REVIEW: “How Sweet It Is” by Melissa Brayden

So, I bought a Kindle Fire HD.  It was an awesome deal.  Half off.  Free shipping.  I’d been wanting one for a while.  It’s not like I needed it.  But, I’m a sucker for new toys. I snatched it up.  It was a good thing, too…they sold out pretty quickly. I was in it for the tablet aspect of it more than the ereader aspect of it.  I have a regular Kindle.  And a Sony ereader.  So, I didn’t need another.  I have to say, though, I really do like having those books at my finger tips.  And since the Fire works on WiFi rather than 3G, it actually works better in my house than the regular Kindle.  Once I was able to get it connected to the WiFi in my house, that is.  It was not an issue with the Fire, it was with my wireless network.

But I digress.

I made a deal with myself a while back:  I would not buy more books until I’d made a pretty good dent in the pile I already have.  I’d been doing pretty well, too.  But you see, this new Kindle Fire, it very easily – and blatantly – shows me books “recommended for me.”  And, of course, the most prominent book cover I see there is How Sweet It Is (Bold Strokes Books) by Melissa Brayden.  “No,” I tell myself.  “I know you want to read it.  You’ve been wanting to read it since Melissa mentioned she was writing it.  But you can’t.”  I continue to stare at the cover on my 7″ screen.  It taunts me.  It seduces me.  “No,” I repeat – though much less convincingly.  I kept saying “No” right up until I tapped the “buy” button.

BSB-HowSweet

This is Brayden’s third published novel.  I’ve read all three. (You can see my review of her first novel here.  I still owe a review for the second.)  Each of Brayden’s offerings is better than the last.

Some things are better than chocolate…

Molly O’Brien is a sweetheart. Her friends and neighbors all think so. While she enjoys her quiet life running the town bakeshop in Applewood, Illinois, she wonders if there could be more. After losing the love of her life four years prior in a plane crash, Molly thinks she’s ready to navigate the dicey dating waters once again. However, you can’t always pick who your heart latches on to. When Jordan Tuscana, the beautiful younger sister of her lost love, returns to town, Molly finds her interest piqued in a manner she wasn’t prepared for.

As secrets are uncovered, Molly and Jordan must figure out how to navigate the difficult terrain of their multi-faceted relationship. Especially when something much deeper seems to be bubbling between them.

The opening paragraphs of How Sweet It Is is just that – sweet.  How can it not be when those opening paragraphs are about chocolate?  Brayden knows how to pull readers into a story! But I was pulled in by more than confectionery goodness. With those opening paragraphs, I was drawn immediately into the story and the characters.  By the end of the first chapter, the stage was set and, without even realizing it, the conflict and tension of the story was laid out.  Delicious!

As I’ve mentioned in previous reviews, I like angst.  Conflict and tension really make a story for me. However, that angst needs to be appropriate.  If a story becomes so angst-ridden that everything is “gloom and doom,” well, that’s a little depressing isn’t it?  Considering the circumstances in How Sweet It Is, it would have been very easy for Brayden to take the dark path.  Good bye, Romance.  Hello, Misery.  But that wasn’t the case here.  Instead, Brayden walked that fine line with grace and agility. Angst and guilt showed up at the right times and in the right proportion.  Thus, the focus was on how the angst influenced the romance, not the other way around.  Brayden always seemed to keep the romance at the forefront.  Delectable!

Molly and Jordan, the main characters in How Sweet It Is, bear the brunt of the angst. However, each woman handles it in very different ways.  For Molly, the guilt she feels throughout most of the novel stems from her sense of what is right.  Molly follows the rules.  Molly lives up to others’ expectations. Jordan’s guilt, however, comes from (what appears to be) a sense of inadequacy.  Jordan questions the rules.  Jordan can’t seem to meet others’ expectations.  Molly has never left her hometown.  Jordan is the prodigal daughter.  Molly is loved unconditionally by her father and her in-laws.  Jordan is a disappointment to her parents. These differences could have easily pushed Molly and Jordan further and further apart.  Instead, they became obstacles to overcome, rather than roadblocks to stop all progress. You see, the attraction between these two – intellectual, social, emotional, sexual – is so off-the-charts amazing!  Honestly, I can’t think of another book in recent memory that pulled me into the middle of that attraction.  Really.  It felt as if I were right there, in the mix of things with Molly and Jordan.  Feeling everything that they felt – on every level.  THAT is something, let me tell you.  Brayden writing doesn’t make the words leap off the page. Her writing makes the emotions leap off the page.  It makes the sights leap off the page.  It is both visual and visceral.  What an combination! Scrumptious!

The supporting characters in How Sweet It Is are delightful and really help to give a fully developed view of Applewood, IL and its inhabitants.  Eden, Louise, Damon, Mr. Jeffries, the Tuscana family, Little Bobby, Summer Siller are all such rich, diverse characters. They each lend a new layer to the story and to the main characters.  (Very brief mentions of Jenna from Waiting in the Wings and Emory from Heart Block are also quite delightful.)   A prevalent misconception about small towns is that all of the people who live there are the same – same values, same interests, same viewpoints.  This is absolutely not true and Brayden seems to realize this.  In many ways, this story could be taking place in Anytown, USA.  And yet…and yet.  What is particularly fascinating to me is that these people have a very Midwestern sensibility.  It’s not something that can be easily described – you sort of know it when you see/feel it.  But Brayden found a way to describe it…this sensibility just happens throughout the novel.  It’s in the way people speak.  It’s in the way they interact. It’s in the work ethic. It’s just…there. It’s in the word choice.  It’s in the dialogue.  It’s subtle. And yet…and yet.  Take a moment to think about it, and it’s so obvious. Mouthwatering!

Since How Sweet It Is is, without a doubt, a romance, it follows a particular formula for romance novels.  If you’ve read my reviews in the past, you know how I feel about this.  But, you know what?  I’ll tell you again anyway.  Of COURSE it follows a formula!  It needs to follow a formula!  If it didn’t, we’d be disappointed.  It wouldn’t meet our expectations for what a romance novel is supposed to be.  The trick is what is done with the formula.  The formula is a framework, not an outline.  If all an author is doing is changing character names, changing the name of the city or town, changing characters’ professions, etc. – but leaving everything else “as is” – then we have a problem.  Fortunately, we don’t have that problem here.  There are certain things we know are going to happen.  That goes without saying.  The beauty is in not knowing when or how it’s going to happen.  It’s that “edge-of-your-seat” tension.  It’s that waiting for the other shoe to drop.  And when it does drop in a way that is completely not telegraphed, it’s so fantastic.  Succulent!

Overall, I was very pleased with this novel.  It has the right balance of savory and sweet.  I love the growth that Brayden has shown in her writing – she writes dialogue so well!  The dialogue is fast-paced and witty, and it serves to clearly define and develop each character in the novel.  Just as it should be.

This book is definitely a keeper and is on my “to re-read” list.

2 thoughts on “REVIEW: “How Sweet It Is” by Melissa Brayden

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