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Willaful Review: Back to the Good Fortune Diner by Vicki Essex

Sensuality Rating: Steamy

Peer pressure! SuperRomance isn’t my line, but all the cool kids are reading this one. I wasn’t sorry I jumped off the cliff with them.

This is a romance featuring a Chinese-American heroine and written by a Chinese-Canadian writer, both rare enough scenarios to catch the attention of the romance community. Thirty-two year old Tiffany has returned home in disgrace: unemployed, in debt, and feeling like she wasted the English degree she fought so hard for. Now she’s once again stuck in a small town, with a family that’s disappointed in her (as always) and no place to work except her family’s restaurant. Things look up a bit when the football player she once tutored (and madly crushed on) hires her to tutor his teenage son.

One of the things I liked about this story was that both Tiffany and her love interest Chris, who is white, turn out to have essentially the same issues: both are dealing with pressure and expectations from family, and both are struggling with their places in the world. That made Tiffany’s situation seem less based on cultural types. And realistically, their problems aren’t entirely the same: Tiffany also has to deal with the overt racism of Chris’s father, and to begin to understand how the discomfort of growing up in an otherwise entirely white community affected the way she relates to people.

The part of the story that most interested me was actually a subplot involving Tiffany’s brother, Daniel; although he has an MBA, he’s been working at the family restaurant and living with his parents while Tiffany was an assistant editor in New York. (He’s also the town driving instructor, an amusing thumb of the nose to the “bad drivers” stereotype.) Daniel’s in love with a white doctor he met online, but has been too worried about his family’s reaction to her to fully commit. When Tiffany points out how disparate their circumstances are — wealthy city doctor, small-town fry-cook — it creates a crisis of confidence for him.

I would have loved it if Daniel had been the central character of the book, and it would have made a more challenging story. A hunky blonde white guy and a petite, beautiful Asian woman fit so much more neatly into Western standards of appropriate attractiveness, to say nothing of the gender standards of appropriate success. But since romances with non-white characters seem to still be such a hard sell, I can’t really blame anyone for taking the easier route.

I also enjoyed Chris and Tiffany’s gentle romance, which has some plausible bumps in the road, many involving Chris’s difficult father and his different but equally difficult son. But their main conflict is Tiffany’s need to get back to the city and her editing work. I wasn’t entirely happy with how this resolved. The general message that the societal idea of success isn’t as important as doing what make you happy is a good one (again, this is a place where I preferred Daniel’s story to Tiffany’s.) But there was too much of a Small Town Good, Big City Bad message, especially in a genre that is overflowing with that already.

That aspect makes me a bit torn on my rating but I’m going with 4 stars, because of the good writing and the many things the book does right. You can buy it in paperback or for Kindle here. (Incidentally, while looking up the info, I saw that the paperback is almost out of stock, which I hope is a good sign of success!) Though January 21st, the secure epub format is also available with a 50% rebate at All Romance, with the code SBTBARE. (Keep in mind that the rebate process at All Romance is kind of complicated, though a good deal if you buy from them frequently.)

There are currently two online discussion of this book planned: if you’d like to join in, check out Something More on January 11th, and Smart Bitches, Trashy Books on January 31st.

Published by Harlequin. Review copy provided by netGalley


  • Lori
    January 9
    11:11 pm

    Ha. This one’s next on my TBR pile. I’m looking forward to it since I love multi-cultural romance and anything with food. (Does food play a part in any of the romance?)


  • I was going to say I’m going to have to stop reading Willaful’s reviews because I always end up buying them, but evidently I already did buy it. O.o Guess I can’t blame Lori either now. Damn.

    Good review. Hope it doesn’t have recipes or Lori will disappear for days!


  • @Lori: Oh Lori, you are going to be happy. But no recipes, so Carolyn will be happy too.


  • Great review, Willaful! Your point about Daniel’s storyline is a really insightful one; imagine if his storyline had been the heroine’s story and conflict resolution. I would have been much happier and not so annoyed that she was giving up too much.


  • I wanted to read more about Daniel too! 🙂


  • Thanks for the review! One-click purchase :).


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