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REVIEW: Delicious by Sherry Thomas

Dear Ms. Thomas,

book review Book two and all is still well between us. Keep this up and I’ll stay a happy woman and keep writing you nice reviews. I used to think I didn’t care for Victorian era historicals – something about the facial hair of the men and hairstyles of the women – but you’re still luring me into parlor palms and antimacassars.

I’ll admit that when I started the book, I wasn’t too sure for a while exactly what was going on. The heroine is a fallen Lady who cooks divinely, yea even unto making English people sit up and notice. I got that. She’s got an illegitimate son but he’s in a good home and being raised to be a gentleman. So far so good. Her employer just keeled over during the soup course and, what’s this?, they’d had an affair and he refused to marry her after she thought he would? And then she remains his cook for 10 years? Even after she had a ‘one night to remember all my days’ with his illegitimate half brother. Oh my. What’s going on here?

And the half brothers who used to be close ended up in the law courts making life miserable for each other? And the Lady cook’s Dowager Duchess Auntie is a vengeful old biddy, hell bent on denying the poor woman a second chance? And the obvious hero of the story is now engaged? And his fiancee is trading barbed snipes with his secretary? I needed to find a mental happy place.

Or did I because despite all this doom and gloom I was smiling and chuckling.

The upper-crust gentlemen of this country were valiant in battle, decent to their inferiors, and passably competent in bed, but they were, almost without exception, helpless before the simplest of domestic tasks-’and proud of it, taking it as a badge of their true gentility.

"Strong spirits only give Cinderella a hangover to go with her heartache," she said, even as she took a swallow of the whiskey. "It makes her terribly cross in the kitchen."

"I thought Cinderella was always gentle and kind and uncomplaining."

"Do you know why?" She looked up at him, her voice suddenly heated. "It’s because these tales have been written by men, men who have never spent so much as an hour in the kitchen. The real Cinderella curses, smokes, and drinks a bit too much. Her feet hurt. Her back hurts. And she’s resentful. She would like her pumpkin coach to run over the Wicked Stepmother. And Prince Toad too, if possible."

And despite the flashbacks – which I didn’t have a problem understanding – I was beginning to find my way around the plot and to root for the characters. Plus you also can condense emotions and situations down to the essence.

Then she put her arms to use. She clutched him to her, as if she were a grasshopper and he the last day of summer, and kissed him back.

At the church she’d mostly had a view of the back of his head, a view that had been further obstructed by an inconveniently placed pillar. He’d sat at the foot of the pulpit, while she’d stood at the very back, in a huddle with the other servants-’the distance between them sixteen rows of pews and the whole structure of the British class system.

I still wasn’t sure how you were going to work out the ‘oh by the way the hero is engaged to someone else’ angle as I recalled from watching “The French Lieutenant’s Woman” years ago that broken engagements could be very costly and damaging to reputations. Then there was the fact that for half the book, the hero still hadn’t realized that the woman he’d loved for 10 years was right under his nose and I was getting more than just a little bit impatient with all the close calls, convenient handkerchiefs, masks supplied by the hero no less and improbable bathroom encounters.

And…and…how could Stuart have been legitimized? Was that possible then? Because Fairleigh Park had to be entailed or else Stuart would have got it when his father died since everything but entailed stuff was left to him. I am confused.

I think foodies will swoon with joy as they read about the delectable creations Verity and her minions create.

The conversation that had reached a steady hum as the soups were brought in faltered abruptly when the first spoonfuls reached unsuspecting lips. Potage imperatrice was a thickened bouillon. Potage Fontanges was, if one must be blunt about it, a soup made from pureed peas. But the looks of amazement on his guests’ faces would have one believe that they’d been given sips from the Fountain of Youth.

She’d outdone herself. He didn’t know how it was possible, but the flavors of the soups were more fierce and more seductive than anything he’d ever tasted. He was robbed of speech, almost of thoughts altogether. The only thing left to him was a hot, brutal grief-’and a relentless wish that that it didn’t need to end this way, swift, merciless, final.

His guests’ silence was the one small mercy of the evening. Beside him the dowager duchess ate carefully, soundlessly, the expression on her face half way between pain and bliss.

Toward the end of the course, the conversation tentatively resumed. No one spoke of the food-’the experience was too strange, too unnerving for a roomful of good, solid Englishmen and women who’d never had their attention commandeered by mere dinner. Instead, they murmured distractedly of the weather and the deteriorating congestion of the roads.

That fledgling conversation ground to a halt each time a new course landed on the table. The hush that descended was half astounded, half reverent. There were startled gasps when the pâté chaud came around. Even something as mundane as an ice to clear the palate between the courses received solemn, undivided attention.

By the time Mme. Durant’s variation of the bombe glacée arrived on the table, layered, in deference to the weather, not with ice creams, but with vanilla custard, chestnut cream, and chocolate mousse, all the good breeding and restraint represented at Stuart’s table were barely enough to hold back his guests from launching themselves face-first into their desserts.

However, when I read this, I did tear up and unlike Verity, I didn’t for one minute doubt Stuart would come through like a champ.

"I understand everything," he said slowly. "And I accept it as a price I’m willing to pay."

"You do not understand." The dowager duchess stomped the floor with the walking stick. "Your wife, and consequently yourself, will be shunned everywhere. Doors will close in your face. Opportunities will flee before you. Your life, as you know it, will be finished. "

"No, madam, my life will have finally begun. I do not need the blessing of the Liberal establishment to practice law. I do not need the approval of Society to keep Fairleigh Park. And I will gladly be shunned on her behalf."

Tears came again, hot and sweet. This was how a prince slew dragons for his princess.

"You are mad, Mr. Somerset." The dowager duchess’s voice trembled.

"I have loved her from the moment I first saw her, madam. She has left me and I have left her. And now we are at last together, nothing, save death, will part us again. Not you. Not the Liberal establishment. Not the opinion of every last man, woman, and child in England." He bowed. "If you will excuse me, I’ve been away from her far too long this day already."

For that I’m willing to accept that this is a Cinderella story and a little more fable than possible reality, that the Dowager intends to resurrect her niece from the grave, that the world will happily welcome said Lady back into the bosom of High Society and that Verity and Stuart expect people to eat off that dining room table after what they’ve done on it. B

~Jayne

This book can be purchased in mass market from Amazon or Powells or ebook format on July 29, 2008.

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

17 Comments

  1. Janine
    Jul 24, 2008 @ 16:01:58

    I’m never sure whether, as the author’s crit partner, it’s a good idea for me to post, but it is hard to refrain since I am so excited about this book. Yes, I’ve read it, but not the final version, and I can’t wait to hold a bound copy. I absolutely adored Delicious, even more so than Private Arrangements, which is really saying something. I did take it as a fable, maybe because the food reminded me of “Like Water for Chocolate” (the movie version; I never read the book) in its powerful emotional effects on the diners. For me all the close calls and near misses were a big part of the magic. I remember that I was a weepy mess right after finishing it because the ending was so emotional.

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  2. Sherry Thomas
    Jul 24, 2008 @ 16:25:28

    I am also not sure, whether, as the author, it’s a good idea for me to post. But to clear up the issue about the hero’s legitimization, that is one big difference between the ARC and the final copy. Because on the last go-around I suddenly found out that the hero’s parents marrying was only enough to legitimize him in the eyes of the Church, but not in English Common Law.

    So in the final copy, not only did the hero’s parents marry, but he was also legitimized by an act of Parliament.

    Now onto the entail. Fortunately for me, the estate in Delicious is not titular land, so there is no need to petition parliament or anything drastic like that to break entail. (Another change b/t ARC and final copy).

    As Courtney Milan, whose legal credentials are even more scary than Jane’s, told me,

    If all you care about, plot-wise, is that your character inherit the land, you don’t even need an Act of Parliament, or to worry about the legitimization of the brother. What you need to know is that the word “entail” can mean two different things.

    1. What people typically think of as an “entail” is that the land passes to eldest legitimate male, in primogeniture fashion. But by the time you’re writing (in fact, long long before) you could easily defeat this by suffering a Common Recovery. Basically, it was a fake law suit, where you paid some dude (like your lawyer) to sue you saying, “Hey, that entailed land–really it’s mine! I swear!” You defaulted on that suit by not showing up in court. So the property now belongs to your lawyer, and presto, your lawyer was not subject to the entail and so the land is no longer entailed. Your lawyer gives your property back to you, and you now own property that is not entailed.

    2. The second kind of entail is the entail in Pride and Prejudice, and it needed to be redone every generation (hence the reference in Pride & Prejudice to Mr. Bennett joining with his son and “cutting off the entail”). Usually, the way this worked is Grandfather A says, “I give my estate to B for the duration of his life, and after that to the male heir of his body.” But there is no reason that it has to work that way. All you have to do is write the entail differently: Grandfather A says “I give my estate to my eldest son for the remainder of his life, remainder to his issue, but if he should die without issue, the remainder goes to Our Hero.” Where “Our Hero” can be quite literally anyone.

    The most famous example of this was an illegitimate bastard named James Smithson, who left 100,000 pounds to his nephew for life, and if his nephew died without issue, to those cocky Americans who showed the Brits how to thumb their nose at stuffy blue-bloods who looked down on bastards. And that is where we got the Smithsonian.

    In either event, if the father wanted to provide that his illegitimate child would get the estate if his legitimate son passed on without issue, that would basically be a piece of cake for any solicitor worth his salt. No Act of Parliament needed.

    Hope this helps!

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  3. SonomaLass
    Jul 24, 2008 @ 16:48:49

    I can’t wait to read this book! I loved Private Arrangements, and the first chapter of Delicious that was printed in the back had me wanting to read it right away.

    Janine, you should read Like Water for Chocolate. It is a wonderful book (I think it’s better than the movie, but I usually do).

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  4. Jill Sorenson
    Jul 24, 2008 @ 16:55:27

    I can’t seem to stay out of lurk! Seems like every author you’ve featured lately is one of my favorites. Keep it up and I’m going to get a big crush on the whole lot of you. I don’t have anything to say except I absolutely adored Private Arrangements and can’t wait for Delicious.

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  5. Jayne
    Jul 24, 2008 @ 18:55:56

    Hmmm, I didn’t recall that the hero’s parents married. Must have missed that bit. The thing that really confused me was this part. When Bertie and Stuart’s father died, he left everything that wasn’t entailed to Stuart. So, when Bertie got Fairleigh, I assumed it was entailed otherwise wouldn’t Stuart have got that too? Or maybe this is all stuff that is changed in the final version in which case, I’m okay with it.

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  6. Janine
    Jul 24, 2008 @ 19:09:06

    Thanks for the recommendation, SonomaLass.

    ReplyReply

  7. Jayne
    Jul 24, 2008 @ 19:14:27

    Excellent Jill, I’m glad we’re here for you.

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  8. Jayne
    Jul 24, 2008 @ 19:16:40

    Sherry, thanks for stopping by and clarifying the issues I raised. That is the kind of author participation I’m definitely happy about. May I ask what’s next for you and when we might anticipate your next release?

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  9. Beth
    Jul 24, 2008 @ 20:26:09

    I cannot wait to read this. I preordered it forever ago.

    But I was surprised at how spoilerish this review seemed (maybe I’m wrong). It might have been nice to get a warning at the beginning.

    Thanks for the review!

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  10. Sherry Thomas
    Jul 24, 2008 @ 23:57:56

    LOL, Jayne. I’m glad you didn’t mind. What’s next is a historical romance called NOT QUITE A HUSBAND, about a couple whose marital problems were such that they had their marriage annulled already.

    The hero of NOT QUITE A HUSBAND is the youngest brother of Will Marsden from DELICIOUS. And the secondary hero, I think, will be dear sweet Freddie from PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS. I’ve got an interesting girl in mind for him.

    It’s due out sometime in the summer of 2009, which is good, since I’ve my file open and there is only 14,828 words written. So I’d better get back to work. :-)

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  11. bettie
    Jul 25, 2008 @ 00:44:42

    Can’t wait for the next one, Sherry!

    Great review, Jayne. Sherry was kind enough to give me an ARC when I met her a couple of weeks ago, and I pretty much devoured it in a single sitting. Dare I make the obvious pun? No, no I will not.

    Of course I liked the fairy-tale-esqueness of it. Another thing I really liked was the depiction of Bertie. He’s dead. He’s never on the scene in the book, but he’s complicated. We see his inner conflicts through what he left behind, and we see the hero’s and heroine’s conflicted feelings about him.

    In Private Arrangements I loved how characters that could easily have been stock–the socially climbing mother, the earnest young suitor–became complex and interesting in their own right. Sherry did it again with Delicious. A character who had wronged the protagonists could easily have been a one-dimensional villain, but instead he came off as a man who had done bad things, but who remembered and regretted them.

    Sheesh. I’m gushing again. I’ve got to stop that. Or, at least, I should go back to my own blog and gush there…Anyway, what I meant to say was, Delicious is a great read.

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  12. Jayne
    Jul 25, 2008 @ 06:42:22

    Another thing I really liked was the depiction of Bertie. He's dead. He's never on the scene in the book, but he's complicated. We see his inner conflicts through what he left behind, and we see the hero's and heroine's conflicted feelings about him.

    Yeah. What Stuart discovered Bertie wanted buried with him knocked me for a (nice) loop.

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  13. Jayne
    Jul 25, 2008 @ 06:44:23

    The hero of NOT QUITE A HUSBAND is the youngest brother of Will Marsden from DELICIOUS. And the secondary hero, I think, will be dear sweet Freddie from PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS. I've got an interesting girl in mind for him.

    Oh good. Freddie needs a heroine. Okay so it was the son in between Will and this youngest son who is the one Will got disinherited for? Right? I’m looking forward to it.

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  14. Sally
    Jul 25, 2008 @ 11:28:51

    I was the lucky winner of an ARC. I loved it and stayed up the night reading it, something I rarely do. It took a little while to grasp the different plot lines, but my patience was well rewarded. It is a poignant and intricate story that is thoughtfully unfolded. I enjoyed the flawed and complex characters, the elegant writing, the amusing secondary romance, not to mention the obscenely decadent food. The left-behind footwear was inspired. I can't wait for Sherry's next book!

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  15. Jessica
    Jul 25, 2008 @ 13:23:41

    Mmmm, I never read historicals, but love a good book. I’ll get this at the Literacy signing in SF . . .

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  16. deputman
    Jul 28, 2008 @ 17:39:12

    I too was lucky enough to win an ARC at SBTB. I’m not sure that a book of food porn is supposed to tie my stomach in knots to the point of nausea but it did. Heart in my throat, stomach in a twist and brain swearing to the rest of me that it would all be alright…somehow.

    I love the language so much and it makes me almost hate Sherry because the story is too good and I fight between the need to know how it will all work out and the pure pleasure I get from the turns of phrase. I read the quote in the above review about the British class system out loud to my husband because I just loved it so much. I read other parts to him too and while he was awake I was a good girl reading every word, savoring them like Verity’s dinners. But once he went to bed it was a mad dash to the finish with pages skipped and paragraphs skimmed.

    I feel so cheated (by myself) when I do this and so have backtracked to once again luxuriate with each line. At the same time, I’m glad I have those pages to go back to because I’m not yet ready to say goodbye to these people. Now if I can only stretch it out until next summer, maybe I’ll have developed some will power by then.

    And I too must call out Sherry's wonderfully complex secondary characters. My heart broke for the brothers and their loss of each other. In the same vein, I adored Lizzie and felt I took a punch to the gut when William expressed his preference for music halls. Thank goodness all was restored to right in the both the music room and the kitchen.

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  17. Review: Delicious, by Sherry Thomas « Racy Romance Reviews
    Aug 05, 2008 @ 22:50:58

    [...] on the Web: So far, mixed. Stay tuned for more reviews. Jayne, Dear Author, Grade: [...]

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