Back in high school, Sugar Beth Carey was beautiful, popular, influential and a bitch. Winnie Davis was homely, shy, talented and Sugar Beth’s worst enemy. Sugar Beth kicked the dust of Parrish, Mississippi, from her shoes; Winnie’s still there. Sugar Beth broke Ryan Galantine’s heart; Winnie married him. Now Sugar Beth is coming home, and Winnie’s not too happy.
Neither is Colin Byrne. He was a first-year teacher Sugar Beth’s senior year, and she got him run out of town on a rail. Now a successful author, he owns her family’s house and holds a grudge the size of Texas.
Sugar Beth isn’t expecting anyone to let bygones be bygones, but her aunt left her a valuable painting. The catch: it’s hidden, and no one still alive has ever seen it. Her plan is straightforward – it doesn’t include bonding with Winnie’s daughter, or falling in love with Colin. It most certainly doesn’t include having Colin fall in love with her.
A less talented writer might have made Sugar Beth into a cardboard villain, or into a newly converted saint. But Susan Elizabeth Phillips delivers complex, fully developed characters who refuse to fit neatly into categories. With the exception of one stepdaughter (who is a walking plot device), even minor characters are deftly sketched.
The animosity between Sugar Beth and Colin provides plenty of opportunities for witty banter, and Phillips makes full use of them. But amid the fun, she never loses track of the deeper, more painful themes she’s using – rejection, revenge and redemption. The result is a book that is both enjoyable and moving, creating a strong emotional connection with the characters that is characteristic of Phillips at her best. She brings the complex emotions involved on all sides to a satisfying conclusion that is not undermined by a gratuitous last-minute plot twist and epilogue, presumably added to fit the traditional definition of “happily ever after.”
Ain’t She Sweet? is a delight both for longtime fans of Phillips and for readers new to the genre.