Wednesday, August 19, 2015

4 Heart Review: How to Bake a Man by Jessica Barksdale Inclán

How to Bake a Man
Jessica Barksdale Inclán

Page Count: 280

Release Date: October 21st 2014 (paperback edition)
Publisher: Ghostwoods Books
Source: Complimentary advanced reading copy provided by tour publicist via publisher in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you, TLC Book Tours and Ghostwoods Books!)
Rating♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

When 27-year-old Becca Muchmore drops out of grad school, all she has left to fall back on is her baking. Ignoring her mother’s usual barrage of disapproval and disappointment, she decides to start a small business hand-delivering her wares. A friend introduces her to an office of hungry lawyers, who agree to give her a try. Her lizard-booted neighbor Sal is happy to help out when he can, and almost before she knows it, Becca’s Best is up and running.

Before she can settle into a routine, things get complicated. The office ogress could easily be Becca’s sister and has absolutely no patience with cookies or other frivolities. Even worse, her boyfriend is the man of Becca’s dreams—kind, funny, successful, and brain-meltingly gorgeous. As the dark undercurrents threaten to pull her down, Becca swiftly finds herself neck-deep in office politics, clandestine romance, and flour. Saving her business (and finding true love) is going to take everything she’s got, and more.

Packed with charm, sparkling humor, and a genuinely unforgettable cast, this delicious tale of a woman struggling to find her path just might be Jessica Barksdale Inclán’s finest novel to date.

Review


Coming-of-age stories are typical for YA audiences or teenage characters, but when they involve late-twenty-somethings in the backdrop of the bustling Bay Area, they unfold into an entirely different genre. Add a self-doubting underdog—our protagonist, Becca Muchmore—who has the power to cheer anyone up with her incredible baked goods, as well some ridiculously corny mishaps she encounters on her path to finding true love, and you've got How to Bake a Man, Jessica Barksdale Inclán's latest novel.

I'm new to this author, but was drawn to How to Bake a Man because it reads very contemporary—very feathery and cheerful and cutesy. The lightness of mood, however, comes at the expense of substance and depth, which this book thinks it has—slightly worse of an offense than a book that intentionally has no substance at all.

There are so many issues with the plot in terms of believability and (personal) tolerability, even for a romantic comedy-sque novel:

1. Becca Muchmore is a grad school dropout experiencing a crippling crisis after a terrible breakup.
Have we ever encountered anything more cliché?

2. To make ends meet, she starts a baked goods company, since baking has always been her lifelong passion. Immediately and effortlessly, she is picked up by the town's most prestigious law firm and asked to cater for their entire office; her business is a success right away.
Naturally.

3. At work, Becca meets Jennifer, the "ogress" of an antagonist of the story, who is her skinnier, prettier, smarter, wealthier, and more successful doppelgänger. She develops an obsession with Jennifer.
It is very uncomfortable.

4. Becca begins to suspect that Jennifer's equally perfect boyfriend is her soul mate. Her, as in Becca's, absolutely not Jennifer's.
Unrealistic dialogue and some very heavy petting occur.

5. Becca realizes she is terribly, terribly wrong about the soul mate thing... but all's okay because her actual soul mate turns out to be (at the last minute) her best friend. It was him all along! Surprise central!
As if the plot wasn't enough of a mess already.

Being a romance fanatic myself, I don't say this often... but the main love story should have been kept out of this book entirely. It would have made for a much cleaner, sharper novel about the coming-of-age of an unlikely heroine who finds herself, along with her true passions, by first being slammed with the harsh reality that is life. Instead, How to Bake a Man went the typical, overused route where Becca Muchmore faces a few career-related and personal complications (which, judging by the degree of their silliness and lack of depth, would only happen in some chick flick... or in this book) but instead ends up finding the love of her life in an unexpected—but entirely obvious—place.

Becca's obsession with Jennifer, her lookalike, is also really, really weird, and I don't understand how it even fits in with the main plot. There's so much concentration on this strange coincidence of her meeting a woman that could be her twin, that I thought the book was heading in the direction of The Parent Trap; alas, the situation didn't really give me such satisfaction, as it didn't have much purpose. 

What's so ridiculously unappealing to me is how lacking in dimension and originality all the secondary characters are. They are written with such forced humor that they become laughable tropes. The only non-singular character is Becca, whom I'm conflicted about because I at once hate her and like (not love) her. On one hand she's delusional and really slow-witted—neither lovable nor admirable—but on the other, she's genuine and klutzy in an endearing way. Inclán could have strengthened the book immensely just by revising Becca's character (not to mention that of the rest).

The saving grace of the book is how much attention is given to all the desserts Becca bakes. Scattered among the chapters, are anecdotes on how each of her sugary, buttery treats is meaningful to her, along with full recipes. The absurd story made me really angry, but the recipes left me starving.

I now have felt everything, having finally experienced what it means to be hangry.

Pros


Light-hearted tone, like a cheesy rom-com movie // Well paced // Inclán has a warm, attentive writing style that makes Becca, the narrator, seem more personable // Actual recipes from the story included!

Cons


My opinions are Becca are polarized; I find her at times endearing and at others, completely intolerable // Predictable friends-to-lovers romance subplot // Would have been better without the "happily ever after" romance, just as an adult coming-of-age novel // All secondary characters seem like plot devices rather than real people // Voice is easy to read, but tries WAY too hard to be funny... ends up being not even remotely funny

Verdict


If you're in the mood for a cheesy contemporary romance whose premise will give any far-fetched soap opera a run for its money, you'd best give How to Bake a Man a try. Following the quarter-life crisis of a woman with little confidence but lots of baking vision, this friends-to-lovers story has an amusing story line, but is abundant in problems with characterization, voice, and authenticity. I like that Jessica Barksdale Inclán pursued a baking enthusiast's take on chick lit, but found it to be too all over the place to take seriously. I could have appreciated it more if it was satirical, extraordinarily well-written, or "packed with charm, sparkling humor, and a genuinely unforgettable cast" as advertised, but sadly, it was none of the above Americanflag

4 hearts: So-so; reading this book may cause wrinkles (from frowning so much) (x)