(nb: I received an advance review copy from the publisher via NetGalley)
The “opposites attract” leitmotif is a standard in modern fiction. The straight cop ends up with the bumbling private investigator; the rich guy ends up with a streetwalker. The list goes on.
For the life of me, “Skinny Bitch in Love” is the first novel I’ve read where the attracting opposites are a vegan chef and a steakhouse owner.
That’s what we find in Kim Barnouin’s first novel, “Skinny Bitch in Love.”
Barnouin has built a real-life reputation for her Skinny Bitch lifestyle books, teaching women how to eat better and unleash their inner “skinny bitch.”
In “Skinny Bitch in Love,” we follow Clementine Cooper, a rising star in the SoCal vegan restaurant scene. She’s the sous chef at Fresh, a hot vegan bistro. One night, when the most important food critic in the area comes to visit Fresh, Clementine is on the spot. She prepares her best dishes, and knows she’s nailed the test…except that somebody sabotages one of her dishes by adding butter. Clementine is fired within the hour, and she finds herself blackballed at every vegan restaurant in town. The idea that she’d resort to using BUTTER–oh, horror of horrors.
Clementine doesn’t crawl into a bottle of organic wine, though. She begins pulling herself up, founding her Skinny Bitch cooking empire (although, empire is hardly the right word in the beginning). She offers personal chef services, in-home cooking lessons, and teaches a weekend vegan cooking class in the tiny apartment she shares with her roommate, Sara.
Her ultimate dream, though, is opening Clementine’s No Crap Cafe, where she’d be in charge, serving her own vegan recipes to an upscale clientele. Ten or so tables, an amazing juice bar–she has it all pictured down to the Mediterranean blue walls and whitewashed floor. She even knows the perfect location: a vacant space right across the street from her apartment. She’s dreamed of it forever. One day, she finds the space has been bought. Another restaurant will be opening there. Not a vegan place. Quite the opposite: Clementine’s dream vegan cafe will instead be filled with an upscale steakhouse.
This nauseates her on so many levels, especially when the new owner erects a giant silver steer head on the wall facing Clementine’s apartment. The sign is too much. Clem storms into the future steakhouse, and raises hell with the owner. Before long, she finds herself inexplicably, horrifically attracted to the guy. Worse still, Zach Jeffries may be planning to serve slabs of cow in Clementine’s coveted space, but he turns out to be a really good guy. And Clem is reluctantly smitten.
Clem doesn’t have time to sit around pining over her carnivore, though. Skinny Bitch has taken off. Clem is selling vegan recipes to bistros seeking to attract vegan customers. She’s also started “Skinny Bitch Bakes,” which stocks an ever-increasing number of cafes and restaurants with her healthy, decadent pastries, and whips up custom birthday cakes, cupcakes, and other treats for private clients.
Clementine has also found another sweet location for her restaurant. Her Skinny Bitch endeavors are making good money, but will it be enough? Add to this her puppy-dog eyed replacement sous chef at Fresh, a handsome Brit with a crush on her; television’s most misogynistic chef, who throws down the gauntlet over eggplant Parmesan, and her conflicted emotions over the hunky, gazillionaire carnivore, Zach, and Clementine has way too much on her plate.
The main thing I liked about “Skinny Bitch in Love” is Clementine herself. She was born and raised on an organic farm, and she’s been cooking vegan since she was old enough to lift a spoon. She didn’t just hop on the vegan bus once it became trendy. She’s lived that way her entire life, except for a rebellious period filled with In-and-Out Burgers, during which she felt constantly sick.
Also, the main story here isn’t her conflicted romance with Zach, but her battle to get her career back on track. Her dream is to run her own cafe, true. Her true love, though, is cooking, and that’s what her Skinny Bitch businesses are all about: her joy of cooking, and spreading her love of cooking–and eating–vegan to as many people as she can.
Most relationships are difficult, and Clementine and Zach have more than the usual early relationship jitters to fight. Their different backgrounds play a part, as does their competition in the restaurant business. Clem may be crushing for Zach, but Skinny Bitch is her true focus. I like that: she’d love to have the guy, too, but the important thing is what she’s built for herself.
There are other, ancillary story lines that add to, rather than detract from, the book as a whole. Often times, such sidetracks are anathema to a well-told story, but they work in “Skinny Bitch in Love.”
There aren’t a lot of huge surprises here, and that’s fine. There are plenty of scenes where we’re in the kitchen cooking with Clementine, or watching as she teaches her class. The food is a big supporting character in “Skinny Bitch in Love,” and I found myself craving one of Clem’s tropical fruit scones or a nice plate of her vegan lasagna. For a confirmed omnivore like me to admit that means something.
Most of all, “Skinny Bitch in Love” is a quick, fun read. There are plenty of laughs, but the book never lapses into silliness. There’s nothing goofy about Clementine. When she’s in the kitchen, she has talent and skill, and she shows the same smarts running her business. She seeks advice when she needs it, but she is a smart vegan cookie. In this type of novel, so often the heroine is a dope who just stumbles around until she trips over a solution.
It’s nice to read about a heroine who’s sassy and smart, even if–like all of us–she’s a little goofy when she comes to love. “Skinny Bitch in Love” is a tasty confection of a book, perfect for your summertime reading menu.