This will probably be a short review, because my feelings for this novel are solidly middle-of-the-road.
Sweetly by Jackson Pearce
After the disappearance of their younger sister, losing both parents, and being thrown out by their stepmother; Ansel and his sister Gretchen are looking for a fresh start in a place far from the demons of their past. Their search takes them from the Pacific Northwest to the tiny South Carolina town of Live Oak. With nothing but a busted Jeep to their name the pair find themselves working for and living with local candymaker Sophia at her isolated cottage/chocolatier. Their hostess’ charms are many, but so are the unpleasant rumors about her in town.
I love the fairy tale Hansel and Gretel, and I was very excited to read this book’s updated take. It had been on my TBR list for ages, and maybe my expectations/hopes were too high, but the greatest praise I seem able to muster about the novel is that it was fine. There were some cool ideas here in the ways Pearce updated details from the original story, and in the ways she made the events fit with the universe she created with Sisters Red. I am still interested in reading the final novel of the set, Fathomless.
It might sound odd, but the story felt a little empty to me. The plot was good, potentially very exciting, but I think it could have been handled better (and it is killing me to write that because I think Jackson Pearce is a delightful human being). The characters were half-developed, just shy of whole individuals in every case except perhaps Sophia’s. The narrator was a shell, and perhaps that was the author’s intention as Gretchen had been suffering terrible grief for so long…but it just didn’t work for me. When she fell for another character it seemed rote rather than organic (e.g. characters in YA Fantasy always fall in love with someone so she will too). The brilliant moments were too far apart, but they were there. Gretchen’s response to a lot of the events and hint-dropping in the book made me think she was a bit of an idiot, or had perhaps suffered some brain damage at some undisclosed point.
I think it may all have been just a little too far from Pearce’s own experience for her to write in a rich and convincing way. Several times a scene ended or an issue/event was dropped before it had been developed to my satisfaction. The brother/sister relationship felt totally one dimensional to me, a woman with two brothers with whom I am close. Ansel was a cardboard cutout and his voice was a bit feminine. Urgh.
All the candy in the book was chocolate. Sad for me, as I am a huge candy fan but not remotely a chocolate-lover.
I don’t feel like I am explaining this well, so I will leave it at this: Sweetly was not as good as I had hoped it would be. It was not bad.
Promising moments, but lacking something essential.