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Genre: Adult Contemporary Romance | Small-town
Series: Donner Bakery #4
Read Count: 1
My Rating: 2.5 stars
Description: If opposites do actually attract, then Gunnar Erickson and Frankie Reeves take the cake. Frankie Reeves is complicated, even though she won’t admit it. She fills her days working as an ER nurse, taking care of her mom, and searching for the father she never knew. Anything else has no place in her perfectly compartmentalized, purposefully simple life. Attachments? No thank you. She has no time for that.
Gunnar Erickson recently moved to Green Valley to train at Viking MMA with his brother Cage. Being the youngest of the Erickson clan, he’s always felt like he has something to prove, and now that he’s finished with college, it’s his time to shine. But before he can step into the ring, a freak accident sends him to the ER and into the care of one Frankie Reeves.
While he’s immediately smitten, she pretends to be unfazed by this six-foot-three, two hundred and thirty-pound beefcake. Gunnar sets out to prove to Frankie that, not only does she like him more than she wants to admit, but he’s not the uneducated, brute she assumes he is. To Frankie, he’s the worst kind of complication, but that doesn’t make it easy to stay away.
‘Beef Cake’ is a full-length contemporary romance, can be read as a standalone, and is book #4 in the Donner Bakery series, Green Valley World, Penny Reid Book Universe.
Disclaimer: I received this book free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review, but it does not influence my opinion of the book nor this review in any way.
Let me start by saying Penny Reid is one of my favorite authors. Now after reading that statement, you may be asking me, “Why the heck are you talking about the lovely and wonderful Ms. Reid when this is not her book?” To that I would say, you are correct! But you are also wrong. Ms. Reid an author and the founder of SmartyPants Romance, which is a kind of small publishing venture that she’s started up. Basically, other authors write extensions to her stories! No, that’s not right. Other authors write their own stories, just set in the Pennyverse, in the world she’s created and with character’s she’s written about as side characters. That makes more sense, right?
In the other SmartyPants Romance books, Ms. Reid’s characters are a great touch of nostalgic window dressing. They weren’t main characters or even ultra-important side characters. For instance, in Beef Cake, Gunnar is the brother-in-law to the main characters from Stud Muffin, one of whom works in the Donner Bakery, owned by Jennifer Donner-Winston, married to Cletus Winston, who is Ms. Reid’s character. This, however, does not feature any of Ms. Reid’s characters, but it does take place in Green Valley, the town she created. You don’t have to understand this to read the book, believe me, but I just like to make this clear.
Beef Cake features Gunnar Erickson, brother to the hero from Stud Muffin. He moved to Green Valley for his brother to be his trainer as he prepares to make his boxing debut, his sole focus to train. A small accident with handiwork around the gym leads to a visit to the emergency room, and meeting the pretty nurse who stitched up his cut. That “pretty nurse” is named Frankie, and when they meet again at the Piggly Wiggly (the town’s grocery store), it seems like fate to Gunnar. But after some minor flirting, Frankie abruptly pushes him away. He’s determined, so when they meet each other again (same grocery store, same time), he gets her to agree to one date – 15 minutes of donuts and coffee early the next morning.
“I do want you, so much… It’s not just a physical connection I feel or want with you,” I admit, reaching up to smooth errant hairs out of my face. “It’s everything, Frankie. The good, the bad, and everything in between.”
Unfortunately… this book didn’t work for me, unlike the others, which I’ve really enjoyed so far. I absolutely could not get over the main heroine, who acted like a complete shrew for most of the book. There’s a difference between “brushing someone off” and being a complete cow about it. She took things just that bit too far for me, and I just couldn’t find her redeemable to me. She was emotionally remote and a “tough nut to crack,” yes, but mostly I just saw her as a defensive, negative rude lady. Also very judgmental, as she makes a comment about pointedly grabbing a salad because she, unlike everyone else there, wasn’t going to die of early-onset diabetes.
When Gunnar carefully (and rightly) why she was doing something dangerous, she lashed out. But then she didn’t feel guilty for being hurtful afterward. She just was upset because he left and she didn’t get what she was wanted – his company. She says it: “When I lashed out at him at the farmer’s market … I didn’t think it would end that way – with him walking away. Honestly, I thought he’d rebound quickly and change the subject, like he always does.” She knew that she’d hurt him, but just wanted him to brush it off and hide it. She had a trauma in her past (one that harks back to a trauma that an original Green Valley character experienced), but that part was never effectively fleshed out for me. Instead, it felt like an excuse and I just didn’t like it.
Gunnar was a great character, which sucked for him, to be placed in such a non-enjoyable book. He was so genuine and sweet, and wore his heart on his sleeve. He never gave up on Frankie, no matter that she gave up on him many times and was a very selfish person, constantly thinking about herself and putting her needs above his. He was calm and patient, gently explaining why she was incorrect in her rash assumptions of him when she was being mean, and he’s endlessly charming.
Overall this one just wasn’t for me. If I didn’t receive this as an ARC, I would have DNF’d it. It didn’t have any of the things I love about Green Valley… none of the small-town, gossiping but fun-loving community that I’ve quickly grown to love. There was no sense of small-town community in this one. It was Hero&Heroine, plus the Piggly Wiggly and Daisy’s Nut House, two iconic Green Valley sites that were nice to see, but not when they’re the only things making up town life. I didn’t like the heroine at all, and I didn’t like that when she suddenly went to therapy, she became a completely different person in the last 10 percent, and suddenly her mom is all healed, too. As a SmartyPants romance, I really wanted to like this one. But I couldn’t, which is sad, because the rest of this series was so well done.
Series Reading Order…
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What’s a popular book out that you really want to read but haven’t yet? Have you read this one? Let me know in the comments below, I’d love to hear from you!