2008, European Historical Romance (1890s [Victorian] England)
Bantam, $6.99, 432 pages, Amazon ASIN 0440244323
Delicious, Sherry Thomas's second book, has a number of elements that will appeal to many readers: interesting characters, including a fiercely independent self-made woman and a powerful hero of ignoble birth, well crafted writing, steamy love scenes, and copious references to delectable foods. Unfortunately it also has some not quite credible plotting, upon which the above depend.
Verity Durant's life hasn't turned out quite like she planned. Born high and rendered low by a few impetuous choices, Verity has toiled away as a chef in the kitchen of a former lover for over ten years, cooking masterpieces and dreaming of the perfect man she once spent a magical night with. Then, due to an unexpected set of circumstances, she is given what she most craves, the chance to cook one amazing, enticing, delicious meal for that man and to seduce him with her culinary expertise.
Stuart Somerset isn't interested in food. He hasn't been since he was a boy and gained an inheritance and ambitions of glory. And he certainly hasn't been interested since that night, a decade ago, when the perfect woman came to him, spent the night, and then left before morning. But his ambition and earnest, almost staid, propriety are fortunately no match for Verity's art.
It's difficult to write an interesting synopsis of Delicious, since, like Thomas's first book, Private Arrangements, the story is told alternating between present and past. So the reader must wait a bit to discover the circumstances of Verity's downfall, and why she is considered such a scarlet woman. While some readers may not care for this technique, it does effectively capture the reader's curiosity and build suspense; it's also an adept way to show the metamorphosis of both lead characters over time. In any case, since mentioning more would be entering spoiler territory, suffice to it say that this book is more about family, and the confusing, intense, intricate, complex relationships that family creates, than it is about food or cooking.
There is much to like about this book. Thomas's writing is quite well crafted and frequently full of interesting metaphors and phrase turns. Verity is a strong character, never a victim even when victimized. Readers who like feminist heroines will love her. Stuart is also interesting. Thomas gave him a fantastic backstory, a fascinating career as a politician, as well as a fascinating era to politic in. There is a good secondary romance as well, involving Stuart's secretary and a woman he really shouldn't be interested in. Readers who like a good bit of steam with their romance also won't be disappointed. The book is frequently quite sensual.
Unfortunately, despite all of these strengths, the book has some important weaknesses as well. First there is the fact that Verity and Stuart's intense relationship is predicated on a very short acquaintance – one night, ten years ago. And things between them weren't exactly straight up and straightforward at that time. When they meet again, they are still carrying old feelings, but they don't really know each other at all. And Verity, already disguised from Stuart by her position in the kitchen, maintains that disguise through a good portion of the book. In a sense, she continually deceives him, and on purpose.
Then there's the love triangle aspect. By the time they meet again, Stuart has become engaged to a very nice young woman for whom he cares a great deal. The resolution of this, as well as Verity's eventual social resurrection, depends on some obvious and none too convincing authorial maneuvering. For instance, Verity is obviously a woman of strong character, but the training she receives in cooking and the position she eventually achieves seem too easily won. Her downfall early in life is believable, and her actions are always convincing, but luck, or authorial intervention, is clearly with her on her way back up.
The book also has a few too many conflicts and any number of past issues Verity and Stuart must confront. It is positively jam-packed with family conflicts: mother/son, aunt/niece, brother/brother. There is just a lot going on here; it's all too much, and some of it is more interesting than Verity and Stuart's love story. There is also a very manipulative (but not entirely unsympathetic) family member who puppets Verity's life in an entirely unforgivable fashion and not just one, but two tests of true love before the last page is turned.
Though Delicious had a number of high points, I did not fully enjoy it. The ending in particular left me frustrated and unable to completely recommend it. Readers who like love triangles, feminist, sexually experienced heroines, disguises, and strong sensuality might like it more than I did, however. None of these alone are turn-offs for me as a reader, but together they proved to be too much.
-- Rachel Potter
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