books

Sherry Thomas

Books

Delicious (2008), Not Quite a Husband (2009), His at Night (2010), The Luckiest Lady in London (2013)

The Lady Sherlock Series: A Study In Scarlet Women (2016), A Conspiracy in Belgravia (2017)



Delicious (2008)

Set in England in 1892.

This was a fun story–and one full of loving descriptions of food. It also has main characters who are middle aged (30s may not sound middle aged nowdays, but it would have been at a time when most people died in their 50s and 60s.)

Verity Durant is an infamous chef. Her meals are divine, and according to gossip, so are other things.

After her initial diaster-laden months as Monsieur David’s apprentice, in the Marquess of Londonderry’s household, Verity had realized, to her own and everyone else’s amazement, that she was talented before a stove. She had a sensitive nose, an unpolluted palate, and a manual dexterity rivaling that of a circus juggler’s.

Stuart Somerset is a bastard, legitimized by an act of Parliament, and long at odds with his half-brother, Bertram “Bertie” Somerset.

Sir Francis had willed to Stuart everything that was not entailed. The Lords Justices of Appeal, before whom the case had eventually gone, had given Stuart the Somerset town house on Grosvenor Square. But without the rent-rich urban tracts that went to Bertie, the sheep land that Stuart received couldn’t generate enough income for the upkeep of such a house.

But when Bertie dies, Stuart inherits everything–including his brother’s chef.

One of the things I like is that you are told from the start that the couple will end up together, that this is a Cinderella story, and the Cinderella theme comes up throughout the tale.

“I’m afraid I haven’t the luxury of a footman.”

“Why not?”

She looked and sounded highborn enough to have half a dozen footmen at her disposal. She was too old—and too striking-looking—to not already be married. Had she slipped out for an adulterous rendezvous?

She lifted her head. Their eyes met. The skin just above his collarbone tingled. “Haven’t got any lizards in my kitchen,” she said, a trace of wistfulness beneath her matter-of-fact tone.

Her answer made no sense until he recalled that in Perrault’s story of Cinderella—his and Bertie’s governess had been an enthusiast of such tales—lizards were what the Fairy Godmother had turned into footmen, to accompany Cinderella on her nocturnal forays into Society.

“Not a pumpkin in your kitchen either?”

Her lips curved slightly. “Pumpkins aren’t in season.”

The story jumps back and forth in time, which I like as a way to learn about the characters pasts.

I won’t say I loved the ploy of Verity always hiding her face when she sees Stuart. That felt ridiculously contrived, but… it did work.

One the I did love, however, was how there weren’t good and bad people–just people. Bertie starts out as almost a caricature of a bad guy, but in the end is just a complicated gentleman.

Stuart thought of the boys in the photograph, their hands held tight. Seven years later they would despise each other. For the next twenty years they would communicate only through intermediaries, sustaining the hostilities as if the bonds of brotherhood had never meant a thing.

I also very much liked Marsden, Stuart’s secretary. His part starts out small, but then the more I learned about him, the more I liked and respected him.

“I want a reprieve from seating people. Tell me about music hall.”

He dropped his pen. He picked it up and blotted the droplets of ink that had splattered onto the seating chart. “It’s an amusing way to spend an evening.”

“You know what I mean,” she insisted.

He flashed her a smile that was as bright as a theatrical footlight. “Music hall is an actionable offense in this country. I’ll need an inducement to expound upon it.”

She glanced at him from underneath her lashes. “What inducement?”

“Symphonic concerts.”

Her heart bounded high enough to knock against her palate. “I beg your pardon?”

He looked at her steadily and the air around her thickened into pudding. At last he said, “I want to hear about your experience at symphonic concerts. Did you like it?”

She dragged the Debrett’s from across the desk and opened it to a random page. They hadn’t had to use it. He seemed to know everyone’s pedigree and precedence by heart. “What would you say if I said I did?”

“I’ve been asking myself that very same thing,” he said. “I decided that I hoped you liked it.”

“Why?”

“Because you could have been ruined over it, you stupid woman. At least you should have enjoyed it while you were at it.”

I found him utterly delightful by the end of the book.

This is, very much, a boinking book, but at least the boinking was an important part of the story. And it was, despite the boinking, a very enjoyable story.

Publisher: Bantam
Rating: 8.5/10

Not Quite a Husband (2009)

Bryony Asquith was was married to Leo Marsden, but their marriage fell about almost on their wedding day, and an annulment was eventually procured.

Bryony, a surgeon who had long expected to be a spinster left England to pursue her career. Leo, a math prodigy, also wandered the world as both a professor of mathematics and a researcher.

First, the synopsis for this book does not give you at all the feeling of the story. It’s a really hard story to read at the beginning. There is a lot anger and bitterness between the two, but despite that both clearly feel an attraction towards one another, and Leo’s coming to find Bryony to take her back to her dying father gives you some hint as to the feelings they still have for one another.

But it’s still very hard to read all that bitterness and anger, and have much sympathy for Bryony, as she’s the one who, on the face of it, caused the failure of the marriage.

That said, the fact that Bryony is obviously very good at her professional (surgery) and that we discover what a loveless childhood she had allows you to slowly want to know what happened between the two.

But it was a difficult story, and if I owned the book rather than borrowing it I probably would have put it down to read later, when my expectations were different, and might have enjoyed it more.

Publisher: Bantam

His at Night (2010) 

Lord Vere has been acting the idiot in public for years now–as his cover as a secret agent for HRM. Even his brother (and only surviving family) believes that a head injury caused permanent damage to Vere’s brain. But pretending has grown exhausting, and the game is far less fun than it used to be.

Thirteen years, and Freddie still spoke to Vere as if nothing had changed, and Vere had remained the same brother who had protected Freddie from their father.

Lady Kingsley has forced them into an investigation of Edmund Douglas for fraud–or possibly something worse.

As covert agents, women had the advantage. Vere and Holbrook must assume personas not their own in order not to be taken seriously—an absolute necessity when one went about inquiring after sensitive matters on behalf of the Crown. But a woman, even one as sharp and capable as Lady Kingsley, often managed to be dismissed on nothing more than the fact of her sex.

Elissande Edgerton is all but a captive in her uncle’s house. Her aunt is a laudanum addict, and Elissande knows that if she leaves, her aunt’s life will be made even worse. So she stays, desperately searching for a way to escape.

Their gleeful laughter astounded Elissande. They did not seem quite real to her, these rosy, robust young women, so entirely free of dread and fear, as if the thought had never crossed their minds that enjoyment carried consequences and should therefore remain as hidden as misery.

The appearance Lord Vere seems perfect–a marriage to a man of wealth and power is the only thing that might keep Ellisande and her aunt safe.

Aside: This is possibly the first time I’ve come across mention of the game Sardines, which I played as a kid.

“Sardines,” Mr. Kingsley suggested.

“No, Richard,” said his aunt. “Absolutely not. No one is to run about the house disturbing Mrs. Douglas.”

I kept thinking I didn’t like Vere, that I didn’t like the way he treated Elissande, but then I’d remember that she literally trapped him into marriage, and she wasn’t an innocent. And that Vere had his own demons.

So I kept reading.

And reading.

Until I finished it, because of course I needed to finish it in one sitting.

It wasn’t an amazing book, and the mystery did seem to get a bit ridiculous at times. But it did pull me in and refuse to let go, which is a sign of a good story.

Publisher: Bantam
Rating: 7/10

The Luckiest Lady in London (2013)

Set in London in 1888.

Louisa Cantwell needs to marry well. Her youngest sister is epileptic, and without a good marriage, Lousia won’t be able to support her after their mother dies. So she’s been planning for years her campaign to find a wealthy husband.

When she had assessed herself for her chances on the marriage mart, it had been immediately apparent that her décolletage needed help. A great deal of help. But did bust improvers, in this regard, constitute flagrant cheating? She’d agonized over that seemingly minor decision.

Felix Rivendale, the Marquess of Wrenworth, has built up his reputation as The Ideal Gentleman. He is everything a proper English Lord should be–except married. But he doesn’t plan upon taking that step until he is much older. And that marriage will be solely for begetting an heir. After witnessing his parents’ marriage, Felix doesn’t believe in love, and will do everything to protect himself.

Another young lady would be doing her utmost to impress him; she, on the other hand, only wanted him to go away, because she knew that he hadn’t the least matrimonial intentions toward her.

But how could she expect him to go away when she was in such delectable ferment?

He’s also an ass.

The first half of the story is how they end up married.

The final part is how Felix screws everything up, and how he tries to make things up to Louisa.

Positives: I love that they are both interested in astronomy. That fact allowed me to believe that Felix would actually take a change on marriage with Louisa. Louisa is marvelous. She is honest about everything she needs and wants.

Which makes Felix’s dishonesty that much harder to deal with and accept.

He has a LOT to make up for.

“Sometimes a lady is in a mood for skin.”

“Are you ever not in a mood for skin?”

“Yes, sometimes I just want your head on a pike,” she answered without blinking an eye.

One other thing I appreciated was that neither of them had to fall mortally ill or be injured for the other to realize the depths of their feelings.

Publisher: Berkley
Rating: 7.5/10


 

The Lady Sherlock Series

 

A Study In Scarlet Women (2016)

Let me be blunt: I never read Sherlock Holmes stories that were not written by ACD. I hate them. I also can’t stand having the character appropriated by other authors. Honestly, I don’t even care as much for the last couple of Sherlock Holmes stories written by ACD. The character feels off to me and I don’t quite enjoy them.

So I immediately dismissed this book when I first came across it, but then I read a review and saw that Sherlock Holmes as he was written by ACD doesn’t appear at all, and I was intrigued.

Charlotte Holmes is an odd woman. She has the characteristics of ACD’s Holmes, but as a woman is required to follow society, and so that informs her character. So she and her friend Lord Ingram come up with Sherlock Holmes, as a reclusive man who sometimes assists the police in their inquiries.

Because she cannot live the life she wants, she decides to destroy her reputation.

“But has your son fared any better? No gentleman would take up with an unmarried young lady from a good family. Does he not share some of the blame?”

“He does.” Lady Shrewsbury sounded as if she were speaking through a mouthful of sand. “And he will hear from his wife and myself. But men are creatures of unbound lust. It is the duty of good women to keep them in check.”

So, how did it hold together as a story? I initially had a difficult time getting into the book. I started several times, and it was only once I got past the initial scene of Charlotte’s ruin that it became interesting. Partially because the story shifts then to Olivia’s POV, and I quite like Livia.

“Lady X is dead.”

Livia braced a hand on the newel post, her incredulity shot through with an incipient dread. “How can that be?”

“They found her expired early this morning. The doctor’s already been and declared it an aneurysm of the brain. But I think it’s divine justice. The way she came and shoved all the blame on us, when it was her own son who was the cad and the bounder? She deserved it.”

Livia shuddered at her mother’s callousness. “I don’t believe the Almighty strikes anyone dead solely for being petty, or even hypocritical.”

It also took awhile for the mystery to develop fully, which didn’t help, since I cared less about Charlotte’s dress and search for a job that I am sure I was supposed to.

And although the female characters were fully developed, as was the Inspector (who I quite liked) I had great difficulty keeping the secondary characters apart, especially since there were a number of characters whose last names started with S and were of a similar length: Sheridan, Sackville, and Shrewsbury–I kept confusing them in my mind, which didn’t help at all.

I also had difficulty believing the valet’s changing of his story.

Treadles didn’t believe him. “If they were truly such pedestrian sins, why did you keep them a secret?”

“Mr. Sackville can’t defend his good name anymore, so it’s up to the rest of us. Men have sinned much worse. But when they die of natural causes, nobody cares what they’ve done in their spare time. Mr. Sackville ought to be given the same privacy— he’d have wanted it.”

Given what Mr. Sackville was doing, I have a very hard time believing that the valet would take steps to try and stop it, but then take such steps to defend him after his death. And to be clear, the valet DID know what was going on, and was horrified by it, and tried to take steps to change or stop it.

His character was simply too inconsistent for me to believe.

That said, I did enjoy the story and think there is a ton of potential here for future stories and I look forward to reading the next book.
Rating: 6.5/10

Published by Berkley

A Conspiracy in Belgravia (2017)

This is the second Lady Sherlock Holmes book, and as I’ve mentioned before, I generally hate Sherlock Holmes stories, but this one I don’t mind as such, since instead of taking the characters are Doyle wrote them, she has imagined that Sherlock Holmes was based upon a woman, and the stories were written by that woman’s sister. That’s fun and follows the spirit of what I like about mysteries.

But.

There is something about this story that just felt off to me. It’s possible it was the jumping back and forth in time, as the characters remember things about the past and those memories are woven into the narrative. It’s not that it’s extremely jarring, and that might not even be it, but I can’t figure out precisely what it is.

The mystery is interesting, and the characters are a lot of fun, and I especially like Charlotte.

Charlotte had not been to church since she ran away from home. God likely wouldn’t mind if she stepped inside His house— Jesus voluntarily associated with women of less-than-pristine repute— but His followers tended to be less magnanimous.

And I like Livia perhaps even more.

Livia viewed everything through a lens of complications, real and imaginary. From where to sit at a tea party, to whether she ought to say something to the hostess if her table setting was missing a fork, her lugubrious and plentiful imagination always supplied scenarios in which she committed a fatal misstep that destroyed any chance she had at a happy, secure life. For her, every choice was agony, every week seven days of quicksand and quagmire.

And I love their relationship.

Charlotte knew everything about Livia— and Charlotte did not want Livia to be anything other than who she was.

Yet still, there was something about the story that just never gelled for me.

That doesn’t mean I don’t want to read more, because I definitely do, because it was enjoyable. But I’m also glad I borrowed this book instead of paying full price for it, because it was good, but it wasn’t quite that good.
Rating: 7/10

Publisher: Berkley