Tag Archives: Susan Mallery

Susan Mallery – “Sweet Trouble”

14 Jul

Mallery, Susan - Sweet Trouble
GENRE: Romance / Contemporary
PUBLISHED: HQN, 2008

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)

No.

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.

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A Story Character With A Backgroud As A Games Nerd

13 Jul

Originally, this was part of my post about Susan Mallery’s Sweet Trouble. Then I got a bit carried away there and thought it better to post it separately (it’s now even longer than it was originally). Admittedly, this is a very minor part of the story but it seems just wrong for several reasons.

Disclaimer:

I don’t work in the industry.
I’m no games nerd despite calling my blog “Books and Games.” Maybe at one point in my past I was close, but that is a few years back. Last week was the first time in two months that I picked up a game and played.

Despite that, I think I know a thing or two about games that Matt, the games nerd in Sweet Trouble, doesn’t.

[Rant coming up]

Matt’s explanation of how he got wealthy:

“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)

No.

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. You could look at the court battle over the brand name “Civilization” to get some idea (strategy games series; wikipedia link).

But leaving that aside, I can’t see how Matt could earn that much money (he talks about millions).

  • Computer games don’t last all that long. For players, the next big, must-play game is always just around the corner. You’re happy if you earn money on your game for one or maybe two years, but you don’t earn money on your game for the number of years Matt is talking about (except maybe you’re Blizzard). Even more, a game that would run on your PC a few years back might very well run not at all on your shiny new one.
  • Matt’s not even thirty at the present time of the story. Assuming the present time of the story is 2008 means he was fifteen sometime between 1993-1995. By then, computer games were complex and the times of a one-man-show were over (at least for games that could get you millions just for the license). It’s very likely that he would screw up with something hacking it on his own.
  • Also, it would need to be a really successful and well-established game.

More:

  • When Matt and Jesse first meet, it’s the early 2000s. Everquest was published (1999), Diablo 2 was published (2000), Diablo 2 – LOD was published (2001), heck, World of Warcraft was on the horizon (2004). Then there are the shooter games like Counter-Strike (1999 Mod, 2000 retail) or strategy games like Civilization III (2001). Most of these games are games you can play online and a computer nerd would at least know about them. He would be talking about leveling up his character, about meeting his clan members, about needing to be online for a raid, about his ultra-cool new weapon that seriously kicks ass, about how he was finally able to beat a special boss after having failed again and again,… Matt doesn’t talk about any of that.
  • Dismantling a computer and putting it back together again and again doesn’t give you the skills you need to program a (complex) computer game.
  • The way Matt’s looks are described places him, IMO, in the 1960s or maybe 1970s, maybe a clichéd engineering or physics student at college. But no computer nerd/geek sometime after 2000.
  • The way he is now, he seems to be modeled after a über-successful corporate businessman. I can’t see how he got from computer nerd to that, making his computer game background even more unbelievable.

[Sorry. Rant over.]

Again, this is a minor element of the story and it didn’t impact my view of the novel – though I would have thought it cool if Matt had talked about his character’s new ass-kicking weapon. But yeah, it looks like there’s still a bit of a gamer lurking inside of me after all.

I’ll post my book comment tomorrow.

Susan Mallery – “Sweet Spot”

25 Nov

mallery-susan-sweet-spot
GENRE: Romance / Contemporary
PUBLISHED: HQN books, 2008

SERIES: “Bakery Sisters,” book 2

WHY THIS NOVEL: I bought this one during my contemporary binge in summer.


The back blurb:
“If only her life was more sinful than sweet…

‘Responsibility’ should be Nicole Keyes’s middle name. After all, not many people would sacrifice their lives to run the family bakery and raise a younger sibling. But with Nicole’s twin sister now blissfully married and her younger sis turning out more femme fatale than girl-next-door, super reliable Nicole is getting sick of putting everyone else’s needs first!

Enter Hawk. The deliciously sexy former NFL player offers Nicole a taste of the freedom she craves. Hawk may know the way, blindfolded, to her sweet spot, but Nicole’s not about to let him get close enough to break her heart. Of course, she might not have a choice in the matter if Hawk’s past keeps getting in the way of their present…”


I had my problems with Nicole in Sweet Talk. Not so much because she was very nasty and hurtful toward Claire, her sister and the heroine of Sweet Talk, but because for me, she came across as very immature in the way she handled her anger and hurt. Her characterization didn’t work and I was a bit apprehensive to read her story. In her own story, Nicole’s character worked much better for me.

Nicole and Hawk meet when Nicole catches Raoul, one of Hawk’s football players, trying to steal doughnuts in her bakery. Hawk comes on to her and although Nicole thinks Hawk hot, she wants nothing to do with him or men in general thanks to her recent experience with her husband. Hawk is intrigued by Nicole’s resistance and, being rather competitive, he sets out to win her over. Soon they come to an understanding: Nicole wants her friends, her sister and their pity for her off her back, Hawk wants Nicole in his bed. They make a deal – sex in exchange for Hawk pretending to be Nicole’s boyfriend. Everything seems to work fine – they have a hot first time – but then real life intrudes in the form of Raoul who comes to stay at Nicole’s house and Brittany, Hawk’s daughter. Suddenly, it’s very difficult to schedule “sex kitten” time. But this change of plans also gives them the time to get to know each other better. Both find something they didn’t expect.

I liked Nicole’s character a lot in this story. She has quick comebacks and a dry kind of humor. Her first few conversations with Hawk are a good example for that. She still has a temper. But this time, it is clear that although she might appear tough on the outside, she has in fact a very caring heart on the inside – she lets Raoul and his dog stay at her home when they have nowhere else to go for example – and her comebacks are just her way to protect herself. This temper helps her to not take crap from Hawk and stand up to him, even if she feels not very secure about herself as a woman. I thought her very mature (!) and her most defining character trait is probably her responsibility. If there is one weakness, it’s that she’s right all the time and because of that doesn’t change a lot in the course of the story except to accept her responsibility (something she complained about) as part of who she is and maybe make a few new experiences (football) thanks to Hawk.

Hawk might not look like it but he’s also a character who takes his responsibilities very seriously. He quit his football career when his wife was diagnosed with cancer, and after her death, he shouldered the task of raising their daughter alone. He took a job as a football coach at a high school to give something back, and his daughter Brittany is his pride and joy in life. He thinks he has everything under control and doesn’t take kindly to statements that suggest otherwise, which is where Nicole’s temper comes in handy. She doesn’t back down and tells Hawk when she thinks he’s wrong about something. Hawk is in for a few surprises when he (painfully) realizes that other people (Nicole!) can be right too and he has a few lessons to learn about to be responsible and mature at the same time.

The secondary story line between Raoul and Brittany, his girlfriend, reinforces the theme of this novel – responsibility. As do the several unwanted pregnancies (I could do without them but here they fit). They also make Nicole realize that she what she really wants is a family of her own. This leads to the main romantic conflict because Hawk already had it all. His house seems like a shrine to his wife in Nicole’s eyes, and Hawk’s content with the way it is now – him a serial monogamist. So there are several bumps on the way to Nicole’s and Hawk’s happy ending and Hawk tends to screw up. But he’s also able (and willing) to learn, so there is a chance for them to make it. And in the end, it is clear that Nicole and Hawk are a great and right-for-each-other couple.

Sweet Spot is a really nice contemporary romance and I liked it much better than Sweet Talk.


Would I recommend this novel? Yes.

Would I read this novel again? Probably yes.

Grade: 4 / 5


Susan Mallery – “Sweet Talk”

13 Nov

mallery-susan-sweet-talk
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