Review: Under The Knife: Laurin Kelly

Under the Knife
Laurin Kelly

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Released July 20, 2016
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Season three of TV's hottest cooking competition, Under the Knife, is gearing up, and Nate is equal parts excited and terrified that he's one of the twelve competitors. But the prize is a quarter of a million dollars, and that's worth a few weeks of being stressed and afraid.

It may not, however, be worth weeks of putting up with Zachary, the cold, snotty competitor who definitely thinks he's better than everyone else. The man can cook, and he's the hottest man Nate has ever seen, but every time he opens his mouth Nate hates him all over again.

He came here to be driven crazy trying to prove he's the best chef in the world, but if Nate can't learn to block Zachary out, it won't be the competition that pushes him to the breaking point.

If you’re like me and enjoy watching reality-TV cooking competitions, Laurin Kelly’s debut novel, Under the Knife, will be right up your alley. If, on the other hand, you’re in the group of people who really hate reality-TV competitions, the relatively simple and low-angst romance underneath it may not satisfactorily overcome your dislike of the book’s setting.

Nate Pasternak is one of the twelve competitors for the third season of the popular TV show, Under the Knife, the winner of which will go home with a quarter of a million dollars. Excitement, nervousness, and sheer terror are all emotions he expected to have when he arrived in Los Angeles for the show. Lust, on the other hand, was not an expectation, but that’s exactly what he feels at the welcoming mixer when another competitor walks in who is exactly Nate’s type. It doesn’t take long, however, for Nate to realize that Zachary Kasun is a conceited and standoffish snob. While that should have been enough to keep Nate from losing his focus on the competition, he can’t help being drawn to the man, especially since it turns out Zachary’s attitude is justified: the man is a phenomenal chef. He expected the pressure of the competition to drive him to the breaking point, but what if it’s Zachary that does it?

Based loosely (okay, maybe not so loosely) on Top Chef, at least three quarters of the page time in this novel is directly related to the cooking competition and the interactions among the contestants. Actually, it’s probably closer to 80 or 85%. It reads very much like a condensed version of watching an entire season, right down to talking about what the competitors made for each challenge and what the judges say about the dishes. Cooking shows are the only category of reality TV I like, so this format really worked for me. But I can’t stress this hard enough: if you aren’t interested in this concept, you may not enjoy the book. Another necessary caveat: in order to keep the story realistic, the author is not a bit sparing in her use of cooking terminology and in naming fancy dishes, and for the most part, it is assumed that the reader knows what these things are. This novel is on the long side already, so while it’s probably good that she made that decision to keep the book from being even longer—and for those of us who enjoy cooking and/or cooking shows, this isn’t a problem—be forewarned if you aren’t a food junkie, this too may hinder your enjoyment.

With all that in mind, the novel is fortunately about more than just the competition and food; after all, this is billed as a romance novel. To that end, we do get many behind-the-scenes interactions between the competitors. Everything is related through the point of view of Nate, so this allows us to get to know a few of the other competitors and see how Nate feels about Zachary throughout the competition. Their attraction is definitely a slow burn, partly because of Nate’s initial impression of Zachary’s personality but more because of the restrictions of having nearly every waking moment of their lives on camera, not just those during the competition. I’m a big fan of slow burn, so this also works for me, but I do need to state that if your preference in romance is for ample sexual interactions, you might be let down in this respect. That being said, the handful of one-on-one scenes between Nate and Zachary live up to the promise that a good slow burn should.

I mentioned earlier that Under the Knife is the debut novel for author Laurin Kelly. In some of my past reviews, I pointed out that I have a soft spot for new authors, but even if I didn’t, I could still happily say that not only is the story she presents one that I enjoyed, but the writing itself is also clear and solid, and the plot is without glaring holes and inconsistencies. While I liked Zachary and one of the secondary characters in particular, the story really centers around Nate, and the author did a fantastic job with him. He is the perfect character for this story in my opinion.

With the exception of the anxiety surrounding which competitor will be eliminated next in the competition, the story and the relationship between Nate and Zachary is about as low-angst as you can get. So this makes for an easy read overall. Granted, the setting for this story makes it somewhat easy to write as well—the research necessary has been on television for many seasons now. So while I enjoyed the similarity to watching such a show while I was reading this story, my only real complaint is that I wish she had spent a little more page space on the romantic aspect, not just the sexytimes but also on fleshing out some sort of conflict that would threaten to keep them apart in order to raise the intensity of the burn—there is a small something she talks about, but it amounts to almost nothing in the grand scheme of things. As such, if I hadn’t enjoyed the story behind the developing romance so much, these things may have affected my overall impression much more.

All in all, Under the Knife is a good first release from a new author. Even though it’s comparatively long in the romance genre, it’s an easy and fast read that I can recommend to most anyone. I look forward to seeing what Laurin Kelly comes up with for her sophomore effort.

The author generously provided me a complimentary copy of Under the Knife in exchange for this fair and honest review.
Laurin Kelly

Laurin Kelly is a 40+ wife and mother who has a passion for writing, food, dancing, and her family (in no particular order). After writing fanfiction for a few years, she embarked on writing her first original novel, Under the Knife, in 2013. To her unimaginable delight, her first publisher submission to Less Than Three Press was met with an offer of publication, and she has never looked back.


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