Delicious, by Sherry Thomas

>> Tuesday, January 13, 2009

TITLE: Delicious
AUTHOR: Sherry Thomas

PAGES: 432

SETTING: Late 19th c. England
TYPE: Straight romance

REASON FOR READING: Because I loved Private Arrangements (haven't reviewed it yet, but I hope to do so soon).

Famous in Paris, infamous in London, Verity Durant is as well-known for her mouthwatering cuisine as for her scandalous love life. But that’s the least of the surprises awaiting her new employer when he arrives at the estate of Fairleigh Park following the unexpected death of his brother.

Lawyer Stuart Somerset worked himself up from the slums of Manchester to become one of the rising political stars of England’s Parliament. To him, Verity Durant is just a name and food is just food until her first dish touches his lips. Only one other time has he felt such pure arousal—a dangerous night of passion with a stranger, a young woman who disappeared at dawn. Ten years is a long time to wait for the main course, but when Verity Durant arrives at his table, there’s only one thing that will satisfy Stuart’s appetite for more. But is his hunger for lust, revenge—or that rarest of delicacies, love? For Verity’s past has a secret that could devour them both even as they reach for the most delicious fruit of all…
THE PLOT: The summary above is perfectly good (and if I have to actually write a summary, this will never get posted. I'm still slooowly sliding back into writing reviews, after all.)

MY THOUGHTS: Yep, I know who I'm voting for as fave debut author in this year's All About Romance readers poll. Interesting characters, beautiful writing, cool setting and historical romance that's wholly character-driven? Yum.

The latter can't be understated, btw. I bet it's a lot harder to write stories where the tension comes purely from the characters and their relationships (as opposed to from half-baked suspense plots), and not have them lose steam. But Thomas succeeds completely in this. Why? I think because of the characters. They were truly interesting, and I loved them all. Verity is my favourite kind of heroine: strong, resourceful and a woman who can rescue herself, thank you very much. But at the same time, she's not perfect and has her vulnerabilities. Her back story was truly moving, and made perfect sense in making her the woman she was now. And the same could be said about Stuart, actually. His childhood and his position made it practically impossible for him to deviate in any way from society's expectations and still keep his position. It was even more moving, then, to see the risks he was willing to take for his Cinderella. I always enjoy seeing a staid, conservative hero being brought low :-)

The relationship between them was sensual and exciting. Both "stages" of it were amazing, actually. The original relationship, 10 years earlier, when Stuart fall in love with the mysterious woman he only knows as Cinderella was beautifully told, through flashbacks. This is a device I'm not that much of a fan of, but Thomas uses it to great effect. And then the present day story was even better, with Stuart becoming more involved every day with this cook whose face he's never seen and whose cooking captivates him. I've read some criticism of the fact that he pretty much fell in love with Verity again without even seeing her face, mostly through the food she prepares for him. Well, I had absolutely no problem with this. I bought it, hook, line and sinker. This is something I tend to love, actually. I'm thinking of the movie Like Water for Chocolate, or Anthony Capella's The Food of Love. The idea of expressing feelings through food is something that intrigues me, and this is what was happening in Delicious, the reason why Stuart reacted to Verity's food as he did.

I also liked the complexity of both Stuart and Verity's relationships with Bertie, but especially the former. I assumed at the beginning that Bertie was going to be a villain, but his depiction was quite a bit deeper than that, and I thought it made the book all the better. And same thing about Lizzie, Stuart's fiancée: she could easily have been made into an evil other woman character, but instead, we get a fun, exciting secondary romance starring her.

Oh, and last, but not least, the language was truly delicious (heh). It reminded me of Judith Ivory... especially her two Judy Cuevas books, Dance and Bliss (might have been the setting, as well, even though Delicious was set in another country and a couple of decades earlier), in that it was rich and lush, without ever crossing into purple territory.

And now we come to the slightly painful part. Delicious was an A right until near the end. However, I thought it felt a bit anticlimactic and lost a lot of steam after the big scene where Stuart finally recognises Verity and reacts to this. After that, I felt that the action didn't have nearly as much energy as it had been having previously. I can pretty much pinpoint the scene after which things started going downhill (not a very steep hill, so I still enjoyed the descent, but it was a hill, all the same): when Stuart tries to resist opening the door, thinking it's Verity. This scene was brilliant and wrenching, but after this, I could hear a pfffffff-like deflating sound. And I must say, I really disliked the way things with the Duchess were solved. I didn't buy for a minute her convoluted justifications for her actions, plus, it felt like a bit too much narrative... too much telling and not enough showing. It just didn't go with what the rest of the book was like.

Still, the book was strong enough until that point that this is a B+. With two absolute winners, I can't wait to see what Thomas comes up with next.

MY GRADE: Er, just said it: a B+.


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