Thursday, 6 September 2012

Book Review: Luscious by Amanda Usen

Title: Luscious
Author: Amanda Usen
Release Date: 3 July 2012
Number of pages: 312 pages
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Source: ebook provided by publisher through NetGalley
Purchasing Info: Goodreads, Author's Website, Amazon, Kindle store, Book Depository, Read an excerpt

Grade: 3 stars

Novellus bonus!

Goodreads appetizer:

Eat, play, love

Plain old ice cream just isn't going to cut it. To beat these blues, chef Olivia Marconi needs the good stuff: rich, creamy tiramisu gelato. And no place better to get it than Italy. But a fresh start is nearly impossible with Sean Kindred dogging her every move. She's been burned by his too-hot-to-handle antics before. Though there's no denying the man can still get her all fired up. Could a weeklong affair finally turn into something more lasting...or will it all go up in flames?

My Thoughts: It is no secret that I LOVE cooking and baking. Besides the joy and thrill of creating something unique and delicious which titillates the senses I also love the experience of eating: enjoying the tastes, smells and textures of food. Cooking is a hobby of mine, something to be enjoyed and cherished. So when I see books combining my love for cooking and romantic stories I'm doubly excited. My first ventures into this special kind of romantic category were with Nora Roberts' Great Chefs series, but even those delicious stories couldn't have prepared me for the feast that Amanda Usen's Luscious provided.

Luscious is apparently a sequel to Amanda Usen's first novel Scrumptious, but not having read that one first didn't in any way hinder understanding (and enjoying) Luscious as there were a few references to the first book, just to situate those readers who joined the party with Book #2, so no worries, Luscious can very well be read as a standalone.

Luscious is Olivia's story, who after an awful marriage to celebrate her divorce decides to leave her home and life behind and start fresh in Italy, Europe! Sean has been a high school friend of hers and now acted as her divorce lawyer, and as he has some business to take care of in Italy as well, he joins Olivia on her travel.

Olivia is the daughter of cooks, she grew up in her parents' restaurant and became a chef herself. However, lately she doesn't find much joy in cooking and feels like she lost her creativity and spark, that's why she decides to give up the family restaurant her parents gave to her and fly across continents. Though I understand the need for changes I found it a bit too dramatic for Olivia to up and leave everyone and everything in the US and jump head first into creating a new life for herself in Italy, to want to abandon friends and cooking, which until now pretty much defined her life and who she was. I can't really pinpoint the reason why I didn't warm to her character, it might be that I found her a bit too meek and mellow, letting others (especially her mother) boss her around and dictate her life.

Sean on the other hand was delightful. He was considerate, passionate and tender. He always put Olivia first, his main goal being to make her feel special and cherished. It wasn't hard falling for him ;-)

The chemistry between them was good with just the right amount of sizzle and tenderness:

“Nothing,” she said, taking a deep breath and then wishing she hadn’t, as his clean scent filled her lungs. She stifled a growl. He smelled like soap and aftershave, and she smelled like grease, onions, and garlic. No wonder he wasn’t interested anymore. His pleasant memories of her in high school had been smothered by the stench of caramelized onions, while hers had been fed by the addictive scent of his high-powered lawyer pheromones.

The writing was both smooth and fresh, I liked the humorous light Amanda Usen at times infused in the story:

Irritation spiked in a sudden, sharp wave up the back of Olivia’s neck. It was hard to resist the urge to throw something, especially since she had a tomato in one hand and a knife in the other.

The problem was that I didn't grow to like Olivia, I found her lack of backbone irritating and so I lost my interest for the romantic storyline. What kept me reading was the exceptional (mood) setting Amanda Usen provided for the story: having been several times to Italy and the region Luscious is set in, reading the story I felt like I was back there in the sunny vineries and family operated trattorias, seeing the vivid red tomatoes and smelling the grilled melting mozzarella on top of the lasagna. *dreamy sighs* Not only were food and meals deliciously interwoven into the novel, the atmosphere of Tuscany permeated the story wonderfully (what I find even more amazing is the fact that Amanda Usen was never in Italy and she still managed to give a true and realistic portrayal of it!).

Amanda Usen's descriptions of cooking were luscious and the most basic ingredients came to life with bursting colours and tantalizing scent. Meals became art and their sampling and enjoyment poetry:

He sipped. “What am I tasting for?”
“Beauty and complexity—like the flight of a butterfly. The wine should take you on a journey and leave you feeling breathless and still—the way you feel when a butterfly lands on your hand. You can’t hold it; you can only enjoy it. Vivere nel momento. Live in the moment.”

Verdict: Although I didn't really care for the heroine, Luscious definitely lives up to its name: through her writing Amanda Usen enchants the reader with such succulent descriptions of the meals that even those who lack any imagination or creativity when it comes to cooking can see and smell those culinary creations. So be warned, do not read this book while dieting or being hungry, you'll just torture yourself ;-)

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