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"There are no secrets in a restaurant..."

Kitchen Heat by Kathleen McFall and Clark Hays

Book review by Patrick Howard


     For those who have ever complained about the quality of food or service in a restaurant, this is a cautionary tale. After reading Kitchen Heat, I swear I’ll never disparage cooks, bartenders, or wait staff again! I was floored by the revelations at the Rose and Thorn restaurant, the iconic fictional setting for much of the novel’s action. So much drama, so much sexual tension…who knew?

     Authors McFall and Hays worked for years in the food industry and thus have the bonafides to write deeply about it. Their plot is credible and coherent, and their diverse and beautifully written characters come alive and step right off the page. Who knows whether they’re based on actual people, autobiographical, or an eclectic composite of lovable oddballs encountered over the years, and who cares! These folks are as real as anyone you’d meet in the real world.

     I found myself immediately rooting for the main character, Kassi, a budding screenwriter with a hot property that no one knows about yet. The novel is written as a flashback, as Kassi recalls the genesis of her first screenplay while dealing with life’s biggest challenges—a sweet and perceptive daughter who is growing up fast, a miserable cur of an estranged husband, and her burgeoning feelings for the handsome but damaged Clay. How could that not resonate with readers?

     Kassi resists falling in love with big, beautiful Clay, the kindly head chef in the Rose and Thorn, who is licking his own emotional wounds from a previous marriage. Even more complicated is Kassi’s relationship with Barry, her estranged husband and father to their daughter Samantha. Barry is a twisted bastard, prone to destructive rages and mean tricks, but whom the naïve Samantha adores. If Clay embodies all that is good, Barry is pure evil on two legs.

     Each chapter is prefaced by a clever scene description that serves as a sort of Greek chorus, reminiscent of the narrator in Wilder’s Our Town, foreshadowing the action to come and letting the audience in on secrets that only serve to build our anticipation. In this way the live action of the novel is skillfully comingled with Kassi’s screenplay as it develops. To the very end, one cannot be sure what is screenplay, narrative, or real life.

     The cleverly crafted sex scenes are graphic and over-the-top steamy. Kassi and Clay are both reluctant lovers nursing past hurts and way out of practice. The scenes feel intentionally awkward but for that reason totally work. And apparently, there is something inordinately sexual about the walk-in cooler, and a certain typewriter. I laughed out loud at the description of lovemaking sounds from the next room as “the cat trying to throw up, or something wrong with the washing machine.”

     It is always heartwarming to see references to one’s own hometown in a novel. Portland is the backdrop for this saucy tale, and the text is loaded with fun references to the Rose City: the Alibi Lounge, Blazers basketball, Keller Auditorium, Dante’s, Cinema 21, the Heathman Hotel, not to mention smoke-filled bars of the 90s, filled with actual smoke! Ah, those were the days.

     I thoroughly enjoyed Kitchen Heat and strongly recommend it. McFall and Hays have done it again! They have opened the door to explore a new genre and have come away triumphant. I hope they plan a series. These characters are simply too engrossing to let get away.


See Patrick’s interview with authors McFall and Hays on the HOT HOUSE vlog at

VIDEO BOOK REVIEW: The True Story of Lucky Bear by Sky Veek

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Visit the HOT HOUSE vlog, where Patrick Howard interviews author, artist, and entrepreneur Sky Veek about her book, The True Story of Lucky Bear, a touching tale of love, family, and animal rescue.     

View this video at and see other videos on our YouTube channel, @GreenMillPress.

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