry it, Nora Henderson knows all about it. She’s been basting baby back ribs and pulling pork at her father’s barbeque joint since she was tall enough to reach the counter. When she’s accepted to Taste Test, a reality-television teen cooking competition, Nora can’t wait to leave her humble hometown behind, even if it means saying good-bye to her dad and her best friend, Billy. Once she’s on set, run-ins with her high-society roommate and the maddeningly handsome—not to mention talented—son of a famous chef, Christian Van Lorten, mean Nora must work even harder to prove herself. But as mysterious accidents plague the kitchen arena, protecting her heart from one annoyingly charming fellow contestant in particular becomes the least of her concerns. Someone is conducting real-life eliminations, and if Nora doesn’t figure out who, she could be next to get chopped for good.
With romance and intrigue as delectable as the winning recipes included in the story, this debut novel will be devoured by all.
This review contains some spoilers for Taste Test. (If you want, skip to the end for a TL;DR version of my review, because yes, I realize it's insanely long. I have a lot to rant about.)
It's funny how some things work out, don't you think? The first of the two days in which I read Taste Test, I had already begun turning over in my head all of the points and clever food puns I would make in my eventual glowing review, and I was practically unable to stop gushing about Taste Test, as anyone following me on Twitter can attest to.
Day two? Let's just say that I think everyone, including me, was quite shocked by the amount of vitriol I held against the novel both on Goodreads and Twitter. A book that I had endlessly gushed about a day earlier was one I soon found myself swearing at and almost condemning, and honestly, the fact that I did love the first quarter or so of this novel is one of the very few reasons I'm holding back on giving it the complete one star rating I feel the majority of the novel deserves.
One thing you should probably know about me is that I am a huge fan of competition shows, especially those involving cooking. Chopped and MasterChef are two of my favorite shows, as is Big Brother, so when I found the first quarter of this novel to be likened to the lovechild of all three of those TV shows, I was essentially in my own special little heaven. The MC, Nora, was delightfully snarky (if not sending off quite large red-flags with her judgmental nature) throughout the entire first quarter, and the cast of characters/competitors, while almost painfully cliché, was something I found to be undeniably fun. As well as that, I had a lot of fun reading about the competitions and life inside the Taste Test house, and found myself anticipating the next competition eagerly.
But that's where anything positive I'm able to say about this novel comes to a screeching halt--and literally each and every one of those positives I've noted above are contradicted, mangled, and thrown in the trash all within the second half of Taste Test. Let's get to Nora and the rest of the cast first, shall we?
I hate them all. Out of all of the characters in the novel, I only liked two of them--one of which gets friend-zoned in quite possibly the most annoying fashion probable, and the other is involved in a twist towards the end that, like most other things I liked in the novel, immediately opposed everything I liked about the character. Go figure.
Nora is a snarky character, and I appreciate some of the witty comments she made throughout the novel, which is another reason (and a generous one, if you ask me), I am withholding from using the full one star rating for Taste Test, much to my chagrin. However, with that having been said, Nora is also a pretty awful person, and is immature (almost as immature as the love interest, but trust me, I'll get to that), judgmental (immediately upon entering the competition, she is judging the fellow competitors based on how they look, where they came from, what they wear), and she makes endless slut-shaming comments throughout all of Taste Test. There is no lesson learned by Nora that calling someone a ho-bag, a whore, a slut is a wrong thing to do, and she doesn't stop calling people (namely her roommate) these names at any definitive point in the novel. Granted, her roommate is not the nicest person, but she, nor anyone, deserves to be treated with as little respect as Nora treats her, regardless of the amount of respect her roommate may treat Nora with in return. With that aside, however, it is also something to note that Nora does stick up for herself concerning how she's treated by contestants (*cough* the love interest) in the house, and while I appreciated that, what's the use or take-away factor of calling someone disgusting, repulsive, vile, and slapping them across the face, when one chapter later you're admitting your love for them? Which brings me to the charming little bastard in Taste Test that is the love interest, Christian.
This little prick could take his infuriatingly arrogant self and dry hump a cactus, for all I care. There is no doubt in my mind that if Christian weren't made out to be a love interest, Taste Test would have gotten a higher rating from me--maybe even three stars. But nope, with Christian, Kelly Fiore has created arguably one of the most infuriating and inconsistent characters I have ever had the displeasure to read about in my entire life.
Do you find love interests who continuously threaten, insult, and "jokingly" try to sexually assault the main character? If so, make no mistake: Christian is the perfect love interest for you. If, however, you're one of those readers who like a broken asshole of a love interest, but they're eventually redeemed, Christian will not be the love interest for you, as he is the same broken asshole by the end of the novel as he is in the beginning. We are offered some half-hearted attempt at a character redemption for Christian in Taste Test, that attempt being that his father treats him awfully, and that's why he is the way he is, blah blah blah sob story sob story. While I had read this rolling my eyes and expecting Nora to do the same, Christian receives just the right amount of sympathy from Nora that gets her to like him immediately.
Let me straighten this out: in one chapter, Christian has grabbed "jokingly" at Nora's belt to take her pants off without her consent*, he insults her an indeterminate amount of times (he compares her appearance to that of Quasimodo, but of course Nora is flattered that "he's paid enough attention around her to notice how her body reacts when he's around"), and he threatens her an indeterminate amount of times, and the next chapter she comes to the realization that she likes him.
* "Is that your motive? Do you want to get under my skin?"
"If I wanted to get under your skin, I could do a lot more than stare at you.""Oh, really? I don't think it can get much worse than that."I feel him move a little closer. He leans in and murmurs, "Maybe I want to get under something, but not necessarily your skin. Maybe just under these jeans." He tugs hard at one of my belt loops and I feel my stomach turn over on itself.
[Few chapters after all of the aforementioned threatening, insulting, and near-raping, and also their second kiss together...keep that in mind when you read the passage] This time when Christian kisses me, his lips taste sweet and warm, like Christmas morning. I guess that's appropriate, since sitting her feels like a gift. Losing him, even briefly, made me realize how much I want to be with him, how attached I already am. Love is a funny thing. It makes you believe in things--like maybe there's a reason for this, for all of what's happened [all of her friends being critically injured--awesome friend, right?]
But, of all the things I am disappointed with in Taste Test, in the end I have to be most disappointed with how the competition itself is handled. Don't get me wrong, the "romance" (I shudder to call it that) both offends me and pisses me off endlessly, but I am even more disappointed in the competitions and how they're written in the novel. One of the main reasons I loved the first quarter of Taste Test so much was that I found the descriptions of the competition and the cooking aspects of it to be really fun. Although even that was written bluntly, they were enough to suit my needs and I was pleased with them.
Then I guess Fiore thought that the actual competitions wouldn't be something the readers would miss (when in actuality is was the one thing I was actually looking forward to when going into this), so she describes the outcome of the competitions as opposed to the competitions themselves. You want to actually see what the competitors cook, what goes on while they're cooking their dishes, and the suspense of finding out who goes home at the Elimination Table? Yeah, I did too. Instead, we're given a debrief on what happens in the competitions after each and every challenge that occurs after the first: we're told the dishes everyone makes, who goes home, and who won the challenges, but we're not put through the experience of that.
What's the point of having a novel about a cooking competition if you write about 10% of the competition itself, and 90% what happens during the competitions for the rest of the novel? Rhetorical question, there is truly no point. With Taste Test, the end product of the competitions is unsatisfying, frustrating, and, ultimately, undeniably lazy. Although this started off holding great potential, Taste Test was bogged down by awful and irrevocably unlikeable characters and an even more awful love interest, a shoddy mystery that is never the center of attention in the novel but more of something happening behind the drama, and unquestionably poor execution, Taste Test only ended up leaving a bitter taste in my mouth.
The competition is poorly written and is only described a few times, and very briefly when they are described. As opposed to describing the competitions and challenges and having the reader immersed into the competition themselves, Fiore just debriefs us on what happened in each challenge in a list format by the end of the chapter.
* "Why do you care anyway? Blondie or Bambi or whatever her name is seems very pleased to be back in your presence."
Christian raises his eyebrows. "Well, can you blame her?"
** "May the best chef win," Christian says, holding his hand out. Grudgingly, I reach out to shake it, but he quickly pulls away and runs it through his hair instead.
*** "You busy?"
"If you're asking if I want to throw the football, you've lost your mind."
"Of course not," he scoffs. "Everyone knows girls can't play football."
Christian raises his eyebrows. "Well, can you blame her?"
I do not like these characters.
I do not like this book.
I need chocolate.