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Book Review: Cookies, by Teodora Kostova

Cookies

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I went to war, running away from myself. I came back in pieces to find out who I really was…
It took me nearly ten years, two tours in Afghanistan and losing a leg to come to terms with who I really am.
Two years after coming back from war, I can say that I’m finally content. I’m as fit as ever, my prosthetic leg allowing me the freedom to move and exercise as if nothing has changed. I own a small bakery in the centre of Cambridge, and I have a loyal circle of friends that I can always count on.
And yet…
Yet, there’s something missing. A part of me craves the intimacy, the deep connection to another human being. But another – bigger – part of me is terrified of letting anyone in.
My internal conflict didn’t stand a chance when I met Jay. He stormed through my defence walls like a hurricane, wrapping around me with gentle force until I had no choice but to surrender.
Surrendering has never felt so good.
Will Jay want to stay when he sees the real me? When he sees the nightmares and insecurities clawing at my soul? When he realises the burden I come with may be heavier than we both can carry?
My name is Amir Gopal and this is my story.

~

Book – Cookies

Author – Teodora Kostova

Star rating – ★★☆☆☆

No. of Pages – 242

Cover – Cute!

POV – 1st person, past tense (with a slip of present in places)

Would I read it again – No.

Genre – LGBT, Romance, Military

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** I WAS GIVEN THIS BOOK, BY THE AUTHOR, IN RETURN FOR AN HONEST REVIEW **

*There will be spoilers ahead.*

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Sadly, this book just wasn’t my cup of tea. I’d been really looking forward to it – a baker, who used to be in the army, and a story about finding love and himself in the process. It sounded great. The author added this to the blurb –

Cookies is a feel-good, happy book. It’s a curl-on-the-sofa-on-a-rainy-Sunday-afternoon kinda book.
I wanted to make people smile, and gush, and desperately want a brownie or five.

Unfortunately, I have to say it didn’t work for me. Most of the baking was off page, with only one real scene of cookie making. I didn’t feel good after reading it, I actually kind of mad and I had to spend literally all day trudging through it, because it felt so long. Not a curl up on an afternoon book.

First off, I didn’t actually bond or connect with either of the main characters. This was disappointing, since I’d previously read “Snowed In” by this author and really enjoyed it. But, insta-love has never really been something I’ve enjoyed and Amir was far too whiny and overprotective for my taste. Jay was sometimes femme, sometimes naive and all too pathetic, in comparison. They didn’t fit well as a couple, in my opinion.

I’m also not a fan of the way this story was told. It’s LONG, like, really, really long, considering that nothing really happens. It’s mostly about Jay and Amir hooking up, then about 60% in, you get a hint of plot when it comes to saving the centre. But, even when this could have been a really great, massive plot arc – entered about 20% in – it was mostly glossed over. Each of the “events” used to save the centre were less than a few pages, when it could have become a much bigger thing.

I didn’t like the introduction to Amir, either. We already know from the blurb that he’s lost his leg and that he’s an army vet, but I really don’t think this is the most sensitive or considerate way to introduce his problems:

I’m an army veteran. I have nightmares plaguing my dreams. I sustained a nearly fatal injury because I was blown up by a bomb.

Not only is it a shocking way to be told of his issues, but the nightmares are never, ever mentioned again. Not once. I thought maybe they’d make an appearance when Jay spent the night, but it never happened. He reacted to a loud door slam, not a nightmare. They were completely ignored.

I also think it’s very rude to have Chris laughing it off, as though it means nothing. I get that they’re talking about something else, but her reaction seems inconsistent and disproportionate to a conversation they have later, when Amir admits he’s got PTSD. In which Chris acts wounded and concerned, guilty for bringing it up. But she doesn’t mind making him admit he was nearly blown up?

When it comes to Amir, I’m never quite sure what to think. He’s a really strange character. Selfish more often than not, he doesn’t take other people’s feelings into consideration (shown when he doesn’t ask if anyone can look after his dog at a moments notice, but expects it).

I wanted to encourage him to keep talking. I wanted to know more about his family, his life, but I was afraid he’d want me to reciprocate.

It was also really selfish of him to go into that burning building, at the end of the story, knowing that fire and flames are his trigger. It was reckless and dangerous of him to rush in like an idiot, just to save Jay, when he could easily have flagged down a firefighter and just TOLD someone that there were more people inside and where to find them. Instead, he put multiple lives at risk for his own ego, which could have gotten them all killed.

In nearly every scene where Amir is at the bakery, he’s always asking Chris to take over and for her to work more hours or whatever. There are very few scenes where he actually does real work or sends her home early. I also find it really strange that when he talks about the people he knows at the centre, he introduces Peter like this –

I loved Peter like a brother. He was on my team for two years, and we came back home together in pieces.

Now, you’d think this was the most important information about him, since it’s being told first, right? Nope, at least two paragraphs later, we’re then told that it was Peter who dragged Amir out of a burning building and saved his life. I’d imagine that would be the first thing out of Amir’s thoughts/mouth, when trying to describe what Peter meant to him. But it’s buried in amongst a description of all that Peter suffered.

I didn’t really like the way Amir was so jealous and over-protective about Jay, either. He was practically bordering on obsessive, sometimes, while being judgemental and egotistical at others. He had a cheek to tell Cedric not to judge him, because he judged ever previous partner Jay had ever been with for treating him terribly. Yet, Jay is a grown man and he has a voice. If he wanted to change things, it was within his power to. There was no implication that he wasn’t capable of standing up for himself. It was a little petty. And the whole thing about stealing the boat was just ridiculous.

Amir also claims: “I wasn’t a smoker.” Which isn’t true, since he lights up about 8 eights throughout the book. He’s a “social” smoker, and a “stress” smoker, but this line would suggest that he didn’t smoke at all, but hung out with all the smokers, which just isn’t true. And what person who wasn’t a smoker keeps a packet of cigarettes at the ready in their bag?

I found it really rude of Jay – and again Freddy – to ask Amir outright about his leg. They both meet him for the first time (literally in Freddie’s case and for the first time outside of ordering from the shop for Jay) and ask:

How did you lose your leg?

Now, as someone who is in a wheelchair and has multiple illnesses, I would be so insulted if the first thing out of anyone’s mouth was “what’s wrong with you?” which is basically what these two people do. Yet, Amir doesn’t grumble or think twice when Jay asks, yet when Freddie asks, thinks about how he wouldn’t normally answer that. This is just one of the many inconsistencies and examples of bad editing I’ve found, that directly affect the reading of the book. If it was true that he didn’t normally answer those kinds of questions, he would have put up resistance or shown frustration when both men asked. No amount of sincerity is going to help soothe how rude it is.

As for the writing, there were quite a few strange word choices, spelling and grammar issues. Enough that I noticed and couldn’t just ignore it. I also thought the story was dragged out too long. I didn’t like the weird plot twist at the end, either. I mean, the whole story was basically about Jay convincing Amir that he was still himself and still hot even with his scars and burns. Then Jay is put in a similar situation, feels sorry for himself, worries about his looks more than his health and actually says this horrible line, which feels really insulting, to Amir, who suffered much worse than Jay:

I don’t know who I am without my looks, Amir.

It’s really shallow and unexpected, since Jay has never expressed ideas like this before.

There are also breaks where they don’t need to be. Often only dividing a few paragraphs from the main text, when really it’s the same POV and the same scene, just a minute or two ahead in time.

This quote also confused me, due to the editing. I’m not sure if something was removed that shouldn’t have been or if we were supposed to be led to something, but it didn’t work for me.

My mind instantly went to the gutter when I imagined Jay in my kitchen, his hands covered in flour, his cheeks flushed, his nose scrunched in concentration…

Maybe it’s just me, but that’s not the gutter. In fact, those are normal reactions and things to do when baking. I don’t see how any of it is suggestive in the slightest.

Also included in the editing are physically impossible movements –

propping my head on my elbow

My hands slid around his body, drawing him even closer.” ← except, just in the paragraph before, it said that Amir was leaning over the counter to kiss him, so this is not possible, as they didn’t move between these two events.

My head dropped back between my shoulder blades.

There was also a timeline inconsistency somewhere. Either I didn’t pick up on it or it wasn’t made clear, (or the author changed the timeline and didn’t edit accordingly) because we were constantly told that it had been “a couple of weeks” and even one time, a month, since Amir and Jay met, when in truth it was more like days. They met one day, then the next, then again jogging. Then everything happened all at once, with no big timeline jumps, until around 50-60%. Then and only then was there about a week or two of time passing. Unless the timeline is so confusing that I completely missed a few weeks passing, I have to assume it’s a timeline issue.

I found that the whole “army” aspect, mentioned so prominently in the blurb, is actually sidelined for the romance. There was no real exploration of Amir’s problems, his relationships with his fellow army guys (other than regularly meeting up at the centre) and there entire cause of his injuries is tackled in a very dismissive manner.

There was also a really stunningly surprising rejection or army ideas, throughout the entire book. I get that some of it was used to show how angry the vets were, but most of the story pretty much implied that soldiers were nothing more than killers. It really drives me nuts, because it doesn’t acknowledge the reason they join the army, the good that soldiers do or anything. (This coming from someone who has a family with vets in it.)

This is evidenced with this quote (which is just one of many):

As fucked up as it was, we got trained and paid by the government to kill.

And there’s this one → “I was so angry at the world, at the war, at my commanders for making me this way. Most of all, I was angry at myself for making the choice to go to war in the first place.” I don’t really have the words to describe what this made me feel. Angry just doesn’t seem to cut it. I mean, Amir is suggesting that his commanders gave him PTSD. Which, surprisingly, is a recurring them in the book. Especially when it comes to Greg, the emphasis is on the fact that the higher ups send them to war, whether they’re capable or not – despite the vets not reporting health concerns or PTSD to them in the first place. It also implies that Amir regrets his time in the army, which he has never said or thought anywhere else in the book.

The vets also talk, so often, (Amir included) as if there is absolutely no hope of recovery. Yet, they go out drinking and partying, which implies they’re not on the medication which could help them recover from the PTSD and other psychological symptoms.

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Overall, I’d say the story has a lot of potential, but it fell short. It was too long, too drawn out and too insta-love for my liking.

There was no exploration of the things that really mattered in this relationship – Amir’s PTSD, nightmares and such; learning about each other on page, which didn’t really happened. I missed the experimentation of baking skills, the actual baking, the whole baking shop work. Unfortunately, it didn’t deliver on that front. I expected something a little along the lines of actually getting to see Amir at work in the bakery, coming up with concoctions, really showing us his passion. Instead, it just felt like a business venture.

Sadly, the only on page baking led to Jay and Amir having sex – again! Which there was too much of, after that fact. I ended up skimming most of the sex scenes and the last 20% of the book, just because it was clear that nothing was happening.

So, a story with a lot of potential, but that didn’t go anywhere. I’m disappointed.

~

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