Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake by Alexis Hall

Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake is a romantic comedy about a bisexual single mum who goes on a TV baking competition for the money, and meets two men who seem interested in her—but they’re fellow competitors. Rosaline Palmer can never live up to her parents’ standards, having dropped out of university to raise her daughter, Amelie, and now working in a high street stationery shop. When her baking skills get her onto ‘Bake Expectations, a beloved TV baking show, she’s desperate for the prize money, but didn’t expect to also meet new people and explore what she really wants in her future.

Romance isn’t really a genre I read much of, but I read Hall’s earlier Boyfriend Material, which I enjoyed, so I thought I’d give this one a go. Actually I enjoyed how much of this book was focused around Rosaline’s journey, and the romance part is only one element of that, though I can imagine some readers might’ve wanted more dramatic romance. Without spoiling anything about the plot, I will say that I very quickly hated a character who later turned out to be awful, making me vindicated but also relieved, and also meaning that I did find some of the earlier part of the book quite frustrating. However, I loved Rosaline’s interactions with her daughter, and also I liked a lot of the other members of the supporting cast (though, as with real Bake Off, I did forget who the early on contestants were completely).

One thing I particularly liked about this book was the bisexual protagonist, who has on-page relationships with men and mentions past relationships with women, and also the importance to Rosaline of ensuring her daughter knows about who she might love. Misconceptions (or, at least, bad assumptions) about bisexuality do come back later on for a more serious bit of the narrative, but in general, it’s something about Rosaline that is important, but not her only character trait. She’s a flawed protagonist, with a privileged upbringing that does make her a snob (at best) at times, but also a real sense of love for her daughter and banter with her ex-turned-best-friend Lauren.

I found Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake an engaging and funny read, though as can often be true with romcoms, the character revealed later on to be less than nice was obnoxious to me from the start, which did make it harder to enjoy it at times. The level of detail and structure of the baking show worked nicely for me as someone who does watch Bake Off, but I also liked that it did question some of the stereotypes and classism that can be found in the whole baking show brand, as well. I know I laughed out loud at some of the jokes, though the one that really sticks with me is the fact that cookery shows have to call Bailey’s ‘irish cream’ and undoubtedly that’s hard to remember when you’re a contestant on something—that’s the kind of detail I enjoyed.