by Candis Terry, contemporary (2011)
Avon Impulse, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-211572-0
After reading Second Chance At The Sugar Shack, I find that I like author Candis Terry's style. She has a way with words, creating a warm, funny, and intimate story that can get to me. It's not every day that I get to read a story that can get to me, you know, instead of leaving me feeling detached, and this is in a way good considering that I've read a story with a plot like this many times before. Unfortunately, this is also story written for women who believe that their role in life is to obey first their parents and later their boyfriends and husbands, and it's okay to judge and condemn a woman very harshly for daring to break these sacred commandments. This book gets to me, by making me so furious that I can't see straight.
Katie Silver left Deer Lick after exchanging bitter words with her mother. She had a scholarship to pursue her dreams - fashion design in LA - but her mother refused to accept that Katie should do anything but to stay in Deer Lick and help the family bakery business of Sugar Shack. Both women refuse to reconcile, and when the story opens, Katie's mother has died and Katie returns home to tend to the funeral.
The ball-and-chaining begins immediately. Everyone she meets accuses Katie of abandoning her mother. Her father is apparently so useless and despondent without his wife - they are soul mates, you know - and Katie's siblings are too busy setting up things off-stage for their own books, so Katie must stay in town and take care of things. Her teenage sweetheart Matt Ryan, yet another former bad buy turned lawmaker, judges her and condemns her for daring to leave town. Even Kate's mother returns from the dead in the form of a matchmaking ghost to push her into staying in town, giving up her career, and bending over and letting her family and Matt walking all over her.
Ms Terry makes a huge misstep here by showing me that Katie is brilliant at her job and her career is at its peak. Therefore, the only reason I can think of for Katie to give everything up is because, in this story, practically everyone in Deer Lick is telling her that her life is empty and meaningless because she's not married. This is another story where a woman's achievements do not matter as long as she has a husband, and it does not escape my notice that Katie's horrid mother only tells her how much this hag loves Katie after Katie decided to do what Mommy Dearest wanted all along - give everything up to stay in Deer Lick and run the family business. Katie is so happy, because it's really true - she's only happy when she's had Matt in her life, so adios, career!
The double standards come fast and loose. Matt is an unlikable poo-head for condemning Katie without giving her a chance to explain herself, and he has me thinking that he's a complete loser when he boasts to Katie that he's somehow the better person because he has no ambitions of leaving Deer Lick ever. When Katie talks about her achievements, he accuses her of name-dropping and wallowing in shallow artifice - the big city is full of evil people, don't you know. Katie's achievements, dreams, desires - they don't matter because she's not doing what he and the rest of Deer Lick expect of her. In fact, that she has a career in the first place is a big scarlet letter on her forehead.
His attitude reinforces the dreadful conformity needed to be part of the cult of the apple pie. And it's a very hypocritical one, because as he condemns Katie for doing something that allows her to stay unmarried (and thus, she has no meaningful relationships in her life, which is so awful), he is planning to marry some local woman to improve his image so that Deputy I Have No Shame or Self-Awareness here can be the new Sheriff. And yes, he strings both Katie and this woman along as he waffles between wanting to loathe Katie and get into her pants.
Even better, when Katie wants to stay with him and still go off on business trips to meet her clients, he throws a fit, accusing her of putting her life under control of her clients. Since he can't even deal with Katie having a career of her own, won't marrying him means that Katie basically puts herself under his control instead? Then again, Matt's already an ass, so it's not surprising that he's also an ass with no shame or self awareness.
The icing on the cake is how he gets to keep his dreams and achieve his ambitions while Katie has to give up hers completely to be happy.
Second Chance At The Sugar Shack is a painful read because Katie, initially a spirited woman good at her job, is completely browbeaten by the last page into being another small town wife whose life is so tied up to her husband's existence that she may as well be an accessory in his car. The author ends up validating the opinion of the hags and assholes who judge Katie as the devil incarnate for daring to be good at her own thing without their consent, and worst of all, she lets Katie's hateful mother win. There is such a bitter aftertaste in my mouth after reading this book that I actually felt compelled to use the mouthwash. And no, it didn't help. This book is really not for me, and if you are anything like me, you have better stay far away from this poisonous small-town chauvinist propaganda.
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