The Sassy One
by Susan Mallery, contemporary (2003)
Pocket, $6.49, ISBN 0-7434-4395-0


I've noted in my review of the previous book in this trilogy, The Sparkling One, that the family gimmick the author uses to sell her books is doing her characters no favor. It's the same scenario with The Sassy One. If anything, the author's "happy" meddling Marcelli clan is even more ugly and offensive in this book, and the "career women should just give up and get married at 18" overtones only make the whole book even more unpalatable.

But Francesca Marcelli and Sam Reese are really well-written characters. They are easily the most human and less calculated aspects of this story, and in the end, I can't help but to wonder what Ms Mallery is doing actually. Everything about this story is neverending cliché straight out of a Harlequin series novel, and these clichés don't make sense when stringed together.

Francesca wants to get over her divorce by having a no-strings attached affair with playboy Sam Reese, a guy she met when she's doing some hands-on research for her psychology thesis. Sam then has to reconcile himself with his daughter that he never knew existed until now, while Francesca confronts her growing feelings for Sam that wars with her realistic aversion to marriage (with her family, I don't blame her). And that's the story, basically. Everything else is overblown family soap opera that adds nothing but noise to Sam and Fran's love story.

With bad star-crossed love story, secret babies, evil mothers, tyrant fathers, and more, The Sassy One is overwrought in every sense of the word. The author seems clueless that her positive portrayal of Francesca's manipulative family isn't very much different from her negative portrayal of Sam's manipulative mother. I don't know, I guess it's okay to be a horrible controlling jerk if you're a man. Or something. Nothing about the Marcelli clan makes sense in this book unless the author wants me to accept that the Marcelli clan is a horrible bunch of chauvinist jerks and spinless women that love them. But I don't think that is her intention. At the same time, Sam's problem with her daughter is a tough sell because the entire existence of the daughter is questionable, given how much Sam's evil mother and nasty ex don't want the daughter. I find it hard to imagine that even in the 1990s, not one woman considers giving the child for adoption or just getting rid of the unwanted child. There are other plot elements in this story that don't make much sense. When Fran wanted to date Sam at first, she freaks out because her diaphragm leaks. I blink. Surely one can indulge in heavy petting and other forms of physical contact without the actual act of coitus, especially on the first date, so it is a bit odd that Fran would act as if she and Sam are doomed because her diaphragm is leaking. All I can say is that these characters often behaved in clichéd ways to clichéd scenarios, and in this case, cliché doesn't necessarily means logical.

Sam and Fran are well-written characters and their psychology and behavior ring (mostly) real. Sticking them in this story is the worst thing that Susan Mallery did to them. Can I hope that the next book will see the heroine moving to the other end of the country and finding love in a more unforced, less overcrowded environment?

Rating: 57


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