Sweet Caroline by Rachel Hauck
Thomas Nelson, 320 pages
When a Southern waitress inherits the Lowcountry cafe where she works, she suddenly has to balance more than just her next food order.
Caroline Sweeney has always done the right thing–the responsible, dependable thing–unlike her mother who abandoned her family. But when her best friend challenges her to accept an exciting job adventure in Barcelona, Spain, Caroline says “yes” to destiny.
Then, without warning, ownership of the run-down cafe where she’s been waitressing falls right into Caroline’s lap. While she’s trying to determine the cafe’s future, handsome Deputy Sherriff J.D. Rand captures Caroline’s heart.
But when her first love, Mitch O’Neal, comes back to town, fresh from the heat of his newly-found fame as a country music singer in Nashville, Caroline must make some hard choices about love and the pursuit of the sweet life.
I had reservations with Rachel Hauck’s other novels because my reaction to her first novel, Lost in Nashvegas was just lukewarm. I liked it, but it didn’t amaze me or blow me away and I haven’t picked it up again since I read it the last time. I read Sweet Caroline with low expectations, just so I won’t be disappointed with this buy.
I’m kind of glad that I didn’t have much expectations, because I was really pleasantly surprised by this novel. Sweet Caroline is quite…well, sweet, for the lack of better words. Everything in this novel is just sweet and charming, from Caroline to the Frogmore Cafe staff to the other secondary characters to the town itself. This is one of the few times I really appreciated the setting of a novel, and it’s in a Southern town again. I love the quirkiness of the town, the Frogmore Cafe and everyone else in the story, as it provided me with a very warm feeling, almost like I was one of the Beaufort residents. It was almost like the book was welcoming me into its arms, inviting me to join them in their different town adventures.
Caroline is definitely a character, one I’d love to be friends with myself. In a way, I think a lot of women in their 20’s could relate to her, because I definitely did. She’s far from perfect, and most of the times, she had no idea where to go or what to do. But when extraordinary opportunities come knocking, she felt overwhelmed, and she didn’t know what to do. Don’t we all have that same reaction? Despite her confusion, Caroline chose the smaller thing over the big thing, and she proved to be faithful with that. My favorite part of the novel is when the staff were preparing for Hurricane Howard, and Caroline planned to feed the people of Beaufort for free, knowing that there wouldn’t be enough power to cook their meals in the next day. Caroline’s generosity is something to emulate, and I think she wouldn’t hesitate to give her staff a personalized grilling toolset if they really, really need it.
Caroline has a big heart, one that learned to forgive as she got to know the God of forgiveness. I loved how she came to know God, how she got to know God and how she learned to believe that God loved her so much. It was something out of the ordinary, yes, and I guess some people won’t believe those things happen anymore…but then who knows? I’ve heard more drastic stories, and if God wanted to get someone’s attention, then I bet He’d go all out on it. It almost felt like the words uttered to Caroline were for me — and maybe they were? I’d like to believe that they were lessons for me, too. For example, I could replace Caroline’s name with mine in this line, and relate to it almost 100%:
“You are so blessed, Caroline…I mean this: God is looking out for you.” (p 195)
Despite its sparse prose, the novel was still well-written, and easy to understand. There were no complicated words or long descriptions, and most of the lines were funny and crazy. I especially loved Caroline’s Head and Heart conversations:
Head: Interesting development.
Heart: For once, I agree with you.
Head: What do you think he’s up to? And, we’ve agreed before.
Heart: Do we risk it?
Head: No. Stay in neutral, heart.
Heart: But he’s changed. Really.
Head: Don’t make me come down there. (p.225)
These conversations were just right for Caroline because for other characters, I don’t think it would work. :P
The romance factor is also very, very juicy. This is a little bit of a spoiler, but I can’t not share this:
As the house lights dim for the second half of the performance to begin, Mitch offers his hand. “May I hold your hand, Caroline?”
Gulp. I nod.
His hand is firm and broad; his fingers lock perfectly with mine. “Mitch,” I say, barely above a whisper. “I’m afraid of falling.”
He presses his lips to my ear. “Don’t worry, I’ll catch you.” (p. 235)
I practically swooned when I read that part! :) Heeee. But if you think it will end up the way it seemed from that part…well, there were still more surprises down the end, and those made the novel stand apart from others. It’s not really just a love story between two people. It’s a love story between a woman and her God, and a story of how a woman found herself through the love of Someone who loves her more.
Sweet Caroline is sweet, from the first page up to the last. I laughed, cried, and felt like I lost a friend when I closed the book. Good thing Rachel Hauck gives us another chance to visit Beaufort with a companion novel for Sweet Caroline, Love Starts with Elle. And it’s good that I have a copy of that. :P
I’m glad I read this novel, and I’m glad I gave Rachel Hauck another try. :) Sweet Caroline is a light, thought-provoking read, and in some instances, the title would make you break out into song, too. :)
2010 Challenge Status:
* Book # 58 out of 100 for 2010
My copy: paperback, $5.00 from Amazon
Cover image & Blurb: Goodreads