Overall Grade: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 1/2
When it was announced that we would be returning to the Penny Reid universe with a second season of SmartyPants Romance, this reader was EXCITED. In my opinion, the first round was a HUGE hit with some inspired, sexy romance. For me, most of the writers were brand new. I hadn’t read their books previously, and I felt like I found some new “friends.” One of those friends is Jiffy Kate. Their first book in this series, Stud Muffin, introduced us to Tempest, a fiery muffin queen, and a former MMA fighter, Cage Erickson. I loved the message of that book and Cage’s acceptance of Tempest’s foibles. He was a swoony hero who made reading that book effortless.
With their newest offering, Beef Cake, we are introduced to Cage’s brother, Gunnar Elias Erickson. He has taken on the mantle of MMA fighting, but he’s decided to move to Green Valley, Tennessee to train under his brother. This is a huge change for him, as he hails from Dallas and a BIG MMA training family, and Green Valley is small-town living. Trying to find his way and gather his bearings, he becomes involved in a gym accident that requires some treatment in the ER. There, Gunnar meets Frankie, and he begins to fall. There is chemistry between these two from the outset. Yet, Frankie, an ER nurse, has an elusive past that influences her staid, solitary life. She works three days a week in the hospital, volunteers with a local shelter twice a week, visits the Piggly Wiggly on Tuesday evenings at closing, and sells her reclusive mother’s jams and wares at the local Farmer’s Market. There is very little room in her life for relationships because she doesn’t allow for it. That is until she meets Gunnar. He plows into her life and asserts himself, pushing her out of her comfort zone. As memories from her past start to awaken, she becomes conflicted, waffling between feelings of a future with Gunnar and wanting to push him away, due to her fear. Will Gunnar and Frankie find a future together? Is it possible for Gunnar to love Frankie enough to help her to the other side?
From the start, Gunnar Erickson won my heart. Like his brother, Cage, he is brash and physically intimidating, but there is something much deeper in Gunnar. He is intuitive about people; he reads them well. This hero is an empath, and he “sees” Frankie, even when she doesn’t know herself. He is persistent, yet cautious. He works diligently to woo her to him. Honestly, there are times when you read Beef Cake when you think Gunnar might be too good for Frankie. He is a “man’s man,” but he has this amazing nurturing side. You feel “seen” with him. Jiffy Kate crafted him in such a way as a challenge to male heroes. Yes, I love an alpha-hole hero like the rest of us; however, I also love a hero who is both masculine and emotionally mature. This is Gunnar.
Frankie is a complex heroine. Honestly, her character IS the tension of this story. From one minute to the next, you are never sure if she will find self-actualization. There is good reason for this. I refuse to divulge Frankie’s secrets, and readers should know that Frankie is like an onion; she has many layers that Gunnar has to peel away to find her truth. Thankfully, he is patient to do this because Frankie doesn’t make it easy for anyone to be close to her. However, this is a protection, a defense. I connected with Frankie in so many ways because I might be perceived as having a prickly shell as a way to protect my tender underbelly just like Frankie. She and I are emotional twins, I think. Jiffy Kate connect us to the history of Green Valley through Frankie’s character, and they offer more insight into Penny Reid’s stories by divulging her secrets.
So what does it mean to love yourself? Does it require you to protect yourself from everyone at the expense of “living” life fully? Is it more important to become vulnerable with others so that we can be known by them? These are the hard questions of Beef Cake. Yes, Gunnar is the “beefcake” of this story, yet he also holds the emotional integrity of it in his character. It is through the development of his relationship with Frankie that she is emboldened to find her truth and live her life more vibrantly. He is the catalyst for her change, but ultimately, Frankie does all the hard work for her self. I think this is the beauty of Jiffy Kate’s Beef Cake. It reminds us that, through the act of being loved, we can become better versions of ourselves.
In love and romance,