Book Review

Sugar Rush by Elaine Overton

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Title: Sugar Rush
Author: Elaine Overton
Publication Info: Harlequin May 2009
ISBN: 0373861117
Genre: Contemporary Romance

Sugar RushSophie Mayfield runs her grandmother’s small town bakery with a growing reputation for incredible breads and desserts. In order to increase her family company’s bottom line, she’s decided to take on a large distributor by underbidding for contracts with local businesses, and to her surprise – and exhaustion – it’s working. Using her grandmother’s recipes and relying on a strange but functional family of employees, Sophie is about to realize her personal dream: proving to herself and the rest of her family that her grandmother’s bakery was not a financial failure and a dream gone wrong.

Eliot Wright is the heir to Fulton Foods, the corporation whose contracts are disappearing. Under the brusque instructions of his uncle, the current president, he stumbles upon a way to insert himself into the bakery employee group – impersonating the chef they’ve hired when, at the last minute, the actual chef is a no-show.

I loved that some of the elements of this book were warm and comforting, like the family bakery setting. Only Sophie and her grandmother believe that the bakery has any potential; the rest of their family has pressured them to sell it for years. So creating a new family of people who believe in it, outside the actual members of her family, creates a community of unique characters who are as invested in the success of the store as the owners themselves. The succes they’ve had is precarious, too, since the bakery, and the grandmother, have had a long history of barely breaking even.

Sophie is the brains and the bravado behind the new turn in the bakery’s business plan, and her ability to identify and target potential contracts, as well as underbid their largest competitor, has created an entirely new operation inside the same old location. The same recipes with added motivation yield rising success.

But at no time is there this ridiculous fated destiny, this greater power motivating them to bake, bake, bake for it is what they were born to do! There’s no altruistic overblown pixie dust fate of “YOU MUST BAKE! Yeast is in your BLOOD! SUGAR IS YOUR LIFE FORCE! SPREAD THE JOY OF BUTTER!” among the women who run it. The bakery is work. It’s work they love, and they use recipes that are a family heirloom of experience and technique, but it is not an experience during which destiny and magical baker dust combine to protect them from the utter boredom of payroll, or the drudgery of cleaning. The bakery is a vocation, and a job, and it is an equal part of luck and labor that yield the success they’ve had so far. If Sophie had a motto on the wall, it’d probably be that ‘Luck is where opportunity and preparation meet.” Sophie works her ass off, as do her grandmother and the rest of their employees, and I had a lot of respect for her for that aspect of her character alone.

The problems I had with the story, though, outweigh the setting and characters I enjoyed so much.

First, as soon as Eliot and Sophie hook up, he starts calling her “Baby.” She’s an independent businesswoman, she’s smart, savvy, and ambitious, and the minute they experience the sugared heights of souffle perfection, she’s a cliched one-word pet name. Rubbed me the wrong way right from the start, and I kept waiting for Sophie to tell him to knock it off.

Then, once they’ve had their big fight and showdown, and he’s been revealed as the imposter, HE gets his boxers in a twist and decides that it’s time for their fight to be over. She needs to get over her anger and stop being pissed off at him. Add that to the nonstop Baby-itis and he seemed more like a domineering blowhard than a partner at the end of the story. Ironically, he embraced all the traits he dispised about his uncle—and used them against Sophie before and after his secret was revealed.

But the uncle really pushed the narrative over the top into cliched madness. Eliot reveals in bits the story of his childhood, and at any minute I expected him to say that his uncle had a thing against wire hangers, too.

The heavy-handed use of parallels wore me out long before I finished the book. poor? Noble! Rich? COld and bereft of humanity! Anything asociated with wealth was bankrupt, and anything depicting struggle and honest work was imbued with moral solidity. Fictionally reassuring but not at all satisfying as a conflict.

I could forgive Eliot’s feeling at home in the bakery kitchen, welcome and validated by the process of actually cooking with his hands and his experience instead of turning the mass production over to machines that bake by the ton. But the simplicity of Eliot finding a home was lost in the constant reminders of the value of home and family over the cold comfort of money, small business over conglomerates, nature vs. machine, butter vs. margarine, you get the picture.

By the end, overuse of cliche and tired plot tropes had turned this book from a story about a hard working heroine who builds her family business back up from bankruptcy into a top-heavy cake wreck with way too much spun sugar and not nearly enough substance beneath.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Jinni says:

    On a long drive down the 405 freeway, I listened to the podcast of the editors from this line (on Harlequin’s Meet the Editors). 

    Unfortunately, I can’t say that the plot is the result of the writer.  This exact kind of book is what the editors said they wanted.  After listening to the podcast (and considering submitting for this line), I came away thinking not only wouldn’t I write for it, I wouldn’t read it either. 

    In a nutshell, I think they’re looking for a Silhouette Desire (rich domineering hero, plucky, but less successful heroine) type book, and the characters are black, but never mention that.  I think this line is trying to be too many things to too many people.  Perhaps when Harlequin and the editors (who have been there a very short time) figure out what they want, it will be less of a mashup.

  2. 2

    I submitted to Harelquin recently for their American Romance division and was rejected. They have VERY specific guidelines for each division and if your story does not match perfectly, it’s a no go. I write my stories and take them where I want to go…not where Harlequin tells me they should go. I don’t understand the reasoning for each story being pretty much the same.

  3. 3

    I really enjoyed how you spent so much time and effort describing the good parts of this book in your review. I went out and bought sweet rolls after I read this, lol.

  4. 4
    SonomaLass says:

    Haha, Lucinda, that was my reaction too—let’s go get some yummy baked goods! I really liked the sound of the setting and the main women characters, but it sounds like the hero would disappoint.

    The place of wealth in romance—there’s a big ol’ academic paper in there, starting with Liz and Darcy and running through a lot of territory.  I wonder if someone’s already written it?

  5. 5
    JenD says:

    I think I’m going to add this to the TBR pile. I’m in the mood for something warm, fluffy and yeasty. Erm.

    Considering how I’m dirt poor at the moment, reading about the Evils Of Money would lift me up a bit. *grin*

  6. 6
    senetra says:

    I read her book Seducing the Matchmaker, and it was an okay read, which for me means I don’t remember much about the characters, but when I looked at the plot description, I knew I’d read it. 

    One Kimani author I buy new is Melanie Shuster.

  7. 7
    Kalen Hughes says:

    I don’t understand the reasoning for each story being pretty much the same.

    Isn’t that the whole idea behind category books? The reader gets EXACTLY what she wants every time.

  8. 8
    Meggrs says:

    God DAMMIT now I want cake.

    Sarah, did you find yourself having to resist the siren song of the sweet, sweet baked goods while you read this? I have to be careful sometimes reading books that are food (or alcohol, or coffee) focused, because I find myself wanting what the characters are making/eating, often to my detriment!

  9. 9
    Diatryma says:

    “Baby” annoys me.  It is one of the things that drives me nuts about JD Robb books: Roarke says ‘baby’ too often.  It is not romantic dialogue to me under any circumstances.

    I could pick apart race and class issues there, yes.

  10. 10
    Miss_Moppet says:

    I haven’t read the book but I have thoughts regarding your review. This is my first time officially posting here and I’m nervous, so bear with me. I might be talking out of my ass but I might not…

    As a person of mixed race, I have lots of black acquaintances male and female who all call each other baby. It’s not unusual for the guys to call their male friends baby either (as in ‘how you doin’ baby boy?), so I guess I don’t think it’s weird or condescending. I call my white boyfriend baby.

    Poor? Noble! Rich? Cold and bereft of humanity! Anything associated with wealth was bankrupt, and anything depicting struggle and honest work was imbued with moral solidity. Fictionally reassuring but not at all satisfying as a conflict.

    Don’t you think it’s true that people who are poor or ones who are forced to work the hardest to achieve their goals develop a sort of backhanded snobbery and believe that their morals and values are somehow worth more than those of the “upper class”. Isn’t that why people get so up in arms over things like tax cuts for the rich? Because we believe they don’t deserve them?  They committed the sin of wealth and aren’t deserving of our concern . These are not my opinions for the record, I’m simply expressing some things I have noted in my time on the sidelines of black culture. I’m merely speculating about the perceptions the workers have of the “privileged”.

    IMHO within the black culture there is an sense of moral superiority that comes from having endured oppression. The attitude seems to be that hardship does gives us “moral solidity” and as such it’s anything that doesn’t smack of hardship (wealth and privilege) is mistrusted and treated as moral turpitude. Along with that, a wealthy and privileged black person may be treated as a turncoat because they traded their “moral solidity” in exchange for a life that mirrors the lives of people viewed as “oppressors”.

    Or maybe Elaine Overton is just not a great writer and didn’t intend any racial implications at all. I have no idea. Actually it would be kind of cool for there to be a black romance that took those ideas head on because with the implications of class and race could certainly make for enough conflict to fill a Harlequin several times over.

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