Sweet Success

The Wedding Ring Promise

Wife in Disguise

Wild West Wife

 
Already Home
by Susan Mallery
(Mira, $14.95, PG) ISBN 978-0-7783-2951-0
**
Already Home suffers from a case of terminal blandness. More women’s fiction than romance, the most interesting characters aren’t the leads, but two of the secondaries. I found it hard to keep reading after the first couple of chapters.

Jenna Stevens finds herself back in her hometown of Georgetown, Texas after a failed marriage. A highly-trained sous-chef, Jenna used to delight in experimenting with flavors and spices and creating new twist on old dishes. Until her ex-husband, also a chef, drove her self-esteem into the ground with constant belittling, topping off their marriage by leaving her for another woman. Jenna impulsively signs a three-year lease on an empty storefront and resolves to open a kitchen and culinary shop, with the encouragement of her loving adoptive parents, Beth and Marshall.

Jenna has no retail experience whatsoever, so she hires an assistant: Violet, who has street smarts and some background in retail sales. Violet has had a rough past, having left home at fifteen and lived on the streets. She has dated a series of losers and is looking for a decent man, but has no idea how to find one or if she even deserves to meet him.

The store’s opening is predictably dismal, until Violet steps up and forces Jenna to admit she’s doing it all wrong. Free samples and recipes, a variety of cooking classes, and some clever advertising help to turn things around. Just when Jenna is starting to get her feet on the ground, in walk Tom and Serenity Johnson, aging flower children who own a California winery. They are Jenna’s birth parents.

Jenna isn’t sure she wants a relationship with Tom and Serenity, and worries about hurting her mother, Beth. She also wonders why they are suddenly seeking her out. Serenity, who would have named Jenna “Butterfly,” is insistent to the point of being overbearing. Beth tries to cope and be generous about it. Meanwhile, Violet meets a young banker named Cliff who seems like the perfect gentleman. When Serenity decides the time is right to introduce Jenna to a holistic healer as a potential date, the stage is set for two romances.

The plot elements are telegraphed in advance and will come as no surprise. Readers will see the big climax coming from a mile off; the only question is, why don’t the characters? Violet, for all that she was a prostitute, seems to have no radar when it comes to men. For all that, she’s one of the more interesting characters in the book. The other is Jenna’s newly-discovered brother, Dragon, who has defied the hippie tradition of his parents and become a corporate lawyer (and is cheerfully unrepentant about it). He was sharp, funny, and interesting.

Jenna, though, was dull. She suffered through ten years of marriage to a jerk, and when the story opens, Jenna is bemoaning the fact that her ex-husband seems to have killed her desire to create new dishes. But she never gets angry at him, never wants to lash out at him, never sees that he was a controlling ass. She tepidly admits he was a jerk, but that’s as far as her emotions go, and it was hard to sympathize with her. Spineless, placid heroines aren’t fun to be around. Combine this with her complete cluelessness in regards to starting a business, and Jenna was only two steps away from Too Stupid To Live territory. On top of it, there are pages and pages of dialogue, but it’s not brisk or funny or interesting – just boring. And a few characters, such as Jenna’s stereotypical suburban uber-mommy high school friends, make appearances and then vanish out of the story, never to bee seen again. (In this case, thank goodness.)

It would have been easy to overlook much of this if the romance elements had been convincing, but again, they are bland. Jenna’s romance with Ellington, the healer, has no sizzle to it. This is hardly a red-hot couple, and I felt little connection between them. Violet and Cliff play out in a fashion that won’t surprise anyone, and Dragon, the intriguing non-hippie, deserved more page space. I’d love to see a book with him as the lead.

Already Home just didn’t interest me that much. It was a book I was glad to finish and can’t really recommend.

--Cathy Sova


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