I have just finished this, and had to sit for a few moments just to let it simmer in my mind.
Then I started looking at what other people had to say. I cannot even fathom that anyone could not be completely in love with this book! I'm shocked. Stunned.
I'm thinking maybe I'm a fool for Cinderella stories, for one thing. I loved Julia Quinn's Bridgerton story with this theme, An Offer from A Gentleman. I also love the idea of his staying in love with her for so many years, not knowing her name or where she was.
And I'm just completely blown away with Sherry Thomas' writing. A little bit of googling had me realizing English isn't even her first language - she's a native of China who came to America at age 13. I am humbled by her incredible writing anyway, and even more knowing this.
The basic plot involves our heroine, Verity Durant, high born but disowned, who becomes a chef to support herself. Our hero, Stuart, was born a bastard to a titled gentleman, and inherits. So they are sort of the opposite one from the other.
Her cooking is described so vividly, so lushly, so sensually, that
Stuart had an older brother, Bertie, who was briefly in love with Verity. Bertie, however, wouldn't lower himself to marry beneath him - and when she attempted to prove her true position so they could marry, the one person who knew the truth denied it. In revenge, she went to Stuart - but at the last minute, she found she could not admit her identity to him. They had one night together, where Stuart was so besotted he proposed, but she fled - and Stuart spent the next 10 years first trying to find her, then trying to get over her. Finally, he finds a woman he feels he can marry who will be his perfect wife and helpmate on his journey in politics to Prime Minister.
Meanwhile, Verity has stayed on as Bertie's chef even though their affair is long over. Keep in mind, Stuart does not realize that his Cinderella is the same woman as his brother's former lover and current chef. He and his brother haven't spoken in years. Bertie has a heart attack and dies - and Stuart inherits the manse and the servants including the chef.
Now Verity begins, almost unwittingly, her seduction of Stuart through food - just reading Stuart's POV when she is cooking was so ...... well, wonderful!
I also liked the secondary romance with Mr. Marsden - I won't say more because it's revealed so well that I want readers to discover it for themselves.
So many contributors to the AAR forum thread complained about "flashbacks" - Ms Thomas tells the stories simultaneously, of the time when Stuart and Verity meet for the first time and the "current time" 10 years later when they meet as employer/employee. She puts the date at the top of the chapter - sheesh, how hard is THAT to follow?? I love the way the pieces are revealed so slowly, so deliberately, so that the tension builds as you, the reader, learn more of the details. If the original meeting was all revealed in a prologue, you wouldn't be wondering, as you read, what would happen, or the whys and wherefores, and the mystery and intrigue would be lost. So I guess if you want a story spoonfed to you, don't read this one.
I was completely bowled over in love with this story about 2 pages in, and never stopped. I felt like I was in a trance, and Ms Thomas' exquisite details had me tasting, smelling, feeling everything as if I were not just reading it but living it.
It's DIK/Top Favorite for me, 5 stars, no questions asked.
ETA: I just finished the audio book version of the on May 5, 2009 - once again I fell in love with this story. The narrator, Virginia Leishman, is superb - her reading and her character voices are wonderful (Ok, I did have a tiny bit of trouble distinguishing her parts with Marsden and the fiancee and her parts with Verity and Stuart). She really put some serious oooomph into the reading of the food!! 5 stars again!