A Sweet Mess
By Jayci Lee
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Release Date: July 14, 2020
Series or Standalone: A Sweet Mess #1
Links: Amazon – Barnes & Noble – Goodreads
Note – this review includes spoilers. Proceed with caution if you don’t want some plot points revealed.
A Sweet Mess had so much potential, but unfortunately it was not my cup of tea. Or my slice of cake I should say if we want to align with the book’s baking theme.
Before reading, I had seen some promising reviews and was hoping for a fun, light rom-com. A baker who ends up forced to spend a few weeks in a villa filming a cooking show with the celebrity food critic whose terrible review of her bakery nearly destroyed her business sounded like such a promising premise. Add in the fact that Aubrey and Landon are Korean Americans and that makes it even better (let’s get more diversity in romance!). Enemies-to-lovers and forced proximity are two tropes I really enjoy in romance novels so I was looking forward to some good banter and sexual chemistry. And while the book had both those things in abundance, it also had one of my least favorite tropes in a romance novel [spoiler alert time!] – a surprise pregnancy.
Surprise pregnancies in romance novels are not my jam. I really, really abhor that trope and it ruins books for me. The surprise pregnancy in this book was also one of my least favorites as it 1) stemmed from a one night stand, 2) seemed like it came out of nowhere in the middle of the book, and 3) Aubrey refused to tell Landon about it and they break up before he knows. In A Sweet Mess, it also felt like a lazy plot device to introduce more drama when we didn’t really need it. There was enough tension between Landon and Aubrey because of their jobs, their families and their personal issues that could have introduced conflict and sustained the plot without needing to throw in a surprise pregnancy.
The book really took a turn for me around the 60% mark because of the surprise pregnancy, and some other really unnecessary drama. I thought Aubrey was acting like an idiot and knew when she heard Landon say on the set of the cooking show that “she means nothing to me” that it was going to be a blow-up, even though he was trying to keep their relationship out of the workplace. Everything that came after the pregnancy was revealed just felt really predictable and lazy – from the breakup to the reconciliation. I was not a fan of the language Landon used when he came back to Aubrey and tried to say he realized he actually loved her – it was very much “I can’t live with you” and “I’m a shell of a person without you” which to me borders on slightly manipulative instead of romantic. I was shocked at how easily she let him off the hook after how she originally responded so it felt so abrupt and out of character.
Now, before we got hit with the baby news, there were some things I was liking in the story. I loved how baking and food was so central to the plot. It seems like there are so many baking related romances now (who would have thought that would be a trend?), and I did like how both Landon and Aubrey were so passionate about cooking and sharing their experience and food with others. I also thought there was a lot of chemistry between the two, even if Landon was a bit of a jerk in the beginning. There was one scene when they were trapped at the villa involving the pool where the sparks were jumping off the page. Additionally, I loved Aubrey’s relationship with her friend Tara – I’m assuming book 2 in the series will focus on her and I could be tempted to check that out as I enjoyed the scenes with Tara we got in this one. Finally, I loved that there were two recipes included at the end of the book! It seemed so fitting for a book so food centric to include those. I’ll definitely be checking out the cookie recipe since I don’t eat meat so bulgogi (a traditional Korean dish) won’t be for me.
In terms of the writing style, I did have some issues with that even before we were hit with the surprise pregnancy. One thing I noticed earlier on was there was so much internal narration for both Landon and Aubrey. It was almost too much of being in each of their heads. There were also quite a bit of POV shifts between Aubrey and Landon, sometimes in the middle of scenes that could be jarring. I feel like I have used more showing instead of telling us of every thought each one of them was having.
I honestly thought this was going to end up a 3.5 star read and I’m really sad to give it the rating I did. If there wasn’t a surprise pregnancy in this book, I’d have liked it a lot better. I’m still on the fence if I’ll be checking on the second book in the series – we will see. If I do read it, it’s something I’ll definitely be checking out of the library.