Susan Mallery – “Sweet Trouble”

14 Jul

Mallery, Susan - Sweet Trouble
GENRE: Romance / Contemporary

SERIES: “Bakery Sisters” trilogy, #3

WHY THIS NOVEL: part of trilogy

Home, sweet home?

Jesse Keyes has done some serious growing up. With a steady job and a vibrant four-year-old son, Gabe, she’s in a far better place than when she left Seattle five years ago…pregnant and misunderstood by almost everyone in her life.

Now it’s time to go home and face her demons. But her sisters, Claire and Nicole, aren’t exactly impressed with the new and improved Jesse. And then there’s Matt, Gabe’s father, who makes it clear that he never wants to see her again despite the lust that still smolders between them.

Jesse doesn’t know if she can make up for all the mistakes of her past. But the promise of sweet nights with Matt might just give her the extra incentive she needs to make it worth the trouble….

Sweet Trouble is the last novel in the “Bakery Sisters” trilogy and tells the story of the youngest sister, Jesse. It’s a well-written and well-plotted novel and while I wouldn’t exactly say that I enjoyed it because of an important plot element, I nevertheless really appreciated it.

Making mistakes – past and present

Sweet Trouble is a novel full of flawed characters. Altogether, there are four characters in this story who made mistakes in the past and/or who make mistakes in the present.

First, there’s Jesse. She was the black sheep in the previous two novels, always screwing up, always making mistakes. (Although I have to say that with a sister like Nicole, who comes off as rather passive-aggressive, Jesse’s behavior is probably not all that surprising.) Jesse left Seattle after she got accused of doing something wrong. The tragedy is that for once, she did nothing. But because of her past, no one believed her. Jesse comes back to Seattle so that Gabe can meet his father, Matt. She used the last years to grow up, so she’s rather different from the Jesse she used to be and this time around, she’s the “good” character.

Matt on the other hand, didn’t screw up in the past. At least on the surface of things. The only thing you could blame him for is that he didn’t believe Jesse and that he let her down when it really counted (which actually is really big). It’s totally different in the present. He wants revenge for what Jesse did to him five years ago so he deliberately sets out to get it. No matter who gets hurt on the way.

The other two flawed characters are Matt’s mother, Paula, and Jesse’s sister, Nicole. Paula didn’t like Jesse five years back. She was afraid of losing Matt and she was in fact was crucial for their break-up. Over the last five years, she learned the errors of her way because she did lose Matt regardless. Nicole doesn’t trust Jesse. She has good reasons for that but she also makes it unnecessarily hard for Jesse when she isn’t even willing to listen to what Jesse has to say.

Sweet Trouble looks at people who make mistakes. I really liked that the characters had shades of gray. There was no black and white and you could understand the characters’ reasoning even if you thought “That’s not right.” I appreciated the real-life impression that created for the story. I also thought it interesting to watch the dynamics between the characters, to see that what seems right for one person looks totally different when viewed from someone else’s perspective.

Unpleasant characters

And like in real life, these story has characters that are not always the most pleasant characters around. In this case, Nicole and Matt. Nicole less so than Matt because she’s at least aware of her behavior:

“It’s not okay. She’s my sister. I love her so much and I can’t seem to let go of the past. I can’t seem to trust her to get it right. I’m angry and resentful. Why can’t I talk about the good stuff? She went to college. Did she tell you that? She got her AA by herself while raising Gabe and working full-time. Without any help. Who does that? Amazing people. People who are way better than me.” (197)

But Matt is downright cruel. When he learns about his child, he has this to say:

“So what do you want to do?” Heath asked.
“Hurt her in every way possible.” (23)

The bad thing is: he doesn’t budge from this goal for the most part of the story. Sweet Trouble is basically a revenge story.

The revenge plot

I always have trouble with revenge plots. A character motivated by revenge just doesn’t seem all that mature too me. Instead of talking about things in the open and/or moving on, such a character acts like a child who stomps his/her foot and declares, “I won’t talk to you anymore! You hurt me.” The child lashes out without a thought for other persons. An adult should know better.

Matt doesn’t. He insists that Jesse should have tried harder because she knew he didn’t believe her. He blames her for the lost years with his child. It’s his motivation and justification for his behavior. It’s about him, he doesn’t even think about the child when he tells his lawyer to hurt Jesse in every way possible. It only slowly dawns on him that hurting Jesse by taking away Gabe means that he’ll have to take care of Gabe, for example.

I’m also not sure how that fits/could fit with the way his character appeared in the flashbacks.

He goes from this:

“Don’t you know none of that matters?”
She stared up at him. “You can’t mean that.”
“Do I look as if I’m lying?”
He looked like a man who was very sure of himself. He looked like someone she could trust.
He touched her face again. “Jess, your past change nothing. You’re the one I want to be with because of who you are right now.”
He was making it too easy.
“I want to believe yo,” she whispered.
“Then try. Give it time. I won’t let you down.” (138)

to deliberately hurting Jesse. Throughout the story, he plans to hurt (destroy) Jesse while at the same time accusing her of not trying hard enough in the past. He never realizes that there’s a difference between Jesse’s “mistake” (which even wasn’t a real mistake) and his actions in the present. Jesse and Matt might both have made mistakes in the past. But in the present, it’s Matt who makes the mistake. For much of the story, he crossed the line for me.

I don’t say that Matt’s hurt and anger aren’t understandable – in fact, one of the strengths of this novel is that it makes characters’ “wrong” behavior understandable, IMO – but his relentless pursuit of revenge reminded me a bit of the heroes in some category novels. It really soured the present romance between Jesse and Matt for me.

And I really liked their first romance in the past – predictable but also so sweet. The flashbacks were my highlights of the novel which probably places me on the fantasy side of romance. The present romance is real life stuff and Matt has an important lesson to learn.

Matt’s background as a games nerd

Admittedly, this is a very minor part of the story (it’s just the explanations for why Matt’s wealthy) but it seems just wrong for several reasons.

“When I was fifteen, I got really frustrated by this computer game I was playing. I broke into their system, accessed the code and rewrote it. Then I took the new version to them. They licensed it from me. Our money situation got better then.” (43)


The big whopper is that Matt would have gotten his ass sued off instead of getting paid for what he did. There’s no way past that. But there’s more. (You can read it here if you’re interested. I got a bit carried away there and so posted it separately. Though I should add: this didn’t influence my view of the novel.)

Verdict: For the look at characters’ behavior, for making me think about what’s right and what’s wrong, and for saying that there’s not always a straight answer – 4/5.


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

  1. nath Tuesday, July 14, 2009 at 1:55 pm #

    Oh, very nice analysis 😀 and that’s a pretty good final grade.

    I didn’t like this one too much… Actually, I was affected by Sweet Talk. Ugh, all that anger and Nicole… and unpleasant characters… seriously, nothing could have saved the subsequent books for me ^_^;

  2. Taja Tuesday, July 14, 2009 at 5:46 pm #

    Nath – oh *blush* you’re always so kind. Thank you.

    I tried not to be influenced too much by my dislike of the revenge plot (and the hero). I honestly think Sweet Trouble is a well-written and well- plotted novel so I wanted the grade to reflect that somewhat. Now Sweet Talk, ugh, no, it didn’t work for me either. Like you said, all that anger and Nicole. Though I have to say, writing a character like Nicole, I really appreciated that, even when I wanted to smack Nicole now and then. 🙂

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