|I've always thought horseradish the most piquant of root vegetables,
but I never would have guessed it was an aphrodisiac. Now here comes
a book that says otherwise. It is engaging and entertaining but,
unlike the condiment, not the spiciest thing around.
Five years ago, Michelle Nelson was crowned Horseradish Queen at her
hometown's annual Horseradish Festival. That evening also saw the
disastrous beginning of her sex life. She finally lost her virginity
to Ryan Slater, the man she had pinned for throughout her high school
years. It would have been a great experience if it hadn't ended much,
much sooner than desired. Michelle left town to study cooking as
planned. Despite big expectations from everyone, she is still only a
pastry cook in Chicago and sadly single to boot.
The town is now hoping to rake up more interest in the festival and
more tourist bucks for the area. Friends and family ask Michelle to
judge a horseradish recipe competition and to join in a scavenger
hunt that follows in the footsteps of the local Bonnie and Clyde. She
agrees to compete for the "sexiest couple" prize, but only if her
brother finds her a partner.
Of course, Michelle never expected him to come up with Ryan. The
latter has always regretted his poor performance and can't wait to
prove himself to the girl who got away. Needless to say, the hunt
gives them ample opportunity to get to know each other.
Ryan and Michelle are refreshing and likeable. Though he hasn't gone
far in life, his laidback style is quite charming. Michelle is
intelligent and ambitious, if somewhat insecure. Despite their
mistakes and failures, neither are into that self-flagellating
routine many romance heroes and heroines prefer. No guilty secrets or
angst-ridden consciences for this couple.
Which doesn't mean they don't have hang-ups. As their rather low-
keyed life suggests, neither has lived up to his or her full
potential. Ryan helps out at his parents' bowling alley, underplaying
his obvious artistic talents. Michelle is much more zealous, but she
does have a hard time maintaining her interest and enthusiasm once
the initial thrill is over. Hence her failed cooking career and her
disappointing love life.
The scavenger hunt forces them to face their fears, to reconsider
their life paths and to see how well their different styles
complement each other. The different challenges are interesting
without being outrageous. They pace the book and punctuate the
characters' arc. The activities also introduce a variety of small
town characters, some of whom are more entertaining than others.
The chemistry between Michelle and Ryan works well.
There's enough conflict to keep the tension going, but they aren't
continually beating a dead horse. The sex scenes aren't as racy as I
expected, given both Carr's wicked woman reputation and the Brava
imprint. The writing is tight and snappy, but not as sparkly as I'd
hoped for. But if Ex, Why, and Me isn't exactly what the nutritionist prescribed, all in all it is a pleasant and light-hearted read.