Book Reviews: The Spice Master at Bistro Exotique by Samantha Verant + A Mother Would Know by Amber Garza

book reviews the spice master at bistro exotique samantha verant a mother would know amber garza

Really, these two books have nothing in common, except their December publication dates. One is women’s fiction/romance set in Paris that involves a ton of food and romance between two chefs. The other is a domestic thriller that involves mother-child relationships. They really shouldn’t be paired together, except for the fact that one is by one of my favorite women’s fiction authors and the other is by my favorite thriller author. Whatever these two authors write, I will read. Or I suppose you could say they both have mothers in common.

The Spice Master at Bistro Exotique by Samantha Verant

the spice master at bistro exotique samantha verant

Title: The Spice Master at Bistro Exotique | Author: Samantha Verant | Publisher: Berkley | Publication date: December 6, 2022 | Genre: Romance, Women’s Fiction

Description and purchase link(s)

One Sentence Summary: When someone seems out to make Kate’s Bistro Exotique fail before it even opens, she’s forced to team up with the son of her landlady, who loathes her as much as she hates him.

My thoughts:

The Spice Master at Bistro Exotique is an absolutely delicious novel. It perfectly pairs food and romance, and throws in a couple of nutty mothers and a pampered cat. This is a really fun and fast read, but I mostly loved the restraint Kate has when it comes to her romance with Charles and how it’s mostly clean. At first, the spices that have the power to mentally transport people felt a little strange and a little too magical, but, by the end, I thought it was fun element that actually fit well with Kate. Overall, this was a lovely blend of women’s fiction and romance. It was nicely balanced, but the best part was all the food.

Verant showed her strength with women’s fiction with The Secret French Recipes of Sophie Valroux and slowly moved it into romance with its sequel. Here, she shows her hand with perfectly balancing women’s fiction and romance. It’s focused on Kate and her laboring to get her Paris bistro up and running while someone seems intent on ruining her before she can even really open. Luckily there’s a lady willing to help her, with stipulations, of course, if only Kate can figure out whether she can trust this woman. It was fantastic to watch Kate do what she had to in order to save her dream, and an irritating yet handsome chef isn’t going to get in her way. And thus enters the fun romance. These two chefs have knives at each other’s throats. Sort of. There’s definitely something sizzling between them, if only they can get past their walls. It was so much fun watching them together, and then so sweet watching them fall for each other while working together.

I loved Kate. As an American transplant, she lives somewhere between being American and French, and it was nice that this was shown. But the fun part of her was that she was a little crazy. She wasn’t chaotic, but was definitely high energy and much more uptight than her mother, who freely talks about sex and will sage her daughter’s bistro and upstairs apartment as often as she can get away with it. Kate gets some interesting ideas, but I’m not always convinced it’s not because of her mother and her mother’s new friend, Charles’ mother. These three women were a ton of fun and they kept me highly amused. Unfortunately, Charles felt a little jerked around by the story so I only really got a sense that he was a decent guy with sadness in his past, but he and Kate were great together.

Much of The Spice Master at Bistro Exotique is set at Kate’s bistro and her apartment, so the world felt a little narrowed. But, with all the strange people inhabiting Kate’s orbit, it was great to have all that crazy confined to a small space. There are some scenes that take place away from the building, but I did love that it felt centered around one location. It made it feel like there was a lot of life going on and the mothers just brought a wildly fun light to it. These two women are so different, but I loved that they were thick as thieves. And it didn’t hurt that there’s a highly pampered and spoiled cat who loves finding his way into Kate’s space, both forcing her to take care of him and deal with the intensity of his stare. He’s quite a character all on his own.

Really, it’s the characters who made this story for me. I liked following Kate’s journey to opening her bistro and the pitfalls that come with being associated with a wealthy family. I liked the story, but it did take second fiddle to the characters. It was fun and fast paced and really let the characters lead. I did enjoy that it wasn’t just a blend of food, romance, and women’s fiction, but also threw in references to movies and music that I won’t even pretend to get. All the elements worked fantastically together, mostly because the characters were just so incredible.

The Spice Master at Bistro Exotique perfectly blends so much together. The characters are amusing and fun and really carry the story well. The world is romantic, but also hints at the cutthroat culinary world. The romance is sweet and relatively clean. The power of the spices Kate is gifted knocked me for a bit, but it fit with the slight craziness woven into this story thanks in large part to Kate. This was very different from Sophie’s story, but it was still a lot of fun and absolutely delicious.

My rating: 5 cups of tea

Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for a review copy. All opinions expressed are my own.

A Mother Would Know by Amber Garza

a mother would know amber garza

Title: A Mother Would Know | Author: Amber Garza | Publisher: MIRA | Publication date: December 13, 2022 | Genre: Thriller

Description and purchase link(s)

One Sentence Summary: Valerie is slowly developing dementia, but that doesn’t stop her from desperately trying to figure out who killed a woman in the neighborhood, especially if it means protecting her son who has just returned home.

My thoughts:

The thing I love best about Garza’s books is that they center on the complicated mother-child relationship, usually from the mother’s perspective. A Mother Would Know is no exception, focusing on a mother developing dementia and her two grown children. The twists don’t really hit until the second half and there’s a subplot that feels more thrown in to be thrown in, but I loved getting inside the mother’s head, especially as it gives a bird’s eye view into a woman slowly losing her mind.

A Mother Would Know follows Valerie, a mother whose daughter is a new mother herself and is training to be a nurse so she takes a great deal of interest in Valerie’s declining memory, and a son who was driven from the neighborhood after his girlfriend’s mysterious death. While Kendra desperately tries to care for her own family and keep things together, she also pushes and prods at her mother to do things that will get her the help she needs, with her by her side, of course. Hudson, on the other hand, is back in town, but only Valerie is thrilled to have her little boy back. And that’s before a young woman a few houses down is murdered and suspicion turns to him, but Valerie will do anything to protect her son.

My favorite part of this one was the characters. Told in three different time lines, it highlights the present, Valerie’s years as a member of a band while her children were young, and a mysterious third perspective that tells a terrifying tale of two children. It wasn’t difficult to keep up with all three, and I loved a sudden realization about one of them halfway through the book as it completely threw everything in a new light and my brain had to scramble to keep up, not to mention all was not as it seemed with Valerie. But I loved the characters. They were all deeply flawed, with some being more manipulative than others. It kept me wondering if all this could have been avoided if Valerie hadn’t pursued her musical dream. Her grown kids kept me on edge and she herself made me think she was really losing her mind. It was an interesting experience not knowing what was really happening. Added to it is the idea that Valerie thinks there’s the ghost of a young girl haunting her house, making me wonder about her a little since she’s kind of obsessed and her isolation in her house made me feel a little jumpy for her.

It was a little disappointing that the first half wasn’t really twisty. Most of the story felt clearly laid out, focusing instead on developing the relationships Valerie has with her children. The only elements that really had me on edge were the fact that Valerie seemed to be having serious memory lapses and it was really, really hard to pin down Hudson. But then the second half hit and suddenly I didn’t know where in the woods I was. The past and present started to blend together, revelations about the characters were made, and all their flaws were put on center stage. While some things were a little predictable, I did love how it all wrapped up together. The only thing that left me dissatisfied was the ghost part, but at least it made things interesting during the first half, even if it was left out quite a bit.

A Mother Would Know is set in a small neighborhood where Valerie and her family have lived for years. It was nice to get Valerie’s reflections on what it was like before the death of Hudson’s girlfriend, who also happened to be a neighbor’s daughter. While it felt more or less close knit with neighbors looking out for each other, it also highlighted what can happen when things go wrong. It was interesting to get the past and present kind of side by side to see how drastically things had changed, especially for Valerie as more and more of her past comes to light. On the surface, it seemed like a typical suburban neighborhood, but, as typical of this genre, there’s much more under the surface, and little of it innocuous.

A Mother Would Know was a thrilling story of a mother and her two grown children. I liked feeling like I was losing my mind alongside Valerie, and I liked feeling like I couldn’t trust any of them, but Valerie choosing to trust them made me feel a little off balance about everything going on. The triple story lines kept things interesting and I was pleased that it wasn’t as confusing as it could have been. I loved that Valerie knew just how flawed she was, and that all the characters were not quite what they seemed. I wish the first half had been a little more thrilling, but, as a whole, I was fully drawn into the story and the lives of the characters and had a great time reading this one.

My rating: 5 cups of tea

Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for a review copy. All opinions expressed are my own.

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3 thoughts on “Book Reviews: The Spice Master at Bistro Exotique by Samantha Verant + A Mother Would Know by Amber Garza

    1. Thank you so much! I was sorry to see you didn’t enjoy The Spice Master at Bistro Exotique as much as you thought, but I agree with all your thoughts on it. Charles felt like a weak point in the story to me and things were a little too convenient. The first half, though, was definitely a lot of fun!

      Liked by 1 person

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