Rating: 5 stars out of 5 ★★★★★
Henry Appleby is considered by many to be a spoiled little rich kid living in the lap of luxury with his wealthy parents, enjoying the good life. But Henry has a burning desire, deep in his soul, to become a chef. Not something his parents would approve of, he’s sure. However, for Henry, food expresses emotions and memories and he wants to be able to bring those emotions to others through his cooking. So when he spots an ad for an all-around helper at Fiorello’s, a small Italian restaurant, he decides to go for it—against his father’s wishes. His father had already arranged a summer job for Henry as an apprentice in his law firm, a prelude to Henry entering college in the fall and ultimately following in his father’s footsteps to become an attorney.
The first day on the job, Henry meets Vito Carelli, the tall, dark, brooding chef who never cracks a smile but who produces the most amazing food. Unknown to Henry, Vito lost his husband and young son to an auto accident a little over a year ago, and now life has lost its meaning, and he has all he can do to put one foot in front of the other to survive the hollowness in his heart.
Though Henry is attracted right from the first day, every attempt to befriend Vito, or even flirt with him, is met with a stony glare. Until one night Henry’s world is turned upside down when he discovers his mom is having an affair. Then one thing leads to another, and he’s outted to both parents, and Vito is the only person willing to listen and help the young man whose heart may be as broken as his own.
I loved this story. It’s a bittersweet romance, with the focus more on the characters than on the sexual attraction, and that makes it so much more than the usual. It starts out slowly, backfilling the history of each character, giving them life and dimension. But by about halfway through, I found myself longing to hear more, to experience their dynamic, and to wallow in the heartbreak that is Vito’s grief, and I realized that I didn’t want to pause it for any reason. (To heck with real life responsibilities!) Joel Leslie’s outstanding narration gives life to the characters. Vito’s sexy, deep, Italian-accented voice and Henry’s light, youthful vibe fit the characters perfectly and make it believable when the characters themselves, while ultimately attracted, acknowledge their age difference and the necessity of going slow as they see where their relationship may lead. Throughout the story, he narrates not only the words, but the emotion—sometimes raw and poignant though it may be.
The supporting cast of characters—from Henry’s parents and housekeeper to Rosalie, the owner of Fiorello’s and Carmella, the lusty hostess with an eye for the men—each has his or her own voice given character by the author and infused with life by Joel Leslie.
It’s not often that I’m so affected by a story that the characters stay with me long after I finish, but that’s the case here. I finished this book a few days ago, and I still feel Vito’s pain at his loss. The agony of his grief was so realistically written and so realistically performed by the narrator that I, too, feel as if I’ve lost someone important to my life.
I highly recommend this story, in audiobook if you can do it, but e-book if you can’t. It’s a beautiful love story, not just showing the early stages of what may become love for Henry and Vito, but the love Vito holds for his son and his husband—a love that transcends their death. Don’t miss a chance to pick this one up.
Cover Art by Reese Dante features a head shot of gorgeous Vito in the foreground with a profile of youthful Henry in the background. It’s beautifully done and perfect for the story.
Sales Links: Dreamspinner Press | iTunes | Audible | Amazon
Length7 hours and 11 minutes