What To Do About Annie?
by Millie Criswell, contemporary (2001)
Ivy, $6.99, ISBN 0-8041-1951-1


Annie Goldman once had a thing going with Joe Russo when they were teenagers, until he went and join the priesthood. Yikes. 15 years later, "Father What A Hunk/What A Waste" (depend on the way you look at it) is leaving the order and he wants to make things up with Annie. But Annie won't forgive, never, even if he makes her drool like a senile bulldog. Never! Okay, maybe not that absolutely never, but she won't forgive. Okay, maybe a little... you get the idea.

If you have read The Trouble With Mary, you may recognized the "Russo" in Joe Russo from the Italian-Jewish family that - sssh, don't tell anyone - is the actual main star of Ms Criswell's Russo family saga. It's the same here. Who cares about Annie and Joe, eh? We want to hear old geezers bickering instead.

Not that What To Do About Annie? is bad. But Ms Criswell seems to fear that if she doesn't put an "Oy, vey!" or "Pisher!" in every other page, I may forget that we are dealing with an Italian-Jewish family. The humor and one-liners just keep coming and coming in the force of an unstoppable tidal wave, or maybe a beyond-the-speed-of-light roller-coaster ride that wouldn't stop even if your nose and ears are bleeding and you are screaming for bloody mercy. Ms Criswell abuses the exclamation marks and question marks to drive home one-liners, maybe because we can't put in canned laughter in romance novels, to the point that I want to throw my hands up and say, "Okay! I get it! I get the punchlines! See, I'm laughing. Ha, ha, ha! Where's the dictionary so that I can show the author what over the top means?"

I like Annie, a neurotic woman who manages to be cute and charming. But I don't find Joe real at all. An ex-priest? He never behaves like a priest in the first place. He swears like a sailor at times, and I'm not talking about "By Gomorrah's entrails!" And I wonder how he manages to be so good in bed. Please don't tell me if it involves some dark, deep church back room stuff that will only cause another scandal. While Ms Criswell may be commended in trying something new - an ex-priest hero, anyone? - she just have to make Joe just like every other non-priest hero with the trivial, superficial "guilt" thing to disguise the window-dressing. What a waste.

What To Do About Annie? loses me with its non-stop, in-your-face humor that just doesn't know when to stop and take a breather. The romance isn't that interesting either, not when it is pushed aside more often than once for kooky family squabbles and tomfoolery. The best way to describe this book is Bette Midler, high on chi, aiming her bazooka wildly and firing erratically. I want to run for cover at times.

There are some bright moments, of course, but most of the time I am panting my lungs dry trying to keep up with the frantic, erratic, eccentric Russo clan. I think I'm too old for this, alas.

Rating: 70


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