Jane Ward, Author Tor Books $23.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-312-87754-5

Simple recipes for meals and marriages add charm to this first novel about a cook who leaves her husband for a taste of freedom, but the book never quite achieves the rich heights of the most flavorful food-inspired fiction. Starved for affection from a repressive father and repressed mother, food analyst Anna Rossi reluctantly acknowledges the collapse of her own marriage when her lawyer husband, Michael, falls asleep over her meticulously prepared salmon with salsa. An attempt to put the spice back into their relationship by taking a second honeymoon at a New Hampshire inn only serves to underscore that Anna and Michael have lost their appetites for life and each other. Michael returns to Chicago while Anna stays, taking a job as kitchen assistant in a local restaurant where James, the chef, takes her under his wing. When Anna's mother suffers a stroke, she ponders the choices her parents made as she makes choices of her own. Will she face the future with James or Michael? Will Anna forgive her mother, and will her five-year-old daughter in turn forgive her? How much is too much fennel in fish soup? Like Anna's cooking, Ward's style is simple and direct, with carefully selected enhancements. Childhood memories, such as young Anna taking refuge from her parents' overcooked meals in a neighbor's kitchen, or adult nightmares, like the dinner party that inevitably ends in a fight, show a keen sense of detail. Unfortunately, Michael and James remain stock characters, defined by their tastes in food and sex and friends, and lacking depth and subtlety. The result is a story that is less about a woman finding herself and more about sending a husband back for one with more flavor and heat. (Apr.)