I adore Mediterranean holiday romance fiction (oh the absolute joy of rewatching Come Semptember or Gidget goes to Rome) and I really enjoyed Alice Clayton’s Wallbanger (the sole novel – I ignored the rest of the series) so when I saw Roman Crazy on the New Book display stand at the library, it was an auto borrow. To add to that, the cover art is all levels of awesomeness. This mashup of chick-lit (meh), Sex in the City lit (bleh) and romance (yeah) worked on many levels for me though there is some nitpicking to be had. But first, the blurb:
Roman Crazy by Alice Clayton and Nina Bocci
Avery Bardot steps off the plane in Rome, looking for a fresh start. She’s left behind a soon-to-be ex-husband in Boston and plans to spend the summer with her best friend Daisy, licking her wounds—and perhaps a gelato or two. But when her American-expat friend throws her a welcome party on her first night, Avery’s thrown for a loop when she sees a man she never thought she’d see again: Italian architect Marcello Bianchi.
Marcello was the man—the one who got away. And now her past is colliding with her present, a present where she should be mourning the loss of her marriage and—hey, that fettuccine is delicious! And so is Marcello…
Slipping easily into the good life of summertime in Rome, Avery spends her days exploring a city that makes art historians swoon, and her nights swooning over her unexpected what was old is new again romance. It’s heady, it’s fevered, it’s wanton, and it’s crazy. But could this really be her new life? Or is it just a temporary reprieve before returning to the land of twin-set cardigans and crustless sandwiches?
So the book opens with Avery discovering her husband Daniel “balls deep” in his secretary. Despite an intervention by Daniel’s mother for her to just accept his infidelity, Avery chooses to no longer be a part of the twin-set-and-pearls-country-club-set and flies off to Rome to hide out in her best friend’s apartment. Best friend Daisy has been living in Rome as an architect for many years and introduces Avery to her circle of friends, one of whom is Marcello – the man that Avery had a hot, sexy semester with when they were students living in Barcelona 9 years earlier. After some awkward moments Avery and Marcello resume their relationship but of course, there are complications. Avery is getting divorced and she is rediscovering what it is to be working again and to be a contributing member of society.
I enjoyed this book. It has cracking dialogue and the narrative was great. The swoon hero Marcello was swoony and the Rome setting was both sublime and on point. However, the book did not pack enough emotional punch for me. Don’t get me wrong: Roman Crazy‘s sexual tension between the Marcello and Avery sizzled but (the great!) black relationship moment was resolved much too quickly. The emotional lows and the emotional highs that I seek out of my romance novels just felt like pulled punches in this novel.
Romance fiction is very much a fiction of the emotions. And I realise that eliciting an emotional response from a reader must be a difficult task for an author. I have to say that this book nearly got the emotional highs right. There were moments that I swooned, that my heart caught in my throat, that the words just filled my senses.
Sadly though, this book did not hit my emotional lows that are so necessary when I am reading a romance, that moment that as a a reader I do not know how those two characters are going to overcome their differences and the thing that is keeping them apart. I AM WARNING YOU AS THERE IS A MAJOR TIME SPOILER IMMEDIATELY AFTER THIS HAPPY DANCE BREAK…
In this book, the heroine discovers that hero Marcello was still in an active sexual relationship with his former girlfriend when the two of them resumed their sexual congress. Now, this is a pretty big “ZOMG! Seriously dude. Hedging your bets is SOOOOO not cool!” And sure, the heroine cries, she shouts, she beats her chest that this is happening to her again(!) …only this time she is the other woman. And then this time Marcello beats his chest as he reminds her of her cheating ways with him when they were 21 and then they both mutually self-flagellate and then she walks off. Once she calms down she’s all “Oh. Yeah! I did cheat on both Daniel and Marcello” and all is forgiven.
Like, really? That’s it? Where is the deep soul searching? I mean, there was a little bit but it just felt like it was awkwardly dropped into the story. It just didn’t cut it for me. It felt like the emotional equivalent of “But I like my sandwiches cut diagonally!” then “Soz! I’ll make you another sanga then?” Where was my Marcello GRAND grovel? And really, I also needed Avery to have a grand grovel too.
This was not the only moment of sadness that was lacking. (Another MAJOR spoiler here) Far into the novel you discover that Avery and Daniel had a baby that died at 3 months. This is HUGE news. This is not a small event in someone’s life. The death of your baby is life changing tragedy. It is pivotal to what makes you a human being yet it was not explored, it was not a driver in what I imagine being Avery’s lack of employment over the years (to blame it all on being a country set woman helping her man out – really???). Somehow, her baby dying felt more like a plot bunny than what should have been a devastating moment that further complicates and impacts the low, black moment in the book.
I really enjoyed so many aspects of this book. I just wished that there had been less “girlfriends being raunchy talking dirty a la Sex-in-the-City” and more exploration of the complex reasons for infidelity, the role of grief and the role of loving two people for their own distinct qualities throughout the book – and yes! they should/could have been explored through discussion with Daisy the BFF (she was a GREAT secondary character and I would have loved for her to have had more depth too). These acts of infidelity were all driven by love and confusion and passion which are all so important.
This book was told wholly from Avery’s point-of-view. One of my favourite things about most romance novels is that you are in the mind of both the people who are in the relationship and I really missed not having any insight into Marcello’s inner thoughts. I also struggled to come to terms with Avery’s constant scoring of restoration work (albeit voluntary). How?! Really?! In a country with high unemployment, teeming with archaeology and history graduates and a strong tradition of nepotism, the USian who has popped in for the Summer is going to score the intern work? Privileged much? And that is another thing. This very much is a story of the privileged set. Being a regular reader of high-fantasy fairytale gazillionaire books, I am surprised that this annoyed me. Yet it did.
There is a certain aspect of Clayton and Bocci’s writing that points towards them being from a different generation of writers. Those who are influenced by Twilight and Sex in the City (smirking? sharing dirty talk with girlfriends?). I’m guessing at this, of course and I don’t think this is a bad thing but I do think it is interesting to watch these (perhaps imagined?) influences trickle through to new fiction. I reallllllly loved the voice and tone of this story which honestly could have been a plot from an Mills & Boon/Harlequin Presents novel. The sharp, fun and engaging writing style was a treat. Overall, I wish this book had delivered a much more satisfying read for me. I am also of the opinion that most romance authors’ best work is rarely early in their ouevre and I think this will be true of Clayton and Bocci so I really look forward to subsequent novels. There were so many great aspects to this book and I highly recommend it.
Make it or Break it:
As for the hero/heroine? Do I think that Marcello and Avery will have a Happily Ever After? Absolutely YES! They are each other’s happy person. They will definitely stay together. I thought they were gorgeous together.
I borrowed this book from a public library in New South Wales.