A Sweet Mess
Sweet, and delectable, A Sweet Mess is a confection of a book, perfect for reading while soaking up sun and binging on summertime sweets. Make sure you have plenty of the latter handy, because this story will have you hankering for lots of sugar.
One wrong transaction turns Aubrey Choi’s world upside down. When her teenaged part-time employee sells a Frankencake to the wrong customer, it turns Aubrey’s successful, currently peaceful bakery into ground zero for a major meltdown. The six-year-old who had ordered the gummy worm-filled monstrosity desperately wanted that special cake for her party that afternoon. Aubrey is all about meeting customer expectations and has no intention of letting a sobbing, unhappy child ruin her stellar reputation for outstanding service, so she whips up a new chocolate bundt cake with peanut butter and gummy worm filling and hand delivers it to the birthday girl.
One wrong turn almost costs food critic Landon Kim his life. When a tire blows out on his car, Landon experiences a moment of sheer panic but manages to successfully steer the vehicle to the side of the road. Then he finds himself taking a bumpy, uncomfortable tow-truck ride to a charming town whose only garage is closed for the afternoon. Stuck in a picture perfect slice of Americana, Landon decides to make the best of it by giving in to temptation and trying out the chocolate bundt cake the local bakery has as its daily special. The first bite is heaven and Landon is thoroughly impressed with the baker’s skill. The second slice has him choking on an unexpected obstruction, a gooey piece of slimy candy which has inexplicably made its way into his otherwise awesome pastry. Attributing the appalling addition to “arrogance and callousness” on the part of the chef, he throws out the rest of his cake and heads to the local brewery. Hopefully he’ll have better luck there.
He does. He meets a beautiful woman named Aubrey, also trying to relax after a stressful day, with whom he shares an awesome one night stand. He heads home happy and relaxed, but his first moments back at the office strip him of his recently acquired chill. A convoluted plot mess which I won’t bother to unpack here forces Landon to write a restaurant review and since the only food he’s recently had was the bundt cake, he pens a scathing exposé of his near death- by-chocolate experience at the small town bakery Comfort Zone.
Aubrey can’t believe her bad luck. She’s just signed a lease to rent a new building and expand her business when the review comes out and destroys her company. Online orders and out of town visitors, the lifeline of her bottom-line, dry up. She’ll be lucky if Comfort Zone makes it through the next few weeks.
When a sobbing teenager barges into Landon’s office and explains just why he was given the choking hazard confection, then tells him his review is about to cost Aubrey her business, he feels awful. Not only did he do an innocent woman a huge disservice, it turns out the damaged party is none other than his gorgeous one night stand. Because the magazine can’t afford to set a precedent of retracting bad reviews, Landon doesn’t feel he can write an apology editorial explaining his mistake. Still, he wants to do right by Aubrey so he offers her a spot on the new celebrity cooking show he’s producing. The program will give her the opportunity to showcase the kind of scrumptious sensations she specializes in for a national audience. She agrees because it’s the only way she can think of to get out of her downward financial spiral.
The shining jewel of this story is the humor. I loved all the little snippets of comedic snark such as:
West Los Angeles drivers weren’t the most patient lot. They blared their horns if someone sneezed wrong. He shouldn’t judge, though. Who wouldn’t be irritable with a diet consisting entirely of kombucha and green juice?
Some of the descriptions of character actions/attitudes had me giggling aloud:
Then Landon flared his nostrils like an angry bull and clenched his jaws tight enough to crack a molar. What? Did a bee sting his ass?
There’s a great moment at the start of the story revolving around the names of some local ales that captures perfectly the witty banter the text indulges in. I’ll let you discover that scene for yourself but suffice it to say, I love the sexy zingers and one liners that make up the couple’s dialogue.
The romance itself could be described the same way – sexy, with plenty of heat between the sheets, but filled with zingy, quippy conversations that help our lovers make a heartfelt connection.
The characters fit perfectly into this frothy piece of fiction. Aubrey, with her whimsical desserts and sweet-as-sugar personality, is an ideal heroine for any story revolving around a bakery. She’s an easily likable young woman, ambitious but not so driven that she doesn’t have a life outside work and easy going enough that most people would thoroughly enjoy having her as a friend. She has issues with her past, a requisite for a central character in a romance novel, but those issues slide so conveniently into the plot and are resolved so easily the author could have replaced everything concerning them with the words ‘insert character development here.’
Landon is a beau ideal from central casting, gorgeous, talented, successful and with the required commitment phobia that is the epicenter of many a romance hero. He’s an excellent match for Aubrey. He, too, has issues from the past which are also worked out with speed and simplicity. For both he and Aubrey, their life traumas fit so neatly into the narrative of the storyline that it’s painfully obvious that they were written strictly to get us from point A to point B.
Some books transcend their genre and others are defined by it, and this book is definitely the latter. Every aspect of the story feels like it came from a Family Feud board of top ten things you would find in a romance novel plot. For the most part that worked for me, although I did find it irritating when it came to the way problems were handled within the tale. Mere acquaintances would wave a magic wand that resolved major hurdles for our heroine, and single conversations would resolve decades old hurts. Money was never an object except as a set up for the hero or one of his friends to play rescuer.
Those sound like complaints but really they are minor annoyances that keep A Sweet Mess from rising above good to great. Objections are often made about genre formulas but this bubbly, buoyant tale isn’t meant to be something new and awe inspiring. It’s meant to be something fun and familiar that will provide a few hours of enjoyable distraction and it succeeds at doing exactly that. If you are looking for something light and easy, look no further.