Sweet Misfortune
by Kevin Alan Milne
(Center Street, $19.99, PG) ISBN 978-1-59995-297-0
Sophie Jones, owner of a Seattle sweet shop called Chocolat de Soph, has created a hit item: Misfortune Cookies, which are curled wafers dipped in bitter chocolate and filled with hand-written "misfortunes" penned by Sophie herself, based on her own worldview that life is a bowl of cherry pits. Who wouldn't love getting a fortune like "You'll never be really happy. How sad." This premise, while initially funny, wore thin after ten pages or so. Sophie, you see, is serious.

Sweet Misfortune is sort of like reading a romance starring Eeyore the Donkey - it's going to rain today, and it will probably rain tomorrow. Sophie has been a bitter cynic since age nine, when her parents and grandmother died in a car crash. Sophie still blames herself for the accident, even though years of therapy and a loving foster mother have attempted to show her it wasn't her fault. Sophie is sure they are wrong. When she's offered the chance to go on a blind date with podiatrist Garrett Black, Sophie waffles, but does show up. Over the course of six months, they fall in love and plan to marry.

Then Garrett breaks their engagement and disappears, with no explanation. Convinced she was right, and no relationship will ever end happily, Sophie retreats into her shop and pens her bitter fortunes. Then Garrett returns, begging for one date so he can explain everything. Sophie initially turns him down flat, then engineers a bet he can't possibly win. Garrett must place a classified ad asking people to tell him what True Happiness is. If he gets a hundred acceptable responses, Sophie will go on one date with him. Except she gets to determine what "acceptable" is, thereby ensuring the date will never happen. Garrett actually accepts this wager, when readers might wonder why he'd want her back in the first place.

Meet Sophie. Whiny, bitter, determined to wallow in her self-imposed misery, and borderline spiteful. And it takes a loonnnngggg time for her to show any growth and improvement.

Sophie surrounds herself with positive people who have overcome their own adversity. Her foster mother, Ellen, is a police officer who lost her own husband and turned her love to her two foster daughters. Evalynn, her foster sister, is newly married and now expecting a child.And Garrett is a cheerful sort. Sophie clings to her cynicism and wishes things could be different, like a child with her nose pressed longingly against the chocolate-shop window. One longs to tell her, "Just open the door and walk in, stupid!" It's hard to feel much sympathy for characters who are willing martyrs, and sad-sack Sophie didn't engender any.

Given Sophie's distinct personality, it's hard to see why Garrett fell in love with her in the first place. She's pretty, etc. but I really can't imagine a sane man wanting to spend the rest of his life with such a negative person. Garrett isn't drawn in much detail; he's pleasant and we're told he's head-over-heels in love with Sophie, but that's about it. The climax exposes what really happened on the night Sophie's parents died. By that time, it seems that half of Seattle was involved in the accident, and Garrett's reasons for abandoning Sophie rather than sitting down and having a heart-to-heart talk with her are pretty thin. This was the woman he planned to marry, right? And the whole classified-ad thing just disappears out of the story. We never find out if Garrett receives his hundred responses, after an initial scene where Sophie dismisses every one of the replies. If she's not happy, nobody else can be, either.

Sophie does begin to change her thinking by the end of the book, but it was too little and too late for me. Not enough of a payoff for 250 pages of negativity. Other than some interesting secondary characters, Sweet Misfortune is more annoyance than pleasure. Like Sophie's famous cookies, it left me with a bitter taste.

--Cathy Sova

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