Cinderella For a Night

Dream Groom

Husband by the Hour

Prince Charming, M. D.

The Rancher Next Door

The Sheik's Kidnapped Bride

The Wedding Ring Promise

Wild West Wife

Sweet Success by Susan Mallery
(Pocket, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-7434-0595-1
Allison Thomas is living life exactly the way she’d always dreamed. She resides in a tiny central California coastal hamlet called St. Magdelana, or St. Maggie, as the locals refer to it, and is part owner of the local B&B and a charming gift shop/tea room. But most dear to her heart is the thriving chocolate shop she owns and operates, called Decadent Delight. With a cozy apartment upstairs and numerous friends in the community, Ali is comfortable and satisfied with her life. That is until an itinerant handyman enters her world and turns it upside down.

Matt Baker has been drifting for the past year. Wandering from town to town finding temporary work, jobs that assured a lack of contact with people, then moving on. When he wandered into St. Maggie, he was hired by Harry, the town handyman, to build some shelves in a storeroom at Decadent Delight. A quick, simple job. He hadn’t counted on entering the “world of the marginally insane.”

The first person to greet Matt upon entering Decadent Delight is Ali’s mom, Charlotte Elizabeth...and her pet pig Miss Sylvie. Not a miniature pig. A full size swine. One prone to sunburn, with a penchant for fashionable jackets, stylish hats and a weakness for Hermes scarfs.

Charlotte Elizabeth immediately sizes up the handsome handyman as a possible beau for her daughter...or her gay son, Rick, whichever one Matt prefers. Matt prefers finishing this job as quickly as possible and moving on. Decadent Delight is a revolving door of unusual characters, with too much personal interaction. Especially with its meddling owner who’s constantly shoving food at him.

But Ali can’t help it. After five days of working on her storeroom, she’s noticed Matt is way too thin and hasn’t eaten a single meal. She can only assume he hasn’t the money to buy one. Supplying food is an easy fix, she’s just not sure what to do about the vacant expression in his eyes.

There’s little more I can tell you without giving away too much of the plot. Sweet Success focuses firmly on the relationship between Ali and Matt and the author does an admirable job of gradually peeling away the layers of each character to reveal how past events shaped the people they are today.

Ali is a fixer. Her life’s purpose is to help others and she thrives on it. But Matt is the first to recognize that guilt also drives her. Ali’s mom, Charlotte Elizabeth, was a famous Hollywood starlet who was forced to give up a million dollar movie deal, and her career, when she became pregnant with Ali. The media has always referred to Ali as “the million dollar baby” and Ali has always tried to be the perfect daughter, and the perfect person, to make up for all her mom lost.

But Ali is no Pollyanna. She’s a delightful character. Intelligent, self-deprecating and sure of what she wants. I liked her immensely. It was Matt that was the real problem for me.

I can’t elaborate too much on what drove Matt to his nomadic existence, but an experience from his past has left him guilt-ridden and unable to cope. Matt’s made a whopper of a mistake, but with Ali’s help, he realizes he can’t begin a new life until he’s dealt with his past.

I felt that Matt, even after dealing with his past, hadn’t changed all that much. He’s a take charge kind of guy and I was uncomfortable with Ali allowing him to steamroll his way into her business decisions. Her rationalization that Matt’s re-structuring of her business was his way of showing he cares simply didn’t wash with me. Ali made valid points for her business decisions and his changes didn’t make him appear loving, but self-focused instead.

I vacillated on whether to give Sweet Success three or four hearts. Although Matt isn’t my favorite type of hero, Sweet Success is heart-warming and hilarious in spots. The deciding factor was when I discovered pages 146 and 147 were missing from my advanced readers copy. There have been plenty of books where I’d wished there had been a few pages missing, but this is the first time I felt compelled to run to the bookstore to hunt down a copy of the book so I could read the pages that were missing. That clearly makes Sweet Success a book I can recommend.

--Karen Lynch

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