Review: Sweet Surprise (Jenny Frame)

I definitely haven’t had the best luck with books these past few weeks. I am certainly in the minority on some of them – like this one – so take that as you will.

One evening, Flora Buchanan is hurrying to her car when a group of men start hassling her. Mack Sharkey, enforcer for a crime family, happens to see it on one of the cameras inside the establishment and hurries out with some of her people to rescue Flora. Before Mack can check on Flora, she’s gone.

Then Mack spends a year and a half in prison, and it’s two years later. Is the prison part important? Nope. It seems to be there just to provide a gap, and to tell us how noble Mack is, by taking the rap and serving the time so her sister, who is head of the family, does not have to. Message received.

The Sharkeys have been legit for ages, it seems, but still police their territory in Glasgow. Mack, with some seed money fro the family, starts up a barber shop. And guess who has opened a candy shop right next door? Of course, it’s Flora. I’ll be honest, I was a little disappointed it wasn’t a flower shop, for obvious reasons.

We find out that Flora is a bundle of mental health issues: social anxiety (same, girl!), OCD, PTSD. This was first thing to stop and wonder about: why on earth does someone with social anxiety open a store where interactions with people are not expected, but required? Not just adults, either: kids. And kids are right little monsters sometimes. It’s never really explained what the PTSD stems from, and I guess it doesn’t make any difference anyway, but I’d have liked to have known.

In any case, Mack starts up her barbering and the word starts getting out that she’s there, so business picks up fairly quickly. Flora’s shop also starts drawing people in, including Mack, who remembers saving her from the dudes in the parking lot that night. Little by little, Mack helps Flora work on her mental health issues (and later in the book, helps convince her to get to a therapist).

A pause here, and one of my complaints about the genre (or course). Mack is an (of course) superbutch. Do they all need to have superdudenames? Mack, Ben (another I read right after this), etc. Mack’s also the enforcer for the family – but we get no sense at all of what she looks like beyond her eyes, really. How tall is she? Is she a fairly large person? I mean, I know we can fill in the blanks and assume so, but every so often, I wonder what would happen if someone wrote a superbutch character with the name Gloria, who was nicknamed Glo, an who was the enforcer for a crime family, because if you got out of line or did something to the family, she’d light you up. I’d read that. I love gangster stories. But here we have Mack, a solid, one syllable named woman who is not unused to violence, caring for the shrinking violet, Flora, and getting into savior complex territory.

Second pause, this time about Flora and the obvious codependence that was ramping up. It’s not a favorite of mine, because it’s unbalanced and also toxic in general. I also find it odd that Mack deals with the uncivilized dudes who live above Flora and their harassment of her with a small spot of violence, bu Flora seems to have no real issues with that.

Third pause: I didn’t get the romance between these two. Mack references this as what got her through prison. Really? A meeting,if you can even call it that, that lasted less than ten seconds and in which the two of you shared nothing at all? I’d buy it if Mack were some kind of philosopher-warrior type, and it was the ideal of the (perhaps) true love carrying her through, but no, it’s Flora, herself, and I didn’t buy that at all.

But on we go with the story, and somewhere before chapter ten, we get the first instance of the phrase guardian angel – a phrase I came to hate because it was repeated so very many times, and spoke to that codependence. I stopped here and searched it on my Fire: 13 times! Too many, editor! But as with the last one I read, way to go, editor, with no constant drumbeat of heads snapping up!

Mack promises to always protect Flora, but actually does not: due to another crime family wanting to expand and sell drugs in Sharkey territory, the head of that family tells some lowlife that Mack tuned up before (not in the book) to go grab Flora and Isy, who has been helping out at the candy shop. He does so, and then is stuck with the two, when the boss tells him to kill them both, something he doesn’t want to do, but he knows that his boss will kill him or Mack will when she finds him.

But Flora saves herself and Isy by distracting the thug and then whacking him in the head – nothing preventing her from doing these things with adrenaline flooding her body.

No sexytimes of note, explicit or otherwise that made a blip on the page. If you’re looking for that, it isn’t here. If you’re looking for more of a slower evolution without a bunch of sex scenes that sound like human anatomy or gyno classes, though, this could do it.

HEA, etc.

My favorite character: Mack’s dachsund, Dexter.

Two stars of five. Not my thing.

Thanks to Bold Strokes Books and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Expected publication date: December 14, 2021

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.