The Sparkling One, by Susan Mallery

>> Monday, January 09, 2006

For AngieW's January TBR Challenge, I dug into my TBR and found The Sparkling One (excerpt), by Susan Mallery. The TBR Challenge format is quite different to the way I usually do my posts (I'm way too chatty!), so I'll try to merge them. So:

Title: The Sparkling One
Author: Susan Mallery
Year Published: 2003
Why did you get this book: It's been in the TBR for a while, so I *think* it was because the review at AAR sounded good.
Do you like the cover?: I think it's gorgeous, and very appropriate to the book. I just adore the colouring and the design, with those grapevines running down the left of the page.

Note: The Sparkling One is the first book in a trilogy about the Marcelli sisters. It's followed by Francesca's story, The Sassy One and then Brenna's, The Seductive One.

A party planner extraordinaire, Katie Marcelli loves her big, boisterous family - even when their chronic matchmaking drives her crazy! In the Marcelli household, fine wine and good food are as celebrated as true love, so when her eighteen-year-old sister announces her engagement, Katie promises her the perfect wedding. there's only one hitch: the father of the groom, Zach Styker, who is adamantly opposed to his son marrying so young.

Now, despite her instant attraction to the handsome, arrogant attorney, Katie must approach with caution: Zach, who hired Katie for a major fundraiser, holds the fate of her business in his hands - and how can she trust a man who is willing to break her sister's heart?

It will take a passionate battle of wills to determine if wedding bells will ring for a Marcelli bride, and to unlock the deepest desires - for family, love, and home - inside a strong- willed man's heart.
So, mext question: Did you enjoy the book?: I ultimately did. It didn't start very well, with the obnoxious relatives threatening to overwhelm the story, but in the end, I quite liked it. A B-.

Interestingly, the main thing I feel I need to talk about in this case isn't the romance, but Katie's family and her interactions with them. I ended up really liking how Mallery dealt with this, making the secondary characters deeper and more complicated than I was expecting.

Throughout most of the book, most of the older members of the Marcelli family (and Katie's Italian paternal grandparents, especially) were, quite simply, a nightmare. Every time that horrible, chauvinist bully, Lorenzo, and his wife started with the unending pressure on their granddaughters to marry young and start producing (male) children already, my blood slowly started to boil. Lorenzo was bad enough, but I actually disliked Tessa even more. That kind of attitude "What do you need education for? You're a woman, you need to get married and start reproducing", or "Men stray, we forgive", is something I'm completely allergic to. Women like this are feminism's worst enemy, worse than sexist men, even.

Katie says it's an Italian thing, but I'm sorry, I've got Italian ancestry myself (I'm actually even an Italian citizen), and my grandparents were nothing like that, even though they were from the south, supposedly the more old-fashioned part of the country. And really, if Mallery was so set on making them so Italian, she should have checked the language issues. An Italian saying he wants his granddaughters to start producing "bambinos"? Did he forget his first language after all those years? It's bambini!

Phew, sorry about that. It sounds very negative, doesn't it? It wasn't. Even not liking the characters, I liked the book just fine, because Mallery wasn't blind to these people's flaws. There's a wonderful scene near the end when Katie just blows up and lets them have it, and her objections are exactly mine. And she actually does win against them, though I'm not sure this will last very long.

The most interesting thing about this is that, in the end, Mallery made me see the positives in the family, why Katie and her sisters would love them enough to put up with their less-than-endearing characteristics. Just as Zach did, I even came to see all those family traditions as being a safety-net, rather than a spider's web, ensnaring everyone into a way of life that wasn't for them. The thing is, I could actually like the book because I didn't feel Mallery was hitting me over the head with "Aren't they adorable" when it came to the grandparents (no, they are obnoxious and overbearing), but saying "Yes, they are obnoxious and overbearing, but they have their good points".

Ok, enough about the family. I thought the trilogy setup was well done. In a vague way, it actually reminded me a bit of how Nora Roberts does it, even if it wasn't up to her level. There's an overarching story (which really only just starts here... she should have given a bit more space to the thing about that conversation Katie overheard about a certain "him") which I suppose will span all the trilogy, and the characters who'll star in the next two books play important roles in this one. Katie's sisters don't just show up every now and then, they are major characters in the story. And BTW, I really, really appreciated Brenna's storyline. She starts divorce proceedings in this book, and hires Zach as her lawyer, and I adored that she didn't go all drunk on stupid pride on the divorce thing. She not only wasn't determined to reject any kind of support from her ex, she actually went out and fought him for it. Go, Brenna!

As for the romance, which is conspicuously absent in the paragraphs and paragraphs above... well, there's a reason it's conspicuously absent. It's nice enought, but it's not really all that great, I'm afraid. Both Katie and Zach were likeable, and I especially liked Zach's attitude towards his son, the respect for his choices, but at the same time, the protectiveness and love which made him so afraid David was making a mistake (which I agreed with him from the beginning he totally was). The scene of his fight with David was just heartwrenching. I also enjoyed sensible, intelligent Katie, who was really good at her job and very definitely no pushover.

So both, separately, were fine, but I just didn't feel the love (or the attraction, for that matter) when they were together. I mean, yes, I bought that they got along well and liked each other, but I didn't really perceive much chemistry there. This was reflected in the fact that their love scenes left me completely cold, and I had to fight the urge to skim (I even lost to that urge, a couple of times). By the end of the book, when they were declaring their love and their intentions to marry, I was thinking "hmmm, shouldn't you wait a little bit longer?".

So basically, The Sparkling One was a success in the family interactions area, and a ho-hum read in the romance area. Just the opposite to what I would have predicted it when I started it.

Was the author new to you and would you read something by this author again?

I think I read one of Mallery's a few years ago, something with chocolate? (edited to say: I looked for the title, and it was Sweet Success), but it was pretty forgettable.

I would try her again, but though I liked this one, I'm not really sure I want to read the rest of the books in the trilogy. I'll have to see. In case I decide not to, I'm curious: could someone who's read the whole thing spoil me and tell me what that overheard conversation was all about?

Are you keeping it or passing it on?: For now, keeping it, until I decide whether to read the rest. If I decide not to, I'll probably put it in my Trade List, since I don't really think I'll be rereading it.


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