Sweet as Sin by Inez Kelley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Don't let the title of this book fool you. This isn't a sweet and playful read. The story is dark, tough and unforgiving - and I loved every punch it threw at me.
John Murphy is a man tormented by his past. A bestselling young-adult author, he writes dark and frightening fantasy books about monsters where good always triumphs and hope can be found behind the darkness. What no one - except his sister Gina - knows is that those monsters are very real in his mind and hope has no real place in his life.
Pastry chef Livvy Andrews, John's new neighbor, isn't anything like his usual one-night stands and he knows better than to start any kind of relationship with her. He can't resist flirting with her, though. Livvy figths the attraction, sensing that John carries a heavy emotional baggage inside him. She's got her own baggage to carry and doesn't need the heartache that will be waiting for her if she gets involved with him. Nonetheless, involved with him she gets, even though she knows he isn't looking for forever or anything close to that. What she doesn't know is how to prevent herself from falling in love with him and how to protect her heart from the onslaught of his inner monsters when they rear their ugly faces.
I loved this book! Its title - yes, I was fooled by it - and its first pages made me think I was in for a nice and easy sexy read. Even though John was described as a man "tormented by nightmares" in the book description, his first appearances in the story led me to believe that his "torment" would be nothing more than a plot device designed to add some conflict to what seemed to be a fun story about a summer fling that eventually turns into love. John was cocky and flirty, with just a hint of darkness and secrecy in his eyes to make him dangerously appealing to Livvy - and to the readers too, of course. As the story progressed, the walls he'd built around his heart and his inner monsters started to crumble and I realized that I'd been completely mistaken in my first impression of the book and, for that matter, John.
Indeed, this read was anything but nice and easy once John's secrets were revealed. He was definitely a tortured and broken hero, traumatized by his past and imprisoned by guilt. His journey towards recovery wasn't an easy one and Ms. Kelley didn't give him a miraculous "cure" in the end, for which I was very glad. Not that I enjoyed seeing John suffer, but you know what I mean.
Compared to John, Livvy's life was a walk in the park, but she had problems of her own too. Having witnessed her father cheat on her mother for as long as she could remember, Livvy had some trust issues and was rightfully wary of John at first. On the professional front, her business was struggling to overcome the economic crisis: she was still in the black, but she needed to come up with something new to boost her revenue if she wanted to keep it that way. Little did she knew how much those problems would ultimately be used by John to hurt her... Oh boy, how I wanted to hurt him back for that! At the same time, I didn't want to hurt him either because I could see the reason behind his actions. I think Ms. Kelley's writing was great in the way she showcased John's inner turmoil. She made John call Livvy a f*cking b!tch - oh yes, he did! - and while I gasped in shock, I felt he didn't mean to say it. It takes some skills to write that without killing my sympathy/empathy for a hero.
John and Livvy had a sizzling chemistry and their love scenes were steamy hot. Based on their first encounter, I thought John and Livvy would jump into bed at lightning speed. Once again, I was mistaken - and not the least unhappy about it. Livvy's wariness about getting involved with John gave them the time they needed to know each other and made their first time together mean something more than the mere beginning of a summer fling. Not to mention, there's nothing like some sexual tension to keep the heart beating. :)
I found Ms. Kelley's writing very engaging, emotionally speaking, and I really liked the way she's inserted passages of the book John was writing into the story. John's book was as compelling and dramatic as his life. In fact, his book was a reflection of his life and provided an interesting insight into his feelings. Having said that, I must add that the way it was written, the epilogue didn't fully satisfy me. Don't get me wrong, I liked it and it gave closure to the story, but I wanted to see more of John and Livvy.
This was my first read by Ms. Kelley and I don't need to say I was very pleased to "meet" her, do I? :) (Uh-oh, did you hear that? It was the sound of my Wish List groaning in anticipation of the addition of Ms. Kelley's backlist, LOL.)
Note: I received this eARC from Carina Press via NetGalley. That had no influence on my review/rating.
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