Having loved Brooke Moss’s novel, Keeping Secrets in Seattle, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from her short novella, Bittersweet. Expectations were high and, although it didn’t quite live up to my previous experience, it was still a sweet romance to indulge in.
The book begins with Anna and her eight-year-old autistic son, Bowen, at one of their weekly sessions with therapist, Gianna. Bowen has sensory issues, and struggles with the idea of touching or walking on different textures, such as Gianna’s test to get him to put his hand in shaving foam. The only time he seems to forget this fear is in the kitchen, with meal preparation being his and Anna’s favourite time of the day.
They were abandoned by Anna’s husband surely after Bowen’s autism was diagnosed, with Anna having been single ever since and coping with being a single mum. She doesn’t believe that she will ever find a man who is willing to accept both her and her son, as Bowen is her top priority and always will be. However, the therapy seems to have reached its limit, and with Anna not having much money Gianna offers up a new idea to aid Bowen’s progress.
This idea is for Bowen to work with her brother, Leo Mancini, in his restaurant and learn how to make new culinary desserts which also test his sensory responses. Anna is sceptical at first, as Leo appears to be a typical, womanising bad boy, with tattoos and motorbike to match. Is he really an ideal role model for her son? But she is willing to give anything a go and finds herself falling for Leo in the process. Is he all that he appears, or is there more lurking behind his tough exterior?
So here we have a typical romance plotline, but the added dimension of Anna’s child having autism really added to the story and helped to make it unique. It is because of his condition that the book forms such a learning curve for both Leo and Anna, as he learns what it’s like to love a child and she learns not to wrap him in so much cotton wool. I think the book highlights what the reality of living with an autistic child is like, but does so in such a way that it feels as natural as living with any other child.
As for the heroine, Anna wasn’t the strongest, most capable woman I’ve ever read about, and she does have many weaknesses when it comes to men and her own self-confidence. She is quick to dismiss Leo as an option when something goes wrong, believing that no-one could ever love both her and Bowen as a package. However, at the beginning she is a little too over-the-top with her happily-ever-after fantasies and her desire to impress him. I found her to be gushing at times, and a bit excessive, but overall it was her love of her son which shone through, and her desire to protect him at all costs.
Although I thought Anna could have used a bit more character development, I loved Leo as a hero and he ticked all the boxes. He was kind, good with Bowen and yet still had a rough edge about him which made him oh-so-desirable. We are told about his past ambitions, and how his previous business partner screwed him over and made off with thousands of dollars of investment, rendering Leo unable to open his own restaurant. He is still bitter about the past, and understandably so, and is not over the moon about having to teach Bowen how to cook. However, he comes to enjoy the weekly sessions and really starts to fall for Anna, having been on the look for that one woman to spend his life with. I liked how he was a typical gentleman, and proved that tough guy looks can be deceiving.
For a novella this was a really quick read, which I devoured as soon as it hit my Kindle. The plot moved quickly enough, and although there were some instances where Anna was dreaming about Leo like a lovestruck teenager, the romance was generally well-developed and sweet. It was not without its difficulties and misunderstandings, but everything turns out well in the end and is perfect to read if you need a little lift during the week, or in preparation for the weekend.
For a short novella, this was a great quick read if you’re after a contemporary romance fix, and is easy to devour in just over an hour. As it was just a novella it was easy to overlook a lack of sufficient character development and take it at face value for just being a love story. I loved the integration of Bowen as an autistic child, as it helped raise awareness of the condition and proved how difficult it can be for single mothers, as well as how much love they have to give.
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