by Elaine Overton, contemporary (2009)
Kimani, $5.99, ISBN 978-0-373-86111-8
Sugar Rush is, like its title would suggest, a delicious confection of a read. It is sweet enough to melt this cynic's heart, but not too sweet to the point of giving me toothache.
Eliot Wright has a lot to be thankful to master baker Alberto Montagna for. It all started when Alberto slept with the wife of a man who could have been at home in the Godfather trilogy. As a result of being caught in the act, Alberto was forced to lay down low. Accepting a job that was normally beneath him - in some small bakery in Tennessee - seemed like a good way to do that. At the last moment, his paramour gave him a call, suggesting that they could finally be together. Alberto took off to meet his woman and ended up in the intensive care unit when the husband caught up with him again.
Our heroine Sophie Mayfield is the person who hired Alberto for her grandmother's bakery. Unfortunately for her, an accident involving a step stool caused her to be in hospital when some fellow shows up at the bakery. Her grandmother and the other staff members of the bakery assume that this fellow is Alberto and put him to work. When Sophie returns from the hospital, she is struck by how attractive "Alberto" is and her hormones launch into a happy chorus of hallelujah. Since she's decided to stay in the bakery to oversee things until her ankle heals, she's going to be seeing a lot of him.
The thing is, the real Alberto is in hospital. This fellow is actually Eliot Wright, the nephew of the very man who is trying to crush Mayfield Bakery. What happens here is that Mayfield Bakery had managed to steal a number of Fulton Foods' high-profile clients in the last few weeks. Carlton Fulton is determined to either buy out the competition or crush it completely and he sends El, his designed heir to his throne, to do his dirty deed. El at first decides that being mistaken for the chef is a stroke of good luck, but he soon realizes that he's going to have to steal the recipe book of an eighty-year old woman who reminds him dearly of his late mother. When he meets the granddaughter Sophie, his fate is sealed. The poor man soon realizes that he has found the family he has never had before in the Mayfield women and the bakery staff, so you can imagine the dilemma he finds himself in, I'm sure.
Mistaken identity stories usually require a degree of suspension of disbelief, and in this one, I am rather unsure as to how El manages to avoid detection for so long (we are talking about months here). Only Wayne, the ex-con turned baker, is suspicious of him, and that is only because of some degree of professional and personal rivalry on his part. There are also some things about the plot that I find odd. For example, Sophie hires someone like Alberto, who can't come cheap, but El can get away with his undercover stint without having to whip up a culinary masterpiece or two to demonstrate why he is considered one of the best bakers around. If Sophie is looking for someone to help prepare the delicious confections using her grandmother's recipes, why waste so much money on a master baker who would actually find working in a small bakery to be beneath him? Won't any experienced baker do just as well, especially when Sophie has already sunk so much money into upgrading their equipment and all?
Still, this story is such a charming and heartwarming affair that I am willing to suspend my disbelief a little bit more than usual. El, for example, is clearly a good man who is stuck in a bad guy role and he actually goes out of his way to help the Mayfield women instead of sabotaging them. Oh yes, it also takes a degree of suspension of disbelief when it comes to how easy the Mayfield women trust him with things like company funds and such, but hey, I'm willing to play along. In this case, it's because El and Sophie are really adorable together. They click, they seem right together, and their interactions feel genuine and credible. As for Sophie, there are moments when I feel that she's probably still a little naïve when it comes to trusting people, but on the whole, she's still smart and reasonably sharp enough for me.
While I don't normally warm up to characters who are very obvious matchmakers, Ms Overton manages to get me to like Mama Mae Mayfield, mostly because Ms Overton provides enough depths to this character to make her more than Yet Another Matchmaker Plot Device. Even Wayne, who could have been yet another comic effect character, has some depths to him that make him a pretty well-rounded character in his own right. Even Sophie's cousin, Lonnie, is more than another Politically Correct Affirmative Action character. In this one, Lonnie has Down Syndrome, a fact that has Sophie constantly viewing her as a simple child. Wait until Sophie learns that Lonnie, at 19, has sexual desires just like every woman does. Poor Sophie is definitely not prepared to face that issue, heh. And I have to give Ms Overton plenty of kudos for tackling an issue such as this one, which is normally present in romance novels.
As fun as reading this story is, I must admit that the middle sags a little. It's pretty clear by the time the book hits the midway point that El is going to do the right thing because there is no way he can sabotage the Mayfield women. It's not in his character to do so. Therefore, by prolonging the "Will he or won't he? (Oh, pretend that you feel the suspense, come on!)" issue, Ms Overton only ends up causing the story to drag in a circular manner until the inevitable moment arrives when the crap hits the fan.
All things considered, though, Sugar Rush is a very enjoyable read based on the strength of its romance and its adorable cast of characters. It puts a big smile on my face at the end of the day. Talk about a Sugar Rush indeed.
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