This isn't my first Sabrina Jeffries rodeo. That honor belongs to STORMSWEPT, a rerelease penned under her Deborah Martin name. When I was given an advance copy of this to review on Netgalley, I looked forward to the chance of seeing how her style had evolved. STORMSWEPT was written in the 90s, and while the heroine was likable, none of the male leads were at all. I'd hoped THE WIDOW'S AUCTION would be different, but as with the first one I found myself saying, "I liked parts of this book, but..."
THE WIDOW'S AUCTION is about a widow - surprise - named Isobel Lamberton. She's leader of a board of directors, basically, who all make decisions about what happens to her late husband's school. She and this man, Justin Antony, find themselves viciously at odds, so obviously she loathes him.
At the same time, Isobel's friend persuades her that she ought to join a WIDOW'S AUCTION because she "just needs to get laid." Or whatever the 19th century equivalent of that phrase is. So Isobel goes to a fancy gentlemen's club, with a mask and revealing gown, and has men bid on who will get to spend the night with her.
I will give you three guesses to figure out who wins.
THE WIDOW'S AUCTION does have some things in its favor. The heroine points out the irony of men being able to sleep with whomever they like, whereas women's value is only in their innocence. Her backstory was interesting, as well - I liked the Pygmalion reference. I'm a sucker for that (Audrey Hepburn), although I thought that particular trope might have benefited a longer book more (so you could see the transformation from start to end in an epic fashion).
What really kills this book is the length. It spends so much time on the sex that, given the length, it feels like one of those erotic shorts. Except there isn't really enough sex in it to classify for erotica in my opinion, so what you end up with is this bizarrely short story that changes track multiple times, far too quickly that any of the storylines inside were resolved to any satisfaction. I mean, am I to believe that all their disputes and conflicting ideals totally flew out the window after sex? I certainly don't buy that the two of them fell in love after a single night. That's just ridiculous, given their history.
I was not a fan of WIDOW'S AUCTION. I'm not writing this author off, but I think I'll stick with her novels over her novellas. The pacing's just better, there.
While I enjoy historical fiction, I prefer reading about time periods I know at least something about so reading doesn't turn into information overload, but I know next to nothing about King David, apart from the fact that he defeated Goliath. THE SECRET CHORD is a book about the life of King David, from valorous beginning to tragic end, told by Nathan the Prophet. I'm going to be honest with you here - if my book club hadn't chosen this as the pick of the month, I never would have bothered to finish THE SECRET CHORD. But hey, try new things, right? Maybe it'll work out.
Spoiler alert: it didn't work out. I really had to force myself to stick with this one, and ended up skimming pages towards the end because I just no longer cared about the story. If this hadn't been for book club, I wouldn't have finished - it would have been chucked into the donation bin and deleted from my GR shelves.
But alas. Fate had conspired to burden us with the other's enduring presence.
I put off writing this review because I wanted to think about why THE SECRET CHORD didn't work for me. It's a slow book. The beginning takes a while to gather steam, and the book doesn't reach momentum until about twenty or thirty pages in, only to fall flat at several points in the narrative. Part of the reason was Nathan. I don't really like stories where the "hero" or "heroine" is actually the passive mouthpiece for the voices of others. After a while, that just makes me feel like I'm being talked at. I understand that he is a prophet and a huge part of his life is making these important prophecies that will dictate the lives of others, but oh my gee, it was so boring to read about.
Ironically (considering what I just said in the previous paragraph about mouthpieces), one of the more interesting parts in the book is when Nathan is sent by King David to hear stories about him from lovers, family members and enemies. Why? Because it was interesting to see that darker side to King David. I glanced through the Wiki article before reading this, and King David was a pretty gnarly dude - he was bisexual, committed adultery, slaughtered his enemies, and killed people when it was convenient. Brooks doesn't skimp on the detail, either. Which surprised me and at the same time, didn't, because her other book - YEAR OF WONDERS - is about the plague, and I remember being really grossed out by some of the details in there, too, even though it was a much better story.
THE SECRET CHORD was not badly written, but it wasn't a good story either - at least not for me. The passivity of the hero combined with a very dull storytelling made this book feel ten times longer than it should have been. It's a shame, because the subject matter is quite fascinating and has all the makings of a sensationalist bodice ripper trussed in the garbs of literature - but it would appear that lack of entertainment value is a requisite for literary merit. Boo. Hiss.
P.S. What do you guys do when you dislike your book club's pick? Inquiring minds want to know. ;)
I am honestly surprised by how few of my friends enjoyed this book, because I thought it was exemplary. Like CHOCOLAT and WATER FOR CHOCOLATE, in DELICIOUS, Thomas captures the sensuality and headiness of food, tying it into both sex and love. Verity, the cook heroine, is such an amazing conjurer of food that her culinary creations have people remembering both their worst and fondest memories with a deepness that often shocks their Victorian sensibilities into speechlessness. She has several secrets though, which seem to have doomed her from finding love.
Except, since this is a romance novel, you know that's totally not true!
I should note that Sherry Thomas is not a new author to me. I've read THE HIDDEN BLADE, which is an even better book than this. (Seriously, read it - I cannot recommend it enough.) When I read a book I really enjoy I'm sometimes reluctant to pursue a second book by that author, out of fear that it will be a let-down. I needn't have worried. The things that appealed to me in HIDDEN were present in DELICIOUS, too: beautiful writing, strong heroines, good characterization, interesting twists...they were all here, much to my delight!
DELICIOUS is also a retelling of the Cinderella fairytale, although this is one of the book's weaker points. This relationship was pushed a bit too hard, and I thought the little quirks of fate that kept Stuart from seeing Verity's face were too convenient. I was more interested in how pride kept the characters from being happy - either because it caused them to chase a dream beyond their reach, hurt the people they loved because of their prejudice, or become utterly enslaved by convention. There are elements of PERSUASION in here, as well, which I think a lot of people will really like.
There's also a secondary romance, but I actually liked it. Normally, secondary romances feel like filler to me, but this one worked. In some ways, they had better chemistry than the main couple. The only thing that was frustrating was that I had hoped that the secondary hero was bisexual. I was so excited, because the only ones I've encountered in mainstream historical fiction (as a love interest) were Courtney Milan's HER EVERY WISH and Elizabeth Hoyt's DUKE OF SIN.
DELICIOUS is a really great historical romance that takes tropes from Cinderella and PERSUASION and blends them with excellent characters and a fairly engaging plot. I'd recommend this to fans of Victorian romance and especially to fans of Sherry Thomas.