Review: Donut Fall in Love – Jackie Lau
by Jackie Lau
Publication Date: October 26, 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:
A baker provides the sweetest escape for an actor in this charming romantic comedy.
Actor Ryan Kwok is back in Toronto after the promotional tour for his latest film, a rom-com that is getting less-than-stellar reviews. After the sudden death of his mother and years of constant work, Ryan is taking some much-needed time off. But as he tries to be supportive to his family, he struggles with his loss and doesn't know how to talk to his dad—who now trolls him on Twitter instead of meeting him for dim sum.
Innovative baker Lindsay McLeod meets Ryan when he knocks over two dozen specialty donuts at her bakery. Their relationship is off to a messy start, but there’s no denying their immediate attraction. When Ryan signs up for a celebrity episode of Baking Fail, he asks Lindsay to teach him how to bake and she agrees.
As Lindsay and Ryan spend time together, bonding over grief and bubble tea, it starts to feel like they’re cooking up something sweeter than cupcakes in the kitchen.
I’ve been a fan of Jackie Lau since her first book, so I was overjoyed when this traditionally published book was announced, and even more overjoyed that it still had the three things I’d consider hallmarks of her work: food, family and feels.
Ryan, an up and coming actor with social media worthy abs, has taken off a few months between projects to move back to Toronto to be closer to his family in the wake of his mother’s death. But while he may be physically closer, he’s not feeling that emotionally. He’s struggling to figure out how to help his pregnant sister and frustrated by his dad’s perpetual reticence. But maybe a chance encounter with a baker will at least distract him… Lindsay’s bakery is doing well, but on the personal front? Well, her business partner’s recent marriage has only highlighted how lonely she feels. One meet-disaster involving a lot of falling donuts later, at least she has a new distraction teaching a particularly handsome actor how to bake in preparation for going on a cooking show. But as the lessons progress, ovens aren’t the only thing heating up in the kitchen.
“Then she’d get back to the kitchen, and when she took a break later, she would most certainly not look up what Ryan Kwok did other than take off his shirt, destroy her donuts, and insult the concept of matcha tiramisu.”
I find “rom-com” to be a bit of a misnomer with Jackie Lau’s books. Sure, they’re funny and there’s a romance, but there’s also usually a focus on heavier subject matter, and that’s the case with this book as well. A large part of the book is Ryan dealing with his grief over his mother’s death earlier that year and the effects on his family. Ryan’s mom was the family glue, the one who was always reaching out and dropping by with food, and her sudden death from a heart attack has left everyone reeling. Ryan is especially floundering with his relationship with his dad, who he feels like hasn’t approved of him since he dropped out of his engineering program. His dad generally looks down on entertainment programs, especially things designed for laughs like the sitcoms and rom-coms Ryan’s acted in. Attempts to call him end in grunts or angry responses. Plus, his sister just had a baby and seems to be struggling, but Ryan has no idea how to help her, and his dad seems even more disconnected from her as well. If he can’t manage his relationships with his family, what hope does he have with a romantic relationship?
The only person Ryan feels like he can open up to is Lindsay. Lindsay’s father died when she was 22, and that’s when she decided to work toward opening a bakery with her friend, so he finds it easy to talk about how much his mother loved baking shows and the reason he wants to do so well on it. Lindsay’s got her own family problems. Her mother has started dating again, and it’s bringing up a lot of weird feelings for her and her brother, so at the start of the book, Lindsay’s feeling pretty down. Her best friend and business partner just got married, and her new roommate seems to want nothing to do with her. She’s struggled with making friends – or having relationships – since her dad’s death, preferring to focus on her business. But Ryan’s vulnerability – and eventual friendship – with her lead her to open up to him as well.
“I went to see your movie with my friend. Your abs were in high definition and almost as tall as I am, and now I can’t look at you without thinking about it.”
Their relationship was a lot of fun. Of course it starts out with quite a bit of lust (those abs!) but as they get to know each other, they become friends. Ryan respects Lindsay’s competency in the kitchen and how generally no-nonsense she is, while Lindsay likes the bumbling and nervous aspects of Ryan that the public never sees. A lot of flirting over buttercream slowly turns into Lindsay deciding that a one-night-stand would be pretty fun, never anticipating that Ryan would actually want to date her. Ryan’s an actor and a sex symbol, though, and he’ll be leaving Toronto to film soon anyway. Lyndsay knows she should just enjoy it while it lasts, but suddenly all this vulnerability has led to a lot of feelings. Certainly it would be better to nip this relationship in the bud before it goes too far, right?
On top of all the grief, at the same time Ryan’s afraid of how his latest rom-com is performing. A bad showing means studios will take fewer chances on movies with Asian leads, and Ryan can’t help but feel responsible. There’s a lot of talk about racism, from how Lyndsay’s mother’s experience as a first-generation Chinese woman in a mostly English environment, to racism in media, like reporters being unable to distinguish between Ryan and his best friend, a comedian. And that’s not even mentioning the trolls on social media…
On a more positive note, with Lindsay running a bakery and Ryan practicing with her for the baking show, of course there’s lots of deliciousness. There’s the titular donuts (matcha tiramisu ones, no less), plus cupcakes (lemon meringue) and cakes (double fudge). There’s boba and sushi and delicious coffee and beer with funny mythological names. It all sounded mouth-wateringly good, even Lindsay’s initial joke about thinking that Ryan wanted her to make a butter pecan cake of his abs.
Overall, another lovely Jackie Lau book, and definitely one you’ll want to have some sweets on hand for!
Content notes: View Spoiler »death of a parent from cancer (before book starts), death of a parent from heart attack (before book starts), grief, racism, postpartum depression, homophobia/biphobia, alcohol « Hide Spoiler