I find that I really, really enjoy Susan Mallery's women's fiction work much better than I do her romance novels. There is something about how untidy she lets things get in these books that really appeal to me. And they aren't sweet. I am not a fan of sweet.
This was a great story. Jenna is a newly divorced, highly demoralized chef who has returned to her place where she grew up near Dallas to lick her wounds. Her husband was a loser who constantly belittled her cooking, while simultaneously stealing her ideas, and cheated on her.
But now she is home and has impulsively opened a cooking supplies store. With no business plan, and no real idea of what she wants to accomplish the store kinda fizzles at first. But her new hire, Violet, a funky chick with a mysterious past and grand ideas, helps Jenna remake the store into a great success.
However more changes have come Jenna's way. She was adopted as a baby and has a great, loving relationship with her adoptive parents. So when her biological parents show up out the blue, Jenna is not sure she can cope with all the changes, and that includes the new man in her life. Meanwhile, Violet, a self described loser magnet has just met a guy whom she feels just might be a keeper.
This book was compulsively readable. It has all the great hallmarks of a well done prime-time soap without any unnecessary melodrama. There were multiple storylines but nothing felt rushed or over-done. There were so many places where the story could have veered into been-there/done-that territory, Mallery didn't allow it to happen. I loved how even keeled and practical Jenna's adoptive mother Beth was. And while her natural parents, Serenity and Tom sometime got perilously close to a vegan-earth-parent-crunchiness cliche, they never went over the line. There was always a depth to the characters that made them feel 3-dimensional. And there were so many fun and memorable characters who made their place in the story the book at times had the feel of a sprawling yet cohesive tale.
I enjoyed the b-plot with Violet a lot. Jenna's story was light, a bit humorous and deftly told. Violet's story went a bit darker and counter-balanced Jenna's plot-line well. The two women were opposite in so many ways and yet complemented each other.
I think romance purists would not be 100% sold on the story as romance is not the focus of the narrative. This is straight out women's fiction with a strong romantic element. Both Jenna and Violet have a romance arc that ends, if not with an explicit HEA, with at least a strong certainty that both women will go off into the sunset with her guy.