by AC Arthur, contemporary (2013)
Kimani, $6.50, ISBN 978-0-373-86301-3
Decadent Dreams is the first book in the The Draysons: Sprinkled With Love series, which will be written by three different authors. The series revolves around the Drayson-Jones siblings, all conveniently single, as they work to expand their grandmother's famous patisserie Lillian's Bakery beyond Chicago. First, they intend to participate in the show You Take The Cake on the Festival of Foods network and, of course, win.
In this story, Belinda Drayson-Jones is known as Miss Perfect because she makes sure that she does everything right. As you can probably guess, her balance between play and work is completely off. Malik Anthony, the resident baker and cookie expert, certainly thinks so. He's always had a thing for her, and preparing for the competition may give him the opportunity to know her boss better.
This is an interesting take on the familiar "uptight gal and happy-go-lucky guy" premise, and Malik and Belinda are complete opposites. He does everything with a smile on his face. Of course, if I want to cynical, I'd say it's very easy to be happy go lucky when he's completely loaded and has no money worries to create any wrinkle on his face. He has some angst to balance out his ying to Belinda's yang, not too much.
Belinda, on the other hand, makes sure that everything is in good order. It's an ingrained part of her personality, and she doesn't think she's really unhappy because she's doing everything for the greater good of herself and the family. I know, on paper, this makes her a pretty twisted martyr, but really, she's not bad at all in this story. She's raised to be this way, the poor thing. It also helps that Belinda is on the whole shown as competent at what she does, so her flaws are not a deliberate contrivance to make her look weak.
AC Arthur's stories can be touch and go, as her Zen-like philosophical approach to romance can produce either a quick and whimsical love story or an artificial-sounding New Age tract. Decadent Dreams sees the author on a good day. The conversations feel spontaneous and natural, the main characters have decent chemistry, and the secondary characters aren't too intrusive. The thing about the plot, though, that bake-off angle feels more like wallpaper than driving plot device. The characters don't seem too concerned about it, for some reason. The story is more about lovey-dovey moments.
While this book isn't too bad a read, it's still a "fix that woman up" romance, though. Malik from get go has judged Belinda as someone that needs to be thawed and he has elected himself to be that man. There is a patronizing aspect to his feelings for her that never really go away even by the last page. I like how Belinda doesn't have to give up everything or make severe compromises to keep her man and her career, but I don't know whether I can believe in the happily ever after here. Romances that revolve around one person wanting to change the other person rarely work, and this one doesn't convince me that it is any exception to the rule.
At the end of the day, Decadent Dreams is a pretty good way to spend a few hours. I just wish I believe that fairy tale ending more.
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