Sunday, April 11

Falling for Gracie - Susan Mallery

Gracie Landon knew returning to her home town of Los Lobos would be difficult - at age fourteen, half a lifetime ago, she was sent to live with her aunt and uncle after her obsession with dream high school senior Riley Whitefield spun out of control, culminating in her lying in front of his car to protest his engagement to pretty Pam. Gracie adjusted well to her new life, and at twenty eight has outgrown her early teen gawkiness and put her past behind her. She's had relationships, her career as a wedding cake decorator has even lead to a feature in People magazine. Though her banishment from home still hurts, she's keen to help her baby sister Vivian have a dream wedding, and she was braced for the small town gossip before she arrived. It doesn't bother her, much, until she crosses paths with Riley - just as handsome as ever, long divorced from Pam, and that four year age difference doesn't seem so important any more.
Riley Whitefield never intended returning to Los Lobos - he thoroughly enjoys his work on oceanic oil rigs, and his Three F rule sees his need for female company sufficiently met without any of the mess of relationships. One marriage was well and truly enough. But when his wealthy uncle died, leaving everything from a mansion to the town bank to him, Riley had to return to the place that never felt like home, because his inheritance comes with a giant string - he only gets the $79 million fortune of he wins the upcoming mayoral race. And once elected he'll take the money, sell the bank, and leave behind forever the memory of the man who stood by and left his sister, Riley's mother, die.
I read about Falling for Gracie on a Smart Bitches thread, and was sufficiently intrigued by the raving to check it out. If you like makeover/'coming back hotter' sub-genre, Falling for Gracie is for you. Obsession makes me a little uncomfortable, but Mallery puts that firmly in the past, and the dominant present plot threads include Gracie's growing awareness of her separateness from her mother and two sisters, her long-unrecognised anger at being bundled off, sabotage of Riley's mayoral campaign and Gracie's cake business, physical attraction that both try (and fail) to resist, and the ridiculousness of both sisters' relationships.
There are certainly things that grate a little, chief among which was Gracie's passivity in the face of coldness from her mother and a combination of dismissal and exploitation from her sisters. I also thought that Riley's determination to screw over a town that wasn't involved in his uncle's perfidy was out of character. Most unsatisfactory was the fact that there wasn't a really good explanation for why Gracie was not only sent away from her family but then rarely contacted or seen by her parents or sisters.
But I found these aspects were adequately compensated for by the tangled plot, the strong characterisation, the dialogue, and the moments of genuine humour:
"How much are we talking about [for one of your cakes]?"
She shrugged. "I'm working on a shower cake right now. It's fairly ornate and will serve fifty. I'm charging a thousand."
The car swerved slightly. "Dollars?"
"I've found it really helpful to keep my prices in U.S. currency. It saves confusion."

The 'physical love' scenes are hot without being either unnecessary or unnecessarily explicit, and are fairly well integrated into the plot. Unlike less well written romances, they serve as neither obstacles to the relationship nor the only way the reader illustrates their growing compatibility.
If my library have more of Mallery's work in stock I'll check it out, along with a couple of other makeover/'coming back hotter' romances suggested by the SMTB readers. Watch this space! - Alex

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