Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake by Alexis Hall (Winner Bakes All #1)

Following the recipe is the key to a successful bake. Rosaline Palmer has always lived by those rules—well, except for when she dropped out of college to raise her daughter, Amelie. Now, with a paycheck as useful as greaseproof paper and a house crumbling faster than biscuits in tea, she’s teetering on the edge of financial disaster. But where there’s a whisk there’s a way . . . and Rosaline has just landed a spot on the nation’s most beloved baking show.

Winning the prize money would give her daughter the life she deserves—and Rosaline is determined to stick to the instructions. However, more than collapsing trifles stand between Rosaline and sweet, sweet victory. Suave, well-educated, and parent-approved Alain Pope knows all the right moves to sweep her off her feet, but it’s shy electrician Harry Dobson who makes Rosaline question her long-held beliefs—about herself, her family, and her desires.

Rosaline fears falling for Harry is a guaranteed recipe for disaster. Yet as the competition—and the ovens—heat up, Rosaline starts to realize the most delicious bakes come from the heart.

CONTRIBUTOR(S): Fiona Hardingham (Narrator)
YEAR: 2021
LENGTH: 435 pages (11 hours 23 minutes)
AGE: Adult
GENRE: Contemporary, Romance

Queer Rep Summary: Lesbian/Sapphic Secondary Character(s), Bi/Pan Main Character(s).

ROSALINE PALMER TAKES THE CAKE features Rosaline, a single mom on a British baking show, falling for her fellow contestants and doting on her anglerfish-obsessed daughter. She needs the money, and hopes the resulting spotlight will lead to a lucrative cookbook-writing career. This is the first book in a series which seems slated to have different protagonists in each entry, with a fictionalized version of a particular British baking show as the connecting thread. This means that while I'm sure some sort of connecting lore will develop, I can, at least, assess this as if it's a stand-alone book. It isn't trying to leave anything in particular to be resolved later (except that there will be another season of the show), and this story wraps up on schedule. 

I was very glad to read about a bisexual protagonist who gets a narrative which doesn't treat her identity as a spectacle. Rosaline does, however, have to deal with some biphobia and some truly awful behavior. One of the potential love interests slowly becomes more and more unpleasant as the show continues, in a way which allows for several possible moments where a reader can realize that something is wrong and this isn't just a choice between two perfectly fine relationship options. I don't want to spoil how things go, but the slow escalation of toxic behavior is a really great example of how this kind of person can stay in someone's life well past the first warning sign, depending on what other pressures and stressors are in play. I've seen some other reviews which were upset at Rosaline for not realizing how bad this person was much earlier, and this frustrated me, because they seemed to not understand the narrative arc and her growth as a character. The book would have been dull and half the length if she'd immediately known who to end up with and just gotten there fast. Instead, her slow realization highlights how insidious classism can be, particularly the way that this person got past her guard because he engaged in the "acceptable" forms of bigotry. By not having Rosaline perfectly clock this person as a socially-adept asshole, there's room for her to have an arc of realization and struggle over how to deal with this new information. 

Part of Rosaline's story off-camera is renegotiating her relationship with her parents. They have this idea of who she could have been which is incompatible with who she is, and she's felt bad that she didn't have the career they envisioned because she had Amelie instead. She doesn't regret her daughter, and doesn't particularly seem to long for a career in medicine, but it's hard to be settled and confident in the life she actually has when there's never enough money and her parents don't let her forget for an instant how much they've done to help her make both ends meet. 

Things I love, in no particular order: Amelie and her various interests (I also loved anglerfish when I was a kid); the process of filming the baking show; the other cast members; Rosaline's relationship with her ex-girlfriend/best friend.

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Graphic/Explicit CW for cursing, classism, sexual assault.

Moderate CW for sexual content, alcohol, biphobia, sexual harassment, sexism, misogyny, panic attacks/disorders, mental illness, confinement, violence.

Minor CW for infidelity, racism.

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A white woman in an apron, standing next to a stove as a cartoonish puff of smoke, shaped like a series of hearts, floats near a rolling pin, cupcake, cake slice, and cake on a display stand.


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