From the publisher:
From talented new writer, Yaffa S. Santos, comes this unforgettable, heartwarming, and hilarious rom-com about chefs, cooking, love, and self-discovery that is a cross between The Hating Game and Sweetbitter.
Lumi Santana is a chef with the gift of synesthesia―she can perceive a person’s emotions just by tasting their cooking. Despite being raised by a single mother who taught her that dreams and true love were silly fairy tales, she decides to take a chance and puts her heart and savings into opening a fusion restaurant in Inwood, Manhattan. The restaurant offers a mix of the Dominican cuisine she grew up with and other world cuisines that have been a source of culinary inspiration to her.
When Lumi’s eclectic venture fails, she is forced to take a position as a sous chef at a staid, traditional French restaurant in midtown owned by Julien Dax, a celebrated chef known for his acid tongue as well as his brilliant smile. Lumi and Julien don’t get along in the kitchen–to say Lumi is irritated by Julien’s smug attitude is an understatement, and she secretly vows never to taste his cooking. Little does she know that her resolve doesn’t stand a chance against Julien’s culinary prowess.
As Julien produces one delectable dish after another, each one tempting Lumi with its overwhelming aromas and gorgeous presentations, she can no longer resist and samples one of his creations. She isn’t prepared for the feelings that follow as she’s overcome with intense emotions. She begins to crave his cooking throughout the day, which throws a curveball in her plan to save up enough money and move on as soon as possible. Plus, there’s also the matter of Esme, Julien’s receptionist who seems to always be near and watching. As the attraction between Lumi and Julien simmers, Lumi experiences a tragedy that not only complicates her professional plans but her love life as well…
Clever, witty, and romantic, A Taste of Sage is sure to delight and entertain readers until the very last page.
The publisher compared this book to Stephanie Danler’s Sweetbitter, which was very popular and even turned into a Starz TV series. But to be honest, I wasn’t a fan; I found it pretentious at best. But A Taste of Sage is a debut novel, and I love finding new authors, so I wanted to give it a read. After 20+ years reviewing, I have learned to not trust everything the publisher says about a book! And it was good. Not pretentious at all, but very well written with characters that felt like real people, despite the synesthesia, or as I thought of it, magical realism, and it takes pretty good writing chops to pull that off.
The first line of the publisher’s synopsis mentions synesthesia. The first time I ever heard of that was in T. Jefferson Parker’s The Fallen, which was a fantastic read (and made my best books of the year list, 2006.) I was completely fascinated by it and read a lot about it. If you haven’t, I think the quickest way to understand it is from Neuroscience for Kids:
Synesthesia is a condition in which one sense (for example, hearing) is simultaneously perceived as if by one or more additional senses such as sight. Another form of synesthesia joins objects such as letters, shapes, numbers or people’s names with a sensory perception such as smell, color or flavor. The word synesthesia comes from two Greek words, syn (together) and aisthesis (perception). Therefore, synesthesia literally means “joined perception.”
From my understanding, I don’t really think I would call Lumi’s gift synesthesia. It definitely feels more like magical realism to me, which Merriam Webster defines as “a literary genre or style associated especially with Latin America that incorporates fantastic or mythical elements into otherwise realistic fiction.” That seems right. But what do I know?
If I was doing book comparables, I would say it most closely reminded me of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender, but with more romance. Which is good for me because that means I get the happy ending, yay!
Oh, but the bumps in the road that come before that happy ending were positively epic. For one thing, Lumi hates working anywhere that isn’t her own restaurant and dreams of opening another. One of her co-workers is evil and because of the Lumi’s gift, that comes through in her food, causing the climax of the book (and not in a good way!) I wish I got to know Julien a little bit better, but really this is Lumi’s story, and we know enough to know that we want them together.
There are recipes sprinkled throughout the book for Dominican fusion type food. The only one that intrigued me was the salmon with pesto and pineapple, but my husband vetoed it. I may sneak it by him one night anyway. And I love that the author uses her Dominican background in this story. The voice rings true and I love learning about other cultures through fiction.
If you like books set in the restaurant industry, (and I do,) and you like a touch of magical realism and/or synesthesia, (and I do,) then I think you may like this book as much as I did!
5/2020 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™
A TASTE OF SAGE by Yaffa S. Santos. Harper Paperbacks (May 19, 2020). ISBN 978-0062974846. 320p.
This entry was posted on Monday, May 18th, 2020 at 8:00 AM and is filed under Book Reviews, Fiction, Romance. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.