Cinderella For a Night

Dream Groom

Living On the Edge

Prince Charming, M. D.

Quinn's Woman

The Rancher Next Door

The Sheik's Kidnapped Bride

The Summer House

Sweet Success

Delicious by Susan Mallery
(HQN, $6.99 PG-13) ISBN 0-373-77056-1
Delicious is the first in a four-part series about the Buchanans, a family of four siblings and their bossy, controlling, manipulative grandmother; it is set in Seattle and in the family’s four restaurants. The first story features Cal Buchanan, the oldest sibling, who is taking a break from building his successful coffee chain to become general manager of the family’s flagship restaurant, the venerable Waterfront. The place has been forced to close because it is simply failing; it is so out of touch, out of place and out of date that you can practically feel the yellowing, peeling vinyl on the menus. Cal will be the general manager for four months to whip the place into shape, but he needs a top-notch chef, and the best would be his ex-wife Penny Jackson.

Happy to have him come crawling back to her, Penny sets tough conditions on her contract that let her have complete creative control and ownership of any recipes she creates. She will use these, and the rather large chunk of change she is going to earn over the next three years from the Buchanans, to open her own restaurant. In the meantime, she’ll make do at the Waterfront, watch her reputation grow, and make use of their maternity leave benefits.

Penny’s a modern girl – tired of waiting for the traditional arrangement, she’s getting herself a baby the new-fashioned way. She is four months into her artificial insemination pregnancy. Penny suffered a miscarriage while married to Cal, and then was shocked and disappointed when he was unwilling to try again. He was going back on their agreement about having children, and that was the beginning of their slide toward divorce. His refusal to recommend her for a position in one of the family restaurants was merely the final straw. Needless to say, there was more to the story than that, and Grandma was behind some major manipulations that complicated matters then and she is busier than ever manipulating things today.

Of course, if these people ever talked to each other like grownups instead of running away to nurse their hurt feelings, then Grandma Gloria wouldn’t be so all-powerful. While the story isn’t completely about the big misunderstanding, it is fundamentally about the big unwillingness-to-ask-questions-and-find-out-what-is-going-on thing. This wasn’t enough of an annoyance to make the book unreadable, but it did seem to drag things out unnecessarily. Without this factor, though, there wouldn’t be much to the main story.

Penny and Cal are nice enough folks, if somewhat bland. His two brothers seem much more interesting, so maybe their tales will be more compelling. In fact, pretty much everyone in the book is more interesting than the main characters, especially Grandma and Penny’s assistant, Naomi-the-expeditor. And as it turns out, the behind-the-scenes restaurant detail turns out to be more interesting than the romance. At least the information was nicely woven into the tale, and never felt like it was just for show-and-tell.

Aside from these restaurant business details, the other juicy parts of the tale are around Penny’s developing pregnancy and Cal’s reactions to it, starting with his attention to her growing bust line and through his accompanying her to her ultrasound appointment. It is a sweet time that they get to share together, clearly much better than her first pregnancy.

There was another story thread in addition to the manipulating grandma and the havoc she left in her wake; it is quite touching and also serves to give a little more heft to the book, and adds some dimension to Cal’s character as well. In the end, though, there wasn’t much compelling going on. There was enough of interest to keep me plowing on, but not very enthusiastically. The book is like dinner at a chain restaurant – you get the basics, they’re presented competently, but you wouldn’t go out of your way to eat there if you had a better choice. Maybe the next meals in the story will have more spice to them.

--Laura Scott

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