Last year, Miss Bates named Liz Talley’s Sweet-Talking Man one of her best 2015 roms. And even though Talley has left behind Miss Bates’s beloved category, the Superromance, Miss B. followed her to a new publisher hoping for the same blend of humour, realistic characterization, and love coming at the hero and heroine from unexpected places. Talley has a real talent for creating heroes who’ve been hurt by a past love, without turning alpha or cold. They’re vulnerable and a little lost in affairs of the heart, susceptible to too easily falling for a girl again. Her heroines are no wilting southern belles, though they retain a kind of genteel naïveté. Then, they surprise you, with earthiness and a plunge into free-spiritedness and their discovery of possessing an independent self, free from familial and social constraints. Charmingly Yours contains these elements and new ones. Unlike the realistic superromance, Charmingly Yours has a definite women’s fic woo-woo vibe. Rosemary Reynolds of Morning Glory, Mississippi, and her coterie of besties, mourn the loss of their dear friend, Lacy Guthrie. In true women’s fic woo-woo fashion, Lacy has left a potentially woo-woo object and mission to her friends – a charm bracelet, for which they must each provide a new charm in the pursuit of a mission Lacy set for them. In Rosemary’s case, Lacy exhorted her to have an adventure, to leave behind her staid life and overprotective mother, and do things well-brought-up young southern ladies wouldn’t.
Rosemary takes Lacy’s request to heart and sets off for New York City in answer to her big-city cousin’s cat-sitting plea. Rosemary arrives in hick-in-the-city mode during a sweltering New York City day, dragging her wheelie suitcase through the subway and across Little Italy to her cousin’s Soho loft and two nasty, indifferent kitties, Melbourne and Moscow. Stopping at an Italian eatery for directions, she’s charmed by one of the waiters, who begs her to return to the restaurant for their famous meatballs. The waiter is Salvatore Genovese and the owner’s son. Sal comes from a huge, bossy, loving Italian family. As the baby, he’s sowing careless oats even at 30. His family has decided it’s time for him to settle down: his father is building him his own deli in the theatre district; and his mother has arranged for the lethally beautifully, but morally expedient Angelina Vitale to be his bride.
Sal is taken by the Rosemary’s beauty and humour. He and Rosemary embark on a two-week affair: for Sal, maybe a last fling before fulfilling his family’s expectations; and for Rosemary, a way to be something other than the perfect young southern lady her mother expects before returning to Morning Glory and her craft-store business and town’s slow-paced but loving tedium. Neither Sal nor Rosemary are emotionally capable of a fling: they’re not made that way. They dance on rooftops, share meals, make passionate love, tease each other, like each other, support each other … and, inevitably, fall in love. Whereupon they’re faced with a double-pronged dilemma: how can they leave everything they’ve ever known in order to be together and how can they deviate from their loving, but constricting families’ expectations.
Miss Bates found in Charmingly Yours all those elements that she enjoyed in past Talley romances: the humour, characters coming out of their usual routines and world to something and someone new. Sal and Rosemary were funny and fun. But their love trajectory was marred by their immaturity, especially Sal’s, which took over the second half of the narrative. At first, Rosemary’s struggle to break the bonds of her mother’s over-protectiveness seemed to be as important a theme as the beckoning Sal-Rosemary romance. But being a stranger in a strange land frees Rosemary to be with Sal, explore Manhattan, and break free of her small-towned-ness. Sal, on the other hand, is beset by his family, the beautiful barracuda Angelina, and his own, well, truth be told, laziness. Miss Bates wasn’t charmed by Sal: she thought him immature, boyish, and a tad dense. He allows Angelina to cling and plague him when all he has to do is push her away, tell her he’s not interested. He waffles and “aw ma’s” at his formidable mother throughout the whole novel, never standing up for himself. His waffling and cowardice hurt Rosemary and even his grovel doesn’t redeem him much. When Talley’s characters, especially Sal, finally break free of their childishness, Miss Bates was already pretty frustrated.
Liz Talley’s Charmingly Yours was a pleasant read, but it didn’t rock Miss Bates’s world. With Miss Austen, Miss B. would say that Talley’s romance is “almost pretty,” Northanger Abbey.
Liz Talley’s Charmingly Yours is published by Montlake Romance. It was released on May 24th and is available at your preferred vendors. Miss Bates received an e-ARC from Montlake, via Netgally.