People may or may not know this about me, but I love to bake. It has been a hobby of mine since I was a teenager. There are few things that bring me as much joy as getting in my kitchen and baking, especially for the people I care about. That’s why when I found out about the book Love At 350° by Lisa Peers, I knew it was going to be right up my alley. A sapphic romance that revolves around a TV baking competition? Sign me up!
Love At 350° is told through dual perspectives. First, we have Tori Moore, a divorced mom who is a high school chemistry teacher and home baker. Her wife cheated on her and then divorced her before leaving Northern California to live in New York City and try her hand at being a poet. Tori’s twins, Milo and Mia, submit her for the baking competition show American Bake-O-Rama without her knowledge, and to their surprise, she is selected to audition.
Kendra Campbell is a chef and the ruthless judge on American Bake-O-Rama known as #TheChopper. Hey, it’s not her fault she’s honest. Also known as the “Cookie Queen” because of her successful Chippy Chunk cookie shops, she devotes all of her life to food and her French bulldog Julia. That’s why she’s single, right?
Baking aside, my favorite thing about Love At 350° is the fact that the main characters are women over 40. So much of the romance genre, even when the stories are sapphic, tend to feature women under 35. And while I love those stories, I didn’t realize how much I was missing a story about women closer to my own age. Older women, especially those of us who have been in relationships before, just approach dating differently, and it was nice to see that reflected in a romance book.
The release of Love At 350° couldn’t have been more perfectly timed, because the new season of The Great British Bake-Off just started and I’m all up in my baking competition show feelings. I don’t know if Peers is a fan, but she found a way to infuse the mood and tone of that show and then inject some elements into the show that make it inherently American, like the idea of a “bake and switch” or the winner getting their own TV show, which felt very reminiscent of The Next Food Network Star. We also get to meet the crew and studio execs, which was a fun addition. The fictional show’s host reminds me of Allison Hammond, the new Bake-Off co-host.
To her credit, Peers really gave a lot of thought to how American Bake-O-Rama works, mainly because so much of the book takes place on the show’s set. That means that she really had to consider how the show works, decide on what kind of bakes would be done, and then make it still sound fun and not monotonous. I was afraid that setting so much of the book during the filming of the show would get old and boring, but it is a clever way to keep time moving forward. But it also gives us the slow burn that a story about baking rightfully deserves. Going week-by-week gives us time to not only get to know the characters, but for the author to fully immerse you in the world of the story.
I will say though: I wish we got to see a little more of Tori outside the show preparing for the show. It’s one of the things I wish we got to see on Bake-Off, too. The baker in me wants to get more into the process of baking: how a recipe is developed, attempted, and tested. But it would have also given us a little bit more space to get to know Tori in the context of herself. We see her as a mom, as a friend, as an ex-wife, and as a contestant, but we only get small glimpses into who she is as a woman through her long-distance flirting with Kendra. And while that is fun and nice, I wish we could have seen her work through some of that in her own kitchen. She is supposed to be a home baker; we should see her baking at home a little bit more.
On the flip side, it makes sense that we get to know Kendra through her time spent on the set of the show, at work in her restaurant, or through interactions with her older brother Alden. It drives home the point that she has not made time in her life for anything but her work. Is it a common trope? Well, of course, it’s a romance novel. While I understand and even sometimes appreciated this particular element of the trope, I do wish we had gotten a little more of Kendra’s backstory. Anything we learn about her is in the context of her cooking career, and very little in the way of her romantic past. If she’s supposed to be in her early forties, she’s had some kind of past, but aside from a couple of mentions of her dating powerful women who couldn’t understand why she was too busy with her culinary career to date, we don’t learn much. We know so much about Tori’s ex-wife and former marriage, it would have been nice to balance that a little bit better.
Another strength Peers has is creating a great ensemble cast. Yes, this is Tori and Kendra’s story, but the rest of the characters are just as important, and I really think it’s necessary for a story like this one. We get to see three of Tori’s friends, all of whom are queer women as well, which is awesome. Della, who is one of her fellow teachers, is of retirement age, and while she’s not in every bit of the book, it is nice to see that a woman in middle age could have a queer elder to go to for advice and friendship. I love that Tori’s teenage twins are her way into the show, because it gives us a different element of their relationship. I also really loved Kendra’s brother Alden, as well as her co-host Trevor.
The romance is definitely a secondary part of the plot, and while I’d normally want more, it works for this story. Kendra and Tori are a serious slow burn, passing notes in secret, and relying on furtive glances when no one is looking to convey their growing attraction. It could have stood to have a bit more in the page longing, but it didn’t take me out of the book at all.
If you’re looking for a cozy read, Love At 350° is absolutely it. You can even try baking Tori’s Paper Bag Apple Pie; the recipe’s in the back of the book.