So I have this obsession with cupcakes. It probably started the day my sister looked me dead in the eye, frowned a bit and said, “Cupcakes remind me of you.” Not that I remind Katie of cupcakes, mind you, but that when she sees a cupcake, she thinks of me.
I guess that’s sweet?
It’s in that spirit that I quickly grabbed Sarah Strohmeyer’s Sweet Love not too long after finishing her awesome novel The Sleeping Beauty Proposal and, earlier this year, The Penny Pinchers Club. Aside from the delicious confection on the cover, Strohmeyer has proven her stories are infused with all the love, heart and humor I crave from women’s fiction.
Forty-something Julie Mueller lives with her elderly parents and teenage daughter Em outside Boston, Mass., where her days are filled to bursting with covering local news for a TV station as broadcast journalist. Since her divorce from Donald in her early twenties, Julie has dedicated herself to her family — and though decades have passed, her childhood crush on Michael Slayton, her older brother’s best friend, has always burned a little hole in her heart.
Betty, Julie’s mom, has carried her guilt like an ever-present backpack from putting the kibosh on Julie and Michael’s delicate romance all those years ago — and, as she sees more and more how happy the couple could have been, Betty resolves to find a way of bringing them back together. And this time, she won’t stand in their way.
Of course, it’s not as easy as Betty would like to believe — particularly since Michael, a political advisor, and her daughter have a longstanding grudge. Six years before the start of the novel, Julie broke open a scandal on the political candidate Michael backed professionally — and he hasn’t quite forgiven her for, you know, maintaining her journalistic integrity and not holding the piece until the political team had time to do damage control (yeah, because that’s how it works). So when the two are drawn together due to Betty’s scheming, sparks don’t exactly fly — not even in the dessert class in which they both enroll to learn about delicious creations at the hand of French chef Rene D’Ours.
But love — like baking — takes time.
As in her other novels, Strohmeyer does a remarkable job of bringing to life fun, imaginative and realistic characters you truly feel you know by the closing chapter — and I really empathized with Julie as she struggled to hold it all together and battle her unresolved feelings for Michael. The excuses they both used to stay apart seemed really thin, and that bothered me a little — I wanted to reach in, pull them both by their collars and mash their faces together! My irritation over their stubborn resolve became more and more grating the longer I read. Still, I was pleased with the way things were resolved!
Michael is a huge Shakespeare buff — and the Bard’s occasionally whimsical, often astute quotes begin each chapter of the story. These excerpts were really fun to read and helped provide a framework to the whole tale, making it transcend “standard” women’s fiction for me. And each Strohmeyer book seems to include a plot twist that really turns everything you thought you knew on its head — and Sweet Love was no exception. Though the revelations in the novel weren’t as unexpected as those in, say, The Sleeping Beauty Proposal, I still enjoyed watching them unravel. While the story was actually a little darker than I expected, it certainly wasn’t without its light — and, of course, the sadness helped make the joy all the sweeter.
I can’t say I’ve walked away from this one a changed reader, but Sweet Love was definitely a solid novel about first love, family, motherhood and sacrifices. The cover-art cupcake — and many, many references to dessert and cooking — brought an added plot sweetness that’s perfect for lovers of contemporary fiction and mother/daughter stories. Just make sure you have a Kleenex handy for some of the ups and downs.
3.5 out of 5!