After two and a half months of reading Gothic things and watching Gothic things I read Sweetest Thing on a whim. It was not Goth. I loved it. This f/f contemporary romance is funny and wildly entertaining although there’s a frustrating subplot and there’s a very sudden time gap (more on that later).
This book involves a British television baking competition called Bake It! This fictional show is obviously loosely modelled after the real British show, The Great British Bake Off. I adore The Great British Bake Off (pre-network change) as it is the only thing that I can seem to handle during a fibro flare. I must admit that given the cupcakes on the cover, I thought we might get a bit of my old love Cupcake Wars as well (Remember when Weird Al was one of the judges?! Good times!) but that is not the case.
Our first contestant is Robyn. Robyn is in a relationship with Alex (a woman), and trying to figure out whether she wants to stay with Alex or not. I know infidelity is a big turn off for many readers so rest assured that Robyn does not cheat on Alex. Anyway, Robyn has no desire to be a professional baker but she’s really good at it and ends up applying for, and being accepted by, Bake First! which gives her an excuse to avoid Alex. Robyn is “naturally anxious, her body always on alert for a disaster that never arrived.”
We then meet Jodie, who is a waitress. Jodie learned baking from her father, who died when Jodie was sixteen, leaving her to raise her younger brother, Billy. Jodie enters the competition thinking that if she can start her own baking business she can buy the house that she currently rents. She and Billy grew up in the house and it’s where Jodie learned to bake. Jodie has learned the hard way in life to present a very stoic exterior and not to reveal vulnerabilities, which presents challenges for her on a show driven by personality as well as skill.
Robyn and Jodie hate each other immediately. It drives the nervous Robyn insane that Jodie is so impenetrable. Jodie thinks Robyn is stuck up and judgemental. They can’t have the slightest conversation without irritating each other, and they can’t avoid having conversations. First of all, their baking stations are next to each other, and second of all, no matter how hard they try to avoid each other in the studio, they are constantly bumping into each other in the hotel. Eventually (after Alex is out of the picture) they decide to try diffusing the tension by having hate sex. What are they to make of the situation when they start being, perish the thought…nice to each other?
Let’s get this out of the way – the baking show stuff is nommy and fun. The drama! The fancy equipment! The mean judge and the nice judge! OMG the food, the food, the food! You will be hungry. You might as well prepare and go shopping first. Buy a lot.
The romance is sexy and fun and frequently hilarious. I enjoyed watching these two learn to respect each other as bakers and then as friends. I liked the way the Alex situation was handled in the sense that what could have been tedious and predictable plot devices were dodged. Any page that included dialogue between Robyn and Jodie was a good page. I found myself wanting to spend more time with these characters in their world. I could happily have read twice as much book.
Alas, the charm is dragged down by some very serious problems. First of all, the resolution of a side plot mystery left me not only unsatisfied but actually angry, since it resolves in a way that is egregiously unfair to other contestants and no one points that out. Secondly, the end of the book jumps very abruptly from “hey let’s try being girlfriends” to an HEA epilogue. I liked the HEA, but frankly, I think the place where they were in the main part of the book left them with an awful lot to work out before ending up where they do in the epilogue, which is set eighteen months after the rest of the story.
Finally, I must confess that with the exception of Robyn and Jodie, the characters are very one-dimensional. “It was easy to see the archetypes in the room,” Robyn thinks of her fellow contestants, and for the most part they remain types. Those who have any personality at all have their simple traits played up to an almost parodic degree, and this includes the nefarious Alex (she’s clearly nefarious from her first moment on page so that’s not a spoiler).
I can’t say that this is a deep or richly textured book. It’s not filled with multi-dimensional characters. It treats big topics with the barest glance. Why is Robyn so anxious? Does she need some help with this? How will Jodie learn to make the emotional changes she wants to make? We don’t know. This book is as superficial as frosting.
And yet I have to admit that I enjoyed almost every second. The dynamic between the characters atones for a multitude of storytelling sins. It’s a funny story with banter reminiscent of the Hepburn-Tracy movies of yore, and so much fantastic food. This may not be the best book I’ve ever read, but it is one of the most fun.