Sweet Dreams Chocolate Company has been in the Sterling family for generations, ever since Great-Grandma Rose literally dreamed up her first fabulous recipe. But now it looks as if they’re about to lose Sweet Dreams to the bank—and that would be a disaster, not only for the family but for the town of Icicle Falls, Washington. Can Samantha, the oldest daughter and new head of the company, come up with a way to save it?After Samantha does some brainstorming with her mother and sisters, inspiration strikes. They’ll have a chocolate festival! Time’s running out, but the Sterling women are determined and the town’s behind them, so everything’s bound to go smoothly .
Or not. Events seem to be conspiring against Samantha, and her mother’s attempts to help aren’t helping. To make matters worse, the fate of her company is in the hands of her archenemy, Blake Preston, the bank manager with the football-hero good looks. It’s enough to drive her to chocolate. But Blake’s also enough to convince her that (believe it or not) there’s something even better than chocolate.
Sheila Roberts’ Better Than Chocolate is a light, amusing contemporary romance, like a cup of warm cocoa with just a hint of spice. The lavish doses of chocolate with which the book is liberally laced offer a sweet counterpoint to Samantha’s fierce determination to save her family’s company. That determination is Samantha’s defining characteristic, along with tenacity, loyalty, and a somewhat less admirable tendency to hold a grudge.
One of my favorite characters in the book is Muriel, Samantha’s sweet-natured but financially clueless mother. Muriel’s grief after her second husband’s death and the tailspin into which it sends her feel very real, and I admire the resolve with which Muriel comes to terms with her new circumstances and attempts to take charge of her finances for the first time in her life. The interplay between Samantha and her sisters, professional matchmaker Cecily and sometimes klutzy Bailey, is a lot of fun; I enjoyed seeing Samantha’s relationships with her mother and siblings evolve during the course of the book. Hints of past and current attraction for each sister suggest that Cecily and Bailey may find their own romances in future books.
Blake Preston is a likable hero, a decent (and of course, hot) man caught in a difficult spot between his job and his personal wishes. Unfortunately, he takes an oddly secondary role due to Samantha’s ongoing antagonism toward him… which brings me to my only real quibble with the book. Samantha is full of resentment toward her deceased stepfather for jeopardizing Sweet Dreams’ financial future, and anger toward Blake for not restructuring the company’s bank loan. Both feelings are completely understandable given the circumstances, but they continue through much of the book. This undercuts the development of a relationship between Samantha and Blake, leaving them with (apparently) nothing more than a physical attraction until quite late in the game. What irked me is that both of Samantha’s emotional issues could easily have been cleared up if people had just talked (or listened) to each other.
Still, there was plenty to enjoy in Better Than Chocolate, which hit the shelves Tuesday. I’ll be on the lookout for the next Icicle Falls book, Merry Ex-mas, due out in November. It will feature Samantha’s friends and fellow business owners Cass, Charley, and Ella, as each must deal with a “ex” over the holidays.