Sweet Mary - Liz Balmaseda "I want it all back. My job. My reputation. But most importantly, I want my son"

NOTE: I received this book as part of the Amazon Vine Program

Another Vine choice from first time author, Liz Balmaseda!
Dulce Maria "Sweet Mary" Guevara is a successful real-estate agent and single mother. Her delicate world however is thrown into a loop when the DEA breaks into her house and arrests her, believing her to be Maria Portilla, cocaine queen. Not even a release and an apology can clear her name, return her job, and return her son. Now, Mary must find "Bad Mary" and prove her innocence!

I Liked:
The first word that comes to mind when thinking about this book is "fresh". Liz Balmaseda is a superb writer, no doubt. I thoroughly enjoyed her set up of the story, which can be one of the most laborious and tedious parts of a book. She writes Sweet Mary so realistically, so honestly that I wouldn't be surprised to find her in Florida! Which brings me to the scenery...amazing! I feel that Balmaseda has a firm grasp on her surroundings, on her characters, and most definitely on Cuban culture!
Sweet Mary was real to me. Balmaseda set up the story so well, so you could feel Mary's pain, torment, agony, at being without her son and unemployed.
The story was very interesting. It is scary to think about what would happen, were you mistaken for someone else. How would you prove your innocence? What would life be like afterwards? I felt that the subject matter was very creative, and I enjoyed seeing what would happen next (for the most part).

I Didn't Like:
The first thing I would change about this book is the silly "intro" passages that make this book read more like a screenplay or a play. It is written in third person present while the rest of the book is in first person past. This abruptly brings me out of the story (a HUGE writing no-no) and usually isn't even necessary. About halfway through, I ignored these "stage directions" (minus the "Little River Guns and Pistol Range--Day 30" type parts) and the story wasn't hindered in the slightest.
The next thing I would change is probably to put in more foreshadowing to Joe. On the flap, he is said to be a HUGE obstacle. In the novel, he pops in, all of a sudden, and is suddenly Mary's ex-fiancé. I couldn't help the WTF? Moment. I felt that, maybe if Mary had still thought about him in the beginning, his appearance later in the novel (and the revelation of his relation to Mary) would make more sense.
Also, the novel was, I daresay, too fast-paced. Things happen at a break-neck speed--Mary's day is going fine then BOOM off to jail then BOOM out of jail then BOOM off to Joe...you get the picture.
And the ridiculous chain of events. Please. Mary finds "Bad Mary" way too easily (within two days of searching!). All Mary, a single soccer mom and real estate agent, had to do was chitchat with Joe and BOOM, there's "Bad Mary"! I mean, if that woman is so easy to find, how did the officials not find her first? Are they that incompetent? Well, if you read the book, you know the answer already. Then, there is no way that Mary could come away from this scott-free, as she did in the books. Does she have a license to hold a weapon? Threatening at gunpoint (no, it was not self-defense, not by a long shot)? Stalking a person? Practically breaking and entering? And why was it necessary for "Bad Mary" to have a daughter? That only detracted from the story (adding an unnecessary detour to Mary sympathising with "Bad Mary" and then the sappy Mary to the rescue taking care of "Bad Mary"'s daughter), and honestly, if it had ended on the cutting floor, no one would be the sorrier.
Then the ending. God, the ending. Talk about making sure all those who wronged her got the middle finger and all those who helped her got a big, huge pat on the back. Smarts of another Mary...a Mary Sue! Too much exposition (the whole "how did it happen" revelation you get at the end of a Nancy Drew book or Scooby Doo episode), too many wrapping up scenes, too over the top. Fortunately, the scenes provided a lot of cheese to counter the sappy sugariness of the ending or I would have gone into a sugar coma.

Dialogue/Sexual Situations/Violence:
Surprisingly clean. Yes, you will find da**, he**, b*****d, and a few f-words, but otherwise, I would rate PG-13 if it were a movie.
Mary sleeps with Joe at one point, but the encounter is "off screen". A woman pole dances to make a sale. Women's "assets" are described. Someone is hinted at having an affair.
The DEA break into Mary's home. Joe works in a seedy side of town. And several characters' lives are threatened. But again, fairly clean.

Overall:
I adored (absolutely adored!) the first half of the book and, minus the crazy stage directions, was prepared to give a four or maybe even five star. But by halfway, the plot got insane and then the conclusion...gah! Don't get me wrong, Balmaseda is a great writer! I have no doubt that with some time and a bit more practice (and editing), she will be amazing. And I will still be keeping an eye out for her, that much is for sure. But as for this book...not terrible, but not amazing either. 3 stars.