by Shirley Jump, contemporary (2006)
Zebra, $5.99, ISBN 0-8217-7948-6
Spoilers are present in this review.
Shirley Jump isn't bucking when it comes to her formula. The Bachelor Preferred Pastry is another contemporary romance with a food theme, this time around with cakes and cookies taking the limelight. Our heroine Olivia Regan runs a pastry store, Pastries With Panache. However, this is an amazing book indeed because it manages to mutate from keeper to absolutely hate-worthy paper-shredder material by the time the story ends.
This book starts out pretty fun even if there are warning signs all over the place that this story is going to bitchslap me until I see stars before it is through with insulting my intelligence thoroughly. The reason for this is because Ms Jump's story exudes an old-school charm reminiscent of those silly old movies of the old days, a little like Sabrina, come to think of it. Olivia Regan is sure that she has done all the market research guaranteed to make Pastries With Panache a success, but the business is failing miserably. Of course, this isn't "romantic comedy" until our heroine exhibits a huge dose of stupid in her daily actions, so Olivia places the last of her savings into netting our John F Kennedy Jr wannabe hero Daniel Worth in a charity bachelor auction. If you think that plunking down $12,322 and grabbing the hero to your bakery store where you'll then try to force the bachelor in question into posing for publicity photos is a good idea, hello there, Olivia, nice for you to drop by. Now get out before I take a giant pair of tweezers and rip off your nose.
I hope nobody has a grandfather like Daniel's. Daniel's grandfather, who runs the international chain of Worth hotels, ruthlessly cuts off anyone who dares to even breathe a little disagreement with him and Daniel likes his lifestyle so Daniel so far is a happy-go-lucky philanderer who has never held a job in his life other than dancing to his grandfather's tune. When he meets Olivia, however, he starts to realize that maybe his life isn't as satisfying as he imagines it to be and perhaps he can even acknowledge the dissatisfactions that have built up inside him during all his life of playing the peacock in a gilded cage. He ends up being disinherited by his grandfather when he and that old man decide to see whether Daniel can survive in the big bad world as a regular Danny Boy.
Well, so what will be in store for our two love birds?
At first I really love what I'm reading. Olivia is pretty stupid but Ms Jump promises me that Olivia is actually brainy and such, so I'm willing to give Ms Jump the benefit of the doubt. Daniel's descent into Regular Joedom is a pretty entertaining read - it's not like he experiences smooth sailing all the way. Olivia and Daniel are in a way two very immature people who are trying to grow up and find love at the same time. Their relationship has a romantic, whimsical, and black-and-white movie feel to it. As the story progresses, it seems like those two characters will grow up in all the way that matters and I'm ready to go along with the ride. The secondary characters are more intrusive than ever compared to the author's previous books, and here they actually start pushing for Olivia and Daniel to shag from the get go. When will authors learn that it is not realistic for family members to literally start screaming at our lovebirds to get together ten seconds into Daniel and Olivia's first meeting, unless the author wants these family members to seen as psychotic busybodies? Still, meddlesome secondary characters aside, this book is fun. It is silly but it's silly like a romantic comedy tends to be.
But as the story progresses, my nose threatens to start bleeding on me because the characters start turning to complete braindeads. Olivia is the biggest braindead of all as she ends up being as moronic as her initial actions portray her to be. Olivia does nothing to improve her business. She keeps saying that she has made business plans, but I do not see her actually doing anything here to fight to keep her store in business other than to whine and mope that she has done everything and there is nothing she can do anymore. When she lets the store opposite hers run her out of business without anything more than a pathetic show of opposition or two, I see red. When she turns down Daniel's deal of getting Pastries With Panache to meet regular weekly orders because she doesn't want to be Daniel's charity case, I fling this book hard across the room and cheer when it hits the tree right outside the window. Then I remember how a few pages before that scene Olivia starts moping that she has to keep the store open for the sake of her family and I run outside to start jumping up and down on that book while imagining that I am stomping on Olivia's head for her stupidity in choosing pride over pragmatism.
Luckily I come to my senses - what will the neighbors think, after all - and resume reading because for some reason I have to know how this trainwreck ends. Oh yes, there's Olivia moaning that now that her store has closed, She Is So Guilty. Her father is a chronic idiot when it comes to money and he has used up the retirement funds meant for him and his wife on all kinds of stupid investments, including Olivia's store. This means Olivia now blames herself 100% for not making the store profitable. I guess she is willing to indulge the old man as long as she can then. How sad then, eh, that Olivia has clearly inherited her father's lack of intelligence? Who will save Daddy now? It gets worse: when Olivia has one more chance to save the store on her own, without Daniel's "interference", she chokes spectacularly and literally runs off in tears. This book happily flies out the window and hits the tree again. Maybe I should paint a bullseye on that tree one of these days. When Olivia then wails that she never wanted to open a store for herself - she opened it out of love, this book once more hits the tree. Ms Jump, please don't even try to dignify Olivia's stupidity or pass off that stupidity as a form of "sacrifice", okay?
Speaking of "sacrifice", this book's Very Important Theme, what on earth is Daniel supposedly sacrificing in his life as an idle rich boy? Ms Jump expects me to sympathize with Daniel "sacrificing" his freedom and creativity to enjoy his trust fund. Okay, maybe I'm just a sad blue-collar person who clearly doesn't understand the pain of rich people having to enjoy life and spend money, but... no, Ms Jump, please, not today, because my head is already close to exploding from the antics of Olivia without having to deal with ridiculous Poor Money McScrooge propaganda as well.
Meanwhile, Daniel really demonstrates that he's nearly as bad as Olivia when it comes to deliberately sabotaging himself so that he can star as the martyr in his own story, but at least he can safely say that his grandfather is coercing him into dancing to the man's tune and he, at least, has done enough growing up to claim some self-respect for himself. Olivia, however, ends up being a braindead martyr who cannot do anything right. In fact, Olivia's main course of action in this book when it comes to dealing with her problems is to either do stupid things or to cry and wail that she is so pathetic and she is also so sorry for failing everybody. It is her sister who ends up saving the store and Josie does this with a simple yet elegant action that makes Olivia come off as even a bigger braindead that she already is.
And just once, I wish Olivia will tell her useless father to face his own responsibilities and grow up instead of trying stupidly to cover his tracks and save his butt, especially when she's clearly not mentally capable of making good decisions. I wish Daniel will tell his grandfather to go hang much earlier in the story, although unlike Olivia, he does eventually tell the horrid old man to butt out of his life. Good for him! However, Ms Jump at the end of the day praises Olivia for her "selflessness" and has Daniel reconciling with the horrid old man because apparently the horrid old man behaved that way to Daniel out of love. Apparently love makes all kinds of horrible actions okay in Ms Jump's story. Check out the nauseatingly cute epilogue that sweeps all the horrible skeletons back into the closet and has everyone acting like they've always been one happy family.
Simply put, if you cannot abide the canonization of wretchedly useless crybaby heroines as selfless saints, this book will most likely push all your hot buttons. This book also pushes the For The Love Of A Daddy agenda to a ridiculous degree, as if the mere concept of "love" will magically make all of Daddy's really horrible actions sweet and acceptable because Daddy is being an asshole out of love. Daniel still has some growing up to do but he's on his way to being a better person, so he's okay in my book. I don't know what he sees in Olivia though. Olivia must die.
I don't give single-digit scores to books often. I only dish them out when a book is particularly horrifying in an unspeakable manner. The fact that this book starts out so good only to mutate into a grotesque Daddy Dearest story featuring a heroine that embodies all the laughably sad weak female stereotypes around is what makes this book horrifying in an unspeakable manner. The fact that the ending makes me feel like I want to break things to release my frustrations only makes things worse. On the whole, I enjoy Shirley Jump's previous books and I have no doubt that I can enjoy her future books as well, but when it comes to this... thing, I have no choice but to admit that it is singularly one of the worst books I've ever read, especially because it is a well-written story that starts out so well.
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