For Butter or Worse by Erin La Rosa
July 26, 2022, by HQN Books
Review by Angela
I’m pretty sure this pinged my radar when I saw it on some kind of 2022 most anticipated list on Twitter. Or something like that. So I looked it up and… Oh, hello there enemies to lovers, fake dating, rival cooking show judges romance. Gimme, gimme, gimme.
I’m writing this review in January if that’s any indication of my level of anticipation.
Nina Lyon and Leo O’Donnell work together on the hit cooking show The Next Cooking Champ!. Nina’s passion for food began in her childhood cooking with her mother and grew over the years. Now she’s an award-winning chef who owns her own restaurant. But after declining sales and having to close 2 of her sister locations, she jumped into the role as a judge on the show hoping to build up business and her image as a female chef in the male-dominated profession. But after three years working with Leo (who is the worst), being scrutinized on social media, and labeled “Nasty Nina”, she’s had just about enough. So she quits. On air.
Leo O’Donnell runs the family business, Vinny’s. He’s charming, funny, and knows how to capture an audience. He doesn’t have Nina’s resume in the kitchen, he’s a numbers guy after all, but he has built up his family’s Italian restaurant into multiple locations and has kept it going after his father’s untimely death. To say he’s a bit intimidated by Nina’s food credentials would be an understatement. He joined the show hoping to build up business as well, but after Nina’s on-air departure is now labeled the bad guy.
Now both of their businesses are suffering and after the press gets ahold of pictures of them embracing (hah!) social media fans start spreading the rumor that they are dating. So their publicist decides that’s exactly what they need to do. Date. This will keep the diners coming to their establishments and help them financially. Hopefully, this will also repair both of their images.
This couple and their back and forth jabs kept me smiling. They were able to get under each other’s skins so easily. Leo with his stupid jokes and Nina with her jagged verbal comebacks. They really do hate each other at first. And I could absolutely see why Nina was at her emotional and mental limit with Leo and the show. The pressure on her and the way social media tore down her personality to basically being an angry, nasty woman after Leo’s rude and disrespectful comment would be too much for anyone. After the first chapter, I was 100% on Nina’s side and convinced Leo couldn’t grovel enough to get back into either of our good graces.
Then the fake dating commenced and as I got to know Leo more I realized he is a bit clueless about his interactions with Nina and just how much of a bad guy he really is for how he treated her on the show. He also has issues with anxiety and panic attacks and tends to cover this up with forced positivity and bad jokes. He assumes she hates him because he’s doesn’t have her food resume, and just runs a mom-and-pop-style food chain. This assumption hangs over every interaction he has with her until their time together forces them to have actual conversations and get to know each other.
Nina on the other hand assumes he is just a smug, slick chauvinist. Her experiences in the cooking world and having to work twice as hard as everyone else, while still being vilified for every little facial expression or critique that comes out of her mouth has her on the defensive with Leo and their new “relationship”. That is until she begins to have fun with him, gets to know him, and realizes he’s just a big cinnamon roll.
I think what helped in this enemies-to-lovers romance full of miscommunication and early assumptions was the fact that readers get both main characters’ POVs. It’s easy to see why both Nina and Leo feel the way they do. Getting inside both of their heads also enables readers to watch their feelings slowly change and see how hard it is to let themselves trust each other with all those private insecurities and past traumas.
The supporting cast was pretty terrific. From Nina’s best friend Jasmine and her sister Sophie to Leo’s twin brother Gavin and his mother Donna. I loved them all and was so happy with their interactions and loving encouragement. Another thing I truly appreciated was when they gave Nina and Leo advice that they didn’t necessarily want to hear but needed. Especially in regards to Nina’s feelings on Leo not confiding in her about his mental health and Leo’s behavior toward Nina during the taping of the show. These things NEEDED to be said and accepted, and I was so happy that the people in their lives weren’t afraid to tell them the hard things.
This was a well-done, sexy romance. I will absolutely be keeping this author on my radar in the future. My only complaint is that because of all the delicious descriptions of food I spent most of my reading time either hungry, nibbling on something, or thinking about nibbling on something. This book will make you hungry.
CW: mentions of anxiety, panic attacks, prior death of a parent
Final grade- B+