Anything But Sweet
Honestly, there is nothing really wrong with Anything But Sweet by Candis Terry. A respectable entry into the massive subgenre that is the small town romance, it’s well written, the characters are generally likeable, and the banter is often witty. But since I prefer a little less predictability and manufactured drama in my love stories, I was left with a somewhat meh feeling by the time I closed the back cover.
Interior designer Charlotte “Charli” Brooks is the host of one of those make-over TV shows. But instead of a person or a single room or even a whole house, when Charli and her crew arrive on the scene, they take on an entire town. Charli’s newest project is Sweet, Texas, a charming village full of charming people with names like Gertie, Arlene and Chester. The big exception from the warm welcome she’s received from everyone is Reno Wilder. From the get-go, Charli gets the distinct vibe that Reno doesn’t like her. This feeling only strengthens when he expresses exasperation that his mother has given Charli permission to stay in the apartment above Reno’s barn. Despite the fact that the man is an honest to goodness cowboy, and an incredibly sexy one at that, Charli is relieved that Reno isn’t interested since she’s on a self imposed Man Ban.
Reno Wilder doesn’t like change. He sees nothing wrong with Sweet, no need for any improvements that might bring in hordes of tourists, and especially no cause to change a single thing about the Wilder family hardware store that Reno has been running since his father’s sudden death a few years earlier. Charli is the face of what he sees as unnecessary chaos, so Reno dislikes her on principle. This is a made rather difficult since Charli is gorgeous and sexy and, as he comes to know her, a genuinely nice person. Still, after having lost his older brother in the war in Afghanistan, his father, and then his fiancé to a drunk driver, all in the course of a couple of years, Reno is unwilling to risk any future losses and does his best to resist his attraction to her.
As the days pass and Charli and her team make their changes for the better, Reno begins to come around. When Charli determines that Reno is a challenge worth winning, he has no hope at all in resisting her, at least when it comes to getting physical. But Charli’s time in Sweet is not unlimited, and she’s still bent on updating the Wilder Hardware store. Reno might be able to accept some of the changes around town, but he’s just not sure he’s ready to change himself enough to let Charli into his heart.
With the exception of the fact that she has one of those purse dogs that she takes with her everywhere, I really liked Charli. She’s a take-charge girl who goes after what she wants, and she remains optimistic and pleasant in the face of Reno’s open hostility. I was never quite clear on why she’d instituted a personal moratorium on dating and men in general, but since she gave in pretty easily once she decided she wanted Reno, it turned out to be unimportant anyway.
Getting to know Reno’s background did help me understand why he might be resistant to any changes to Sweet, at least in how it applies to his own life. I could see why he’d be upset over suggestions to spruce up his beloved father’s store, or when his mother determines to update the ranch home that he’d grown up in. But his overall disgust with Charli for wanting to improve a senior center, a candy store and the town square seemed more than a bit curmudgeonly for someone so young.
More problematic for me was the reason that Reno fights his feelings for Charli. Due to his losses, he is determined to avoid ever hurting again: “It was much easier – less painful – to exist on the outskirts of life. To be more of an observer than an actual participant.” Beyond the fact that I find this sort of thinking a rather cliché way to keep the hero and heroine from being together, a man who is this self-aware of his own destructive attitude would surely want to do something to fix it. When you throw in all of the speechifying from Reno’s mother, Jana, and his brothers, trying to convince him of how ridiculous he is to pass up on a great gal like Charli, the anvil of Reno Fears Abandonment became a bit heavy.
Not that he ever had anything to worry about. From the get-go we are told over and over and over how Charli has always felt adrift and how much she hates her sterile, Los Angeles apartment, and how she would love nothing more than to settle in a cute, small town like Sweet where everyone becomes part of your extended family. Sadly, the one person who fails to get this message is Reno.
Despite the fact that I found the angst a bit unnecessary, I did like Terry’s writing style. She did a great job evoking the feeling of a small, Texas town with its focus on community and fishbowl-like atmosphere, with everyone knowing everything about everybody else. Anyone who’s spent any time in such a place will recognize Sweet, Texas, immediately.
If you enjoy light, low-angst, small-town romances, you will definitely like Anything But Sweet. You’ll also be happy to know that Reno has three single brothers just itching for romances of their own, thus revisits to this fictional town are almost guaranteed. For my part, I feel like I’ve already been there and bought the tee shirt.