Sweet as Pie
Sweet as Pie, by new-to-me author Alicia Hunter Pace, is clearly meant to be a warm and fuzzy small-town (or at least suburban) contemporary, but the leads are carrying some serious emotional baggage under all that Hallmark goodness.
Evans Pemberton and Jake Champagne grew up in the Mississippi Delta and both clearly come from well-to-do families. Their mothers are BFFs and the two were well on their way to move their own very close friendship into something more when things abruptly fell apart. Instead, college hockey star Jake married Evie’s beauty queen cousin and basically ghosted Evie as he rose into the ranks of pro hockey. Needless to say, this has done a number of Evie’s self-confidence.
For his part, Jake’s marriage crashed and burned and he’s basically been something of a ‘bad boy’ in hockey circles. As the story opens, he gets a wake-up call in the form of his uncle/mentor dying suddenly of a heart attack. This throws Jake for a serious loop and just as he’s feeling the need to actually be an adult and think about his life, he gets the opportunity to trade into an expansion team forming in Birmingham, Alabama. He seizes the opportunity and when he moves to Alabama, he finds himself thrown in with his long lost old friend, Evie. The team practices in the small nearby suburb of Laurel Springs, where Evie has established a bakery.
On the one hand, I liked that Evie and Jake don’t fall into instalove. In fact, Evie, especially, isn’t ready to simply pick their friendship right back up again. Jake should have done a bit more groveling, but the two do at least talk through their past history and clear the air a bit. Even better, the romance is fairly slow to develop, a pacing decision that makes sense given the rebuilding these two need. As they spend more time together, Evie realizes that she isn’t happy simply being a doormat and giving in to whatever Jake needs. That realization is the springboard for her sometimes going too far in the other direction, but then settling back into learning how to communicate.
Both Jake and Evie do a fair amount of growing up in this story. Even though I had some issues with this book, I did appreciate that the characters actually mature over the course of the story. By the end, they seem grounded enough to have a believable HEA.
I had some quibbles with the setting of the book, but one thing I did like is that the author doesn’t just ignore the economic realities of small towns. In this case, Laurel Springs is essentially a suburb of Birmingham, so they have money flowing in from hockey players and other visitors. In addition, we learn that Evie didn’t just build her bakery on fairy dust and happy thoughts; she actually has a grant and a business mentor from a community revitalization project.
However, that being said, I did have some beefs with the world-building. The main characters in the story are originally from the Mississippi Delta and now live in a suburb of Birmingham, Alabama, but the book has an almost all-white cast of characters. Having spent time in both places, this didn’t sit right with me, so I pulled census data. As I remembered, each of these regions has a large Black population. For characters to go about their daily lives without encountering Black people – even casually in a shop or in the workplace – might be possible, but it seems like creating such an all-white bubble around yourself would be quite a choice. Seeing that created in this book took away from my enjoyment of what could have otherwise been a sweet story about two old friends setting aside their baggage to find love.
In addition to the all-white bubble getting to me, some of the early, immature antics of Jake, Evie and their friends grated on my nerves a bit. The leads did grow on me by the end, and this story has some undeniably sweet moments (and good pie-baking ideas), but it ended up being something of a mixed bag for me.
I enjoy spending as much time as I can between the covers of a book, traveling through time and around the world. When I'm not having adventures with fictional characters, I'm an attorney in Virginia and I love just hanging out with my husband, little man, and the cat who rules our house.
|Review Date:||March 15, 2023|
|Book Type:||Contemporary Romance|
|Review Tags:||Good Southern Women series|