Series Name: Winner Bakes All #2

“Honestly, Paris’s appetite had mostly deserted him. While he’d told Tariq that his greatest fear was spiders, his real greatest fear was trying to do a good thing and it turning into a bad thing – like if you bought a lovely toy for an adorable kitten but it wasn’t a pet-safe to and so the kitten choked to death and what had been intended as a wonderful happy moment of perfect innocence turned into a pain and death and a baby cat fighting to breathe.” 

Alexis Hall writes about the pain of anxiety with grace in the coming of age contemporary book about competitive baking, social media and the trials of being young and on camera. 

Paris Daillencourt is a recipe for disaster. Despite his passion for baking, his cat, and his classics degree, constant self-doubt and second-guessing have left him a curdled, directionless mess. So when his roommate enters him in Bake Expectations, the nation’s favourite baking show, Paris is sure he’ll be the first one sent home. 

But not only does he win week one’s challenge—he meets fellow contestant Tariq Hassan. Sure, he’s the competition, but he’s also cute and kind, with more confidence than Paris could ever hope to have. Still, neither his growing romance with Tariq nor his own impressive bakes can keep Paris’s fear of failure from spoiling his happiness. And when the show’s vicious fanbase confirms his worst anxieties, Paris’s confidence is torn apart quicker than tear-and-share bread.

But if Paris can find the strength to face his past, his future, and the chorus of hecklers that live in his brain, he’ll realize it’s the sweet things in life that he really deserves.

Woo. Ok, so I need to start by saying I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that shows, on the page, the cycles of anxiety so well. As someone who is constantly in battle with her own anxiety, this book made me tear up at times because it was so powerful in how it displayed the trials and struggles of anxiety on the page. Paris is a hard character to love, partially because of how he is unable to manage this illness through the first two thirds of this book. His experiences resonated with me and I can see myself recommending this book to people to help them understand how I can see the world sometimes. 

I don’t know that I would call this book a straight romance. It’s certainly not a romcom as it’s packaged to be. Rather it’s more of a New Adult Contemporary Fiction story about Paris Daillencourt learning to deal with his anxiety with a soft romantic secondary plot line. Paris, and his friends and romantic love interest are all young. They are 20 and are selfish, self-focused and unaware of so much in life. Which is how they should be at 20! However, I struggled to like or empathize with many of the secondary characters. Paris is a privileged young man who’s parent’s success and fame as a model and fashion designer has set him up for a life of wealth. However, his parents have utterly abandoned him. They won’t even respond to his text messages, which is an absolutely heartbreaking part of the book that I wish got some resolution. Paris is really naive about his wealth and privilege which is sometimes jarring because it seems slightly out of character for someone who’s anxiety makes him so hyper focused and aware. Paris, and his romantic interest, Tariq, a gay muslim man who is a ray of sunshine have a fascinating relationship. Sex is off the table from the beginning as Tariq is open about wanting to save himself for marriage. There is some interesting conversations and dynamics about sex, religion, homosexuality and the tension between those three areas that I wish was more fully developed by the end. The characters do have a HFN, but I couldn’t help but feel like there was a lot still needed to be discussed left on the table for me to believe the HFN. However, I did remind myself that at 20, perhaps that was the best ending you could hope for. 

Let’s talk about the secondary characters. Tariq’s family is frankly a delight and is a darling juxtaposition to Paris’ completely absent family. However, the rest of the characters were not great: especially Morag, Paris’ roommate who calls herself a “fat Glasgowian Sex Goddess” but who seemed to be cruel and self obsessed. Tariq’s roommates, all called Dave, were kind of funny, but in the way that you would expect a flat full of young men living together to be. 

During the actual baking competition, I really enjoyed the different characters competing against Paris and Tariq. The baking scenes, aside from Paris’ constant tears and whining, were some of my favourites in the book. Paris loves baking but doesn’t think he’s good at it (which is totally the anxiety talking) but his constant rejection of his skill gets annoying, which I’m pretty sure was Alexis’ goal. I did feel, however, during those scenes like I was watching an episode of The Great British Bake Off, which was a delight. Although this is the second in the Winner Bakes All series (first was Rosalind Palmer Takes the Cake) they read as standalones.

All in all this was a fascinating read about one man’s struggle with anxiety and his growth and development through taking accountability for his actions and seeking treatment. It is not, however, a core romantic story. 

Thank you to Forever for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.