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Monday, May 2, 2011

Book Review: A Serving of Scandal by Prue Leith

Book cover of A Serving of Scandal by Prue Leith
Goodread’s summary: Kate McKinnon is thirty-six and mother to Toby. She used to be a restaurant chef but that all stopped when Toby - now five - came along and changed everything. Now she has a small but thriving business catering for private clients, companies and some government departments. Her life is on an even keel.

Then she gets a job cooking lunch at the Foreign Office and has her first fateful meeting with Oliver Stapler, Secretary of State. He’s married and a father and totally out of bounds, yet she falls for him. She thinks she’s hiding it beautifully, but there are people who would like to see her fail and to them her feelings are all too transparent.

When someone alerts the gutter press, who cares whether Kate’s affair with Oliver is true or not? It’s a great story and will shift a ton of newspapers - and destroy several lives at the same time.

My thoughts:  A Serving of Scandal gave me serious guilt pangs over my gleeful love for tabloid gossip. Reading about Kate, the woman at the center of a British sex scandal, I had some remorse for all those times I bought a supermarket rag so I could cackle over someone else’s peccadilloes.  It’s truly horrifying to watch how both Kate and Oliver’s lives are ruined by the scandal that erupts around them, and even more disturbing because the two are not having an affair.  But really, when a politician issues a “No comment,” about a potential extramarital affair, do you believe him?  Does anyone?  And in fiction as in real life, the unknown Kate bears the brunt of the punishment – because it’s always the woman’s fault, right?

While the scandal in the title was never in short supply, there wasn’t as much emotional heft as I would have liked in the book.  Specifically, I didn’t feel we saw nearly enough interaction between Kate and Oliver – Prue Leith seemed more interested in telling us what was there rather than showing us: 
“Over just a few brief late-night chats in this kitchen, or the one at Carlton House, they had talked a lot about almost everything.”  
The book would have been a lot stronger if Leith had included more of those actual conversations.  Instead, we just have to take her word for it that Kate and Oliver truly fell in love during that time.  The characters only manage to have one truly in-depth conversation before the scandal breaks, and I didn’t think that was enough to justify the feelings Kate and Oliver supposedly have for each other.

Though the novel’s character development was largely unsuccessful, I did think the overall plot and descriptive imagery were done well.  The view into Kate’s life as an ordinary Londoner is quirky and charming.  So often, we get chick lit novels about the glamorous side of UK life (Harrods! M&S! Gastropubs! Mini-breaks to Ibiza!) and it’s refreshing to read a book that reflects the cultural and economic reality of London.  The food descriptions were fascinating – Leith is also a chef and food writer, and her love for all things gastronomic clearly shows.  She lovingly describes food and the act of cooking, and Kate’s passion for her job comes through strong.

I didn’t love A Serving of Scandal, but I liked it enough that I’d be interested in checking out Leith’s other works of fiction, and since her descriptions of food are so lovely, I absolutely plan to seek out some of her cookbooks.

My review: 3 stars out of 5

Romance novel book reviews by Sarah The Brazen Bookworm (Serving of Scandal by Prue Leith)

Note: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in return for a fair and honest review.

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