Just Desserts, Book 1
Heat Factor: This bedroom door is wiiiiiiiide open
Character Chemistry: We are told they are friends, and then shown that they are compatible in the sack
Plot: Woman inherits bakery from her estranged father, falls for the baker (who is sort of her adoptive brother? Let’s not focus on that part)
Overall: Great sense of place, hot sex, middling romance
One thing that The Sweetest Thing does really well is establish a sense of place. The bulk of the story takes place in Memphis (with some side trips to Baton Rouge and New Orleans and Nashville), and it feels very rooted in a specific community there. Quentin and Harper go to real places (Louie’s Cafe in Baton Rouge to eat seafood omelets), but the places that Mello invents (Just Desserts, Club 753) seem to have similar vibes to existing businesses on Beale Street (disclaimer: this is purely based on internet research, since I have never been to Memphis). Because the place feels real, the community surrounding Quentin and Harper also feels real; the people are rooted by small details about their interactions, dictions, or histories with the specific place in which they find themselves.
So as Quentin (a baker) and Harper (his new boss, I guess?) fall in lust and then love and navigate what it means to take on a relationship given their fraught family history, they too feel specific to the time and place of the story.
The main problem with The Sweetest Thing is the prose. Let me give you an example: “No matter how hard she tried to stall the wealth of saline falling from her eyes she couldn’t.” What a way to convey that someone is crying! (Mello refers to Harper’s tears as “saline” not once, but twice.) The word choice is weird; it seems that Mello is trying to make things sound more erudite, and it does not work for me. (Mello also frequently writes that characters wave their heads from side to side instead of simply shaking them, which drove me completely nuts.)
So we have one positive, and one negative. But since this is smut, let’s talk about the romance. Eh, middling. Like, not terrible, but not amazing either. The characters are generally likable. They communicate fine. The have decent banter. The conflict doesn’t build in a meaningful way, but that’s not necessarily a deal-breaker, though it does mean that the narrative arc of the novel doesn’t really go anywhere.
What this book does have going for it in the romance department is extremely hot sex. Lots of it, with lots of details. There are a couple of sex-specific things that I wanted to address. First, I’m tagging this book as “safe sex”, even though the main couple switches to unprotected sex (or at least, condomless sex) without a discussion about birth control or STIs, because of one amazing scene. Quentin and Harper are getting hot and heavy for the first time, and realize that they don’t have any condoms – so they keep their pants on and both get off with a combination of manual stimulation and humping. On the stairs. I really appreciated the fact that sexytimes could be fun and hot and sexy and fulfilling for all parties, and not involve penis-in-vagina penetration.
However, there’s a weird sexual thread that runs through the side plot of this book as well. So, the antagonists, Dwayne and Rachel, who are trying to seduce Harper and Quentin (separately) for various economic / revenge / other unclear reasons, are also secretly boning. And their encounters are kinky, and involve a mix of pleasure and pain – specifically, Rachel’s pain leads to pleasure for both Dwayne and Rachel. Kink is fine, but I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to feel about these (graphic, hot, woman clearly getting pleasure) sex scenes because of how truly messed up and dysfunctional the relationship is. Like, Dwayne is emotionally abusive, but maybe Rachel likes it because the dirty talk helps her get off, though she also feels like garbage afterwards. So for a solid ¾ of the book, I thought that this was simply an example of Bad Sex, and that the spanking just made it extra bad.
But then in the end (minor spoiler) it turns out they are actually in love and Rachel is pregnant and they get married and have their own HEA, so maybe their dysfunctional, kinky sex was actually cool the whole time? (It definitely wasn’t cool the whole time, but maybe got redeemed in the end when they had a real discussion about Rachel’s desire for pain in the bedroom. Maybe.) Basically – I’m not sure how I feel about this whole character arc, and it was kind of distracting from and moderately more interesting than the journey of the protagonists, who discarded their baggage much more easily than Rachel and Dwayne did.
Does the good outweigh the bad? Honestly, it depends what you’re in the mood for. If you want romance with one cohesive plot arc, this is maybe not it. If you want some excellent sex scenes and interesting characters, then this might just be your cup of tea.
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