Sandra Antonelli’s blog title says it all: Quirky Romance Novels for Grown Ups…and Smart Asses. This is exactly what her books are and in part, they are quite a bit of fun.
"Holy, holy shit. I love that you didn't stop and ask for directions."
- Willa to John after having sex for the first time
Willa and John meet by accident when she comes back to Los Alamos, NM to investigate a charge of possible espionage which may involve her best friend, Dominic Brennan (H from A Basic Renovation). She is FBI who years before, worked undercover as a quantum physicist in the Los Alamos National Laboratory with Dominic who was totally unaware of her ‘real’ job). To say Dominic is mad is an understatement.
In fact, he is so mad he later allows her to unwittingly drink a very strong alcoholic beverage, knowing she has a low tolerance for alcohol. Needless to say, she gets really drunk and passes out in John’s powder room who doesn’t find her until the next morning.
For the record, I didn’t like Dominic in A Basic Renovation and I like him even less in this book. His temper was way out of proportion for a good part of the first book which caused some huge rifts with the h, Lesley, and while I could understand his being mad about not being told about Willa’s real profession (she became an FBI agent AFTER they met at MIT and became friends, and hell yeah, I’d be mad too if my best friend was recruited to the FBI and she neglected to tell me), it was cruel and dangerous to allow her to drink as much as she did. He also said some pretty unforgivable things to her which was very reminiscent of the first book. In either case there was no grovel which is a huge pet peeve for me.
Right away, there is some serious chemistry between John and Willa and as a result some very funny bantering back and forth. They are both older and both have had past serious relationships as both were married before and while John has been divorced for several years,
“He’d been married a long time ago in a galaxy known as the 90’s.”
Willa was widowed 18 months before the start of this story. John especially, is ready to try again for a serious relationship and he’s decided Willa is the one to try with. She is understandably reluctant as she has a job to do and can't be totally honest with him about it. Let the Insta-Love ensue!
Within five days, they are madly, deeply, in love!
Along with all of this we have a bunch of other shit going on including Willa’s very conflictive relationship with her step-daughter, a sub plot with two other men (one, a fellow FBI agent and the other a Lab employee), both of whom also have a crush on Willa, an investigation into a possible murder, a meth lab bust, and enough 80’s pop culture references to choke a horse.
What we mainly have here is a book that didn't know if it wanted to be a romance, a police procedural, a murder mystery, or chick lit.
I could have come very close to loving this book and I wanted to sooooo bad cuz I think this author has a great voice and writes great banter BUT the non-stop info dumping, copious amount of secondary characters along with weirdly thorough descriptions of said secondary characters kept kicking me out of the story as I went along.
First, the good:
- Protags are mature, likable, funny, and have great chemistry together from the get go.
- Dialogue is snappy and fun and real and story is emotional and heartfelt.
- A murder mystery that did actually have me guessing for most of the book.
- Location is unusual – Los Alamos, NM, home of the Manhattan Project (and my home state) with great detailed description of different locales. Antonelli also gives a shout out to one of my favorite historical authors and a NM resident herself, Laura Kinsale, naming an FBI agent after her, so you go Sandra. ;o)
And then the not so good:
- Massive info dumping and tons of introspective chatter in almost every part of the book, sometimes about important things the reader should know about but ended up being dragged out for so long that I ended up not caring about why they were being discussed/thought about after a while or they were about such unimportant and/or trivial things that it never should have been mentioned anyway.
- Several typos and one section of gobbledy-gook I couldn’t make heads or tails of. Once again, I point out that this is Escape Publishing, an imprint of Harlequin Enterprises Australia, and I’m thinking we should be well past having this many of these types of errors.
There were also some truly WTFery moments which had me totally scratching my head:
- I am deducting a whole star because nowhere did we see a couple of very important characters from the first book: Lesley’s grandfather, a Sicilian fireball who IMO, saved the first book with his hilarious, if over the top antics as well as Dominic’s son, Kyle, who was a very important character and who supposedly is Willa’s godson in this book. Seeing as Dominic and Lesley play a pretty big part in the events here, I would think their kid should probably show up at some point. Instead we get Lesley's brother, Sean, a nosy, blowhard dickweed, who judges everyone by the size of his/her bank account. Even Dominic’s domineering and scary mother would have been welcome so that we could at least see what was going on in her little psychotic world.
So this begs the question, why in the world would you not bring back some of the best things about this series? Why drop in completely unnecessary and frankly, weird one-off characters that don’t do a damn thing to drive the story? The author sacrificed these two great characters in order to add a huge cast of other characters who, while they may have had minor roles, didn't necessarily deserve the airtime ultimately given to them.
- Extremely thorough (and not in a good way) characterizations and descriptions of said secondary characters. Normally you might say this isn’t a bad thing but in this case, yes. Yes it was a bad thing cuz every, and I mean Every. Single. Character - and action - and reaction - and thought - were described to the nth degree in this book. Minor or major. Important or unimportant. Necessary or unnecessary. This included extremely exaggerated accents and countless details about clothing, personality traits, habits, looks, etc.
- Dominic’s and later, Lesley’s totally inappropriate and violent behavior toward Willa.
- H’s laugh – yes, I said his laugh, or in this case, his sniff-sniff-sniffing. This started in the previous book and apparently the author thought it would be a good idea to carry this endearing (not) trait over to this book – ad nauseam. Stupid Kobo apparently doesn’t have a search feature on their iPhone app or I would have counted, but take my word, in every fucking chapter, we are treated to John laughing, oops - I mean sniffing in hilarity.
- Last but not least, towards the end of the book, John jumps to a major conclusion regarding Willa's and Dominic's relationship, says very hurtful things and ta-daaaaaa - no grovel.
He spends a good part of the book insisting that her having a male best friend is no biggie (and in fact, his best friend is Lesley who BTW, he was interested in romantically in the first book) but after Lesley punches Willa in the stomach, he assumes the worst!(spoiler show) WTF?
I predict a third book and I have a feeling I know who the main male protagonist will be. I really, really want to know about his story but I just don’t know if I’ve got it in me to pony up what will probably be a very reasonable amount to find out.