REVIEW: A Taste of Honey by Rose Lerner
Dear Ms. Lerner,
Back in March of 2014, I read and reviewed Sweet Disorder, the first book in the Lively St. Lemeston series of historical romances. The novel featured an unusual conflict. Phoebe Sparks, its heroine, was offered a hefty bribe to marry Robert Moon, the owner of a bakery shop, and in so doing, confer on him, in accordance with the town charter, the ability to vote.
Sweet Disorder focused on Phoebe’s struggle between doing the responsible thing—marrying Robert to save her sister, who was pregnant out of wedlock—and following her heart, which led her to Nick Dymond. Now comes the 93 page erotic romance novella A Taste of Honey, Robert Moon’s story, and it features a similar conflict, between being responsible and pursuing what he truly desires, responsibility be damned.
A Taste of Honey begins with Robert in the kitchen of his shop, the Honey Moon. Robert is boiling sugar, cream and coffee, and contemplating the absence of his apprentice, Peter, who is visiting a great-aunt now on her deathbed, when Betsy, Robert’s assistant, announces the arrival of one of their better customers.
Mrs. Lovejoy’s wealthy husband sits on the board of the Lively St. Lemeston’s Assembly Rooms’ governing committee, and his wife is a good customer, so long as Robert is willing to meet her unreasonable demands. Now she has a commission for Robert. An assembly has been moved up and is now scheduled for only a week away. If Robert can fulfill her order within that week—no mean feat, since she wants expensive, tricky desserts—the twenty-five pounds she will pay him will secure the Honey Moon’s future and enable Robert to propose to Betsy, whom he secretly adores.
Betsy, meanwhile, is unaware of Robert’s intentions to propose. She has loved him from afar for a while now, and even his nearly having married Phoebe Sparks, although it hurt her, failed to kill that love. Now, with Peter out of the shop for a week and Robert needing her assistance, Betsy sees her chance to make him notice her.
When her subtle hints fail to get Robert’s attention, Betsy invites him to have sex with her, and allows him to think she is a woman of the world instead of a near-virgin. But will her efforts distract him from fulfilling Mrs. Lovejoy’s order, and what will happen when Robert discovers the truth?
A Taste of Honey has many of the qualities I liked in Sweet Disorder, including endearing protagonists, excellent writing, a community of intriguing secondary characters, and the previously mentioned conflict between doing what appears to be the right thing and being true to oneself.
Robert loves Betsy and wants to marry her as soon as possible—that is why he takes Mrs. Lovejoy’s questionable job. But Robert is so caught up in his terror of bankruptcy, the fear that he will squander the inheritance his father left him, that he feels he can’t allow himself to marry Betsy until he is more solvent.
Betsy, meanwhile, has more to offer Robert than her body. Not only does she make sure he remembers to eat, but she also has a better business sense than he does. But she is so afraid she won’t be enough for him, that like him, she doesn’t feel the confidence she deserves to have in herself.
There were times, while reading this novella, that I was almost too acutely conscious of the characters’ insecurities. I wanted them, especially Robert, to find their courage and confidence just a little bit sooner, so there would be more joy in the story.
Then, too, I could have done with a little more character and relationship development. I wanted to know how long Robert and Betsy had been working together, and what made each first realize they loved the other, as well as more about Robert’s relationship with his parents, and Betsy’s with her sister, Nan.
But I loved the details we got, such as Robert’s mother’s urging him to bake bread instead of desserts, and Betsy and her friend Jemima’s habit of reading up on murders in the local papers.
This being an erotic novella, readers will probably want to know about the sex, which was hot, dirty and earthy. There was a lot of it and while I enjoyed it, I felt that it overshadowed the courtship a bit.
I rooted for Robert and Betsy, though, and I loved the intelligent writing, such as in this wonderful scene, in which Robert asks Betsy about her greatest fear.
She frowned, dismayed.
She didn’t want to tell him. She was glad enough to give him her body, but maybe that was all. There was a lump in Robert’s stomach like he’d eaten raw dough.
It was absurd, anyway, to say she gave him her body. No more had she taken his. He’d not mind that, belonging to her. But they were still entirely separate, and could go anywhere they liked, away from each other.
Don’t go, he thought. I’ll do anything you like, if you like to ask me for it.
“Not being good enough,” she said, very quiet. “Doing my best and falling short.” She laughed. “That and being murdered.”
It came so near the endless circle of his own fears that it shocked him. Why should she fear? It was plain she was good enough for anything she put her hand to.
It must be a leftover from her childhood and her sad mother, one of those feelings like cheese gone ampery after too long on the shelf. You knew you’d ought to feed it to the pigs but somehow it lurked in the corner for weeks.
It was great to see Robert and Betsy break past their fears, stand up to Mrs. Lovejoy, and find happiness together. A Taste of Honey was a smart, sexy novella, worth reading. B.