Susan Mallery – “Sweet Talk”

13 Nov

GENRE: Romance / Contemporary
PUBLISHED: HQN Books, 2008

SERIES: “Bakery Sisters” trilogy, book 1

WHY THIS NOVEL: I wanted to read the second part in this trilogy, Sweet Spot, which meant I also had to get the first one.

The back blurb:
“Is there anything sweeter than a first love?

Don’t ask Claire Keyes. The twenty-eight-year-old piano prodigy has never had a regular boyfriend, much less a real romance. Her music career has left little room for friends or family–which is just part of the reason she hasn’t seen the family bakery or her two sisters in years.

But now Nicole is sick, and Jesse is AWOL. Despite the fact that Claire can’t boil water, she’s determined to play caretaker. Connecting with her sisters tops her to-do-list…along with falling in love, or at least in lust, for the first time.

Ruggedly sexy Wyatt just might fit the bill. Although he keeps saying that he and Claire come from entirely different worlds, he lights up hotter than a bakery oven whenever Claire is near. If this keeps up. she just might sweet-talk him into her bed…and her life.”

I thought the premise interesting: a woman in search of herself wants to reconnect with her estranged family. I enjoyed reading about Claire learning to do things by herself like driving a car and cooking to reach her goal to become “more real” (she has a list for that). I was willing to believe her cluelessness and naivety about “real life” and her joy about the things she learned. Her growing-up was well-done. I also enjoyed her being rather level-headed with all that was going on.

Unfortunately, aside from saying that the writing wasn’t bad, that sums up what I liked about this story and what worked for me. The rest struck me as rather heavy-handed because I had the impression that a lot of things were left out. It seemed it was the reader’s task to connect the dots and make it whole, dots like a I-don’t-do-serious-relationships hero and a innocent-defying-his-expectations heroine with the reader providing the missing links why the heck they are in love based on knowledge about these type of characters.

Claire and Wyatt don’t have a lot of interaction that show what they see in the other. What they have is an incredible attraction between them. Most of the rest is left to the reader’s imagination. What weakened the romance even more IMO is inconsistent character behavior. One of Claire’s goals to be “more real” is to finally have sex the first time in her life. She chooses Wyatt and there’s nothing wrong with that. They are attracted. But Claire’s reaction to it – you can get pregnant the first time? – I didn’t believe this kind of naivety for Claire’s character. And that Wyatt would forget to use a condom when he told Claire he wanted to have sex with her shortly after they met and he got trapped into a marriage because of an unwanted pregnancy once struck me as even more out of character. I think such a man would be prepared and not forget it in the heat of the moment. The characters’ behavior seemed to be motivated more by story demands than by character demands. Together with their type-like character to begin with, this made for a rather unconvincing romance on the whole.

But the main weakness of this novel is the all-consuming anger in it, IMO. Most of the characters are quick to jump to assumptions, followed by an anger that appears to be over-the-top because it’s mostly left unexplained (the dots). Wyatt is out-right rude and hostile the first time he meets Claire. The employees in the bakery are the same when Claire shows up there. And the reason for that is that Nicole, Claire’s sister, told them all for years what a bitch Claire is. My problem with that is, would adult people really be that uncivil to strangers? I really don’t think so which leaves me with either thinking Nicole is a nasty bitch or seeing the behavior as a easy way to make Claire more endearing because she doesn’t give up in the face of all this adversary. I choose the second option although it gets Claire awfully close to martyrdom.

Nicole’s character is probably the best example why I said anger is the biggest weakness in this novel. Nicole seems to know only to state of minds: angry or understanding. Anger fueled behavior changes with lovey-dovey and understanding behavior only to have Nicole fly off the handle in the next scene. The way this is written didn’t let me see Nicole as a character whose anger and hurt is so great that she just lashes out at the slightest provocation. Instead, I thought of her as a very erratic character with out-of-proportion bitchiness for story reasons even though she does have (understandable/justified) reasons to be angry and hurt. But they are nearly completely lost under Nicole’s emotional immaturity in dealing with it. Bitching about Claire not wanting contact while at the same time not answering any of Claire’s attempts (phone calls, letters)? Bitching about your evil sister to your employees? Not once stopping to think what this all meant to Claire who was taken away at the age of six from her family? Even more, blaming a six-year-old child for that? Get real and grow up, then I probably would care more.

Angry and unlikable characters (I’m not just talking about Nicole here) work when they are well-rounded characters because then they are interesting, IMO. Sweet Talk has at best two-note characters which means their likability is more noticeable and more important for the story to work. But looked at in terms of likable characters, this novel is a mess, and the characters are not interesting and believable enough to make it work. No matter how interesting I thought the premise, most of the time I just wanted to set a family and anger therapist on most of the characters.

Final thoughts:

  • Jesse’s story line (third sister) didn’t really work for me and I had trouble to believe that Jesse would end up in jail so fast because of what she did.
  • Amy’s character (Wyatt’s child) and some other things appear as too “sweet” in contrast to all the nasty behavior shown otherwise.

Would I recommend this novel? No.

Would I read this novel again? No (maybe as part of the trilogy).

Grade: 3 / 5


2 Responses to “Susan Mallery – “Sweet Talk””

  1. Kristie(J) Saturday, November 15, 2008 at 12:23 am #

    I didn’t really care for this one at all. I’ve read and loved Susan Mallery books in the past, but this one – I give it sadly, a thumbs down.

  2. Taja Saturday, November 15, 2008 at 1:57 am #

    Kristie, I thought of your post about it while reading. If I hadn’t already had Sweet Spot, I wouldn’t have bought it after reading this one. Going with the thumbs rating, it would have been a thumbs down for me too.

    But, *grin* I liked Sweet Spot much more.

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