A Taste of Heaven, by Penny Watson

>> Monday, February 01, 2016

TITLE: A Taste of Heaven
AUTHOR: Penny Watson

PAGES: 208
PUBLISHER: Self-published

SETTING: Contemporary
TYPE: Romance

“Create one perfect bite.”

Good little widow Sophia Brown always follows the rules. When the producer of a cooking competition requests an amuse-bouche, the chefs stick with proteins. Sauces. A savory concoction. She has only one shot to impress the judges on A Taste of Heaven. But in a moment of defiance, she creates an extraordinary dessert, one that combines both the bitter and the sweet, just like her own life.

That one bite changes everything.

After a year grieving for her dead husband, forty-seven-year-old Sophia is finally ready to break out of her shell. Unfortunately, there is a large, angry obstacle standing in her way. Scottish chef Elliott Adamson has a chip on his shoulder the size of Loch Ness, and he’s blocking her path to victory.

Spurred by her daughters, she embarks on a poignant adventure that takes her from the wildflower fields of Vermont to the wind-swept vista of North Berwick, Scotland. Fear, courage, and inspiration from unlikely places will mark this journey, and Sophia is determined to persevere until the very end.
This is a book I never realised I wanted to read. I've always been sniffy about the idea of romances set in reality shows, but clearly when the reality programme is a TV cooking competition, it's a whole other matter. You'd have thought my love for the Great British Bake-Off would have been a clue!

Sophia Brown has been widowed for about a year, and it's still hitting her hard. She was used to being part of Sophia-and-David, and now that's gone, she's not sure who she is or what she's meant to do with her life. Her daughters, worried about her, decide enough is enough. Sophia's always been an excellent cook, so when they find out a TV cooking competition is going to be filmed nearby and that they're calling for amateur cooks, they sign her up.

Sophia is not sure at all about this, but decides to give it a go and does wonderfully well in the first test. But it turns out the producers have been a little bit sneaky, and the contest is not what the participants expected. It's not just amateurs, there are also just as many professional cooks there. The idea is to pair up one of each and have it be a team competition. The amateurs are nonplussed, but the professionals are furious, and none more so than irascible Scottish chef Elliott Adamson. And guess who ends up paired with Sophie?

I thoroughly enjoyed this, even the scene where the teams have got to do a spot of butchery (and I'm a vegetarian!). For a change, the romance really worked for me, just as much as the other elements of the plot. I loved the way Watson developed the relationship between Elliott and Sophia. It doesn't start out well, because Elliott has come into the competition with one objective, to prove that traditional Scottish cuisine is wonderful and worthy of being considered haute cuisine. He will achieve this objective, come what may. Having to collaborate with a partner would mean melding his cooking with hers, so he stubbornly refuses to collaborate at all. He's the professional chef, so he'll make every decision, and that's that.

A hero like that will only work if the heroine will not let him get away with his crap, and fortunately, Sophia does exactly that. The romance is all about them learning how to be a team... well, actually, about Elliott learning how to work as part of a team, and the process of his changing his tune and starting to respect Sophia's judgement and cooking was gradual and believable.

It turns out that becoming part of a team is exactly what he needs on a personal level, too, which made it possible for me to warm to him. See, Elliot comes across as rather stupid sometimes, with his obsession with cooking traditional Scottish food whatever the requirements of the contest and even when it's obvious to anyone with one gramme of common sense that it's going to do down like a lead balloon with the judges. He does listen, in the end, but it takes a while and in the process he says some jaw-droppingly idiotic things. The saving grace, though, is that his blind insistence on Scottish food reveals some really heart-rending vulnerability which makes him into a much more appealing character. He doesn't just want to win this contest and make his point about Scottish food being as good as any other cuisine, he needs it. He needs it, not because he's ambitious and wants to prove a point, but because he's started from scratch so many times already, and he's tired. Tired and alone. He's too old to start yet again. He wants to make his restaurant work and be able to relax just a little bit, and I completely sympathised with that. The resolution made me feel all warm and fuzzy.

Lovely book, it made me buy Watson's entire backlist.

MY GRADE: A very strong B+.


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