Book review: ‘Maybe This Time’ by Jennifer Crusie

It’s been ten long years since Andie Miller stepped foot in the law office of North Archer — and only then to let him know she was on her way out the door. But now it’s 1992, a decade since she and her ex-husband crossed paths, and she’s finally ready to let him go. She wants to throw his alimony checks back in his face and start over . . . with Will Spenser.

But North has other plans. Now the appointed guardian of a distant cousin’s two young children, North desperately needs help — especially since the kids have already cycled through three nannies. Something strange is happening at Archer House, a property for which he’s responsible, and someone has to figure out what’s going on. Someone North trusts to tell him the truth — and get those kids out of there and ready for school. Kind but firm, Andie seems a logical — if unexpected — choice.

And, surprisingly, she’s up for the task. Andie makes her way to the old Victorian home in Ohio, transported stone by stone from England more than a century before. Complete with a moat and one surly housekeeper, Mrs. Crumb, Archer House has a distinctly creepy vibe — and meeting the two children does nothing to alleviate that. Young Alice’s pastimes include screaming for no reason, demanding unreasonable things, giving angry looks and being as uncooperative as possible. Her brother, Carter, is a quiet 12-year-old who loves art — but is rumored to have a thing for fires. As in, starting them. Everywhere.

And did we mention the ghosts? It doesn’t take long for Andie to begin feeling unexpected drafts in the home, not totally ridiculous given the size and nature of an old house like that . . . but how can she explain the visions and figures she sees lurking around the pond and Alice’s bed, or up in the old tower? And what’s frightening the children so that they refuse to leave Archer House — on risk of death?

Jennifer Crusie’s Maybe This Time is a hard novel to classify — mostly because it’s such a conglomeration of many (awesome) genres. Part romance, part mystery, part thriller, Crusie’s latest — her first solo work in six years — was a suspenseful, entertaining and often laugh-out-loud funny look at woman grappling with the past not really being the past . . . and the unexpected feelings of devotion she suddenly feels for two young children. And, you know, surviving the vengeful natures of a few murderous ghosts.

Andie is a resourceful, strong and quick-witted character, and there isn’t too much not to like about her. She manages to walk the fine line between speaking her mind and being honest while not being a raging jerk, and I can respect that. North, on the other hand, comes across as cold and steel-hearted — until you get to know him and see past the lawyerly facade. And recognize the undeniable soft spot he has for his ex-wife. It’s not difficult to see what would draw her to him, a woman with such confidence — a woman he let slip away while he slogged away at his law firm, losing himself in nothing but work and old family drama.

What I loved about Maybe This Time were these two realistic, relatable characters — and the kids, too, who you can’t help but feel close to after spending so many pages here with them. Alice comes across as a borderline nutcase when we first meet her, but I absolutely adored her by the close of the book. She and Carter both act the way you’d expect children to act, complete with intelligent but still child-like dialogue, and I really appreciated that. Plus, I couldn’t help but giggle when she referred to North as “Bad Uncle,” or just plain ol’ “Bad” for short.

For as much as this is about Andie and North reuniting (perhaps?) or Andie caring for and helping the kids, it’s also a real ghost story — complete with mystery and a few bone-chilling scenes. In particular, one features an old nanny, Miss J, and Crusie makes reference to the gaping black holes in her head where eyes should have been. When a seance is held to try and rid Archer House of the apparitions, I got genuine goosebumps. But for a scaredy cat like me, the frightening aspects weren’t overwhelming — and only served to enhance an otherwise very entertaining story.

Fluid, witty and undeniably skilled, Jennifer Crusie has crafted a romantic and very readable story in Maybe This Time. Fans of contemporary fiction, ghost stories and romance will love the unique combination she’s created here — and I’ll be happy to share this one with the other fiction readers in my life.

4.5 out of 5!

ISBN: 0312303785 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided by publisher

Book review: ‘Breakfast In Bed’ by Robin Kaye

For Rich and Becca, it’s definitely not love at first sight — particularly when Becca’s first glimpse of Rich is as he’s stepping out of the shower. Her shower — the one in the apartment she just rented. Or so she thought.

The living arrangements are tricky — the pair have been promised the same New York City space by friends, and Becca arrives with all of her earthly possessions . . . plus a three-legged cat. Rich, a college psychology professor, has recently moved to the city to be closer to girlfriend Gina, an arrangement he thought was working out well. Until Gina unceremoniously dumps him, explaining she needs to be in a relationship with a man a bit more self-reliant than Rich. Someone who can wash his own clothes, clean a house and prepare a meal without the help of his doting mother, say.

Disheartened, Rich turns to Becca for help in becoming a “Domestic God” — a man who can complete any household-related task with panache! He hopes Gina will be shocked out of her skull to discover how seriously he took her advice — and they’ll pick up their relationship where they left off. And since Rich and Becca can’t reach a conclusion regarding who can “keep” the apartment, Becca’s domestic lessons are a type of trade-off for keeping the peace between them as they co-exist in the space. As long as they keep their hands to themselves, of course.

Which, you know, of course they don’t. Who wouldn’t fall in love with Rich, a handsome, kind-hearted teacher (y’all know I love some teachers)? So what if he can’t even make toast and turns his clothes — and sheets — gray by perpetually messing up the wash? I’d be aggravated, sure, but then I’d set him straight. And we’d live together in perfect romantic harmony, chatting in about academia and eating perfectly-cooked Italian meals. In our gorgeous apartment. In New York City.

But, alas, it’s not that simple. Becca, an artist, has all kinds of emotional baggage from previous relationships — ones in which guys discovered she’s, um, filthy rich and then tried to take her for all she was worth. Understandably jaded, Becca is guarded — and totally not ready to open her heart to Rich. Robin Kaye does a  great job of balancing Becca’s hesitations regarding Rich without making her very annoying the whole time.

Still, I wanted to shake her as the novel wore on. Nervous, fearful and full of all sorts of assumptions regarding Rich, Becca seemed unable to let go of her preconceived notions of the “type” of guy Rich was and actually see him as a man willing — and able — to change. There’s a weird subplot about how Rich needing to be in a stable relationship at the nudging of his boss, which just seemed like an obvious contrivance for the plot’s sake and didn’t work for me.

But beyond that? The dialogue was sassy; the chemistry between the leads was palpable. An entertaining, fun contemporary romance with a few laugh-out-loud moments and excellent peripheral characters. Mike, Becca’s realistically protective older brother, and his wife Annabelle, Rich’s sweet younger sister, provide some balance to the burgeoning love between their siblings. I had a little difficulty keeping the characters and their relationships straight at first, mostly because Breakfast In Bed is actually the third book in Kaye’s series, but I eventually got it all straightened out. And now I’m curious about the first two!

3.75 out of 5!

ISBN: 1402218958 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided by publisher

Book review: ‘The Girl On Legare Street’ by Karen White

Ghosts surround Melanie Middleton like cobwebs — present in the corners of every encounter, but typically just filling the background of her life, feather-soft and unintrusive. After almost 40 years of practice, she’d learned how to block out the voices only she can hear — until she inherited an historic home in downtown Charleston, South Carolina. And after solving a decades-old mystery on Tradd, her attention is called to a new location: Legare Street, site of her family’s ancestral home, sold when Melanie, now a Realtor, was young. The house is back on the market and though she’s promised a big sale, the listing comes with a price — a reconnection with her mother, Ginnette Priloeau Middleton, a famous opera singer who’s emerged on the scene after spending decades away from her only daughter with hardly a word.

As we learned in Karen White’s first novel following Melanie’s escapades, The House On Tradd Street, our narrator is a determined but very vulnerable woman — still susceptible to the pain of remembering her mother’s abandonment, which is never far from the surface of the narration. Ginnette, herself a psychic, has returned to Charleston with a warning for her daughter, and with one cryptic sentence — “We are not as we seem” — events are set in motion which will require Melanie to work with her mother to figure out what — or whom — is haunting the Legare home. Before things really get dangerous. Of course, the promise of a new mystery to unravel is enough to lure writer Jack Trenholm, Melanie’s obvious-to-everyone-but-her crush, back into the picture. And thus the trio sets out on trying to make sense of the ghosts haunting Legare — and Melanie must sift through her tangled feelings for both her mother and Jack in the process. And when a reporter arrives on the scene asking some hard questions, everyone has to come up with answers.

I can say unabashedly I enjoyed The Girl On Legare Street as much — if not more — than its predecessor, which I thought was funny, well-written, interesting and romantic. It’s been a long time since I felt the familiar zing! of well-written romantic tension, and White’s book has everything: family dynamics, love, friendship and mystery. Though Melanie’s grudge against her mother did become very tedious about halfway through the novel, I knew that she’d have to forgive her eventually — and eagerly waited for that scene when all would be revealed.

The mystery in this novel — centering around an old, sunken boat discovered off the coast of South Carolina — was, to me, much more intriguing than the family saga unfolding in The House On Tradd Street. Perhaps because this novel directly impacted Melanie, I felt more personally invested in what would be discovered, and felt more about what was happening. This one also spooked me far more than the first book! Though I’m admittedly skittish by nature, The Girl On Legare Street seemed to pack much more of a paranormal punch — but never to the point of gore or violence.

All family secrets were revealed gradually — too gradually, some might argue. And I can certainly see the validity of criticism that the novel moved too slowly, left us without new information for too long, forcing readers to try and fit the myriad of random puzzle pieces White gave us into some semblance of order. And that was a little frustrating. But I guess the difference for me came with the fact that I loved Melanie and Ginnette and was totally intrigued by their muddled relationship, and I didn’t mind that we spent long stretches in the present without historical details to help us solve with the mystery. I knew all would be revealed in time, and I was content to run along for the ride.

Fans of Southern fiction will find much to love in the lush, charismatic South Carolina setting, and those who get a kick out of paranormal fiction will appreciate the ghost stories and family secrets binding the book together. The push-and-pull tension between Jack and Melanie will please romance fans — like yours truly — and I am happy that plot moved forward a bit with this book. And an unexpected ending leaves me wondering whether or not we’ll see another adventure from White yet. Would I return again to her world where nothing is as it seems? You bet, y’all!

4.5 out of 5!

ISBN: 0451227999 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Website

tlc_logo copy

Review copy provided by TLC Book Tours

Book review: ‘The Lost Art Of Keeping Secrets’ by Eva Rice

No novel in recent memory has enchanted me more than Eva Rice’s The Lost Art Of Keeping Secrets. In fact, it’s going to be hard to even try and review it objectively — I just thought it was that magical, exciting, and engrossing, and if I could build a time machine and travel back to a time in which I hadn’t read this book, I’d be packing my suitcase and returning to last week, friends — let’s experience this novel all over again!

Penelope Wallace is a young woman growing up in post-war London — a city still emerging from the ash of World War II. In 1954, Penelope is battling the typical strife of an 18-year-old — attempting to figure out where she belongs in the world; losing herself in the excitement over her maddening crush on American singer Johnnie Ray. Compounded with that is her devotion to her mother, Talitha Wallace, a gorgeous but fragile woman lost in her memories of the past . . . and of Penelope and her brother Inigo’s father, killed in the war. Try though they might, neither of Talitha’s children are able to be the graceful teens their mother so desires and Penelope, with her father’s fair looks and tremendous height, towers over her petite, raven-haired mother — a fact that Talitha finds very distressing.

Penelope is waiting for a bus the day Charlotte Ferris waltzs into her life, sweeping Penelope up and dragging her to tea with her Aunt Clare and unconventionally handsome, enigmatic cousin Harry. The new friends quickly become inseparable, and Penelope reluctantly brings Charlotte and Harry to the great home she, Talitha and Inigo share with aging servants: Milton Magna, an estate that has been passed down through Penelope’s father’s family for generations . . . but has since fallen into disrepair. Money becomes a dirty word at Magna, where none of the Wallaces have any, but Charlotte and Harry — members of the British upper echelon themselves — care little about that. Everyone seems enchanted by Penelope, a young woman who isn’t the least bit enchanted with herself — but is getting there. And with Harry’s crackpot scheme to make his American ex-girlfriend, the dramatic Marina Hamilton, overwhelmingly jealous, Penelope’s life will shift forever.

Between the lush, descriptive and gorgeous writing, British setting and realistic, moving romance, Eva Rice could have written this novel for me and me alone. Add in the fact that’s historical fiction — set in the 1950s, one of my favorite time periods — and that it deals, all at once and never heavy-handedly, with themes of grief, loss, death, hope, love and, of course, the classic coming-of-age tale, and I can say right now: I’m not sure how I could have loved this book more.

Penelope and Charlotte are the best friends we all long to have: friendly, intelligent and sparkly — full of energy, excitement and the eternal optimism of the young. But growing up under the enormous, dark umbrella of World War II gives Penelope a distinctly unique perspective as a narrator. Unlike her friends — even Charlotte — who seem to feel guiltless now consuming massive amounts of food after rationing has ended, Penelope struggles with her conscience over how to live now that the war is over. After all, she never knew a world without war — and she barely remembers a world where her father was alive. I really related to Penelope — because that’s how many American children feel about growing up in a post-9/11 world. And how I feel, too — I was only sixteen at the time. But I digress.

My own love for Harry, an aspiring magician, developed slowly — but when it hit me, it hit me. His ability to make everything and nothing appear as it seems was just the diversion the girls needed from their crumbling homes and uncertain lives, and I desperately wanted him to get over his ridiculous infatuation with Marina. Harry’s interactions with Penelope made my stomach flip in all the best ways, and I found myself flipping ahead to see when he would appear again. That’s how I know I’m in love, friends — when I just can’t bear going a few pages without seeing him.

But everything in between those pages with Harry? Fantastic. Rice dropped me right in the middle of Milton Magna and, imposing though the house seemed, I would have loved to spend an evening listening to records with the girls, drinking wine and chatting about love, life and nothing. So swept up in the scene was I that it was hard to imagine a time before I’d read about a place like Magna, as much a character in the novel as Penelope herself.

If I’d been in London in 1955 (oh, the joy!), I would have been running to the Palladium to see Johnnie Ray sing — and died a thousand happy deaths just thinking he may have spotted me in the audience. Having been an enthusiastic teenage girl myself, I immediately related to Charlotte and Penelope preparing to see their favorite singer for the first time. Remembering the first time I saw Hanson — a modern equivalent, in terms of fan loyalty, to Johnnie Ray — I can still hear the own desperate tremble of my voice when the boys took the stage. You never feel more alive than you do in that moment the stadium goes dark — the seconds just before the object of your unending devotion takes the stage and lets out one single, perfect note. I’ve never seen an author so perfectly capture those feelings of obsession and lust — a writer so capably explaining what it means to love, truly love, a musician and his music. And not in a mocking way, and that’s the key. Rice just really gets it.

Oh, I could go on and on about The Lost Art Of Keeping Secrets, but I don’t want to take up any of the time in which you could actually be going out to get this book. Lovers of British fiction, England, women’s fiction, historical fiction, post-war stories, love, romance, loss, friendship . . . it’s here. All of it. And the only thing I didn’t enjoy about this novel? The fact that it had to end. I would have easily read another 500 pages without stopping!

5 out of 5!

ISBN: 0525949313 ♥ Purchase from AmazonNovel Reading Guide
Personal copy obtained through BookMooch

Why I’m a hopeless romantic, vol. 1: Craigslist’s ‘Missed Connections’

I’m a hopeless romantic.

This has gotten me into trouble many, many times when, despite the fact that I tell myself to relax, be calm and just enjoy the moment, I inadvertantly find myself adding my first name to the last name of a young man about .386 seconds after meeting him. I’ve tried to train my brain to stop misbehaving — to just relax and not overthink anything. But I can’t help myself from looking at the way in which I meet someone and deciding if it makes a good “story.”

Do you know what I mean? It’s one thing to say, “Oh, yeah, I met my boyfriend/husband in college” or “We were introduced by a mutual friend.” Both totally reasonable, respectable ways in which to meet someone. But I can’t shake the feeling that I want a significant story to tell for the rest of my life — this moment of kismet, or destiny, that brought me to The One. That I just happened to be at this particular cafe on this particular day and he just happened to be there, too . . . and we spoke. And knew. Destiny, a la “Sleepless In Seattle.”

Needless to say, this hasn’t happened to me — not in a lasting way, anyway. Most of my relationships over the last eight years have been gradual, growing experiences — men I met through school or work who, over time, became more than just friends. The closest I’ve come to some great, cosmic love match was when I met someone at a wedding five years ago — and I knew, instantly, that I was in love. And fall, fall I did — so incredibly hard. When it was over, I blinked like a newborn baby and had to readjust my footing in the world. It took a long time to feel okay again.

But now, I’m way more than okay — and, despite a recent spate of bad dating luck, I feel happy, confident and free. My tendency to examine “stories” surrounding the circumstances in which I meet cute guys will probably never change, but at least I can indulge in that in a safe fashion. By not placing my own heart on the line so much, so fast, but reading about other people doing just that.

Enter the Craigslist “Missed Connections.” Of the many things I enjoy in life, I’d have to place the MCs somewhere near the top! Whether I’m looking for something to make me giggle, roll my eyes or restore my faith in romance, there’s something there for me — something so . . . weirdly romantic and disconnected all at once. Plenty of the ads can set off my Creepy Meter, sure, making me question whether these people are sweet or unstable stalkers. But most of them are just lovesick. Like “You’ve Got Mail,” one of my favorite films ever, it’s the push-and-pull romantic tension that’s so appealing to me — the “will they wind up together? Can they really find each other?” energy.

As I’m from the D.C. area, I spend my time culling the MCs in and around the District. Like any major city, people from Maryland, D.C. and Virginia spend a vast amount of time on public transporation — in our case, the Metro. It never ceases to amaze me how many people spot some “hottie” (do people still use that word? Apparently) on the yellow or red or green line and decide to hop on Craigslist to look for them. What are the odds the object of your affection even saw you? How did you wind up in the same train at the same time on the same day? Is anyone (other than me!) actually reading these?

Destiny. Either you’re meant to connect . . . or you’re not.

Here’s my favorite in recent memory, a “m4w” (man seeking a woman) called, “Dana, I miss you. Read this.”

I’m sorry for the way I hurt you, and the way I treated you.
It was not right, and I am ashamed of the person I was to you.
No one deserves to be treated like that — not even the worst of the worst.

I miss you.
I hope you want to see me, too.

Let’s go to Clarendon Ballroom, let’s do Ibiza. Let’s do WHATEVER you want. NO LIMITS!

I want you to be my first New Year’s Kiss.
I want you, and only you.

Friends, tell me that’s not modern romance. If I were Dana and came across that in my daily travels around the Internet, I’d be leaking tears all over the keyboard and calling that guy to book a flight to Ibiza ASAP. I mean, seriously.

A “Missed Connection” like that is a Grand Gesture — a declaration of affection, often public, that makes me believe in serious, sweeping love. Each time I see/read a Grand Gesture, I file it away in my brain and use it as ammunition for pulling myself up when I get down on romance. They’re scary . . . and the ultimate leap in faith. I’ve seen a few in my own life — and even been the object of a few. And they’re everything that’s great about living.

But that will be “Why I’m a hopeless romantic, vol. 2” — because there’s plenty more where this came from!

Book review: ‘The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society’

guernsey_literary_societyReading this stunning work of historical fiction, it’s easy to feel the sun warming the beaches of Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands between England and France — but much harder to grab your heart back when you’ve finished spending time with your new friends Poignancy, Heartache, Gratitude and Stunning Prose. Basically, after you’ve finished reading Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows’
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

The novel opens in 1946, just a few short years since the end of World War II and the ravaging of Europe by Hitler’s Third Reich. Much of London is still decimated — dilapidated buildings still stand, but spill their contents onto the streets by the River Thames. Author Juliet Ashton survived the difficult time in England through her writing — and helped others deal with the terror, confusion, pain and harshness of war through her columns in a London newspaper. Often humorous, Juliet’s musings were so popular in England that, after the end of the war, they were published — and sold quite well. Now riding high from the success of her book, Juliet is struggling to find a new subject on which to focus her literary pursuits . . . and is coming up empty.

Told entirely through a series of letters from a great variety of individuals, Guernsey is first and foremost Juliet’s story — but quickly shifts to encompass the lives of so many other exceptional people, too. As Juliet travels England on her book tour and laments her lack of inspiration, a letter from far away drops right into her lap. A man on the island of Guernsey has stumbled across a copy of book once having belonged to Juliet — before the contents of her home were ripped apart in a bomb blast years before. Somehow the book made it to the Channel Islands, still with Juliet’s inscription in the front — and has become a staple at the meetings of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a slightly underground organization developed on the island during the five years in which German troops occupied Guernsey, making its inhabitants captives.

What always stuns me about fantastic historical fiction — particularly those stories which bring life to the people affected and haunted by World War II, one of the greatest blights and tragedies in human history — is its ability to completely transport me to another time, a distant place — and display to me, in a very human way, the toll of war upon those who fight and those who stay. None of the characters in Guernsey were soldiers, but they all knew — and loved — soldiers. None had to pick up and bear arms, but they did bear the daily burdens of not knowing whether their loved ones were safe.

It’s impossible for me — a modern American woman — to begin to understand what it must have felt like, both here and abroad, during World War II. At many times while reading, tears welled in my eyes as characters wrote to Juliet about the Occupation: what they sacrificed, how they survived, the uncertainty which enveloped their entire lives. Not having enough food, or coal, or warm clothing; not having a bed or a roof over their head. Watching prisoners marching through their once-beautiful streets, so thin as to almost disappear. But reading a novel like this reminds me how important it is that though I cannot truly understand, I can try to: and that this period of history, however horrible, can’t be forgotten.

I don’t want to make Guernsey sound morose . . . because it’s quite the opposite, really. It’s a testament to the human spirit. Like other fiction and non-fiction books I’ve read from the time, including The Diary of Anne Frank, Elizabeth Berg’s Dream When You’re Feeling Blue, Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief and The Diary of Dawid Sierakowiak, it’s as much about the unexpected kindnesses as it is about the tragedies . . . it’s about the resilience of the human spirit. It’s about being alive.

If I don’t keep myself in check, I’ll wind up writing a 20,000 word review of this one . . . so I’ll hit upon a few more key points before I let you go:

• Juliet. I loved her — and am pretty sure I would love to be her. She’s intelligent, beautiful, sincere, independent, kind, loving, witty — and a writer. She’s an unstoppable force of nature. Reading her often-hilarious, always sincere letters to her friend and editor Sidney Stark, Sophie, Dawsey and Amelia basically made me . . . want to be a better person.

• The love story. I won’t elaborate — I would never dream of ruining it for you! But it was romantic, sweeping, realistic — gorgeous. My heart swelled to bursting.

• Perspective. Reading this novel forced me to take all my “problems,” throw them into a balloon, fill it with air and then watch as it floated away, completely disappearing from sight. Not only was I entirely caught up in this story while reading, but know now that Juliet and the residents of Guernsey — and the realities of life in a very different, difficult time — will stay with me for days. How blessed am I, in 2009, to live in a world of freedom — and to have a life free of relatively free of hardship, pain or want?

• The writing. Oustanding. The novel was begun by Mary Ann Shaffer, who sadly passed away before its completion; it was then taken up by her niece Annie Barrows, who did a superb completing it. All of the voices blend together seamlessly and, though many of them are similar, each individual letter-writer has a style and tone all their own. There’s no such thing as a “background” character; every person tells a story and has a purpose. No words are minced or wasted. Flawless.

And how fortunate am I to have read this novel? If you have any hesitation about starting it or doubt the sincerity of my crazy high recommendation, I’ll share another quick story: in order to finish the novel this morning, I woke up at 7 a.m. I woke up early — before my alarm clock. I couldn’t bear the thought of going to work without knowing how everything turned out! So I threw a blanket over my head to block out the harsh reading light, made a tiny slit for my eyes to pass through and frantically flipped the pages until I was done. And then I sighed. With pure contentedness.

So you have your orders, friends — get a move on, now. Don’t let me see you dawdling!

5 out of 5!

ISBN: 0385340990 ♥ Purchase from AmazonOfficial Book Website
Copy received as a Christmas gift — last year! I’m so ashamed!

Book review: ‘Sweet Love’ by Sarah Strohmeyer

sweet_loveSo 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!

ISBN: 0451226909 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Website
Copy purchased by Meg