TOUCHSTONE

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Phoebe Stevens needs to get out of New York City. A very public breakup at a new, high-end steakhouse not only cost Phoebe her longtime job as a menu planner for a Manhattan restaurant, but a picture of her Negroni-fueled exit carrying a tomahawk steak has gone viral online as well. A friend provides her a reprieve from Big Apple infamy: a job setting up a gastropub in Vermont, part of a craft brewery called the Speakeasy. Her new home comes with a handsome caretaker named Sam, a tarot card–reading, New Age type who was raised by his Grandma Rose and Aunt Iris, two witches. He runs Crystal Persuasion, their mineral shop. As Sam shows Phoebe around the small town and she uses local flavors to craft the Speakeasy’s new menu, both suddenly find their appetites whetted for each other. They are reticent to open up completely, as Sam believes his one shot at love has already passed him by. Phoebe, meanwhile, as always believes passion to be an impediment to practicality and success. But just as the two finally loosen up—with a little help from Grandma Rose and Aunt Iris—Phoebe is offered her dream job, complete with a return to Manhattan and a chance to ruin her ex-boyfriend Drew. Stivali’s romance doesn’t break a lot of new ground, but it is still full of delicious food and steamy, consent-positive sex scenes for readers to gorge themselves on. Phoebe and Sam may be genre-appropriate attractive, but they’re still remarkably relatable, hung up on their pasts and constantly undercut by their own overthinking. The story never takes itself too seriously, with cat puns and hand-job jokes just a sample of its humor and Aunt Iris and Grandma Rose delivering as much blush-inducing comic relief as guidance. Sam, having been raised by these two, is a male protagonist who is more in touch with his feminine side, a refreshing change from some tendencies in modern love stories.

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