Author: Sherry Thomas
Genre: Historical Romance
Stand Alone/ Series: Stand Alone
Summary: 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…
Why Did I Read The Book: Because of the positive reviews that rave about her writing.
You know what is coming right? Because I can’t seem to help myself, so here it goes – the lamest intro I ever wrote (it even beats Holy Guacamole):
Delicious is ….. delicious.
Honestly, it is. Sherry Thomas has appeared in the Romance scene recently with Private Arrangements (which I have yet to read) and has received rave reviews and a lot of the praise was about her writing. When Delicious was published a few months ago and got again the same enthusiastic reaction, I thought it was about time to give her a go. And if Delicious is an example of what the woman can do, I am jumping into the Sherry Thomas’ bandwagon and welcome her with open arms into my library.
Once upon a time there was a young woman who believed in love. And because of that she made a few mistakes that turned her life inside out. Alone and destitute, the heroine, let’s call her Verity Durant, found a place in the kitchen. There she falls in love yet again and yet again things turn sour. Wanting revenge against her lover she decides to seduce his brother Stuart– but the brother turns out to be her prince. But because fairy tales do not exist (or do they?), she didn’t believe they could have a happy ending – she being who she was, his brother’s former lover, a mere cook (or is she?) and him being who he was, not a prince but an ambitious MP, wanting to further his political career she did not stay when he proposed. Mind you, he didn’t even know her name; they had known each other for a few hours but these hours were enough for them to know that it was love with a capital L. He realised in those few precious moments that he wanted her more than anything, even if he didn’t know who she was. There was an intimate connection between them, as if they’d known each other always. They were not strangers – they’d merely never met before. But she left, talking only her luggage, a piece of cake leaving a pair of shoes behind – and a broken heart. For ten years they pined for each other, he has searched for her but without so much as a name he could never find her. Little did he know that she was the infamous cook of his stranded brother, Bertie.
Ten years later….
….And Bertie is dead. Stuart inherits everything including his brother’s cook – Madame Durant, without realising she is his Cinderella, the woman he has dreamed of for a decade. She, who knows who he is, is at the same time terrified of him learning who she is and exhilarated at the thought of having him so close. Because she doesn’t want him to realise that Madame Durant is that girl he met so many years ago, she keeps to the kitchen and never shows her face. The only communication she allows herself to have with him is by means of her food. And this is where the book shines the most for me.
Because Stuart is a man that has all but lost his sense of palate ages ago when the reality of his life hit him – being the illegitimate son of an aristocrat, left by his beloved mother, finding and losing a half brother and because of that smear of poverty in his past he needs to work harder to become a politician by being an example of morality. He is hardened, he is serious, his has a monkish life style and is as far from being a rake as Verity is far from being an innocent virginal heroine from yore – she has truly loved at least two men other than the hero and is fully capable of taking care of herself, by having a profession which she loves. And which she uses to send messages to Stuart, she who knows his lost sense and takes upon herself to make him happy with the meals she cooks:
“she wanted to give him happiness on a plate.“
It is so very poignant that she can’t have him and yet she loves him, she is afraid and she is hopeful and she cooks and she wants him to know her from her cooking which always seem to say:
“ I am here. I am here, do you still love me?”
But Stuart can’t have that – he senses the danger that comes from his kitchen and it is clear from the first time the mysterious Madame Durant cooks for him:
“This was not just dinner. This was as dangerous and unpredictable as the presence of a scantily clad woman in the cell of a monk who’d taken a vow of chastity.
He set down his spoon. Thirty years ago he’d have begged for one more sip. Twenty years ago he’d have been thrilled to discover that his sense of taste hadn’t permanently atrophied. Ten years ago he might have taken this sudden reawakening of his palate for an augury of wonderful things to come, things he’d wished for with the single-mindness of a long-buried seed seeking the unbearable beauty of a world drenched in light.
Tonight he wished only to read this newspaper at dinner without being distracted – or profoundly disturbed – by a bowl of soup.”
But he can’t fight it and he starts to feel attracted to this woman he never sees and he starts to have weird feelings about her and they start frolicking about the house with masks in dark rooms.
The chapters alternate between past and present and my heart was racing whilst I waited for the two timelines to finally come together and for him to finally recognise Verity but things started to derail from about half of the book onwards. And this my one gripe with the book which unfortunately marred my enjoyment – and that deliciously tingling feeling I had from the start, became a shudder of disappointment – at least with that particular storyline.
Because, loving fairytales, I could buy the love at first sight. I could buy the devotion they both had for each other. But because of all his undying ten year devotion it was difficult for me to see him falling in love with another woman – yes, ok it was still the same woman but he did not know that. That he fell in love with her without ever even seeing her face was quite unsettling BUT and this is a big BUT, perhaps part of the fairy tale is the fact that he was bound to fall in love with her over and over again; it could just prove that he was falling in love with her soul, with what she aroused in him, the warmth and the tenderness and the arousal, it all came from her. He may only have seen fractions of the same woman: first Cinderella and then Madame Durant but all of them spoke of the same woman to the same man. Still, it left a bitter taste in my mouth.
Specially because amidst all that there is also the not so small detail that Stuart has recently become engaged with another woman, Lilly – a friend whom he thinks he can have a good marriage with since he lost the hope to ever find his Cinderella. He becomes engaged before meeting Madame Durant though and he truly is torn afterwards because he is indeed a principled man. Although the workings of a principled man’s mind can be a bit distorted: there is one scene where he…pleasures Verity and because there is no penetration, he excuses himself. At that point, no full sex = no cheating (and right there and then I had a weird Bill-Clinton flashback which clearly is not something I want to think of when I am reading a book).
But his fiancée is the protagonist of a secondary storyline whereupon she falls in love with Stuart’s secretary Will and that saved the second half of the book when I became less engaged with Verity and Stuart. Lilly and Will’s love story is humorous and light-hearted with plenty of repartees, plays on words around his sexuality (is he gay? Is he not gay?) and instead of food, it is music that bring them together and is used as sexual innuendo:
“she crescendoed like a Beethoven symphony , the kind that roused a whole concert hall of genteelly dozing patrons in the very last minute with its cymbals and percussions.”
“I think I have formed an attachment to you. You know, what the English call a desire to have symphonic concerts with someone all hours of the day?”
In any case, even if the main couple’s love story did not pan out as I hoped given the glorious beginnings to their relationship, still the writing shone throughout the book in such a fashion, I remember the odd feeling of wanting to cry because of the sheer beauty and lyricism of the prose.
And that is what makes Delicious……delicious.
Notable Quotes/ Parts: Why to let himself enjoy the taste of food was dangerous to Stuart’s mind:
“He ate half of the beef pie, most of the stewed celery, and all of the suet pudding – it was simple, homey, and welcome, like the sight of a cottage with smoke rising from its chimney to a traveller who’d been lost days in the wilds.
And therein lay the danger of Madame Durant and her cooking – not that it was delectable, but that it was evocative, and made him think far beyond food. The rediscovery of taste was as perilous as he’d feared it would be, rousing other dormant, dangerous longings for everything he did not have, everything he’d hoped to hold dear and could not.
Her, of course; her always. His mother, who promised him that she would visit often and never did. His brother, who’d once been a brother, not an enemy. All loved, all lost, all gone, leaving only him to remember them in the dead of the night, hungry no matter how much he ate”
Additional Thoughts: Food. Glorious food. I love food – I love to cook, I love to read about cooking, I love to eat (one of the greatest experiences of my life was to dine at a small restaurant, a meal cooked by a Michelin starred chef – the main dish was venison cooked with figs. I cried it was so delicious. Honestly I did.) And I absolutely love to read or to watch stories where food plays a major role. Delicious is one such book and all the things Verity did with food and all the things other people felt by eating her food may sound far-fetched to some but to me were all in the realms of reality. Not only that, it reminded me of other great literary and cinematographic examples where food and eating are imbued with meaning that go beyond the simple addition of ingredients.
For example, one small detail in the story is that Bertie loved Verity’s madeleines and because of all he has done to her she refuses to cook madeleines again. It is the worst form of torture for Bertie but one he never complains about – the only sign he misses it is that he keeps a napkin that once held a madeleine and still holds a faint smell of the treat.
That reminded me of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time , where the main character eats a madeleine and has an outburst of involuntary memory :
“She sent out for one of those short, plump little cakes called petites madeleines, which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted scallop of a pilgrim’s shell. And soon, mechanically, weary after a dull day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid, and the crumbs with it, touched my palate than a shudder ran through my whole body, and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary changes that were taking place…at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory…”
What about you? Any books or movies that food in the centre stage that you can think of?
Verdict: With such a beautiful prose this book is a keeper, even if the main storyline loses some of its appeal half way through the book.
Rating: If I were to judge the book by its cover, which I find very pretty, and by the elegant, lyrical writing inside or even the intelligent storytelling around something as simple as …food or music this book would be a 10. But because the plot ended up going places I was less than happy with and in a way that made little sense and where a simple sitting down and having a straight conversation would have settled things between the main couple, I will give it a 7. Very Good – It pains me though, because the book is very very close to being a Great One.
Reading Next: Orphans of Chaos by John C. Wright