Book Review: The Sweetheart Rules
By Shirley Jump
Berkley Sensation, 2014
One of the drawbacks of novels-in-series is the predictability of their deus-ex-machina devices – especially when the whole damn series depends on those devices, as in the case of Shirley Jump’s “Sweetheart Sisters” series, which started with last year’s The Sweetheart Bargain and continues with spring’s The Sweetheart Rules. The Sweetheart Sisters in question are a trio of tough-talking bourbon-guzzling old ladies who live in Rescue Bay, Florida and see all its romantic vicissitudes through their Ray-bans. The sisters live to meddle and matchmake, and although Jump very adroitly mines such a set-up for all the comedy it’s worth, there are, of course, limits: novels like these would find it insupportable for the sisters to fail.
The objects of their attention this time around are veterinarian Diana Tuttle, a single mom still smarting from her fractured relationship with the father of her son, and Coast Guard Lieutenant Mike Stark, who’s suddenly found himself in the unlooked-for role of single father, a offbeat situation Jump dramatizes with all the gusto at her command:
One toddler meltdown in the middle of Walmart and Lieutenant Mike Stark, who had battled raging winter storms in the violent, mercurial Bering Sea to pluck stranded boaters from the ocean’s grip, had to admit he was in over his head. Mike stood between a display of “As Seen on TV” fruit dehydrators and a cardboard mock-up of a NASCAR driver hawking shaving lather, and watched his own child dissolve into a screaming, sobbing, fist-pounding puddle of tantrum.
As is the way of such set-ups, Mike has hardened his heart to the thought of future love, and falling for another emotionally unavailable man is the last thing Diana wants to do. But the Sweetheart Sisters can see the course true love should take, and in case readers were in any doubt, the novel also features Luke and Olivia, the star-crossed couple from The Sweetheart Bargain, now blissfully married and rogering each other as regular as insulin shots. Luke can look at Mike and easily see a former version of himself:
Luke knew Mike well, and that meant he knew Mike’s faults. A true type A soldier. Strong, determined, focused. The kind of man you could depend on when the stakes were high and the chances of success as slim as a piece of paper. He did his job and did it well, but kept his heart guarded and closed.
By returning to Rescue Bay and its presiding old biddies, Jump removes any hint of suspense from her story (although she compensates with some nicely affecting dialogue; “You were in a broken-down building that was almost beyond repair, rescuing puppies that were almost beyond hope,” Mike tells Diana at an emotionally satisfying moment, “And you fell for a man who was almost beyond love”) – we know the Sweetheart Sisters will prevail, because we’ve been to Rescue Bay before. A different locale might have added some tension to the teasing.