Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake
May 18, 2021, by Forever
Review by Melinda
Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake is the start of a new series for Alexis Hall with Forever. The setup is one pretty much designed with me in mind because I love reality television and don’t mind saying it out loud. And my favorite category is competition reality shows, and even better are the soft ones. Give me GBBO, Pottery showdown, the Great Sewing Bee, Project Runway…you name it, I’m watching it. In this romance, Rosaline is a single mom who loves baking and not in a great financial situation at the moment. She enters into a GBBO-esque competition and immediately meets a love interest literally on the way there.
First, what I loved about this book is how accurately it got the reality show parts! It’s apparent that Alexis Hall has seen GBBO and wanted to portray it well. We’ve all read books that just got things completely wrong about subjects that the author may have known well and left confused. That definitely was not the case here. The show’s hosts reminded me of the cheesy, yet jovial humor IRL. The production’s questions of the contestants as they’re baking and the soundbites they capture were eerily reminiscent of ones I’d seen before. And I really enjoyed how the book was broken up into ‘bread week’, ‘patisseries’, etc., just like the actual GBBO would be.
And I loved Rosaline as a mother, she’s such a good parent! She’s bisexual and is best friends with her ex-girlfriend, who her daughter calls Aunt Lauren. I love that entire dynamic and how open everything was with them. It felt very much like a current parent wanting to ensure their children grew up knowing and accepting everyone.
But, beyond that, there wasn’t a ton that I liked. Which was disappointing as I’m a long-time fan of Alexis Hall’s work and started reading his stuff back in 2015. This one felt like a real tonal shift from other books of his, which is fair, authors are obviously allowed to change their style. But this almost felt more like Women’s Fiction than Romance because it focused so much on Rosaline’s journey in her life and less of her journey in a relationship.
The formula of this book boils down to somewhat of a love triangle – and I’m not a fan of those, but really, that part didn’t super bother me because it wasn’t focused on a ton. But Rosaline + love interest #1= 70% of this book. [Major plot point] Then, Rosaline + love interest #2 = 85%-100% of the book. Which felt really off to me for the beats of a romance and the pacing.
Love interest #1 is Alain, who is an asshole, from the beginning. Which is fine, I can get past Rosaline falling for an asshole, who hasn’t been there?? He’s very posh, and extremely classist, particularly to Harry, who ends up being Love interest #2 later on. Harry is more of a working class man, and I did enjoy seeing Harry and Rosaline become friends over the course of the book.
There’s so much about Alain that I didn’t like, and I know we are not intended to like him, but I also couldn’t see why Rosaline continued to like him after all of the above. Rosaline had lied to him when they first met, which is admittedly shitty behavior. When she comes clean about 48 hours later he reacts as if they’d known each for months.
“You’ve fucked me about here. You can’t cute your way out of it.”
For another example, they’d basically had one date and some competition banter, and he tells her he’d looked into returning to college for her. Um, excuse me? They’d known each other for about a WEEK! I was floored that she didn’t explode into anger at the audacity of the leap he took there. This is a theme that’s returned to often – a particular pain point for Rosaline, and one that he doesn’t quite get, he can’t see how she could be happy without a college education.
“Still got a kid, Alain.”
“I know, but you have to think of yourself as well.”
“To a point. But it does eventually become criminal neglect.”
But Rosaline doesn’t come to the realization that any of this is crappy behavior, or that he quietly throws tantrums when he’s irritated. She just goes along with it. The breaking point is also my evergreen complaint with traditionally pubbed rom-coms for the last year or two – heavy content that no one has discussed. It is there on Alexis Hall’s website so that’s good but I haven’t seen it anywhere else. There’s on page sexual assault at 70% – it’s also named on page, which is good as well. But it’s an uncomfortable scene for sure. But all of this is the impetus for her to leave. Information below the spoiler tag:
Another thing I didn’t like that really is surprising to me is that Rosaline comes off as very preachy. And that’s something I didn’t expect to dislike because I appreciate when negative things – racism, sexism, homophobia – are challenged on page. But this occurs so, so many times, even within the first 20% where Rosaline was chastising someone for saying something she took negatively. I’m not saying these remarks were not negative…but I was really wishing different authorial choices were made. A few less of these would have felt like a relief because every interaction felt like a teachable moment. And on the flip side – she let Alain slide on his fat shaming and classist comments. I was left with the impression that she was okay pointing out negative things people said when she had low stakes but she was also fine letting negative things slide if she had high stakes.
You’ll notice I said little about Harry, the one Rosaline ends up with. Because there wasn’t much about him. I liked him a lot, he’s funny, and charming! I could read a whole book about her falling in love with him. Unfortunately, this was not that book.
CW: sexual assault, gaslighting, mild violence, biphobia, toxic parents, classism