PUBLISHER’S BLURB: Jen Taylor has loved Stefan Sellers all her life. When he surprised her with an engagement ring, she thought all her dreams were coming true. But when she discovers Stefan has an agenda that she never even suspected, she breaks off the engagement and goes to pastry school in Paris. Now she’s back in New Orleans, and she has no intention of marrying him for all the wrong reasons. She just has to convince him that marriage is a bad idea. If only she wasn’t having so much trouble convincing herself.
Stefan Sellers has waited years to make Jen his wife so when she wanted to go to pastry school, he decided a few more months wouldn’t matter. But six months later, the girl he picks up from the airport shows very little resemblance to the quiet, sweet girl he let fly away from him. The girl that came back from Paris is wearing five inch stilettos and waving an attitude that is laying waste to everything Stefan ever thought he knew about Jen. His calm, methodical approach to life is suddenly under siege and he can’t seem to keep his hands off her.
MY TAKE ON THE STORY: Sweetened with a Kiss is told in the present with flashbacks, to let the reader in slowly on all the details – for instance, Jen believes that she was at school when the car accident that killed her parents and older brother happened a decade earlier, but she was actually in the car, a detail she is told/remembers later; she also has dissociative amnesia, so that there are other chunks of memories, not just the accident but other things associated with it, that are missing. However, none of that explains the fact that Stefan was a controlling, abusive jerk most of the time – including physically grabbing her, threatening her, and – in her own mind – a “frost giant” frequently described using the words “icy” and “frozen”. I kept wondering why they were even together, when she spent most of the book running from him, hating him, thinking of him as the enemy – and he spent most of it pushing away any attempt at intimacy on the occasions she decided she did love him (she was all over the place on that). He tells her what she can and cannot wear, where she can live, what kind of car she can drive, he controls her large trust fund and won’t give it to her when she asks – this was not a sweet love story with a thoroughly besotted but misunderstood hero. In fact, I had trouble keeping up with the timeline since it went back and forth so often, but he tells her at age 16 she is not allowed to kiss or go out with any more boys (because she is HIS), but he has many girlfriends, including a 2-year relationship with the story’s mean girl, in the six years between that and the present. What??!? Maybe the author expected readers to just assume they were in love because they got engaged, without the characters showing us through their words and deeds? (Not to mention that their words and deeds were usually not those of lovers.)
Jen also remained a virgin for him – something he considered his to take, by the way. He’s determined she remain chaste until marriage, which he plans for some months down the road, but she finally pushes him to deflower her in what I found to be an awkward scene that included her high school prom dress and a quick trip to Vegas. Yeah, it was about as romantic as it sounded. Later sex scenes hint as some roughness (the 50 Shades influence?) but never actually go there. This was one of the few times I wished I could fast forward through sex scenes, but that’s generally a bad idea while driving.
MY TAKE ON THE NARRATION: This is a new narrator for me, and unfortunately her reading did not improve the story for me. She was ok – no bad habits like loud gasping breaths, or awkward, inappropriate pauses. She attempted some regional accents, mostly for Stefan (his accent seemed to wax and wane throughout, and did not sound authentic to me at all), mean girl Madlyn and Madlyn’s evil grandfather. The other accents were either generically southern or non-existent to my ears. I’m from south Louisiana and attended college in New Orleans, where the story takes place, so it’s not like I wouldn’t recognize authentic regional accents, by the way. Her pacing was also ok, but a little dramatic for my taste.
All in all, in spite of it being my favorite genre and set in an interesting location, the story and the narration both fell flat for me. The Amazon reviews of the print book rate it over 4 stars, but I have to agree with the 1-star review that starts: “All the 5 stars truly scare me” because of the abusive and controlling manner of the hero. Even Linda Howard’s scariest alpha jerk heroes redeem themselves in my eyes in the end, and I just never felt that redemption. Maybe I’m just jaded?
Book Content: D
Steam Factor: Glad I had my earbuds in
Violence Rating: Minimal
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Publisher: Callahan Publishing
Sweetened With a Kiss was provided to AudioGals by the author for a review.