Sweet Success
by Susan Mallery, contemporary (2001)
Pocket, $6.99, ISBN 0-7434-0595-1


Don't be fooled by the cover. This is not a "neurotic woman with daughter and an ex who doesn't pay alimony going home to Momma's place to solve her mysterious parentage and find love with the town hunk" saga. A better representative will be a tray of chocolates, because Sweet Success is straight romance with only a little "What's up with my momma" saga. It totters dangerously at the precipice of the Ditz Romance Abyss, but it never actually plummets into it.

Allison Thomas or Ali is the owner of a gourmet chocolate store called Decandent Delight. She is used to bossing around all the eccentric people in Santa Magdalena while being bossed by her former movie star mother Charlotte Elizabeth. One day, a scruffy, scraggy-looking drifter named Matt Baker walks into her life to fix her shelves and cupboards. Like they say, in walks love.

Sweet Success's biggest plus is the fact that it is not too predictable. There's nothing deliberately contrived - no giggly secret babies, no murder, no secret letters exposing secrets by the last chapter. In a way, Ali and Matt are stereotypes, but in a way, they aren't. Let me try to make that clear here: Ali's biological clock is ticking fast and hard - the big three-oh is round the corner - but while she may fret and whine about having no babies in her bosom, she does it in a charming manner. Matt have a Big Secret - okay, tiny little baggages he doesn't want people to know, really. These little packages of mental baggages aren't anything new, but these problems of his seem okay and just right for this story. It's not something new or actually devastating like "Ohmigod, I am the bastard that created Barney the Purple Monster. Hate. Me. Now." but nonetheless I am moved instead of going "Can we get anymore contrived here? How about the mother having a *cut off for spoilers*?"

Then Mother's *cut off for spoilers* pops up, and I still haven't lost my temper yet. Amazing.

Hence, it is a good thing I didn't put down this book to run away screaming after the first 50 pages. Here, the author really torpedoes me with Ali's neurotic behavior thick and hard. On page one, she's guilty because she isn't giving her mother any grandchildren. On page two, she's feeling this urge to pop babies out. On page three, she's feeling guilty because she isn't giving her mother any grandchildren. On page four, she doesn't want to have babies for the sake of having babies, you know, but she... well, on page five, she's still at it. And on page six, and seven, and eight... Thankfully the incessant "Babies. Now!" mental churnings level off to a more tolerable pitch soon after, and things get better.

If I can have one more complain, though, it's Matt. I know, it's nice to have a mysterious handsome stranger, even if he's a too-thin, wasted-looking one (and I like this new image, really - a refreshing change from Rolls-Royced Fabios coming my way). But do we need a humor-free, socially-inept, churlish, and crabby Matt? Matt behaves like a constipated bulldog so much of the time, snapping at everyone around him and sulking around corners. Come on Matt, smile a little. Break a joke. I'm still sad that Robert Downey, Jr can't keep clean and he's back to the slammer, and I need someone to smile at me now that Ally McBeal is unwatchable again.

Sweet Success isn't exactly a rousing success, but it's a fine one. It manages to make old things new and keep me reading. I may not have resonated with Ali or Matt (smile, smile, smile, dang it!), but I have a great time following their story. And that pet pig is really cute.

Rating: 83


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