Dear Ms. Mallery:
When I was a kid, my brothers got the Boys’ Life magazine and on the back of the magazine, next to the Sea Monkeys advertisement (Oh, how I wanted that!) was the ubiquitous Charles Atlas 97 pound weakling ad. It was a cartoon that showed some guy getting sand kicked in his face and then, after enduring the Charles Atlas body building program (not help in a bottle like today’s advertisements), the 97 pound weakling gets revenge on the bully and ends up with the beautous beach babe.
Sweet Trouble reminded me of that ad, only the once nerdy hero transforms from a weakling into a suave sophisticate whose clothes, demeanor, and checkbook balance befits that of a Harlequin Presents hero. Matthew Fenner had fallen in love with a wild, outrageous girl who he had perceived to be outside his grasp. Indeed, his fears were confirmed when Fenner finds out that his love, Jesse Keyes had cheated on him and was pregnant with another man’s child. It was enough to transform the geek boy into Bond boy. Handsome, deadly, and not very nice, except in bed with the chicks.
“They’re calling you a ruthless bastard,” Diane said as she scanned the article in the business magazine. “You must be happy.”
Matthew Fenner looked at his secretary, but didn’t speak. Eventually she glanced up and smiled.
“You like being called a ruthless bastard,” she reminded him.
“I like respect,” he corrected.
He nodded. “Fear works.”
Jesse is back in his life, however, explaining that the child is really his and now Matthew has to learn how to be a dad and not fall for Jesse. In fact, this time, he’ll make Jesse fall for him and crush her like a bug so she’ll know the pain that he went through. Jesse wants to make amends but she’s not quite sure what she did wrong. Sure, she was caught in a compromising position with her sister’s husband but the truth is that she never cheated (not really even though she was caught with her shirt off and the guy’s hand on her breasts) and the four year old son deserves to know his dad.
The challenge that this books presents is to make the reader cheer for two not very likeable characters. On the one hand, the reader is treated to Matthew’s goal of treating Jesse cruelly and on the other hand, we are given a half hearted attempt of Jesse’s in becoming a responsible adult. She never really takes responsibility for her actions four years ago and Matthew is determined to find Jesse in the wrong for every action including keeping the child from him for four years even after he slammed the door in her face when she declared the child was his.
One part I did like was Matthew’s struggle with finding out he was a dad. He didn’t know what to do as a parent, didn’t know how to connect. He wasn’t even sure if he liked Gabe, his purported son. That part of the story was very genuine. It’s not to say that the rest of the story was moving. It was written in such a way to manipulate the reader into feeling a lot of anger toward Matthew and sympathy toward Jesse. This was we could forgive Jesse her past indiscretions and immaturities and revise our opinion of Matthew as a nerdy geek. After all, a nerdy geek isn’t as sexy as a rich man bent on using every weapon in his vast arsenal to enact emotionally devastating revenge upon a woman.
I liked even less the transformation of Matthew from the 97 pound nerd to the macho alpha male. It was as if the reader wouldn’t be capable of appreciating a fellow who thought with his big head instead of his little head which isn’t so far away from the wallet head. I cared for Matthew and I had a hard time rooting for Jesse. Their pasts were too conveniently cleaned up to make way for the more traditional hero and heroines. Jesse’s inability to really own up to her past, and to blame much of her situation on others, made her much less of a sympathetic character. It was convenient for her to always be right in order to make her appealing to the reader, but I felt that was really contrived.
This was the weakest entry in the Keyes’ sisters trilogy and it’s disappointing to end the series on such a low note. C