Jeff & Will wish everyone a very happy holiday week before getting into this episode’s installment of Romance Revisited.

Jeff reviews the new movie, Cats. The guys talk about the Netflix original film Let it Snow. The final holiday books of the season are reviewed as Will discusses Daryl Banner’s Making the Naughty List while Jeff looks at Mangoes and Mistletoe by Adriana Herrera.

Coastal Magic Convention Featured Author Z.A. Maxfield talks to Jeff about the upcoming installment in her Brothers Grime series as well as the sequel to Home the Hard Way. They also talk about her story in the Footsteps in the Dark anthology as well as what else she’s got planned for 2020.

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Show Notes

Here are the things we talk about in this episode. Please note, these links includes affiliate links for which we may make a small commission at no extra cost to you should you make a purchase.

Jump to Book Reviews

Interview Transcript – Z.A. Maxfield

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Jeff: I am so super excited to welcome back to the podcast, Z.A. Maxfield. Thank you so much for being here.

ZAM: Thank you so much for having me. I really love being here with you.

Jeff: It has been way too long. It seems like yesterday – and then like actually it’s been three years since we had you on the show.

ZAM: I know. And those three years have been eventful and silly and you know, it’s just been a long, three years. It feels like a longer three years then than my three years is used to feel like.

Jeff: Indeed. Absolutely agree with you on that.

ZAM: Without saying else, it’s been a long three years.

Jeff: So let’s delve into books. You’ve been under re-release schedule a lot this year, and your latest ones are around your Brothers Grime series, tell us about this series.

ZAM: Well, I began the series with the idea that I got in an RWA meeting, and I think the author who was speaking was Vicky Dreiling. And she talked about how one day she got this idea of doing a high concept story as a kind of mashup between Regency romance and “The Bachelorette.” And she, she thought it was fun, the idea to take a television show and then mash it up with something.

I thought what if I took a gay romance and I matched it up with “Dirty Jobs.” And there are so many different kinds of dirty jobs, but my very favorite one is crime scene cleaning.

I was like, gay romance, crime scene cleaning. Could two men fall in love while cleaning up a biohazardous waste? So that’s really what I thought of, and it, it has two really interesting components. And one is that it’s a crime story where the crime is committed completely off page and the crime is solved off page.

You know? I mean, it’s really a story about crime without any kind of police procedural elements. So I thought that was interesting. And then of course, I thought, how interesting it was to have people who know how to do that and they have to see these things, and every day they go to work knowing that they’re going to see something pretty grim. And I thought that was interesting too. So that’s what made me want to do that.

Jeff: I love where the plot bunny came from first and how you took it from “The Bachelorette” to “Dirty Jobs.”

ZAM: I’d only actually seen one episode of “Dirty Jobs.” Two. But one was the crime scene one and the other one was collecting bull semen. And I thought that would be interesting too, if I wanted to go the cowboy route. But, I picked at the crime scene one. And then of course, that lent itself to so many wonderful grime jokes because, you know, grime doesn’t pay and partners in grime and, grime and punishment, you know, so that was enjoyable. Those were the enjoyable little subtitles, I got to add to each book, and there were good puns to be had.

Jeff: How much research did you have to do to delve into the world of crime scene cleanup?

ZAM: I felt like I did more than most, you know? It was kind of, you know, you have to look and see who does these jobs.

And so I looked up the people in my neighborhood who do like, you could actually look in the white pages on your computer and find the different crime scene cleanup companies. I also watched lots of videos about how crime scene cleaners work. And at the time I didn’t realize, but there were right at the same time, that must’ve all occurred to us all at the same time.

There were was a television show that was, or a movie that was based on crime scene cleaning. And then there was an odd, wasn’t there an Australian murder mystery show where a husband and wife crime scene cleaning team go and they’re working in it as they work, they solve the mystery. I think there was, so there was a lot of interest in this at the same time, and I bet it was sparked by that “Dirty Jobs” show or I don’t know what, but it was kind of a zeitgeisty thing. So I did have a lot of material to watch.

Jeff: So tell us about Eddie and about Jack.

ZAM: Well, Jack was my favorite, cause he was the first one and he’s kind of a shorter book. So when I rereleased it, I added extra material because he wasn’t really long enough for a full print version, you know, and I wanted to give people a little something extra.

I had this vision of him being someone who has to go to a crime scene, cleanup and confront cleaning the remains or what was left after the bodies taken away of the suicide of his high school boyfriend and the high school boyfriend was a tremendous betrayer and, actually led a mob of kids to beat him up.

It’s actually that particular incident that informs the story of all three men who work at this crime scene cleanup cause they all were really good friends in high school. But he finds out that his ex boyfriend, who, you know, betrayed him, killed himself, you know, and they’re in their late twenties. And he has, he decides that he’s the one that’s going to clean that scene. And of course, all his friends tell him, no, you can’t do that. You know, that would be terrible for you. You know, you have all this baggage around this, and he just, he insists. But he goes there and he discovers that the man killed himself in the home of his lookalike cousin who is determined to clean it himself.

So it’s like they kind of have to work together and it’s, it was a really, it’s got a very heavy story, but it’s kind of also very lighthearted and it’s a love story and leave it to me to try and jam all that into one little tiny box, right? You know me.

Jeff: You do like to take on the complex things.

ZAM: Yes, I do. I’ll throw in another grizzly as my father in law used to always say, if a story’s boring, just thrown another grizzly. And I guess I did throw a few grizzlies in this one, but I, I loved the story because it’s really about facing this ancient betrayal. And learning to find love. And of course he has to, you know, he falls in love with a guy who looks just like the guy who betrayed him.

The thing is, I was sitting in that Romance Writers of America meeting and the entire trilogy came to me like Venus on the half shell, fully formed in my head. I knew exactly what it was going to be about and crime scene cleaners don’t just do crime, they do hoarding situations. They do animal hoarding and all these other things. That brings me to Eddie who has a different story, but it was also affected by this teen crime that you know, had happened to his friend and he falls in love with someone who has secrets, family secrets. And so that’s fun.

That’s fun. And it’s a different kind of story. It’s not like every single book somebody has to go in and clean up a crime scene. I would love to keep going with those, but there’s three guys and now, and I don’t really have coworkers for them to, I want to do it some more, you know, it was just so much fun to write.

But the third one is the final story, is coming up and it’s going to be released… I’m looking at January 21st. So that’s the release date of that. I’ll be putting it up a couple of weeks earlier for preorder.

I really enjoyed this one too, because this is the first time I’ve ever written a book where I give my character everything he wants in the first chapter and then totally take it away by the second. It was terribly mean. I can’t even, I was like, Oh my gosh, my readers are going to kill me when they see this, because I don’t really do this. But you know, sometimes. You just do what you have to do. And so I did it. We’ll see.

This one is about Gabe and Dave. Gabe is the third owner of the Brothers Grime. The three men are Jack and Eddie and Gabe and they’re childhood friends who grew up and they decided Jack was a firefighter, but he got injured on the job. So he wanted a job that he could still stay helping people and stay with first responders and you know, he would be around the periphery of an environment that he had, he was very used to and, and felt comfortable in. And, so he decides with his friends that they’re going to do this crime scene cleanup thing. And so they know all the cops and they know all the things. One of their childhood friends grew up to be a cop, so he’s a police detective now. Every so often he throws them business.

Jeff: And what’s the title of book three so people can find it for preorder?

ZAM: It’s called “Grime Doesn’t Pay,” but it’s “Gabe: Grime Doesn’t Pay.” Dave is his love interest and you see in the first two books how Gabe sort of starts. He’s looking at Dave and the first book and he’s, you know, sidling up to Dave and the second book and he finally has everything he wants.

So then I take it away. It is terrible. I’m a terrible person.

Jeff: Was it fun to have the camaraderie of the brothers through those stories too?

ZAM: It really is. It’s very fun. And you know, you establish, I had to, because it’s been so long since I’d written those two first two books. I had to read through everything and create a new story bible.

And it was fun, you know, so I could give the characters their actual, their characteristics. And that was fun. I really would like to write a band of brothers kind of story now, cause that was, that was fun to do. Take each guy and give him his own book, you know.

Jeff: Go to another RWA meeting, get a new plot bunny…

ZAM: It’s funny how long it took me to finally get to this and then, and then the nerves hit. You know, I thought, well, gosh, it’s been so long, and people have this expectation and what if I don’t meet it? So then I thought, what the heck? I’m just going to do my best. And like I’ve done with every other book I’ve ever written.

You just do your best and it’s like underwear. You run it up the flagpole and see who salutes, you know, it’s bad, it’s bad. That’s the drama of being a writer. You just have to fling it out there.

Jeff: Another of your re-releases that has just come out is one of your classics “Home the Hard Way.”

ZAM: Right. Well, you know, it’s funny because I don’t think of that one is a classic but it is. I think one of the best books I’ve ever written, and it was really long and it was involved, and it’s kind of a little Gothic, you know, it’s a guy goes back to his hometown and there’s secrets and there’s a dark kind of, it’s very atmospheric, and I really enjoyed writing that.

What’s interesting about that one is that I was doing this balancing act between what I really wanted to write was a mystery. And I think what my fans really expect from me is a romance. And so I had this weird balancing act between creating a mystery and yet still imbuing it with romantic elements.

It has a happily for now ending, but I think a lot of people were waiting for one of my golden, everybody’s tucked in endings, you know?

Jeff: And just the way your romance is, do tend to…

ZAM: Yeah, I tuck them all in. I kiss them goodnight. You know, they’re snuggled up and it’s fine. Yeah. At the end, everybody knows everybody’s going to be happily forever after.

And this one, I think a lot of people… First of all, I expected it to be a series. And it is because I wrote the second one and it’s also in edits, but, I don’t usually write series with the same character. So it’s a different set of characters from the same book.

And I loved writing that book. That book represents, I think, a little bit of a shift for me because I do like reading mystery and the second book is more mystery and less romance, but it makes sense for the characters

Jeff: Now for those who don’t know, before we talk too much about the forthcoming sequel, tell folks the basic rundown on “Home the Hard Way.”

ZAM: “Home the Hard Way” is about a detective from Seattle who has kind of screwed up on the job. He’s really done something bad and unthinkable and he’s been fired and he is having a hard time planning a job any place else except his hometown where his father was a city councilman. So they kind of give him the hometown welcome and they actually put him in a job as a detective. He kind of doesn’t have to work his way up. And so he has sort of a contentious relationship with the other detectives and some of the other police officers and everybody knows he’s there with his tail between his legs.

There’s a big, small town secret, the secret, you know, that he has to uncover that he’s determined to uncover. And, he’s got his best friend from childhood that he took care of, really quite a bit younger than him, but he sort of took this kid under his wing and he’s always felt protective toward him. And when he comes back into town, he still has this idea that this kid will need his protection and he’s going to be the big man.

And I don’t think the kid’s having any of it. So he has to learn new things about his old friend. And there’s a modest amount of kink involved in this story, which was also not the Z.A. Maxfield brand. I actually, it’s funny on the back cover of the print version, I took a quote from an Amazon reader who said, this is not your grandma’s Z.A. Maxfield book.

I thought that really says it all. But it represents a little bit of a darker, bolder, those stories, you know, crime scene cleanup is kind of grim. And I mean that kind of represents a different part … I’ve written really sort of cotton candy, loves stories too, and I love them.

But at that moment in my life, I guess I was just ready to stretch my wings and create a little cosmic disaster for one of my characters. So this guy comes into town and he’s, he’s thinking he’s hot stuff and he’s not well-liked. And he’s thinking he’s gonna be the idol that he was to this little kid that was his friend when he was growing up. And he’s not that either. Then of course, he’s trying to solve the great mystery of his life, which is why his father killed himself. Cause nobody knows. Just came out of the blue. So that was “Home the Hard Way.” And I have to say, I really thought that was one of my best books. I really enjoyed writing that and I enjoy writing mystery. So, I think you’ll see more mysteries for me now.

Jeff: I like that because I myself had gotten into romantic suspense, thriller, mystery stuff. I love to read that stuff now. So, bring it on.

ZAM: Yeah, I’m hoping you enjoy it.

The next incarnation in that series is called “House on Fire.” And it’s another kind of Gothic story where there a deep dark secret and things have to be unearthed. And yet there’s also day to day life to live in. It’s going to be fun, I think.

And it’s about Bill Fraser who was in the book “Home the Hard Way.” Anybody who ever wrote me about that story said, you’re going to write his story, right? You’ve got to write his story. Cause he’s inexplicably heroic in the first story, but he’s a side character, but he’s inexplicably heroic in general. And I just loved him to death. And when I was done writing that book, I thought, Oh, he needs his story. So that’s the story I’m writing now.

It’s not with my editor yet cause she’s working on the other ones. I’m currently just making it good enough for her to read. She’s read it and she gave me some ideas and that was before I hand it off. So I have those two and she’s going to have to edit both of them and then I’ll put them out probably March or April, I would think, Both of those books are complete. They just need to be edited, which is my favorite place to be. Can I tell you, it’s when you’re scrambling around in the middle of a book and just, it starts to sag little and you think, Oh, no. I love having books that are almost complete and ready to go. And these are.

Jeff: So you mentioned that you’re into the mystery stuff now and over the summer you got to be part of a mystery romance anthology called “Footsteps in the Dark” alongside some other great authors. Tell us a little bit about the anthology and your story that’s in it.

ZAM: Oh, I am so excited about that anthology. It was very much like being at the cool kids table, you know, being allowed to sit at the cool kids table and the everybody in that anthology is somebody that I like one-click read whenever they put out a book, and when they invited me, I was like “They like me. They really like me.” It was, it was kind of so exciting. My book in that one, it’s called “Pepper the Crime Lab,” and it’s about a man who adopts a black lab named Pepper. He fosters her because his neighbor is murdered and it’s his neighbor’s dog.

Now again, it’s a mystery. I kind of promised my kids I would write these, this series of sort of a cozy mystery when their first dog passed away. They had a dog their whole childhood named Pepper, and she was a black lab. When she passed away and my kids were so bummed out, I said, you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to write a series of cozy mysteries, and I had like all these titles ready to go. “Pepper the Crime Lab” is the first, and the next is “Assault and Pepper.” and the next is, “Pepper Spices Things Up” and “Too Hot for Pepper.” So, I’ve written those on my board like four years ago, and I just knew that sooner or later I was going to find the right time and the right place to write this cozy mystery series. And when they told me about that anthology, I thought, Oh, this is perfect.

So that story is about 35,000 words, and it’s mostly to put into place, in the reader’s mind, how my character got the dog. It gives him two friends to sort of work on crimes together. You know how all amateur sleuths have to have a cop in their life who gives them information and they have to have like a lawyer who can give them legal information. So I put this together, this book where I would have a character who has a friend who’s a lawyer and a friend whose used to be a cop. He works in private security now. So those books will be coming out next year or the year after whenever I finally get them written.

But they’re shorter and they’re sort of lighthearted and they’re cozies. There is not a bad story in that whole anthology. And if you get it on audio, it’s 29 hours long.

Jeff: That’s a good deal for your Audible credit.

ZAM: One credit you get like – I think it’s eight stories. There’s eight of us.

You know, everybody just said, okay, I’m going to write a novella. And they did. You know, usually when it’s a big anthology like that, you get a 10,000 word story, but we all just didn’t have an off button. I’ve never met a word count I can’t exceed.

There are some really wonderful stories in that anthology. Dow Maclean’s story has a lot of Scottish jargon, you know, Gaelic or I don’t know what the language is. But as you’re reading it, there’s such an atmospheric, delicious flavor of it. It’s wonderful.

LB Gregg’s got one that’s sort of a kind of a gamer story.

Josh Lanyon, LB Gregg, DalMaclean, Meg Perry, CS Poe, SC Wynne, and Nicole Kimberling, I adore her. I really loved her story too. It’s funny that three of us came up with chef characters. And she was one of them, and hers was so delicious. It was a really good story.

And the voices are Joel Leslie and Kale Williams. it’s wonderful. It’s amazing. It’s all good. There isn’t a bad story in the bunch. And I wish I could do something so fun like that every year because that was, it was really a labor of love. And it seemed like everybody was championing everyone else’s work.

Jeff: We have managed to talk about a lot of stuff that’s actually coming in 2020 between the new “Grime” book and the “Home the Hard Way” sequel and more of “Pepper the Crime Lab.” Anything else you can tease us about what’s coming next year?

ZAM: I found that I want to write more mystery, but I want to write in other genres.

I’m just, the other day I was talking to L.E. Franks and we were chatting, and she said she wanted to write a Gothic book. And I thought, so do I? And I dragged something out of my works in progress. You know, that folder of things that sort of stares at you while you’re at your computer and they all throb and they say, why aren’t you working on me? Well, I actually started, a Gothic story about, it’s actually a retelling of “Gawain and the Green Knight.” And, I really want to tell that story. So that’s going to be my Gothic phase. Am I going to have a Gothic phase? Yes. I’m going to have a Gothic phase where I really wanted to write something with, you know, castles with doors that you shouldn’t open and, creepy stuff and some supernatural stuff. And, so this, this is definitely, it’s a contemporary retelling of the story of “Gawain and the Green Knight.”

Jeff: Oh, that’s exciting.

ZAM: Weird. That is like such a weird thing. But, I really want to do it, and I think it’s going to be a holiday story, so you’ll probably won’t see it till October or so because it’s a whole, you know, it’s a holiday. If I’m not mistaken, “Gawain and the Green Knight” is a holiday story. He comes in the holidays, the feast day, and then he comes back a year later.

So that’s my story. I’m just teasing that because I haven’t gotten so far into it. It actually, it features a florist. Who has to deliver a bunch of Ethereums and poinsettias to a holiday party way up in the mountains, like off the Angeles Crest Highway and it’s a big spooky house that he has to deliver these flowers to.

And on the way back, his car breaks down and he ends up with a mysterious and frightening tow truck driver. You know, it’s that kind of story.

Jeff: I am penciling this in for December 2020.

ZAM: Okay. Well I hope, you know, I hope it works out as well as I think, I really do think that, and it’s, you know, it’s going to be a good story. I’m looking forward to it. When I opened it back up, it really spoke to me for next year. So we’ll see how that goes. So those are the three things I do have to write a new “Pepper” and I do have to write that one, but the other two are her already done.

I do have one more that has been written. It’s kind of a country story where a man is fixing up a decrepit mansion just outside of Austin. And he falls in love with this contractor, but that’s, that’s further away. I mean, it’s actually finished, but I don’t like it. So rather than throw the entire baby out with the bathwater, I put it away for a year and I realized I was going to have to do some major renovations on that. That’s what I’m going to do. So that one is also available to go out next year because it’s finished. I just need to rework it.

Jeff: And what’s the best way for folks to keep up with you online so they can know when all this stuff is coming out?

ZAM: Well, I am pretty much Z.A. Maxfield everywhere. Z.A. Maxfield all one word. That’s my Facebook author page is Z. A. M. A. X. F. I. E. L. D, but I’m Zam Maxfield. That’s my author profile, my Facebook profile. And I have a group called Zam-nation on Facebook. And my Facebook group is small but mighty. We have some fun. And, I hope everybody joins it because I want everybody to join it and then they can become my Zam Basadors, which is another thing. But I think, those are the ways, and I’m zamaxfield on Twitter and zamaxfield on Pinterest. I am zamaxfield everywhere. And my website is So I’m pretty easy to find.

Jeff: And we’ll put all those links in the show notes too so folks can find them and everybody should go to join Zam-nation. It’s a fun place to hang out.

ZAM: I try to give value. I put out my Humpday Hotties, or get out my Thirst Trap Thursday boys, you know, show good pictures. And then I always share books that are free on Fridays.

And so I really try and keep in touch and provide people with links of things to read that maybe won’t cost them very much on Fridays. So they have a good weekend reads. That’s why I enjoy having a group cause I like to drop in and hang out and do stuff.

Jeff: Z.A. Thank you so much for hanging out. It’s been so good talking to you after so long.

ZAM: Thank you so much for having me, and I feel, you know, being able to share all this is just awesome for me. Thank you very much.

Book Reviews

Here’s the text of this week’s book reviews:

Making the Naughty List by Daryl Banner. Reviewed by Will.
Nice guy Daniel is making his way home to spend time with his family over the holidays, a prospect he’s not looking forward to. When his car gets a flat tire, he is effectively stranded in the middle of nowhere because he has no idea how to change said flat.

A sinfully sexy biker named Cass comes to his rescue and, as he puts on Daniel’s spare, they chat about a lot of things including what would Daniel do if he had three Christmas wishes.

The tire now fixed, Daniel continues his journey. With hopes that things might go better this year, Daniel arrives and finds that his family is as loud and overbearing as ever, steaming rolling over anything he says or does, his thoughts and feelings irrelevant.

After a particularly awful family dinner, Cass magically appears on his family’s doorstep. The stranger is cocky, flirtatious, sexy as hell, and he’s going to make Daniel’s first wish come true, he’ll be the perfect hot holiday boyfriend.

Daniel is reticent at first, but after an amazing blow-job from Cass, he decides that the whole fake boyfriend thing might not be so bad after all. Cass is a hit with everyone, and Daniel’s Christmas is shaping up to be pretty spectacular, especially when they must share the tight quarters of Daniel’s childhood bedroom. Let’s just say that blow-jobs aren’t the only thing Cass knows how to do really well.

When asked who he really is, Cass admits to being a wintertime spirit sent from the North Pole to make all of Daniel’s holiday dreams come true. Daniel thinks Cass is being funny… he is joking right?

When the sun rises on the day of Christmas eve, the Texas landscape outside Daniel’s window is covered with freshly fallen snow. A white Christmas, Daniel’s second wish.

After a day in the snow, the Christmas magic seems to have affected everyone, the usual family squabbles at a blissful lull. Later that night, Daniel and Cass sneak out to go to a neighborhood playground that used to be decorated for the holidays. They arrive to find it bare, but in Cass’ presence, the playground is soon aglow with holiday magic. They go home and bake cookies for Santa before Daniel decides on his final wish – Cass, not just for a weekend, but for always.

When Daniel awakens on Christmas morning, Cass is gone, and Daniel’s family don’t remember any of the events of the past few days. It seems that holiday magic has a sell-by date, though the spirit of the season does allow Daniel to honestly mend fences with his family members.

On his drive home Daniel gets another flat tire or, since the events of the last couple of days have ceased to exist, he gets a flat tire for the first time. Stranded, Daniel is delighted to hear the familiar roar of a motorcycle engine.

It’s Cass. He’s gotten his final Christmas wish.

The man of his dreams has come to his rescue for the second (or first) time. They introduce themselves and Daniel suggests they leave his old beater on the side of the road and grab dinner together.

They roar off into the sunset together.

Now, I’ve given you an awful lot of detail about this story and you might think I’ve spoiled everything about the ending, but ah-ha, I haven’t!

There is an AMAZING epilog that shows our heroes several years in the future, detailing the love and life that they now share. I just have to say that it is pure romance crack. It’s sweet and sappy and made me sooo fucking happy that I know that when you read it, you’ll go “aww” just like I did.

If you can’t already tell, I really enjoyed Making the Naughty List. This is my first Daryl Banner book and it won’t be my last. I totally fell in love with the heroes and sympathized a lot with Daniel and his dilemma in dealing with his difficult family, who to the author’s credit, weren’t cardboard villains, but real characters with complicated family dynamics. It made Daniel’s resolution with his sister, brother, and mom that much more powerful because they were fully fleshed out people.

With a sexy dash of magical realism, Making the Naughty List is a must read for fans of holiday romance. Yes, I know that sounds like a cheesy promo blurb, but I’ don’t care because it’s 100% true.

Mangos and Mistletoe by Adriana Herrera. Reviewed by Jeff.
As with other books in Adriana Herrera’s catalog, you should be ready to be hungry as you read with this wonderful holiday confection. This time the setting is a holiday baking competition, filming two weeks before Christmas Eve, in a Scottish castle. The competition pairs Kiskeya and Sully, two Dominican pastry chefs with very different reasons for being there.

Kiskeya is driven, determined, desperate to win to get not only the prize money, but the internship at the fancy patisserie that one of the show’s judges runs. It’s not only a good career move, but she needs it to be able to extend her visa in the US. Sully wants the prize money to be able to strike out on her own rather than selling her creations at her family’s New York City bodega. They see each other as good teammates in terms of skill, but sparks fly early when they have very different points of view with how to win–Kiskeya wants to keep it classic (and maybe a bit safe) while Sully wants to infuse everything with Dominican flavors. The compromises on their baking don’t come easily.

They immediately see each other for the distractions that they can be for each other. Kiskeya is mesmerized by Sully’s looks, including the kissable lips and the way Sully says her name. Kiskeya keeps her walls up though–eyes on the prize and all. Sully’s first thought is that Kiskeya is a tall drink of cafe con leche. But she senses Kiskeya’s distance and, at least at first, doesn’t try to break the walls down.

Of course, just to make it interesting, not only are Kiskeya and Sully teammates, but they’re also sharing a room in the castle where they are staying. There’s really no getting away from each other, which is good and bad since they’re equally smitten with each other and passionate about their baking and the competition. It makes for some great push and pulls between them and some truly delicious internal dialogue. Case in point with Kiskeya: “I offended her by saying I thought she was too much, when the reality was I couldn’t get enough.”

Adriana does a perfect job of swirling the inner monologue together with descriptions of the emotional turmoil the two are experiencing and the escalating impacts. It doesn’t get any easier when Sully and Kiskeya let their desires take over as the competition hits the midpoint, if anything it makes moving forward all the more difficult. Even as they work better and better in the kitchen, Kiskeya bristles because she’s worked so hard to keep her heritage and feelings in the background. Her “eyes on the prize” mentality nearly costs her everything.

The HEA is, of course, a delight, and Adriana stressed me out a bit headed into the final segment of the book because the HEA didn’t quite fall in the place I expected it. That of course made everything all the sweeter to see how these two women found their way to each other.

Beyond the delightful romance, I loved the cooking show intrigue. What really happens backstage at a cooking show? Adriana whipped up some fun here–not to mention some mouth watering recipes–there really needs to be a companion cookbook. The four teams that start the competition were well drawn upfront and proved to be great characters for Kisekya and Sully to interact with. The Beccas (two women named Rebecca–each spelled differently) were deceitful all long and were fun villains. And, Adriana, if you’re listening, I’d love to see Alex and Derek’s story too–they clearly found a little something something during the competition? Perhaps next holiday season?

Mangos and Mistletoe was the perfect capping to a year of amazing Adriana Herrera reading. I look forward to what comes next from her.