Sweet Talk

Susan Mallery
2008, Contemporary Romance
HQN, $6.99, 384 pages, Amazon ASIN 0373772971
Part of a series

Grade: B+
Sensuality: Warm

I found as I considered Sweet Talk for this review that the author could have done a lot of things wrong in this story since it features a relatively safe plot. However, she managed to create a sweet story with real characters and real situations.

Claire Keyes was a child prodigy. After an astonishing first encounter with a piano at three, she was taken away at six to play before presidents and queens in the greatest concert halls in the world. She left behind, however, two sisters, and each of the three dislikes the others after years of old hurts and misunderstandings.

Now, however, Claire’s twin Nicole is getting her gallbladder removed, meaning a long, painful recovery and preventing her from working at the world-famous family bakery. When Claire hears about it, she drops everything and returns home to Seattle, only to find that Nicole is not happy since for years she told everyone about her conceited, awful, egotistical, lazy, selfish, rich bitch twin. But Claire refuses to give up, even as her sister and her sister's best friend, Wyatt Knight, fire at her from all sides. Wyatt, for his part, hates that he’s attracted to the wrong sister, particularly since he's heard only bad things about her, and would give anything to have an ounce of chemistry with Nicole, but instead shoots off fireworks with Claire.

Claire is a very interesting character. Despite what her sister thinks, her life is hard, and she suffers from intense panic attacks on stage. Since her mom died when she was 12, she’s never been close to anyone and the only constant in her life is her pushy, manipulative manager. She’s determined to build relationships, both with her sisters and, she hopes, with a man, and there’s a really effective combination of childlike innocence and jadedness that come from her unusual life.

Wyatt, too, despite his occasional thick-headedness, is also a good character. He has an eight-year-old daughter who is deaf, and scenes between the two of them really show the type of person he is.

One of the strongest elements of the story is the relationship between Claire, Nicole, and Jesse, the third estranged sister. It was real, honest, and progressed naturally. Claire and Nicole’s relationship development rivaled, if not surpassed, that of Claire and Wyatt’s. My only problem was that Jesse’s story was incomplete, but since in August and September we will be seeing Sweet Spot and Sweet Trouble, that's not surprising.

Mallery did have a few near-misses. Nicole, Jesse, and Claire could have come across as too whiny, but managed to have justification for their anger. Wyatt could have been inexcusably thick-headed, but he, too, had understandable reasons for his behavior. And Claire’s naïveté could have made her ridiculous, but, despite a few eye rolls, her innocence remained more charming than irritating. There are a few plot elements that readers might find clichéd or shopworn, but I actually found them believable under the circumstances, rather than mere plot ploys as they are in other books.

This is probably one of my favorite books by Mallery that I’ve read so far. Claire’s characterization, and her relationships with Wyatt, her sisters, and Wyatt’s daughter, combined to make a really strong story.

-- Jane Granville

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