All That Matters
by Stef Ann Holm, contemporary (2008)
HQN, $4.99, ISBN 978-0-373-77313-8


All That Matters has a cover price of $4.99 because HQN wants many people to read this book and make the author a very happy person. This isn't a bad book by all means, and seriously, for $4.99, one can do much worse than spending it on this book. It's just that after a promising start, I'm somewhat dismayed when the story turns out to be so predictable.

Chloe Lawson owns Not Just Cakes, a bakery that makes not only the best cookies and cakes that you can ever imagine - it is also making Chloe a lot of money, heh. The last five months since Chloe opened the store have been great... but the dream comes to a screeching halt when her landlord terminates her lease after she refuses to move out. The big chain store Garretson's wants to move into the building block, you see, and Chloe's refusal to move is the only thing standing in the way. The owner of the building decides that if Chloe doesn't want to move, he will just terminate her lease. As our lawyer hero John Moretti points out, this is an entirely legal move. However, he will be moved to help Chloe when he tastes her cookies - get your mind out of the gutter, folks, Chloe's not that kind of woman - and the lives of his family members become intertwined with Chloe's even as he slowly falls in love with her.

All That Matters has all the ingredients for a great small town romance. Chloe is strong-willed, quite smart at first, and, unlike your typical romance heroine, she is actually doing very well in her business venture. John is a widower and single father who realizes, with dismay, that his workaholic nature and "leave it to the wife to handle the kids" philosophy had caused him to become a complete stranger to his kids. He doesn't know how to deal with his rebellious children. These two have the potential to be well-drawn characters but, unfortunately, as the story progresses they become more and more like familiar characters typical in small town romances.

I'm disappointed by how Chloe turns out to be nothing more than a poster girl for affirmative action. Her grandmother opens a store for plus-sized women. Chloe stands for the people who are bullied by the Evil Corporation. Chloe is also full of sage wisdom and maternal affection for John's wayward children. The superheroine known as Chloe is perfect. People react to her, changing for the better due to her benevolent generosity and wisdom. Yet at the same time, Chloe stupidly refuses to take seriously those creepy phone calls she has been getting. Then again, we need to have some drama in this story and we may as well let Chloe be uncharacteristically silly to allow that to happen.

As the story progresses, the author introduces secondary story lines that I find distracting. I want to see how Chloe and John fall in love, I don't care for these secondary story lines that only serve to remind me of how stereotypical these characters are. The kids end up behaving just like I thought they would, the story progresses just like I expect it to, and everyone follows the script predictably, much to my disappointment.

All That Matters is a readable story, it's just that it is also more ordinary than I thought it would be. The first few chapters are good, but the story becomes increasingly predictable from there. Still, if you are looking for a feel-good story with a heavy dose of affirmative action messages, this one may be worth a look.

Rating: 73


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