I like Sharon Kleve‘s short romance stories! Apple Pie to Die For is her latest new book, which has come out on February 6th, 2018. It sits at a little over 100 pages, but for such a short story there is A LOT going on!
The main character is Marjorie Vanhorn, a baker who makes award-winning pies in her bakery. Her love interest is the county medical examiner Anderson Swift. Ever since he moved there a few years ago, they have been in an on-again-off-again relationship. However lately, Anderson has been turning things up a notch as he wants to get serious. He is trying to win Marjorie’s heart forever! They eventually get their HEA, after a number of very hot and sexy encounters.
Normally, the romance is the main focus of the story, but I didn’t feel that to be the case here. There is a lot more going on for Marjorie, and the romance, to me, felt more like a sideline in the story. You see, she has been less than lucky lately: her pies keep losing the county fair contests and she’s being blackmailed. The woman who organises the county fair wants her recipe and is doing everything she can to get it. To get her off her back, Marjorie gives her a fake recipe. A little while later, the county fair organiser is found dead, however. She’d been drinking and taking too much medication and crashed her car. It turns out that she’d been blackmailing plenty of people at the county fair, she wanted all of the best recipes to start competing in the contests herself.
But that’s not all! There is more going on in Marjorie’s life. You see, a close friend of her has recently revealed that her husband abused her physically and emotionally. He is supposed to have fled to avoid paying her and their son alimony, but she’s not confident he won’t come back to claim her again. About a quarter way through the book, we find out that the man is actually being held captive by Marjorie. He was robbing her to run away, but then Marjorie came home. He turned on her in a rage, blaming her for his wife standing up to him, so she zapped him with a stun gun. Instead of, I don’t know, calling the police… she decides to time him up and throw him in her basement. Over the next few weeks (yes, weeks!) she feeds him food and pies laced with Xanax, she puts him in diapers and she cleans him when he’s conked out on the drugs. Yes, dear little Marjorie the baker of apple pies. She keeps a hostage, zonked out on Xanax, in her basement – all the while figuring out what to do with him. But it gets worse, then the guy’s brother shows up, looking for his brother. He has just been released from prison, on charges of rape and assault, and they were planning on running off together. He finds his brother’s car at Marjorie’s house and breaks in. When she comes home, he’s walking around her house eating her (Xanax-filled) apple pie. He threatens her, so she decides to take him to his brother in the basement. But lo and behold, drugged out on Xanax, he slips, falls down the stairs and dies. Then Marjorie checks on the first guy, who has overdosed on another Xanax-filled apple pie. So here she is, an innocent little baker, with two dead men in her basement. She gets out her digging machine, drags the two corpses into her orchard, where she digs a whole to put them in. The next day, she invites her boyfriend Anderson over to her house (for the first time), and he makes an off-hand remark indicating that he knows what happened. The end.
Okay, so I don’t know whether to like this book or not. As you can see above, there is soooo much going on in only about 150 pages. I believe I’ve said this before about Sharon’s short stories, most of them would work just as well (if not better) as a full-length romance novel. There is just so much going on, and a longer story would round out the storylines better, I believe (though reading the entire “To Die For” series might help in understanding the storylines better). The thing that threw me most about this story is Marjorie’s off-hand way of dealing with the abusive brothers. She’s doesn’t agonize over keeping a guy prisoner in her basement, nor is she squeamish about feeding him so much Xanax he passes out, continuously. Also, where is she getting that much Xanax from? It’s a prescription drug, right? And it’s never suggested that she used to take them in the past, or that she knows someone willing to give her copious amounts of the drug without asking any questions… To make the two weeks more believable, there is a little explanation thrown in about adult diapers and letting him off his leash for an hour every night so he can stretch his legs. So I’m good on that front (well, at least as much as I can be in this weird story). And then there’s the very cavalier way she deals with the men’s deaths. “Oh, it’s good that I live in this big house with a big orchard that just happens to have a digging machine. Let me use this to get their bodies out of my basement. Then I’ll dig a hole in the orchard and dump them in.” That is basically her thought process. Problem? Solution! Who is that cavalier about death? Especially since she murdered them! Sharon Kleve tries to write around that fact. The first guy basically ate himself to death by consuming too much apple pie and dying of a Xanax overdose. And the second was so loopy on Xanax that he tripped and fell to his death. Both times, the Xanax is the problem, which Marjorie has supplied both of them. She is a murderer, plain and simple. But she thinks nothing of it. And judging by her Anderson’s offhand remark, he is fine with it too. Yes, I know that romance novels aren’t that realistic usually, but still… This storyline went a bit far for me.
But besides that, the writing is light, engaging and the story reads like a train. Marjorie is painted as a sweet, innocent girl with a “secret”. It’s described in such a way that the secret seems silly, so it’s quite a shock when we learn of the man in her basement. That she is developing feelings and falling in love with Anderson while at the same time killing two men, are also two big opposites. But in the story, it seems almost natural. The author has an eerie way of writing so that it seems like everything that happens is supposed to happen, that it’s normal and that we should have expected it all along. Would I recommend it? Hmm, I do think so. It’s very fun and creative writing and the story certainly has some surprises in store. But I would add the caveat that it’s a weird story with some murderous and unexpected developments.
Who agrees with me?