Perfect Pairing by Rachel Spangler had me sold as soon as I heard one of the protagonists owns a food truck. I read so many romances that I’m always looking for something a little different, and Perfect Pairing delivers.
Hal Orion owns the popular grilled cheese food truck, Cheesy Does It, and satisfies the hungry hipsters of Buffalo alongside her best friend, Sully. A recent profile in a local magazine means more people than ever are lining up for her fresh take on food anywhere Hal and Sully announce they’ll be that day. The carefree, rootless lifestyle is perfect for Hal, who learned a long time ago to never want anything more than what she has in the current moment.
Quinn Banning is an investment banker, and she isn’t just interested in a sandwich from the famous “Fryboi”—she wants to help revitalize her beloved city. Quinn pushes her way to the front of Cheesy Does It’s line to make an offer she knows Hal can’t possibly refuse: she’ll put down the money for Hal to have her own restaurant and give her complete creative control. But Hal immediately turns Quinn down, leaving her flummoxed. Unused to being told no, Quinn has another proposition for Hal, and hires her to teach her the ins and outs of successful restaurant ownership. With such different perspectives, they may not get along, but there’s no denying the attraction between the two women.
Although Quinn gets a lot of time on the page in Perfect Pairing, this is really Hal’s book. Hal is attractive, talented at putting together unique tastes and textures in her sandwiches, and is a savvy business person. Because of her childhood and how she was raised, she has major issues trusting anyone or anything apart from Sully. Hal lives by self reliance and self control alone, which is why she immediately shuts down any part of herself that can admit she wants her own restaurant. She’s so strict about those principles that I sometimes found Hal difficult to connect with and I occasionally wanted to shake her, but it’s so satisfying to see who she is by the end of the book.
At first glance, Quinn looks like a shark, particularly with how she initially behaves with Hal, but she’s really not. She cares deeply about helping revitalize Buffalo, to the point of making her own private investments into small businesses, and it’s because she cares so much that she comes on too strong. She may not have as big of a character arc as Hal, but I loved watching her adapt her approach with Hal as she grew to know, respect, and care for her.
For anyone familiar with Rachel Spangler’s work who’s wondering if Joey from LoveLife shows up, she does, but only briefly.
The Writing Style
Perfect Pairing may be a romance novel, but it’s not fluffy and lighthearted. Although its opening scenes are hilarious, particularly with the quick, snappy dialogue that you only ever see between friends as close as Hal and Sully, make no mistake—this book deals with some serious issues. I’m used to romances following the typical road from attraction to getting to know each other to some sort of romantic and/or physical connection, followed by a (usually unnecessary) break up and then make up at the end. With the way Perfect Pairing is written, I trusted in the relationship as little as Hal did until she and Quinn really came together. That meant the story wasn’t always easy to read, but its happy ending was truly earned and I admired how skillfully that was done.
What I found most special about Perfect Pairing is how clearly it demonstrates Rachel Spangler’s love of Buffalo and hope in the revitalization of rust belt cities. As someone who grew up across from Detroit in one of Canada’s rust belt areas, this spoke to me strongly and makes me hope she will set more books in Buffalo.
Where to start? It has an incredible cover. There are so many bad covers in lesfic that it’s refreshing to see one as good as this.
Without giving too much away, I love the opening scene where Hal makes a breakfast sandwich. It had me smiling, then laughing, then telling Brooklyn that she needed to read this book.
It also does some interesting things with the idea of identity. Hal is a woman of colour, but because her mother didn’t know who her father was, she doesn’t know what her racial background is, leaving her displaced in yet another way.
Although the story typically shifted between Hal and Quinn’s perspectives at scene and chapter breaks, there were a few instances of head hopping in the middle of a scene, which was a little jarring.
Also, if you love cheese, you might also find yourself frequently hungry while reading this book.
I loved Perfect Pairing. I recommend it to anyone who is a fan of excellent dialogue, likes their romances to be earned, or has a soft spot in their heart for cities that are reviving.
Excerpt from Perfect Pairing by Rachel Spangler
“Here.” Hal took the spoon and scooped up a bit of the sauce. Holding it close to her mouth, she blew gently a few times, causing wisps of steam to curl around her mouth and nose before evaporating. Then she held the spoon out to Quinn. “Taste.”
Hal cupped her hand under the spoon and lifted it to Quinn’s slightly parted lips. Quinn sipped tentatively first, then a little more, running the tip of her tongue slowly along the edge of the spoon. She closed her eyes and tilted her head back as she savored the last of the sauce. All the tension slipped from her shoulders, and her arms fell relaxed at her side. She took a deep breath, and Hal watched her chest rise slowly, then fall quickly. God, was anything more beautiful than a gorgeous woman with her eyes closed in rapture? Hal grew lightheaded knowing something she’d done had inspired such a serene gesture of pleasure in a woman who always seemed on guard.
Quinn’s light eyes fluttered open, glazed, almost disoriented. “Oh my Lord, that may be the best thing I’ve ever tasted.”
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Bits and Bobs
- ISBN number: 9781612940694
- Publisher: Bywater Books
Rachel Spangler Online
Note: I received a free review copy of Perfect Pairing by Rachel Spangler for review. No money was exchanged for this review. I will always review books as honestly as possible and on occasion I refuse to review books.