”Some poor beggars go their whole lives not knowing what love feels like. We might never find it again, but at least we know what to look for.”
I really thought I’ve reached the zenith of my contemporary fiction book slump with this one. That point where there’s no other option but read with that forced jaunt of optimism. Because the alternative is learning a new way to say how disappointed you have been or how it was good.. until it went bad or, my personal favourite, how I liked certain aspects in the story but not enough to stave off the persistent wrinkle between my brows as I read along.
Save for the Kelly Clarkson ear worm I’ve had since starting this, my feelings towards this book roughly follows the same downward spiral it’s been taking so fondly these past few weeks with the majority of my reading choices. I was actually prepared to be embarrassed for liking such a cliched, predictable story early on, only to end up with the embarrassed and none of the liking by the end.
Holly Jefferson is a 27-year old widow who has been letting life pass her by since she lost her husband two years ago. So far, she has done a good job concealing her grief. She runs her cake shop efficiently, indulges her doting, elderly neighbor Mrs. Hedley and helps her sister Martha and her husband Rob prepare for their coming baby. But the ghost of her husband Charlie still haunts her in her dreams, in the empty echoes of their house. When she gets commissioned to make a divorce cake for real estate magnate Fergal Argyll, she never expected her deceptive idyll would get disrupted by his son, Ciaran, the well-publicized playboy who just seems to love spending his father’s money. After all, she lives in a world far removed from his and is quite content living her days in love with a dead man. Except Ciaran and his secret heartbreaking story and unexpected depth had other plans for her.
For a book with such a fluffy and light-hearted cover, this started pretty heavy on the feels department as it portrays Holly’s life in the aftermath of Charlie’s death. The narrative followed her during the bright and cheerful moments in the cake shop which contrasted well with the loneliness at home she’s fallen into a habit of embracing. In the rooms, the letters addressed to Charlie, the furniture he’d laid his mark on, seeing Holly lose her husband repeatedly and everyday in the most intimate ways easily earned her my sympathy. How she grips that pain close to her because she has nothing else left of him to remind her with, just made me yearn to witness her HEA.
Ciaran initially had all these tried and tested moves that are all too familiar in this genre. I’m going to carefully label their first encounter as insta-attraction, which is something I can get onboard with, I suppose. And despite Ciaran’s stalkery tendencies, I found myself looking forward to their next scenes together, wishing so hard to be swept away by something lovely and heartfelt between them.
”I bet you’re just waiting for Prince Charming to come rescue you from your broken oven every night, huh? Before taking you away to your happy ending?”
“Happy ending? I’m not waiting for my happy ending, Ciaran.”
“Sure you are. You’re a woman. I bet you’ve got it all mapped out.”
There was rhyme and reason to Ciaran’s woman-hating tendencies and it never did get too out of hand for me to rage quit this early on. I thought there was a good balance in the kind of heartaches both were carrying.
But as the story took its predictable turns, this just threw one too many tropes that I’m not too big a fan of. Holly had insecurities that manifested as being judgmental towards rich people and while this was addressed and was even a point of evolution for her character, I can’t help but feel put-off by how these insecurities reflected on the vilification of certain characters for being attractive. It raised the opportunity to reveal Holly as an explicit slut-shamer and I had a very difficult time liking her as she got repeatedly rewarded and her hesitation soothed with platitudes and reassurances from family, friends and Ciaran alike. This also employed attempted rape as a plot point to clarify the questionable morals of Ciaran which is something I’ve grown tired of more than a point of argument, to be honest.
I appreciated how this paced Ciaran and Holly’s relationship in a near-believable manner despite the cliched circumstances surrounding them. I think the incorporation of the secondary characters in the storyline could have been better but I did like the insight offered by Mrs. Hedley. I did find certain aspects about Ciaran and his family rather disturbing, more because I felt it was an odd, disturbing fit for the kind of book I believed this was. The experience was a lot like finding a shoe inside your freezer or cake sitting on top of a vinegar-filled plate.
I’m still uncertain how I feel about Ciaran sporting a tattoo of his mother’s face on his back because on the one hand I supposed it’s sweet but on the other, I’m not sure it’s something I’d like to be reminded of while you’re doing the McNasty. But I am pretty certain how squicked out I was by Ciaran’s dad having revenge sex with Clara - Ciaran’s ex-fianceein what can only be described as a last minute stop to Disturbia before an ending that anyone could see coming quarter of the way in this book.
I suppose the cutesy drunk talk, the Scottishing (Kilts! Sporrans! That damned accent!), the cake sex and the shirtless gratuity should count for something, and it did make this quite an easy read, even enjoyable at times. But for what I was expecting from how this started and what I got in the end, the discrepancy was just too glaring to ignore.
Review Copy courtesy of the publishers.