by Lucy Parker
Series: Palace Insiders #1
Publication Date: August 17, 2021
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
Beloved author Lucy Parker pens a delicious new romantic comedy that is a battle of whisks and wits.
Four years ago, Sylvie Fairchild charmed the world as a contestant on the hit baking show, Operation Cake. Her ingenious, colorful creations captivated viewers and intrigued all but one of the judges, Dominic De Vere, the hottest pastry chef in London. When her glittery unicorn cake went spectacularly sideways, Dominic was quick to vote her off the show. Since then, Sylvie has managed to use her fame to help fulfill her dream of opening a bakery, Sugar Fair. The toast of Instagram, Sugar Fair has captured the attention of the Operation Cake producers…and a princess.
Dominic is His Majesty the King’s favorite baker, the go-to for sweet-toothed A-List celebrities, and a veritable British institution. He’s brilliant, talented, hard-working. And an icy, starchy grouch. Learning that the irksome Sylvie will be joining him on the Operation Cake judging panel is enough to make the famously dour baker even more grim. Her fantastical baking is only slightly more troublesome than the fact that he can’t stop thinking about her pink-streaked hair and irrepressible dimple.
When Dominic and Sylvie learn they will be fighting for the once in a lifetime opportunity to bake a cake for the upcoming wedding of Princess Rose, the flour begins to fly as they’re both determined to come out on top.
The bride adores Sylvie’s quirky style. The palace wants Dominic’s classic perfection.
In this royal battle, can there be room for two?
Content notes: View Spoiler »Grief, death of parents (before book starts), death of beloved aunt (before book starts, but aunt’s death in the hospital is recounted on-page via a flashback), death of a grandfather (before book starts), death of a side character in car accident (before book starts), toxic family, attempted knife attack (side character is wounded), bullying « Hide Spoiler
AKA, the book where Lucy Parker rips my heart out, covers it in icing and edible glitter, and then gently replaces it. This book hauled me in and emotionally wrecked me and I loved every minute. It’s grumpy/sunshine, rivals-to-lovers, forced proximity perfection and good to the last crumb!
Sylvie first met Dominic while she was a contestant on baking show and he was a judge, made even more memorable by, well, a unicorn and glitter explosion involving him. Years later, they now own bakeries across the street from each other. Dominic’s, inherited from his grandfather, specializes in elegant and traditional designs while Sylvie’s… well, it has an enchanted forest in the basement and one of the employees makes sugar sculptures of the Golden Girls. And while they’re both signed up to judge the latest season of the baking show, their biggest source of competition? One of the royals is getting married, and both want the chance to design the cake.
“He went in for elegant minimalism. She rarely saw an object that couldn’t be improved with sequins.
She was, aesthetically, his worst nightmare.”
I usually start out my review talking about the heroine, but this time I need to talk about Dominic. He has a reputation for his cutting criticism and cold demeanor on the baking show, but from the moment we’re in his POV, we see that it’s not the whole story. He’s understanding of his employees’ personal issues, unfailing kind to Sylvie when she’s freaking out before the cooking show starts (he gives her chocolate, for goodness sakes), and an absolute dithering idiot when it comes to emotions. And if there’s one thing Sylvie understands, it’s emotions. To paraphrase from the book, if Dominic is technical perfection, then Sylvie is heart. She knows that all the unicorns and dragons that Dominic derides as childish are something that make people happy, and what’s the motivation behind baking beautiful and delicious desserts if not to make people happy? They’re both incredibly talented people who love baking, but their outlooks on life couldn’t be more different.
“Pardon me if it’s obvious when two people are into each other.”
“Is it?” Mariana murmured. And smiled at her blandly.”
It’s obvious from the outset that Dominic has a thing for Sylvie, even if he’d probably term that feeling as annoyance rather than attraction. And Sylvie? Yeah, she’s in denial, too, and thinks her flirting is just attempts to get Mr. Dour to loosen up. There’s something ridiculously fun about watching two people who interested in the other be completely oblivious about it. And the feels! It’s emotionally resonant and truly moving. There’s a scene where Sylvie impulsively grabs Dominic’s hand to comfort him and the description simply melted me into a pile of goo. The book also deals heavily with grief, as both Sylvie and Dominic are still dealing with the after effects of the deaths of important people in their lives. There’s several examples of the heart-stoppingly painful moments where, even years later, grief can swamp you. And on a happier note, it’s also about family, found and biological: Dominic’s fumbling attempts to build a relationship with his sister, Pet; Sylvie’s best-friend-practically-her-brother Jay; and, well, all the royal shenanigans you could expect. The scene where Dominic finally understands deep in his soul that he has people he can reach out to? I bawled like a baby.
As for criticisms, there’s a lot going on in this book. There’s the relationship forming between Dominic and Sylvie, investigating what to make for the royal wedding cake, a case of corporate espionage, both characters dealing with grief and family issues… oh, and the cake competition they’re judging. It’s a lot. For the most part, I felt like the various threads were handled well throughout most of the book, but it didn’t quite wrap up as well at the end.
“I’m equal parts terrified and aroused.”
“What an excellent relationship motto for us. I think I’ll embroider it on a cushion.”
Overall, this was an emotionally charged read for me, and I’m eagerly awaiting the next book. It was very obvious who the next couple will be and I am so excited to see what happens with them!