All That Matters

Stef Ann Holm
2008, Contemporary Romance
HQN, $4.99, 378 pages, Amazon ASIN 0373773137

Grade: B-
Sensuality: Subtle

Stef Ann Holm’s All That Matters is a lovely story about romance, family, and relationships. However, don’t expect too much in other parts of the book.

Chloe Lawrence just opened her specialty bakery. Business is succeeding, she's happy, planning to expand, and pleased with how well things are going (suspicious, heavy-breathing phone calls aside) - that is until her lease is terminated because a grocery super-store decides to buy up the whole area in her prime shopping district. Certain her rights are being violated, Chloe tries lawyer after lawyer, seeking legal advice in her plight. However, no one is willing to help, until she finds John Moretti, the brother of one of her customers.

John is a widower who lost his wife three years ago and lost control of his two rebellious teenagers. He’s only just beginning to move on and be open to relationships again when he meets Chloe. He knows her case won’t win, but he is very attracted to her and finds himself trying to fix her problem by getting her a generous buyout offer from the grocery store. Chloe refuses to give up, though, and as she fights Big Business, she and John begin to fall for each other.

John and Chloe were both wonderful characters. As I got to know John, I loved him even more. Imagine, a romance hero who isn’t a slut! John is a rare breed, and I respected him for it. He’s a good man, who’s trying to do the right thing with his family in getting past their tragedy, and his general outlook on life was one I really appreciated seeing in a hero. Chloe, too, was a good heroine; she’s likable, funny, principled, and just a good person.

Most of the side characters I liked, as well. John’s children may be a bit too stereotypical rebellious teenagers, but I liked their interactions with both John and Chloe. There is also a side romance between Chloe’s grandmother and an astronaut turned tobacco salesman that did have its moments, but was mostly unnecessary. While I just couldn’t get into that relationship, one thing I do have to say is that Ms. Holm has a skill in creating believable character voices. Within the first paragraph of a point of view switch, I knew whose head we were in.

The biggest disappointment of the book, though, was the ending. It was incredibly anticlimactic. I couldn’t help but stare at the book, thinking, “Is this it? This is the resolution?” Neither element of the plot – neither the legal nor the mildly suspenseful parts – had a resolution I found satisfying. Ms. Holm built them both up to levels that the conclusion just didn’t reach.

However, as long as you’re not expecting a big, dramatic conclusion, you should be able to appreciate All That Matters for its characters. I really enjoyed the growth of John and Chloe’s relationship, and everything else is secondary.

-- Jane Granville

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