I had a difficult relationship with Natalie Caña’s first book, A Proposal They Can’t Refuse. I liked so many things about it, but found the toxicity of Kamilah’s relationship with her family almost unbearable. I approached the second book in the Vega Family series with some trepidation, but A Dish Best Served Hot focused more on the community, and the Vega parents are on a cruise for most of the book.
Saint Vega is the eldest of the Vega children, and a single dad to Rosie. He had an intense romance with Lola León until he joined the Army after high school, and she left to finish high school in California with her mother for reasons. Now they are both back in the Humboldt Park neighborhood of Chicago. Saint is raising his daughter and working for his uncle’s construction company. Lola is working at the community center and Rosie’s new teacher. The two are drawn back together, sometimes acting in concert and sometimes at cross purposes. There were certain parts of the plot that don’t hold together if you look at them too closely, but the emotional growth that Saint and Lola experience is great. I adored the way they formed a unit with Rosie, even when they weren’t trying to date.
I appreciated the Vega family much more in this outing, and I especially appreciated Papo Vega acknowledging the sins of the past. In A Dish Best Served Hot, the family meddles a bit and there is plenty of teasing, but it doesn’t cross into meanness. One thing I would love to see less often in second chance romances though is lovers declaring that they never loved anyone else during their separation. It feels to me like there is an expectation that it can only be true love if they have only loved each other. I probably would have minded it less if I hadn’t just read four other second chance romances with the same conversation.
I am looking forward to the next installment, which I assume will be Leo and Sofi, who still deserves a truck load of apologies. I hope she has been healing and moving on with her life. Natalie Caña is so good at writing the intricacies of relationships and communities. She’s fantastic at showing how the things that can propel us forward can also hold us back. I love the way she loves her community and acknowledges where it needs to do better. She takes on a lot of deep topics without weighing down the plot. I haven’t loved everything about her books, but I love reading her books enough to stick with her as a reader.
CW: anxiety, ptsd, incarcerated family members, toxic family, familial abandonment, death of spouse in past, attempted kidnapping, children in danger, gun violence, police brutality off page.
I received this as an advance reader copy from MIRA and NetGalley. My opinions are my own, freely and honestly given.