Pocket, $6.99, ISBN 0-7434-0595-1
Contemporary Romance, 2001
Don’t be fooled by the cover. This is not a “neurotic woman with daughter and an ex who doesn’t pay alimony going home to her mother’s place to solve her mysterious parentage and find love with the town hunk” saga. A better representative will be a tray of chocolates, because Sweet Success is straight romance with only a little “What’s up with my mother?” saga. It totters dangerously at the precipice of the abyss, but it never actually plummets into it.
Allison Thomas or Ali is the owner of a gourmet chocolate store called Decadent Delight. She is used to bossing around all the eccentric people in Santa Magdalena while being bossed by her former movie star mother Charlotte Elizabeth. One day, a scruffy, scraggy-looking drifter named Matt Baker walks into her life to fix her shelves and cupboards. Like they say, in walks love.
It is a good thing I didn’t put down this book to run away screaming after the first 50 pages. Here, the author really torpedoes me with Ali’s neurotic behavior thick and hard. On page one, she’s guilty because she isn’t giving her mother any grandchildren. On page two, she’s feeling this urge to pop babies out. On page three, she’s feeling guilty because she isn’t giving her mother any grandchildren. On page four, she doesn’t want to have babies for the sake of having babies, you know, but she… well, on page five, she’s still at it. And on page six, and seven, and eight… Thankfully the incessant “Babies. Now!” mental churnings level off to a more tolerable pitch soon after, and things get better.
The biggest plus of this story is the fact that it is not too predictable. No surprise secret babies, no murder, no secret letters exposing secrets by the last chapter. In a way, Ali and Matt are stereotypes, but in a way, they aren’t. Let me try to make that clear here: Ali’s biological clock is ticking fast and hard – the big three-oh is round the corner – but while she may fret and whine about having no babies in her bosom, she does it in a charming manner. Matt have a big secret – okay, a tiny little baggage he doesn’t want people to know, really. His baggage isn’t anything new, but it seems okay and is just right for this story.
If I can have one more complain, though, it’s Matt. I know, it’s nice to have a mysterious handsome stranger, even if he’s a too-thin, wasted-looking one (and I like this new image, really – a refreshing change from Rolls-Royce’d playboys). But Matt behaves like a constipated bulldog so much of the time, snapping at everyone around him and sulking around corners. Come on Matt, smile a little. Break a joke.
Sweet Success isn’t exactly a rousing success, but it manages to make old things somewhat fresh and keep me reading. And that pet pig is really cute.