With a hook that immediately drew me in, Martine Bailey opens An Appetite for Violets in April of 1773 at Villa Ombrosa in Tuscany, Italy. She left me wanting more as she peppered each page with just enough detail to plant seeds of doubt, curiosity, and intrigue. Unfortunately that feeling was short-lived.
By the second chapter, readers are taken back to Mawton Hall some six months earlier where they are introduced to the quirky guide for the remainder of the book—Biddy Leigh. Biddy, the undercook at Mawton Hall, wants nothing more than to marry her childhood sweetheart and run her own tavern. But her new and very young mistress has other plans for Biddy. As these plans unfold, readers are taken on a trip from England to France and Italy.
Along the way, many eccentric yet memorable characters set the stage for events that weave together Biddy's telling of the story and sharing of her receipts (recipes).
Here, readers will find a little bit of romance, a fair amount of 18th century history, culinary delights equal to the number of chapters in the book, and healthy measure of mystery.
Bailey has crafted an intriguing story that is sure to delight many readers and yet I only rated it at 3 stars for the following reasons. For this reviewer, the story had so many loose ends that at times it seemed to unravel. While in the end all the necessary parts did come together, it made for a disjointed and sometimes slow paced reading experience. Additionally, Bailey's attention to the 18th century vocabulary of the day sent me reaching for my dictionary several times per page in the beginning of the story. Finally I just gave up trying to look up all of the "Old English" terms that were used in conversation by the lovable Biddy Leigh. For those who are well-versed in the English vernacular of the period, this may not have been a drawback, but I found myself wondering if it really would have made any difference to the storyline had the author opted for more familiar terms. I don't think it would have detracted from the story but may have helped lessen the frustration of having to consult a dictionary many times over to read a novel.
Martine Bailey is an amateur cook who won the Merchant Gourmet Recipe Challenge and is a former UK Dessert Champion. Her recipes have appeared in many publications including Good Housekeeping, Olive magazine, and Green and Black's Chocolate Recipes. Bailey lives in Cheshire, England. An Appetite for Violets is her first novel. Visit her website to learn more.
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