Reality shows are not, as they say, my cup of tea. Competition shows particularly are particularly stressful. I always feel so badly for the eliminated contestants, and if I wanted to feel terrible while watching TV, I would turn on the news. Inevitably, this is the point where someone recommends I watch The Great British Bake-off. Everyone is so nice, they assure me — but this only makes it worse, because I am even more sad when someone nice is eliminated. No GBBO for me, thank you very much.
Fiction about reality shows, however, are a different matter. I can’t resist the chance to peek behind the curtan, and while the characters might still be nice, reading about their elimination isn’t nearly as stressful, since they are, after all, not real people. Also, I am a sucker for books that feature delicious food.
All of which means I snatched up Alexis Hall’s latest release, Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake, as quickly as a freshly baked oatmeal raisin cookie — and devoured it just as quickly. If you’re a fan of Casey McQuiston, Kate Clayborn, or Christina Lauren, this funny, quirky, heartfelt story will have you laughing and swooning in equal measure.
Rosaline Palmer is a single mom trying to get her fledgling baking business off the ground — and what better way to make a name for her cakes than winning “Bake Expectations,” the beloved British reality baking competition she’s just landed a spot on.
Unsurprisingly, things don’t go as planned — especially when Rosaline, who identifies as bisexual, falls for Alain, a charming and competitive fellow contestant. With her own bakes turning out only so-so, the strain of managing her day job, her daughter, and the pressure of weekend filming starts to get to her. The judges are more colorful — and more cutting — than she expected, and the profanity-spewing producer cares more for Rosaline’s on-camera “story” than her off-camera life.
Amid all of this, however Rosaline begins building genuine friendships, gains confidence on-camera and off, and discovers that while Alain might seem perfect, appearances can be deceiving — and another contestant, the low-key but kindhearted Harry might be perfect for her.
Not to lean to heavily into the baking metaphor, but Rosaline Palmer Takes The Cake is a delightful, sophisticated confection of a book. It’s sweet, but it’s not all fluff — there’s a frank, biting sense of humor throughout that keeps it from giving you a toothache. Rosaline isn’t perfect, and she doesn’t have all the answers, but she is genuine and warm and talented, and it’s a pleasure to watch as winning becomes secondary to her journey of self-discovery. The book addresses many of the prejudices and issues bisexual women encounter without ever feeling preachy — it’s nuanced and deftly handled.The supporting cast — including BOTH love interests, an adorably weird moppet, and a diverse group of friends — are well drawn and appealing. The dialogue is crisp and distinctive, the plot moves briskly without feeling rushed, and the romance feels integral to Rosaline’s development without overwhelming it.
And the setting! Bake Expectations is obviously a sendup of The Great British Bake-off, right down to the lush manor house grounds and the three very…familiar….judges. But rather than focus on the finished show, Alexis Hall takes great care to show exactly how this bucolic version of reality is meticulously produced, often at the expense of the truth. Behind the scenes at Bake Expectations is hilariously chaotic, and with the next “Winner Bakes All” novel scheduled to be released in 2022, I’ll be going back for seconds.