Review copy was received from Publisher. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Make It Sweet by Kristen Callihan
Narrator: Ava Erickson, Jacob Morgan
Published by Brilliance Audio on February 23, 2021
Genres: Contemporary Romance
Length: 11 hours, minutes
Life for Emma isn’t good. The world knows her as Princess Anya on 'Dark Castle', but then her character gets the axe - literally. The cherry on top is finding her boyfriend in bed with another woman. She needs a break, and sanctuary comes in the form of Rosemont, a gorgeous estate in California promising rest and relaxation.
Then she meets the owner’s equally gorgeous grandson, ex–hockey player and current recluse Lucian Osmond, and she sees her own pain and yearning reflected in his eyes.
He’s charming when he wants to be but also secretive and gruff, with protective walls as thick as Emma’s own. Despite a growing attraction, they avoid each other.
But then there’s an impromptu nighttime skinny-dip, and Lucian’s luscious homemade tarts and cream cakes start arriving at Emma’s door, tempting her to taste life again. . .
In trying to stay apart, they only grow closer - and their broken pieces just might fit together and make them whole.
Make it Sweet by Kristen Callihan should come with a warning “Caution: reading delicious descriptions of French food may cause weight gain through osmosis.” This stand alone contemporary romance serves up a swoony romance with a hefty dose of delicious cuisine that left my mouth watering as much as my heart sighing. And if that was not enough to dazzle the senses, the story takes place on a sprawling Montecito, California estate, reminiscent of Tuscan villas and the South of France. It is to this gorgeous place Emma and Lucien have both escaped.
Emma Marin is a star, humbled both in love and on the screen. She’s retreated to the private sanctuary of Rosemont to lick her wounds and get back to herself. In the safety and beauty of the estate, her humor and personality have a chance to shine. She’s refreshingly grounded, definitely not a diva, with a likeable, girl-next-door vibe. She’s exactly what I want my favorite tv or film star to be like in real life. She is keenly aware of the way fame has affected her life, both in how she feels about herself and her desire to maintain some degree of privacy, but I didn’t see her as consumed with her fame or public persona.
Lucian has a drive for success that is not just about the fame and fortune. He’s deeply angered at being forced to leave the sport he loves before he was ready, and troubled by who he is supposed to be now that he doesn’t have hockey. Even though he has money and the ability to cook and bake as much as he wants in a gorgeous private oasis, it isn’t enough. He believes his abilities are what defined him. “I thought it was what everyone valued about me, even when they told me it wasn’t.” I found this aspect of his character, and his willingness to risk everything, health, family, love, to re-enter the game his most realistic flaw. In a way, it mirrors the hyper-competitiveness of today’s culture, particularly in the US and the pressure to constantly push ourselves, the sacrifices to health and relationships one makes in the name of a career, and finally the depression or sense of failure when we don’t seem to meet or exceed certain expectations.
There is a fantastic set of supporting characters in Make it Sweet that added color, humor and drama to the story. I am a huge fan of Kristen Callihan’s Game On series, largely due to her portrayal of friendships and camaraderie in the team setting, and I have very high hopes for future spin-offs featuring Lucien’s former teammates, cousins, and most especially, Sal.
There were so many great things about this story and I enjoyed the arduous path Lucien and Emma took to heal and grow. I felt the story was a little rushed, particularly towards the latter half of the book, and lacked the depth the character setup and backstory promised. There were quite a few issues the characters had to deal with (abuse, toxic fame, CTE and head injuries in professional sport, etc) but these were sidelined for the most part, most likely to keep the story moving forward and avoiding making the book twice as long. The pacing was on par with a normal contemporary romance, and I completely understand the choices made to not bog down the story with too much angst. However, the final chapter (not the epilogue, mind you) is beautifully written and succinctly captures heart of the story.
I do love it when the point of view alternates between the hero and heroine. Both of the narrators did a great job with diction and pacing. I absolutely adored Jacob Morgan’s performance and have much respect for his accurate pronunciation of French words as well his interpretation of Sal’s Spanish and Amelie’s French accents. The only flaw with the narration was that each of the narrators pronounced Lucien’s name in a markedly different way (Lu-shen vs. Lu-see-en), which was a tad distracting.
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