January 2011, Contemporary Romance
Carina Press, $5.99
This book is available from a variety of online merchants.
Usually when either side of a couple has a lot of horrific baggage, such as an abusive childhood or traumatic war experience, falls in love and love erases the baggage and its effects, my gut reaction is that the “h” in HEA must stand for “hell.” I don’t believe for a minute that these two people will be remotely happy. Sweet as Sin is refreshingly honest and believable given the couple’s steamer trunk of a past.
When a sexy red bra wafts toward him from over the fence between their properties, well known fantasy book author John Murphy is sure he’s found the woman for a summer fling. He’s not disappointed after he meets pastry chef and bakery owner Livvy Andrews, who smells like sugar and to him looks even better.
At first Livvy, who's living with her engaged sister, shuts down their new neighbor, even though sparks fly between her and handsome, hunky John, a decent, down-to-earth sort of man who teaches her how to jump start her car using cables.
Readers learn early an outline of what’s in the haversack of childhood memories John carries on his back. He was the whipping boy for his crazed stepfather, a preacher who thought the way to salvation for a bastard like John was through pain and suffering. John, on his part, was happy to take the pain as long as the Reverend left his daughter, John’s step-sister, alone.
As a child, John told his sister stories when they were in bed in the dark to dispel her fears after hearing one of John’s punishment sessions with his stepfather shouting Bible passages while hitting him. Now John has called for détente with his past by creating a dark fantasy series featuring a small boy and the fierce bat who make their way through the world protecting each other.
For her part, Livvie isn’t without her own Louis Vuitton filled with harsh memories. Her father was a philanderer who planned his life around his trysts. Her mother explained to young Livvie that since she didn’t have any skills and he had stood by her when she got pregnant with Livvie, she was better off having him support her and the children rather than divorcing and working to pay for someone else to raise them in day care. Livvie dreams of love and permanence, while John doesn’t believe either of those fairytales exist.
As they get to know each other Livvie discovers there is more to John than just good sex. In one of the most poignant scenes in the book, he helps her persuade a young girl who has just lost her leg to hold a bat mitzvah party anyway. Spying one of his books in the girl’s backpack, John draws her picture surrounded by the big bat on the inside cover of the book. This, the girl decides, is the perfect picture for the top of her bat mitzvah cake. When she asks for his autograph, John, even though embarrassed, signs the page.
Sweet as Sin abounds with moments like these when the readers get a quick snapshot of the real characters under their sexy, charming facades, and these vignettes make the book outstanding.
As John and Livvie take their two steps forward and one step back in getting closer than sex buddies in a summer fling, they collect and often use the buttons to attract and repel each other. On both sides, they also wrestle with the fear of relationships that their pasts have stamped on them. Kelley is particularly adept at making these fears understandable and believable without belaboring them.
In the end, while readers are left with the idea that an HEA is possible for these two people, we know that "happily" will be something both of them will have to work to achieve. Readers will walk away wishing them well and know that happiness couldn’t happen to a more deserving couple.
-- Pat Henshaw
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